- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

RICHMOND — Virginia’s sex-offender registry is plagued with problems and cannot account for nearly 250 offenders, a preliminary analysis of the registry by the state’s newly formed Sex Offender Task Force has found.

Missing photographs, incorrect addresses and dated information are just a few of the issues the state faces in its effort to revamp the registry, members of the Virginia State Crime Commission’s task force were told at the force’s first meeting yesterday.

“The current system doesn’t do really anything for prevention,” said Delegate Bob McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican and commission co-chairman.

The task force was formed in April after a spate of high-profile child abductions and killings by convicted sex offenders, including the case of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford of Florida.

Virginia’s sex-offender registry, created in 1994, lists 13,265 sex offenders, although about half of those are incarcerated or living outside Virginia.

More than 500 offenders were not in compliance with registration requirements as of May 20, the task force’s initial review shows.

Of the 4,534 registered sex offenders listed as incarcerated by the Virginia Department of Corrections, 128 could not be located in the prison system.

Another 117 registered offenders were found in the prison population, even though the registry shows them as living in the community or living out of state.

Of 643 registered sex offenders with a jail address, 113 could not be found in the jail or prison population.

“It is troublesome,” said Kimberly Hamilton, executive director of the crime commission. “The state police do not have the resources to do this. We’ve added 1,100 offenders a year, and we’re not giving them staff every year to [monitor] those offenders.”

Sex offenders must register within 10 days after they are released from prison, and they have 10 days to report any change of address.

That grace period is disturbingly long and gives offenders the freedom to slip away before anyone notices, Mr. McDonnell said.

The registries in several other states provide information that Virginia’s does not, Miss Hamilton said. Such information includes the offender’s work address, differentiating between child molesters and adult rapists and the risk level of the offender.

One solution task force members discussed was the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to track offenders after their release. The state is using GPS devices to track several offenders as part of a pilot program to test their effectiveness.

Scott McCool, a representative for the Florida-based Pro Tech Monitoring, which created the GPS devices Virginia is testing, attended yesterday’s meeting to demonstrate the technology.

Dots on a map show officials where the offenders are, if they are out past curfew and whether they are in a “hot zone” — areas such as schools or churches that they may be prohibited from visiting.

Although the devices can be useful, they are costly and labor-intensive, Department of Corrections officials said. The state has just one official monitoring the Virginia offenders using the GPS system.

Spot checks of offenders rather than scheduled monitoring also could be helpful, Miss Hamilton said.

“We are too regulated,” she said. “Any system that is that predictable is easy for the offender to get around.”

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