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The Government has ditched plans to use satellite tracking to keep tabs on sex offenders.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials said the project had been shelved until there had been "developments in technology".
A two-year pilot scheme was launched in 2004 as part of the Government's so-called "prisons without bars" project, but studies found the equipment had serious drawbacks.
For example, the signal could be blocked or distorted by high rise buildings or even trees.
An assessment published by the MoJ last July found one in four sex offenders freed early on a satellite tag were reconvicted of a further offence within a matter of months.
The technology involved offenders wearing an ankle bracelet similar to conventional electronic tags, which relayed their movements via satellite to a control room.
Entering an "exclusion zone" - such as a paedophile going near a children's playground or school - would trigger an alarm.
Ministers are now believed to be pinning their hopes on using lie detectors as a new technique to deal with paedophiles.
Assistant general secretary of probation union Napo, Harry Fletcher, said: "The abandonment of satellite tracking comes as no surprise. It was hugely expensive and the signal failed when confronted with tall buildings, low cloud or other obstacles."
H added: "It remains the case, however, that sufficient controls should be in place for each individual case to maximise public protection."
Sunday, April 6, 2008
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Local law enforcement might soon have a new weapon in keeping track of registered sex offender. Senator Bill Brady says a bill he is sponsoring will give local police the same level of access to state employment records as state police have.
He says Senate Bill 2102 began with a request from an officer in the Twin Cities.
That officer is eight-year veteran Nathan Pullman with the Normal Police Department. The bill recently passed the Senate and nows heads to the Illinois House.
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If Judge William Voy’s courtroom were the major leagues, Friday’s constitutional challenge case would be an exhibition game.
That’s how the judge explained it.
It would be an exhibition game because the controversy in question — the constitutionality of Nevada’s new sex offender laws as they apply to juveniles — will really be played out on the field, to carry the metaphor, of Nevada’s Supreme Court.
- It should be as they apply to everyone! If they are unconstitutional for kids, so are they for adults. The constitution applies to all American citizens, not just some, or that is how it was at one time.
But Thursday morning in the Family Court building, in extra innings after months of court filings and legal back and forth, Voy was at bat. He ruled the juvenile sex offender laws Nevada adopted with the passage of Assembly Bill 579 are unconstitutional.
In other words: Thwack! It’s out of the park!
It was a farm league victory for the juvenile public defender’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which are already cleaning their cleats for the deciding game in Carson City.
The laws being challenged in AB 579 are based on the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, signed into law by President Bush in July 2006. The federal law lumps teenage sex offenders 14 and older in with adults when it comes to certain punishments and requires that many of those juvenile offenders be included in Internet sex offender registries. The state’s new laws would also be applied retroactively, meaning anyone who was at least 14 years old and convicted of a crime against a child after July 1, 1956, is subject to the new regulations.
Susan Roske, deputy public defender, argued the state laws were unconstitutional for a number of reasons, including that such punishments are cruel and unusual and would relegate juvenile sex offenders to a lifetime of public humiliation counterproductive to rehabilitation.
Voy rejected this argument. He also rejected Roske’s argument that the court cannot change a juvenile offender’s sentence retroactively. In fact, he rejected all of Roske’s arguments but one: The new laws, Voy agreed, are unconstitutional because they violate due process.
This reasoning, for anyone who’s not an attorney, is as complicated as a 4-5-3 double play to someone who doesn’t understand baseball.
Here it is in slow-mo: Under the new laws, 14-year-old sex offenders can be punished as adults. But a child who is 13 years, 11 months and 29 days can’t. This age distinction, Voy noted, is arbitrary. Without a rational reason for the age cap, the law is a violation of due process, because part of due process is the right to rational law.
Were it not for Voy’s determination, the laws would go into effect July 1. Maggie McCletchie, ACLU of Nevada staff attorney, expects the laws will not be enforced until the Supreme Court hears the appeals. The state’s high court is not expected to rule on the case before July 1.
The courtroom spectators, the few convicted juvenile sex offenders Roske invited to watch the proceedings alongside interested attorneys, all expected this outcome. Even Jonathan VanBoskerck, deputy district attorney, knew coming in that he would probably lose. The culture of the juvenile courts, he said, generally sees teenage sex offenders as children with mental health issues rather than culpable criminals. The state Supreme Court, he can only hope, is distant enough from the issue to consider the laws’ constitutionality alone.
When Voy was done discussing his ruling and court was called to a recess, Roske was surrounded by fellow public defenders who celebrated quietly, well aware of the work that’s still ahead.
Roske said it was just the first game of a long season.
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Judge Philip Trompeter will dismiss charges if the girls stay out of trouble for a year.
Two Northside High School girls who took nude pictures of themselves and e-mailed them to their boyfriends last year said they only did it to be flirtatious.
