Tougher Megan's Law takes effect in Pa.
By Chuck Biedka
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 12:11 a.m.
Amid some legal challenges, parole and probation officers were putting in long hours late last week to comply with the new sexual offender law.
The state's revised Megan's Law went into effect on Thursday. Megan's Law is named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was molested and killed in 1994 by a neighbor who had been convicted of sex crimes against children.
Pennsylvania's law adds longer reporting requirements and collects more information on all offenders.
After completing prison terms, people convicted of child luring, sexual child abuse and about 18 other categories must report their addresses, job status and other data to state police annually for 15 years.
Statutory sexual offenders and some others must report annually for 25 years.
Repeat offenders and sexually violent predators must register quarterly for the rest of their lives.
Information on the offenders can be found at the state Megan's Law website. They can be searched for by name, county, city or ZIP code. In addition to information about their offense, maps show the offender's home address, place of employment and type of vehicles they are registered to drive.
For the first time, county probation officers must register a person as soon as they are convicted in county court and before they start to serve a prison sentence rather than wait for the offender to sign up once released from jail.
The legal changes bring the state into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The Walsh Act, which was signed into law in 2006 but not implemented until recently, requires all states to apply identical criteria for posting sexual offender data on the Internet.
States must comply with sentencing and other standards or be penalized by a 10 percent reduction in federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. This year, that amounts to about $1 million for Pennsylvania.
Only 16 states and some large Native American tribes are fully complying with the Walsh Act.
Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida are the largest states to do so.
What will revised law do?
“It will reduce the chances of people falling through cracks,” said Leo Dunn, spokesman for the state Board of Probation and Parole.
The revised state law closes reporting loopholes for homeless offenders and Megan's Law offenders moving into the state without informing state police.
Dunn said there are about 51,000 people in state prison and 36,000 men and women under state parole but about 200,000 under supervision by county parole and probation officers.
Earlier this year, state police sent letters to people who must register for the first time within 48 hours from Thursday. People already on the list were given 90 days to comply.People under supervision must report to probation and parole officers; all other Megan's List offenders must report to state police.
Some county probation offices had problems with new state computer hardware or didn't get the equipment in time. So they used paper forms.
The five local state police stations reported a steady flow of registrants and the software worked, said state police Lt. Todd Harman, who directs the state police Megan's Law program.
It takes at least an hour to get the photos, history, DNA tests and other data for each new registrant, said Capt. Steve Price at Harrisburg.
Among other things, for the first time the act establishes more sentencing tiers, including some for delinquent juveniles and sexually violent delinquents.
Although young offenders are required to report to state police, only sexually violent delinquents will be published on the state's Megan's Law website, state police said.
The law is also requiring thousands of people statewide to register for the first time for crime categories previously not on Megan's Law: indecent assault and corruption of minors.
Previously, some indecent assault cases required registration, but some didn't.
Legal challenges filed
The revised law requires all indecent assault convictions to be recorded on the Megan's Law list, although legal challenges have been filed in Westmoreland and other county courts.
Also, some people who were ordered by courts to be on the list for 10 years are challenging the law.
Unless the 10 years of reporting were completed, these offenders have been told by state police they must be on the list and report for the balance of 15 years.
“We notified state police that challenges are under way,” said Westmoreland County chief adult probation officer Bruno Mediate. “Those people who got state police letters to register all showed up, and we are telling state police about court challenges.”
About 50 offenders in Westmoreland County were sent letters telling them to register for the first time.The Westmoreland County office used a paper form, rather than the state police computer software, to file registrations for about 22 people on Thursday. Another nine were signed up to register on Friday, Mediate said.
Paper reports were used because the computer system isn't yet set up in a permanent location.
Butler County probation officers worked until 11 p.m. Thursday to register about a dozen offenders and planned on working until about 9 p.m. Friday to register as many as possible.
“Thursday was a very long day. We did about 12 Thursday and have about 40 new ones to do in all,” said Butler County chief probation officer Douglas Ritson.
Armstrong County chief probation officer David Hartman said the office has to sign up 12 to 15 first-time registrants.
Allegheny County signed up 35 new registrants on Thursday.
“We had a full house on Friday and we are booked with people signed up to come in through Jan. 11,” said Frank Scherer, the county's adult probation deputy director.
Scherer said about 35 were registered Friday. About 750 to 800 county residents must register for the first time, he said.To put that number into context, Philadelphia has about 700 first-time registrants for indecent assault or corruption of minors.
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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