June 30, 2011

Registry of freed killers proposed for Illinois

6-30-2011 Illinois:

Legislation to list murderers for 10 years after their release goes to Quinn

Since Issac Denson finished his prison sentence in October, he has enrolled in college courses and has begun training for the Chicago marathon. Later this year, he will become a first-time father. .

But if recently passed legislation receives the governor's signature, he will also have to publicly identify himself for the next decade by another, far less noble distinction: convicted murderer.

A proposed Illinois murderer registry would require people convicted of the first-degree murder of an adult to register with authorities for at least 10 years after leaving prison. The bill, which was presented to Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday after passing the state Legislature last month with almost unanimous approval, would apply retroactively, affecting people released from 2002 onward.

For Denson, 38, who served 20 years in prison after killing his mother during a 1991 dispute, that would mean having personal information posted on a searchable online database for the next decade, including his address, physical descriptors like weight and race, his date of birth, and the nature of his crime.

"I'm trying to do the best I can," Denson said. "But if all that information is out there, after I have done my time and completed my parole, people will just see me as a murderer, not a citizen, or a running captain, or a father."

Supporters of what would be dubbed "Andrea's Law" — named after murder victim Andrea Will — say that Illinois residents have a right to know those details. They hailed the legislation's approval as a responsible step toward tracking and notifying the public of potentially dangerous individuals.

When the bill passed, Will's mother, Patricia Rosenberg, said it was one of the few moments of peace she had felt since 1998, when her 18-year-old daughter was found strangled inside an apartment near the Eastern Illinois University campus.

"I still have nightmares of her fighting for her life, and I couldn't do anything to stop it," said Rosenberg, her voice shaking over the phone. "This was my way of fighting back. If you know who is living next door to you, you have more power — power to protect your family."

But opponents of the legislation have argued that the move is part of a disturbing, costly and unstudied nationwide trend toward publicly identifying an increasing variety of criminals, long after they've served their time in prison.

Every state has a sex offender database, and a handful of states now maintain registries for violent offenders, ranging from murderers to barroom fighters. Illinois already keeps registries for child murderers, sex offenders and arsonists. Tennessee hosts a methamphetamine offender database. State legislators in Maine this year proposed a drunken driver registry. And the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services even maintains a list of dangerous dogs that includes such offenders as Buddy, a black and brown sheep dog who killed a neighborhood cat.

"We live in this day and age of technology where there is no longer an expectation of privacy and there is almost this sense of entitlement to know," said Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida and a nationally recognized expert on criminal registries. "But is it worth it from a public policy point of view? Does it prevent enough future crimes?"

A 2008 Minnesota study showed that the state's sex offender registry appeared to significantly reduce recidivism rates for "high risk" sex offenders. Most studies, however, have been unable to prove a connection between public registries and reduced sex crimes, said Levenson, adding that she was not aware of studies that had looked at other types of registries.

Compared with robbers, burglars and those convicted of drug-related crimes, sex offenders and murderers have some of the lowest re-offense rates in the country, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics. Only 1.2 percent of people who had served time for homicide were rearrested for another homicide within three years of release, the agency found.

Those studies and statistics, however, have not dampened the enthusiasm to publicly identify and track criminals — an entrenched habit in American society, according to Wayne Logan, who is a Florida State University law professor and recently wrote a book on registration and notification laws.

"There is no denying there is a 'Scarlet Letter'-type appeal to these laws," Logan said.

As late as the early 1800s, it was not uncommon for convicts in the United States to be physically branded, serving both as a warning to the community and a lifelong sentence, Logan said. Around the turn of the last century, "rogues' galleries," or photo displays of offenders, also enjoyed a period of popularity. Over the next several decades, a slew of registration laws were enacted nationwide but then fell out of favor under criticism about their comprehensiveness and utility, Logan said.

But a resurgence of interest emerged in the late 1980s and early '90s after several high-profile child victimization cases created big media headlines.

"These (registries) catch on like wildfire," Logan said. "Politicians don't want to look like they are soft on crime or disparaging the legacy of the victim."

