Monday, June 18, 2012

AL - DOJ Looking Into Ala. Prison Sex Abuse Claims

PA - County officials brace for changes to sex-offender law

Original Article


By Holly Herman

Berks County officials are working to comply with the state's version of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which creates tougher restrictions for sex offenders, while anxiously waiting for state lawmakers to put the finishing touches on the law before the end of this month.

The new law requires sexual predators to register their residences with county adult probation. A palm print is required for a national registry. The law also requires juvenile offenders to register for serious sex offenses.

A group of local criminal justice officials is meeting regularly and waiting to find out if the state adopts some amendments to the new law before implementing the final plans.

State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, a Reading Democrat and minority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the state plans to finalize the law before the summer recess, which begins June 30.

Caltagirone, who spearheaded the changes, said that if the law is not enacted by Dec. 20, the state will lose $5 million in federal funding.

"This is a top priority," Caltagirone said. "We want to give the people implementing it as much time as possible to get ready. With 67 counties, we had a lot of unanswered questions."

The new law is a more comprehensive version of the 1996 Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register their residences with state police.

Under the new law, additional charges are added and the length of reporting residences to authorities are longer.

Sex offenders will be required to register with the county probation department after sentencing. Under the current law, offenders register at the prisons.

"We are all working together to figure this out," said Nancy S. Xavios, the county's chief adult probation officer. "We took a proactive approach. I don't want to be unprepared."

Sheriff Eric J. Weaknecht's office is providing a palm printing machine required under the new law.

Berks officials said they were waiting to hear from state police on when the computer system will be available.

State police Lt. Todd Harman, commander of the Megan's law section and Walsh law project coordination, said the computer system is expected to be ready by October for a trial run.

He said the final system, which is funded by the federal government, will be available by Dec. 20.

"The idea of the law is to ensure consistency across the state, including the federal Indian tribes," Harman said. "You can have sex offenders jumping from state to state to avoid the law."

Harman said the state police as well as 67 counties will have the computer equipment required for the new law.

Harman said juvenile offenders will be required to registers but only violent predators will be listed on a public website.

Jim Sweitzer, assistant chief probation officer, has identified 110 sex offenders on supervision in Berks who would be required to register.

District Attorney John T. Adams expressed concern that the changes to the law be enacted quickly.

Local officials questioned a provision in the initial legislation that called for requiring prior sex offenders who commit felonies to also register.

That provision has been eliminated from the final version, Caltagirone said.

Laurie A. Hague, assistant chief juvenile probation officer, said to date, there are nine juveniles in Berks who would have to register.

However, she said, their names would not be on the public website.

"The information will be a resource for law enforcement if they commit other crimes," Hague said.