NEWS RELEASE For Immediate Release
Contact: Ivan Anderson 717-787-1381 Report Text
Auditor General Jack Wagner Finds State’s Administration
of Megan’s Law Improved, but Still Not Working Properly
Web listing of all offenders’ street addresses among recommended enhancements
HARRISBURG (May 1, 2006) – The Pennsylvania State Police improved its administration of Megan’s Law but must still do better at posting complete and accurate information on its Web site, learning the exact release dates of offenders in prison, and determining the whereabouts of nearly 700 registrants who failed to re-verify their addresses as the law requires.
These findings and others appear in a special performance audit report released today by Auditor General Jack Wagner. The audit covered the period Jan. 24, 2005 to Nov. 22, 2005.
State police improved communications with other law-enforcement agencies and listed all registered sex offenders, not just sexually violent predators, on its Web site following legislative changes adopted after a 2004 report by the Department of the Auditor General, Wagner said.
“Even with the improvements, there are still far too many deficiencies that prevent Pennsylvania from doing its best to protect citizens, particularly children,” Wagner said.
Wagner called on the state police and Gov. Rendell to take several steps to improve the state’s Megan’s Law. He said the state police should elevate the stature of its Megan’s Law Section within its organization to strengthen the Section’s command authority. He also said that Gov. Rendell should issue an executive order declaring the state police as undisputed leader in Megan’s Law administration, to eliminate fragmented responsibilities among police agencies.
Some deficiencies that Wagner identified can be fixed only if Pennsylvania’s General Assembly amends the law further, especially to allow more information on the Web site, www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us.
In particular, Wagner said, the state’s Megan’s Law should require the state police to post the home street addresses of all 8,100 registered sex offenders on the Web site. At present, home street addresses are available only for the 110 most dangerous offenders who have been found by the courts to be “sexually violent predators.’’ Only city, county, and zip code information are posted for the remaining 8,000 offenders.
“Without full street addresses for all offenders, the public cannot tell if a sex offender lives across the street or across town,” Wagner said. “Yet the law was designed to let citizens know if sex offenders live nearby.”
The law also should require the state police to report not just street addresses, but detailed physical characteristics of offenders, such as:
• Hair color
The Web sites of some other states contain this information, which could help to prevent misidentifications, said the report.
The report also found:
• During the audit period, state police posted the last known addresses of at least 700 offenders on the Web site without telling the public that the offenders failed to verify the information; therefore, it was outdated. State police said it could not actually label the 700 missing offenders as “non-compliant” for failing to verify their registered addresses, but it should have been able to post the dates it received last known address information.
• It was easy for the public to be misled into thinking that some offenders lived in their
neighborhood when they were in prison, and vice versa. In fact, the state police did not always know the exact dates that offenders were released from prison into communities, particularly in cases of re-incarceration. The public should be able to tell which registrants are incarcerated or re-incarcerated.
Wagner found other deficiencies that can be fixed by the state police without changing the law:
• State police do not tell the public if victims are children.
• State police list only one criminal offense for each offender, even if the offender had been convicted of committing multiple sex crimes.
• State police posted photographs on the Web site but did not post the date they were taken.
• State police do not allow Web site users to “sort” offenders by type of offender, crime, or prison status. The public would have to scroll through all 8,100 sex offenders to find the 110 violent predators, even though the law clearly sets predators apart.
This was the third Megan’s Law report released by the Department of the Auditor General since 2004. It represents the completion of an audit begun by Wagner’s predecessor, Robert P. Casey Jr., who had initiated legal action to obtain certain information from the state police. Under an agreement reached between Wagner and State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller last November to settle that lawsuit, auditors were able to complete the audit by obtaining information from the state police with the assistance of the Office of Attorney General.
The Office of Attorney General assisted Wagner’s auditors in preparation for its own annual audits required by the 2004 amendments to Megan’s Law. The attorney general must release his first report by Nov. 23, 2006. Wagner’s report, which includes the state police’s response, is available on the Department of the Auditor General’s Web site, www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
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Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the Commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits, and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts more than 5,000 audits per year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department’s Web site at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us