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article imageNY County outsources sex offender monitoring to advocacy group

By Anna Johansson     Sep 16, 2013 in Crime
As the world struggles to deal with sex offenders re-entering communities, NY County is taking a new approach that is receiving mixed responses.
Sex offender registration programs have been in effect in the United States since 1947, when California became the first state to require sex offenders to register. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that the federal government passed legislation mandating public notification of personal information for certain sex offenders. This legislation was based on New Jersey’s “Megan’s Laws,” a comprehensive set of laws regarding sex offender management passed in 1994, which included a requirement for community notification of registered sex offenders moving into a neighborhood.
Almost 20 years later, New Jersey takes its sex offender monitoring laws to another level. Suffolk County on Long Island allows a victims’ advocacy group, Parents of Megan’s Law, to monitor sex offenders. The measure was approved unanimously in February of this year and is being heralded by lawmakers as a cost-effective way to keep the community safe. [url=http://www.parentsformeganslaw.org/ t=_Megan’s LawParents for Megan’s Law is a nonprofit organization that will receive close to $1 million a year to implement the new sex offender monitoring law. The employees who undertake the monitoring of sex offenders are civilians.
According to Laura Ahearn, the group’s executive director, they “will and have gone to registered sex offender addresses and simply ask the registered sex offender if they can provide proof that they reside in that particular home." The contract between Suffolk County and Parents for Megan's Law states that the nonprofit’s employees cannot carry firearms and must be former law enforcement employees. However, the contract doesn’t specify procedures for address verification or what constitutes “proof of residence,” which is problematic because it could potentially blur the lines between monitoring and harassment.
Another issue is the fact that Suffolk County outsourced its sex offender monitoring to a victim’s advocacy group. Opponents of the new law argue that the employees of Parent’s for Megan’s Law are too biased and have a hostile attitude towards post-conviction sex offenders. "There isn't the kind of venomous attitudes that exist between police officers and the people that they arrest. For them, it's a job," says Larry Spirn, a local attorney who often defends sex offenders. "That's why policing is a profession. It's not a vigilante exercise, and I think what we have here is an absolute vigilante exercise."
Sex offender management is a highly controversial subject. While citizens, especially children, have to be protected as much as possible, post-conviction offenders need to be given a chance to acclimate back into civilian life. This is a very delicate tightrope walk for communities across the US. Whereas some counties introduce stricter and more wide-ranging regulations, others are creating nuanced laws that match restrictions with the likelihood an offender will commit another offense. No matter where you live, it’s always advisable to be vigilant. The DOJ’s website NSOPW.gov, and sites like InstantCheckmate.com, offer access to search the public sex offender registry and criminal background records on someone you may know as a way to better protect yourself and family.
More about NY County, Sex offender, sex offender monitoring, Criminal justice
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