Sex offender laws: What we have, what we need
*** UPDATED (sort of) with response from the Maryland court system.
Today, Gov. Martin O'Malley is set to unveil his legislative agenda for the year. His aides say it will include a proposal requiring lifetime supervision of certain sex offenders. Lawmakers are expecting dozens of sex offender reforms, after an 11-year-old girl was abducted and killed in Salisbury last month. A sex offender is a suspect in the crime.
But what laws do we already have on the books? And how useful are they. My Sunday story examined two get-tough laws that are years old but have barely been used. Some lawmakers who worked on those provisions are livid, but the governor's office says they are simply unworkable, if not illegal.
Here's what we're not using:
"Emergency legislation from 2006 called for extra supervision of certain sex offenders, ranging from three years to a lifetime. Not a single person has been subjected to that extension, despite predictions it would affect at least 475 offenders every year.
That same measure created an advisory board to recommend overhauls of the entire sex offender system and issue its findings at the end of last year. The 13-member board was to include members of the governor's cabinet and citizens appointed by him.
The board has never met, and no report was produced.
Another law, enacted Oct. 1, 2007, requires judges to order mental health evaluations of all child sexual abusers at the time of sentencing as a way to help differentiate one-time offenders from dangerous predators.
Just two such evaluations have occurred, a tiny fraction of the people convicted of sexual abuse of a minor."
One major question that I couldn't answer in the story: Why aren't judges ordering mental health evaluations for child sex offenders, as required by law? Those evaluations were supposed to help put sexual predators away for longer terms.
From the story:
"As for why just two mental health evaluations have been conducted on child sex offenders, despite the 2007 law requiring judges to order them, "We've sort of wondered why, as well," said W. Lawrence Fitch, director of forensic service for the state Mental Hygiene Administration.
Fitch said half a dozen psychologists on contract with the agency are trained to perform the evaluations. The state sentencing commission told Simmons that nearly 300 people have been convicted of sexual abuse of a minor in the past three years.
"We really don't know why we're not being called," Fitch said. "We can speculate ... it's possible the bench and the bar just don't know about the law."
The executive branch has no enforcement authority over state courts.
A spokesman for the Maryland court system did not return phone calls and e-mails requesting information Friday. Several Circuit Court-level judges, who did not want their names used, said they had no idea they were supposed to be ordering mental health evaluations of child sex offenders."
The court system spokespeople still haven't returned my calls. I'll let you know if they do.
Received this e-mail at 3:30 p.m. today (more than 72 hours after calling with questions):
Our comment is as follows:
"We are currently researching the issue."
Darrell S. Pressley
Office of Communications and Public Affairs