New York’s Sex Offender Registration Act was passed back in the mid-1990s so that residents would know if a potentially dangerous sex offender was in their neighborhood.
But recent problems in getting that information to residents show the need for changes. News reporter Lou Michel outlined a couple of cases that highlight the problem.
In one, Philip M. Gray completed his federal prison sentence for child pornography in February and upon his return to Amherst registered as a sex offender with the Amherst Police Department. But the Police Department did not add his name to the 37 sex offenders listed on its website, nor did it send a flier or photograph to the school district. And it wasn’t the fault of police.
Amherst cops wanted to release the information, but were not allowed to do so because Gray, 65, a former D’Youville College sociology professor, had not been assigned a risk level. Until that happens his case is classified as “pending” and his name won’t go on the state’s electronic Sex Offender Registry or the police website registry.
In another case, a Chicago resident completed his prison sentence for a sex-related crime in Illinois seven months ago. He moved in with Amherst relatives and the public was not told.
The federal Megan’s Law was the impetus for states to create sex offender registries and risk levels. The law was adopted after a New Jersey 7-year-old, Megan Kanka, was murdered by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street. Her parents were not aware of their neighbor’s history of criminal offenses.
The law works only when neighbors are informed. Lengthy lag times in assigning a risk level potentially endanger children. The system appears to work in a timely manner when an offender is prosecuted in New York, because the easily obtained records speed the task of determining the risk level. But there is a huge delay in setting the risk level for someone convicted in another state who then chooses to locate here.
It is not the fault of the state’s five-member Board of Examiners, which last year reviewed about 1,500 sex offender cases from county, state and federal courts in New York, in addition to courts in other states. So far this year the board has reviewed about 500 cases. It is doing its job, making a recommendation on the risk level within the required 60 days of receiving information from the courts. A judge then designates a risk level.
But it’s the lack of urgency in receiving information from outside sources that is gumming up the works. The Board of Examiners can move only as fast as members receive the relevant records on an offender.
Shortening that response time would go a long way toward meeting the spirit of Megan’s Law by promptly informing the public of nearby sex offenders, information any parent or indeed any resident should want.
The lag between release from prison and public notification is worrisome. Perhaps an amendment to Megan’s Law would help rectify the situation so that the state is no longer at the mercy of outside jurisdictions – the federal government, other states and the military.
The delays from those outside jurisdictions must be shortened in order for Megan’s Law to do its job in protecting children.