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Possible blanket requirement for monitoring



Published: Fri, June 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The first eligible offender has already been released from prison.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- In a criminal justice crackdown with a science fiction twist, prison officials are poised to begin lifetime monitoring of a small group of violent sexual offenders using satellite technology.

About half of states require sex offenders to wear devices that track their location, but most do not have a blanket requirement for a group of ex-convicts and give judges discretion to use the monitoring temporarily, according to legal experts and companies that sell the tracking systems.

Under of provision in Ohio's budget bill, sex offenders who are likely to commit crimes again must wear a sensor around their ankle for the rest of their lives at all times. A separate, small transmitter that offenders must keep with them would send their location through satellites.

Eligible inmates

Prison officials estimate only one inmate would be eligible immediately if the provision is signed into law, and up to 10 prisoners who would have to wear the devices are up for parole over the next two years.

Monitoring can be effective if used only for ex-convicts who are most likely to return to crime, said John Q. La Fond, a law professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City Law School who wrote a book on sex offenders.

"Most strategies enacted today assume all sex offenders are equally dangerous, and they use one-size-fits-all laws and I think that's essentially incorrect," he said. "We need to worry about a small group of high-risk sex offenders we can identify."

Jack King, an attorney with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, warns the tracking can become too restrictive.

For example, an offender who rides the bus to work that drives past a school could be in violation of his parole, he said.

Opposition

David Singleton, executive director of the Cincinnati-based Prison Reform Advocacy Center, said the plan will do little to reduce crime.

"I think it's a political gimmick," he said. "It's a way that elected officials can say, 'We're being tough on these folks,' but it's not really going to solve the problems."

Gov. Bob Taft had not decided whether we will veto the provision to provide $175,000 over the next two years for the monitoring, spokesman Mark Rickel said. Senate President Bill Harris, who inserted the provision in the budget, said he expects Taft to approve the tracking.

Lawmakers in Florida, Massachusetts and Oklahoma have passed bills in recent months to use GPS technology to track more sex offenders. Florida requires lifetime monitoring of some child molesters. The other plans leave up to a judge whether offenders should be monitored and how long it would last.

The push for increased monitoring was spurred in part by the murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in March and 13-year-old Sarah Lunde in April. The suspects in both Florida girls' murders are convicted sex offenders.

First candidate

The first person who would have to wear a tracker already has been released from prison, said David Berenson, director of sex offender services of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He does not expect any sex offenders with parole hearings in the next two years to be released.

Officials estimate it would cost $2,920 to $5,475 a year to monitor each prisoner. Unused money would go back to the state's fund to compensate crime victims.

If offenders go into a restricted area, such as within 1,000 feet of a school or near a victim's home, an alert would be sent to their parole officer, who could contact local police.

The devices also would keep a log of the offender's movements that could be checked against locations of suspected crimes, Berenson said.

State officials have not chosen a company to provide tracking. Most companies use systems that send ex-convicts' locations over cell phone networks.




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