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Auditor General Jack Wagner Recommends Use of GPS Technology to Keep Track of Registered Sex Offenders
Special report finds that state didn’t know whereabouts of 923 offenders
HARRISBURG, July 22, 2008 – Auditor General Jack Wagner today recommended that the Pennsylvania State Police and the Board of Probation and Parole should request that the General Assembly amend the state’s Megan’s Law to require five years of global positioning system (GPS) monitoring for sex offenders who break the state law requiring them to verify their addresses.
Wagner also recommended that the state police and probation board should request that the General Assembly amend Megan’s Law to require at least five years of GPS monitoring for all sexually violent predators whose victims are children.
Wagner made the recommendations in a special report, released today, which disclosed that, in early June, the state had lost track of 923, or nearly 10 percent, of the state’s approximately 9,800 registered sex offenders.
“Because the primary purpose of the Megan’s Law registry is to help protect the public by letting community residents know where convicted sex offenders live, Pennsylvania should use every tool available to make sure the offenders keep their address registrations up to date,’’ Wagner said. “Children are our most precious and vulnerable members of our society, and we must do all that we can to keep them safe by not losing track of a single sex offender.’’
Megan’s Law is named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered by a twice-convicted sex offender in 1994. Pennsylvania passed its initial version of Megan’s Law in 1995.
The Pennsylvania State Police is the lead state agency for administering the commonwealth’s Megan’s Law, including maintaining information on the public Web site, www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us. The Web site provides the public such information as each sex offender’s name, home address and work or school address, as well as a physical description including height, weight and eye color. It also lists the type of crime for which each sex offender was convicted.
A review by Department of the Auditor General auditors estimated that at least 64 of the state’s registered sexually violent predators had been convicted of crimes against minors.
Wagner’s report noted that at least 33 states, as well as at least 14 Pennsylvania counties, already use GPS technology to track certain registered sex offenders. At present, Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law permits, but does not require, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole or county probation authorities to use GPS technology to track sex offenders.
Global positioning systems can pinpoint a person’s physical location using satellites in orbit. Offenders wear GPS tracking devices that detect the satellite signals and allow law enforcement officials to track the offenders’ movements almost minute by minute.
Pennsylvania counties using GPS typically charge sex offenders one-time hook-up fees of $30 to $50 and daily rates of $5 to $20 to cover equipment costs. County officials said that most offenders were able to pay the fees.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the probation board conducted a GPS pilot program in five different geographic locations from October 2005 until June 2006 but were disappointed by technological shortcomings such as a loss of satellite coverage in certain areas and various equipment malfunctions.
Wagner said that technological advances since then have made GPS more reliable, and that its advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages: GPS is the highest level of supervision available, short of incarceration; GPS data can be used in court; and GPS can serve as a deterrent to criminal behavior.
“While GPS technology cannot prevent a crime from occurring, it can provide critical, verifiable information either to place a sex offender at the scene of a committed crime or to rule the offender out,’’ Wagner said. “There is no reason why Pennsylvania should not revise the present Megan’s Law to require GPS monitoring of our most violent sexual predators as well as sex offenders who have broken the law by failing to register their addresses.’’
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 approximately 5,000 audits per year.
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