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Deterring sexual predators

October 07, 2005

The 83 people listed on Maryland's online registry of sex offenders for Hagerstown's 21740 zip code are, for the most part, ordinary looking men.

Except for a few who gave the camera lens a hard stare, most of them have none of the predatory appearance many citizens have come to expect from Hollywood movies. In most cases, you wouldn't look twice if you saw them on a city street.

That's the problem, of course. After their release from prison, they have to live somewhere - maybe next door to you.

If they're in your neighborhood, it should be a concern, for reasons noted in a three-day series done this week by The Herald-Mail's Pepper Ballard.

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The series cites a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report done in 1994 that tracked 9,691 sexual offenders from 15 states.

The report found that such people are four times more likely to be re-arrested for a sex crime than other ex-offenders are to be charged again with the offenses that sent them to prison.

There have been some high-profile cases, including that of Elmer Spencer Jr., who was released from the Maryland Correctional Training Center in November of 2000.

Five days later he fatally beat and strangled 9-year-old Christopher Ausherman and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in April 2002.

That same year, then-Gov. Parris Glendening signed a bill allowing repeat violent sexual offenders to be sentenced to life without parole.

Not every sexual offender is violent, however, even though sexual abuse can cause lifelong mental distress for its victims.

After discovering problems with the state's online sex-offender registry - wrong addresses for some, among other things - local Maryland General Assembly representatives say they're determined to tighten up the law. One proposal would force offenders to wear Global Positioning System devices, so their every movement could be tracked.

We await the bills that will be filed with great interest. In the meantime, we urge those who care about children and other potential victims to visit the registry at www.dpscs.state.md.us/onlineservs/sor/.

It never hurts to know who your neighbors are and what they've done.

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