July 6, 2015

Mary Devoy: Has Virginia's sex offender registry kept us safe?

Further proof that Lawmakers want only what keeps them in office..
7-6-15 Virginia:

Recently, Gov. Terry McAuliffe set up an independent commission to look at the 20 years since parole was abolished and determine whether it should be revived. "It's time to review whether that makes sense," he said during a radio appearance. "Is it keeping our citizens safe? Is it a reasonable, good, cost-effective way? Are we rehabilitating folks?" he asked. "Are sentences too long for nonviolent offenses? Are we keeping people in prison too long?"

All great questions!

But almost immediately some state lawmakers spun the governor's order into a fear-mongering, the-sky-is-falling, political issue. A program that claimed it would better protect society has been in place for 20 years. We owe it to our citizens to see whether it has done what was promised, is cost effective, whether justice is being served or reforms are needed.

That's the work of a state that leads: It establishes accountability, checks and balances.

The Virginia legislature had an opportunity this year to do so with another 20-year-old law that needs an accountability check, and it refused.

Sen. Emmett Hanger's bill, SJ282, would have studied the data on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and considered possible reforms.

The General Assembly refused to even debate the bill.

In 2011, lawmakers instructed the Virginia State Crime Commission to study data on the registry, and many other laws, and determine if reforms were needed.

The commission said there wasn't enough data to reach conclusions about the registry.

Based on the past 20 years of research, however, the following reforms are well supported:

n Create a three-tiered classification system based on risk rather than a two-tiered system based on convictions.

n Require registry only for felony offenses.

n List the lowest level of offenders - and juveniles - on a private, authorized-users-only registry.

n Remove the names of low-level offenders and juveniles who have not committed another crime after 10 years.

n Allow mid-level offenders to petition for removal in 15 to 20 years.

n Set re-registration on the same date every year and notify offenders of those dates. That would eliminate the high costs of printing and mailing certified letters to every offender as many as four times a year.

n Establish an electronic registration system for offenders to update email addresses, residential, employment or vehicle information.

Lawmakers did not oppose McAuliffe's commissions on campus sexual assault or prescription drug and heroin abuse, so why would they fear a parole review commission?

The governor understood that evaluating truth in sentencing is the way to keep Virginia safe.

Why not look at the effectiveness of the sex offender registry and see whether it has done the same? Look at the vast categories of offenders the law covers, as well as the restrictions placed on them.

For the past seven years I have fought the myths, hype and fear that drove the registry's creation.

If we have the courage to find the facts, we may conclude we were duped 20 years ago by political hyperbole. If data show the registry hasn't improved safety, wouldn't it be better to know that and make it better? ..Source.. by Mary Davye Devoy, an advocate for reform of Virginia's Sex Offender Registry and laws, lives in Mechanicsville.

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