Sunday, June 28, 2015

Action Item: Ask Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to write an Executive Order for a Dedicated Commission to Study the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and ALL the Legal Restrictions that Limit Those on It

Recently Governor McAuliffe wrote an Executive Order for an independent Commission to look at the last 20 years since Governor Allen abolished parole  (Truth-in-Sentencing). The Governor elaborated in a follow-up radio appearance,It’s time to review whether that makes sense. Is it keeping our citizens safe? Is it a reasonable, good, cost-effective way? Are we rehabilitating folks?” he said. “Are sentences too long for nonviolent offenses? Are we keeping people in prison too long?”. All great questions! 

But almost immediately some State lawmakers spun the Governor’s order into a fear-mongering, the sky-is-falling, political party issue. 

A program that originally claimed it would protect society better has turned 20 years old, we owe it to our citizens to study that 20 years of data to see if the program actually has done what was promised, to see if it is cost effective, to see if justice is in fact being served and to see if reforms are needed. 

Such check-and balances is what a State who leads, not follows does but yet some members of the Virginia Legislature see the creation of the Commission as a threat to their lawmaking. 

Gordon C. Morse seems to get it in his recent editorial. 

This year the Virginia Legislature refused to move a much needed Study Bill forward, Senator Hanger’s SJ282 to study the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. The last 20 years of data of our Sex Offender Registry would have been studied and possible reforms would have been considered. But the Virginia Legislature refused to even debate the bill.
Back in 2011 there were two similar Bills submitted during session then,  Delegate (now Senator) Carrico’s HJ594 and Senator Hanger’s SJ348, HJ594 failed but SJ348 passed. 

SJ348 that instructed the Virginia Crime Commission to study the Virginia Sex Offender Registry was one of MANY studies the group was assigned to complete in less than 7 months and in the end the commission declared there wasn’t enough data to properly determine if our Registry needed to be reformed or not. I spoke at that year’s final VSCC meeting expressing my disappointment in the Commission’s lack of interest and failure to address any specific directives outlined in Senator Hanger’s legislation. It appeared they purposefully failed to study the last 16 years worth of studies and reports on the issue. I believe Senator Hanger was also disappointed in their lack of effort that year and that’s why he resubmitted a bill at this year’s session. 

Based on the last 20 years worth of research the following reforms are well supported and a study would confirm this:
  1. Virginia needs to create a 3 Tiered Risk-Based Classification system as opposed to our current 2 Tiered Conviction-Based Classification System.
  2. Virginia should NOT require registration for misdemeanor offenses.
  3. Virginia should list the Lowest Level Offenders on a Private/Authority only Registry, not accessible by the public.
  4. Virginia should list the juveniles on a Private/Authority only Registry, not accessible by the public.
  5. The Low-Level Offenders and Juveniles who have not recidivated should automatically be removed after 10 years.
  6. The Mid-Level offenders should not be “Lifers” and should be allowed to petition for removal in 15 to 20 years.
  7. Listing the employer’s information of Offenders on the public Registry for the public to access leads to a high rate of unemployment for Registrants and punishes employers across our State who are willing to play a part in the successful reentry of Offenders and is NOT required to be Federal Adam Walsh Act compliant.
Just to list a few, there would be many more recommendations for reform including eliminating current residency and loitering restrictions or proposing additional ones every session which has become common-place by the Virginia Legislators. 

  1. Establishing set re-registration dates that continue every year and notifying offenders of their assigned dates would eliminate the high costs of the VSP printing and mailing certified letters to EVERY Offender once, twice or four times each year and Offenders would know in advance when they are required to re-register.
  2. Establishing an electronic re-registration system (either on-line or kiosks outside VSP and Local Authority locations) for offenders to update email addresses, residential, employment or vehicle information would eliminate the multiple VSP employees who have to take the information in-person and then enter the information by hand allowing these employees to focus on other duties and saving the State thousands of dollars.
Virginia Legislators did NOT oppose Governor McAuliffe’s creation of Campus Sexual Assault or Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse Commissions/Taskforces so why would they be up-in-arms about a Parole Review Commission and stoop to scare tactics when opposing it?  Fear is a powerful tool, it blinds us to the facts of an issue and in turn we make poor decisions that do more harm than good. 

For the last 7 years I have been the lone voice in the room advocating for data-driven reform of Virginia’s Sex Offender Registry and Laws fighting against the myth, hype, hate and fear that was the driving force in the creation of our Sex Offender Registry 20 years ago. 

Governor McAuliffe understands that evaluating the last 20 years of Truth-in-Sentencing in Virginia is the correct step in keeping Virginia safe, so why not create a dedicated Commission to study every aspect of the Virginia Sex Offender Registry, including it’s efficacy and ALL the legal restrictions that limit those who are listed on it?   

Executive Orders are a hot-button issue for many but in the end they can take the politics out of policy and provide us all with clear facts that may conclude we were all duped 20 years ago by the political hyperbole and if that is the case isn’t it better to know we’ve been doing it wrong for the last 20 years and now we can do it right? 

Ask Governor McAuliffe to create an Executive Order for a dedicated Commission to study every aspect of the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and the legal restrictions that limit those who are listed on it. They could also look at the other 49 States Registries and all the research by experts in the field that has been assembled in the last 20 years. Ask the Governor to allow the Commission a minimum of 10 months perhaps 18 months to study the issues and make their recommendations. 

Mary Davye Devoy