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, sponsored the Illinois murderer registry bill after murder victim Andrea Will's family expressed outrage that her killer was released from a 24-year prison term after only 12 years. Justin Boulay, then 20, strangled Will with a phone cord while the two were students at Eastern Illinois University. He was allowed to cut one day of prison time for every day he served without disciplinary problems. After he was paroled on Nov. 16, he moved to Hawaii to live with his new wife.

"These are some of the most heinous crimes that a person can perpetrate against another human being," Reboletti said. "I think it is important that people are aware of who their neighbors are and who is living in their community."

But because Boulay has left the state, he would only be required to register while on parole, which is scheduled to end in 2013. Under the bill's current language, only those convicted murderers still living in Illinois would be required to register for at least 10 years after their release. Hawaii does not currently have a murderer registry.

Reboletti estimated that Illinois' registry would initially impact about 4,300 released murderers in Illinois. If the murder was sexually motivated, the person would have to register for life, Reboletti said.

Those who were found in violation of the proposed law could face monetary fines and jail time, Reboletti said. Because the registry would be incorporated into current Illinois registries, state police officials said it would cost little to enact.

But Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, the only lawmaker to vote against the bill when it first passed the House, said that the burden would still fall on local agencies to track down and catalog released murderers, some of whom have been off parole for years.

Noting that law enforcement has already had some problems keeping the sex offender registry current, Davis said she did not believe another registry would really address the public's concerns over murderers such as Boulay. Instead, Davis said, the state should be investing more resources in transition programs for released prisoners and safety education programs for the general public.

"I think (this murderer registry) makes some legislators feel good," Davis said. "(But) it is giving people a false sense of security."

Denson, who was recently selected as the captain of a local running program, said that his time in prison has turned him into a confident, driven adult and that he believes the registry would unfairly extend his sentence.

"I have done everything the system asked," Denson said. "(And) now they're going to change the game."

Brian Nelson, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 1983 and has lived with his mother since he was released from prison a year ago, said he also has concerns over how the registry will affect her life if neighbors log on and discover that he is living next door.

"A lot of people, when they get out of prison, have no one to live with but their parents or family," said Nelson, 46, a paralegal at Uptown People's Law Center, which has lobbied against the enactment of "Andrea's Law.". "I served 28 years and did my time. Where do you draw the line?"

Nelson also questioned how the registry would really prevent people from re-offending, noting that it does not go as far as other law enforcement tracking measures like electronic monitoring.

"I won't hurt nobody again," Nelson said. "But how is this going to stop somebody?"

But Rosenberg, who has remarried and moved since her daughter's murder, said she believes the registry will be a useful tool for the community and law enforcement. If the database keeps even one person away from a potentially dangerous individual and saves one life, Rosenberg said it will be worth it.

"I don't think accountability should end at the prison gate," Rosenberg said. ..Source.. by Cynthia Dizikes, Tribune reporter


Anonymous said...

Society has enjoyed this type of "BRANDING WITH A SCARLET LETTER" punishment throughout history.So here we are,it's 2011. Now, along with the highest incarceration rate of any nation, we can also boast of creating the largest public sex offender registry in the world! How are these registries HELPING victims? Do they EMPOWER them in some way? Is there a sense of getting REVENGE or PAYBACK? Or,is it JUSTICE served twice for life? I believe one of the major reasons the registries are so popular is because they are percieved to VALIDATE victims. Is there ever any REAL closure for victims while thier offender is displayed publicly for decades?
The most important question though;
has the registry prevented any new sex crimes by people NOT listed on them? VALIDATE THAT!!!

Anonymous said...

I have this to say to Mrs. Rosenberg if your law causes an offender's family and friends suffer to have nightmares and to worry about their safety and the safety of their children because of your law will you step up to the bar and go to prison for it or pay the damages because of vandalism or a harassment losses of jobs and places to live if you want to make these type of laws be responsible for the consequences

Anonymous said...

Before long there will be regestries for traffic violations and jay walking.I know one day the regestries will back fire on the supporters and politions when there wont be any money to support it.Or the people on these regestries will say to heck with it its time to go under ground.