It wasn't long before they realized the consequences: loss of friends, no more school activities, seeing themselves on Internet sites and felony charges.
By the time the girls faced Roanoke County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Philip Trompeter on Thursday, all joking was aside.
"You were degrading and hurting yourselves doing this," Trompeter told them.
Both 16-year-olds were charged with production and dissemination of child pornography. The Roanoke Times was allowed access to the court proceedings on Thursday on the condition that the girls not be named.
No one in the courtroom Thursday, even prosecutor Rick Buchanan, seemed to want felony charges on the girls' records for what one attorney called "a stupid Christmastime prank." Trompeter took the charges under advisement and if the girls stay out of trouble for a year, he will dismiss them.
The amateur photo shoot that is now infamous at Northside High School and elsewhere took place the day after Christmas 2003. Buchanan said one of the girls received a digital camera and tripod for Christmas, and they decided to photograph themselves in one girl's bedroom.
Afterward, they e-mailed the pictures to their boyfriends, who apparently e-mailed them to other people. Before it was all over, Buchanan said, the photos had spread to schools throughout the Roanoke Valley.
"I suppose I could say that it would be unrealistic to assume that if these guys were receiving photographs of this nature that they would only share it with their priests at the confessional," Trompeter said.
Only one boy who received the pictures was charged with possession of child pornography. That charge was taken under advisement in May and will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble.
One girl's mother went to Northside High when she found out about the pictures, and with the help of school resource officer Corey Newman, students were told to delete the images from their hard drives.
The mother testified that her daughter's nude pictures were also posted on three different Web sites. She called Internet providers and a group that works to prevent exploitation of children, and the pictures were removed from the sites.
But the woman said it will be a long time before she will be able to stop searching the Internet under her daughter's name, worried that she will find more pictures.
The first issue debated in court Thursday was whether the photographs really qualified as "sexually explicit," which is the language used in the Code of Virginia.
Buchanan said the definition of "sexually explicit" includes nudity and a lewd and lascivious presentation. He argued that the definition applied in this case because the girls' breasts and part of their buttocks were exposed, and because in at least two photographs, the girls posed in a sexually provocative way.
Under the statute, he said, the showing of a female breast qualifies as nudity.
The girls' attorneys, Nick Horn and Richard Lawrence, argued that the girls were not nude because they were wearing underwear.
"My client has on what Victoria's Secret would call 'boy shorts' and Mr. Lawrence's client is wearing panties, too," Horn said.
He also argued that the statute was adopted to protect children from adults who exploit them sexually, not to punish children.
"After I looked at Virginia, the Fourth Circuit and surrounding circuits, I could not find any fact pattern that fits the type of charge here," Horn said. "All dealt with a third-party adult."
To say the girls were criminally exploiting themselves, "I think you'd have to take that with a grain of salt and a wink," Horn said.
Trompeter disagreed that the statute was only meant for adults. He said it is to protect children from exploitation, even if it they are doing it themselves. He essentially ruled that the girls could be convicted of those crimes, but it was within his discretion to determine whether they should be.
Horn and Lawrence called both girls to the stand, and they testified that their lives have been turned upside-down since the incident occurred. They have been punished in many ways by their parents and scorned by their friends.
Both were made to quit their school activities and are not allowed to participate ever again. They are allowed to attend events. One girl said she would probably try to graduate early.
When Trompeter launched into his final thoughts, he said one of the worst things the girls did was disappoint their parents, who sat in the audience and listened.
"I'm the only person in this room that sees them from this angle, and they are so sad," he said. "I'm really more angry about what you did to your parents."
He admonished the girls to be more mindful of their actions in the future.
"I don't want the kinds of decisions you make in the future to be the kinds of decisions that are going to degrade you," he said. "I want what you do in the future to be things that will bring honor to you and your names."
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When Hartford police detectives went to the Open Hearth Wednesday morning, they got permission to confirm the whereabouts of 17 registered sex offenders who listed the Charter Oak Avenue emergency shelter as their residence.
But a half-block away at the Stewart B. McKinney Shelter on Huyshope Avenue, officers were denied entry in their attempt to locate 43 registered sex offenders who listed that facility as their home. The officers resorted to waiting on the sidewalk to interview people as they came and went.
City police say they need more power to enforce the law requiring sex offenders to maintain up-to-date residency registration and to make contact with offenders living in shelters.
But advocates for the homeless say it is an invasion of their clients' right to privacy.
"It's the Constitution of the United States," Carol Walter, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said Friday. "It's not legal for the police to gain access to a private entity without due process."
Police say increased access to shelters might help avert another tragedy like the one that unfolded in New Britain last weekend, when Leslie Williams, a registered sex offender who listed the McKinney shelter as his address, broke into a home and shot two women, killing one of them, according to authorities.
