HD40 - "Megan's Law" / Community Notification of Sex Offenders

Executive Summary:
The Task Force studying "Megan's Law" found that there were a number of issues to be considered. First, the law in question was an amendment to a federal statute entitled "The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children Act." This statute required states to enact a "Sexual Predator Act" and made several provisions for the registration of convicted sex offenders. States were required to comply with the statute by October, 1997 or risk the loss of Byrne formula or anticrime funds. The Task Force determined that Virginia was out of compliance with several provisions of the Act; most specifically, the passage of a sexual predator law. The consensus of the Task Force was to address the compliance issues of the original legislation, "Jacob Wetterling Act", and delay action on the "Megan's Law" amendment until the first step could be enacted. The results of this decision was the development of a "Sexual Predator Act of 1997" for Virginia.

The Crime Commission will support the introduction of a "Sexual Predator Act" in the 1997 Virginia General Assembly.

The Crime Commission will support the introduction of a study resolution in the 1997 Virginia General Assembly directing the Crime Commission to continue its study of the "Megan's Law" amendment and to develop legislation on public notification of sex offenders in the community for introduction to the 1998 Virginia General Assembly.

Passage of the "Sexual Predator Act of 1997" will require additional resources for the Supreme Court to reimburse the mental health evaluations required of certain convicted sex offenders. It will also require funds for the Department of State Police to make the necessary modifications to the Virginia Sex Offender Registry.

The Crime Commission will support a budget proposal to request funds for the Supreme Court for purposes of funding mental health evaluations as required by the proposed changes to § 19.2-300 in the "Sexual Predator Act".

The Crime Commission will support a budget proposal to request additional funds for purposes of modifying the Virginia Sex Offender Registry in response to the "Sexual Predator Act".

The Task Force heard testimony on the issue of supervision of sex offenders in the community. There was consensus that sex offenders need close monitoring when released back into the community. Probation and parole officers need to understand the pathology of sex offending, the methods sexual predators use to solicit potential victims, and strategies for enhancing the control of sexual impulses of supervised sex offenders. Most sex offenders in the community are on regular caseloads of 70 to 80 offenders, giving little opportunity for the close supervision needed to enhance public safety. The Task Force recommended that all sex offenders under community supervision, both adult and juvenile, be placed on a specialized caseload which allows for close monitoring of the sex offender's movements. The Task Force also recommended funds for local probation and parole officer to utilize polygraph testing in monitoring sex offenders in the community.

The Crime Commission will support a budget proposal to request funds for additional probation and parole positions in the Department of Corrections and juvenile probation officers in the Department of Juvenile Justice to enhance supervision of sex offenders living in the community. Additionally, the Crime Commission will request funds for polygraph testing of supervised sex offenders.

The Task Force studied the efficacy of sex offender treatment. There was consensus that certain sex offenders were not appropriate for treatment; however, the Task Force recommended that treatment be provided to those offenders who are assessed and deemed to be amenable to treatment.

The Crime Commission will support a budget amendment to reinstate the two therapeutic communities for sex offender treatment in the Department of Corrections.

The Task Force worked on the development of a risk assessment instrument to determine the level of risk a sex offender poses in the community. This instrument can be used pending release by jail and prison personnel to determine the level of risk a sex offender presents and to assist in making the appropriate post incarceration plan to minimize re-offense. It can be used to determine the level of notification that should be used when a sex offender is released. Implementation of the use of the instrument this year provides an opportunity to determine its effectiveness and to make the necessary adjustments for use with the notification legislation which will be introduced in 1998.

The Crime Commission recommends that the Department of Corrections utilize the risk assessment instrument developed by the Task Force on "Megan's Law" on sex offenders due to be released in the next year. The Commission recommends that the University of Virginia Institute for Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy conduct an evaluation of the instrument in collaboration with the Department of Corrections.

Intensive supervision, notification, and other strategies used to protect children from predatory sex offenders are not the sole solution to insuring the protection of a vulnerable population. Children must be taught to recognize dangerous signs and take self protective measures. The Department of Education has used a program, "Hugs and Kisses", to teach young children to recognize inappropriate behavior of some adults which may lead to child molestation. This program should be made widely available with the necessary follow-up discussion to enhance Virginia's children ability to protect themselves.

The Department of Education should make available to all school age children information on inappropriate behavior which could lead to child molestation. "Hugs and Kisses" is one program which has been used effectively and should be considered for expansion.

The Task Force considered the fiscal impact of the issues under consideration and the anticipated availability of revenue in the next year. These factors were a part of the decision of the Task Force to address this complex issue in a manner which would have the potential for enhancing public safety in a sound, cost effective manner and minimize the opportunity for unintended adverse consequences.