View Full Version : State to implement new sex offender tracking

03-27-2005, 09:26 PM

GULFPORT - CRIME Recent sex offender case draws national attention, Sun Herald answers questions.

Convicted sex offenders are held to a high level of public scrutiny that raises concerns and controversy when one of them is arrested again in a similar case.

Local concerns follow the recent arrest in the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford of Homosassa, Fla. The suspect, John Evander Couey, is a registered sex offender. Couey, 46, worked construction at her school. He lived near her home but not at his address of record.

The case also raises a series of questions on related issues. The Sun Herald gets answers for some of the most frequently asked questions.

Q: Why is a convicted sex offender required to register?

A: The Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 requires states to have a registry. (Jacob, 11, was abducted by a masked gunman and never seen again.) Megan's Law of 1996 requires states to release details of offenders to protect children. (Megan, 7, was molested and killed by a sex offender.) The Pam Lychner Act of 1996 ordered a national sex offender database. (Lychner, assaulted by a twice-convicted felon, lobbied for stiffer sentencing.) Biloxi Police Investigator Donnie Dobbs said Megan's Law is one of the best tools police have to help protect children. In a local case, the registry raised neighbors' suspicions of an offender who was later charged with child pornography.

Q: How do authorities keep track of where offenders live?

A: Offenders register and give a DNA sample before leaving prison. They report to their jurisdiction's Sheriff's Department. Every 90 days, the state Department of Public Safety mails a letter to be returned with confirmation of address.

Some offenders fail to respond; they say they didn't get the letter, forgot to return it or didn't know they had to, said Carolyn Prendergast, Harrison County Sheriff's investigator.

"They know," she said, "but some actually call to check in if it's running close to 90 days and they haven't received their letter. And some move a lot. They say their landlord found out about them and kicked them out or their neighbors harassed them. It's my job to find them if they don't comply."

Q: What are legislators doing to improve the tracking process?

A: Starting July 1, offenders must report to a Driver's License office every 90 days or their license is suspended. Gov. Haley Barbour's spokesman Pete Smith said the new law will simplify tracking and speed updates of the registry. The maximum penalty for failing to register is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Q: How do other states handle registry?

A: About the same as Mississippi, but California and at least seven other states have a penalty option for a second sex-crime conviction: chemical castration. Some experts believe castration may deepen the offender's rage and increase the risk of volatile behavior. Some claim castration is no cure for sexual predators. Not all convicted sex offenders are sexual predators.