Hartford police Lt. Mark Tedeschi, commander of the department's juvenile investigative division and sex offender registry unit, said earlier this week that Williams might have been less likely to commit a crime if police had been able to make contact with him in a shelter and let him know they were aware of his location.
"It's a deterrent factor. It certainly wouldn't have hurt," said Tedeschi, who submitted testimony to the legislature in March supporting a proposed amendment to a Senate bill that would grant police increased access to homeless shelters to determine the whereabouts of registered sex offenders.
According to police, there are 56 registered sex offenders listed as living in the city's 10 shelters. There are 502 registered sex offenders — or about 10 percent of the state's total of 5,000 — living in Hartford.
Walter said that city shelters have no interest in harboring dangerous criminals and that, if the law changes to allow police greater access, shelters will abide by it. But she said such a change would send an unfortunate message to homeless people.
"You're communicating to them that they don't have the same rights as anybody else," she said.
Walter also took issue with the assertion that the home invasion and shootings a week ago could have been avoided had police been able to make contact with Williams in the shelter.
"This horrible crime did not happen because he was in a homeless shelter or stayed at the McKinney shelter one night," she said. "It's not productive to start raiding shelters."
For Walter, the larger issue is the Department of Correction's decision to place sex offenders in homeless shelters in the first place, because the shelters cannot provide the level of services and counseling those offenders need as they make their transition back to society.
"They are there to provide respite from the elements. DOC should not be placing people in shelters," she said.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts agreed with Walter, saying shelters should be the last resort after all other efforts to find them a place to live are exhausted.
But he said the lack of oversight is the reason his department needs access to the shelters once the decision has been made to place sex offenders there.
"They can disappear from shelters for days at a time with no accountability," Roberts said. "These guys know that. It's a game."
Roberts said he planned to continue efforts to document the location of sex offenders and make contact with them.
"I'm going to do what I need to do," he said Friday.
For Rebecca Rabinowitz, chief executive officer for the Open Hearth, the job of maintaining client confidentiality while recognizing the need for public safety is not clear cut, and neither was her decision to allow officers to enter the emergency shelter to determine the whereabouts of sex offenders.
"It's always going to be an uneasy balance," Rabinowitz said Friday. "But it's still best to cooperate with the police."
But for Rabinowitz, even cooperation has its limits; she would draw the line at any police effort to conduct general sweeps of the shelter.
"If you come in here on a fishing expedition, you're trampling on the right to confidentiality," she said.
Contact Steven Goode at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Just more proof the registries do not protect the public like everyone thinks they do. You make harsh draconian laws, and you expect a hardcore criminal to obey those laws willfully? Come on! All you need is a little common sense. There is very few hardcore criminals on the registry and most obey the laws, but the true hardcore people, who you should be worried about, will not obey the laws. So you see, these laws are for non-violent people who obey the laws, not the hardcore criminals who are not going to obey them. So once again, the registries need to be taken offline, like they were in the past, and used by police only. The public has proven over and over and over again they cannot handle the information without resulting in vigilante actions. This is like telling a murderer to come down to my office every XX number of days and submit to a lie detector, common sense will tell you most hardcore criminals will not do it. If the laws were like they were, more relaxed, then more people would obey them.
What good is a sex offender registry when some sex offenders don't register? That's the question some families in Harrisburg are asking after a sex offender with a violent past was arrested yesterday.
One Harrisburg mother is holding her kids a little closer after realizing not all sex offenders in her city are registered and easy to find.
59-year-old Rick Rager served more than twenty years in prison in Michigan for violent sex crimes. After moving to Harrisburg last fall, he never registered as sex offender. He caught the attention of police after allegedly leaving inappropriate notes for women at Sioux Falls department stores. And his neighbors had no idea about his past.
Brandi Haubris' number one priority is the safety of her four boys.
That's why she has a sex offender registry website bookmarked on her computer.
"It's really helpful I really like it. With four kids you can never be too careful," she says.
It's a site she visits a lot... And until yesterday, she had faith that she could track online all the predators she needed to worry about.
"I was just on it actually last week, there's four that are registered in Harrisburg but, obviously, there's a few that haven't registered as well," Haubris says.
She's referring to 59-year-old Rick Rager-- who was arrested yesterday. Because of his past crimes, Rager should have registered as a sex offender when he moved from Michigan to Harrisburg. But he did not.
"It's scary and it's sad that they don't keep better tabs on them," Haubris.
For Haubris and her kids, it's hitting too close for comfort-- She can see Rager's apartment building from her backyard.
"It makes me mad. As a mother and as a woman it's terrible how easily they get off," Haubris says.
And she sees Rager's arrest as another reminder to keep a close eye on her family.
"You have to be even more on watch now when the kids are outside or you know, my 12 year old comes home from school that way and it's just scary how close they are," she says.
And another reminder that some sex offenders live under the cracks of the state's registry.