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November 23, 2009

The many new tech challenges surrounding the monitoring of old and new sex offenders

This morning's Washington Post has this fascinating and important new article headlined "Tracking sex-crime offenders gets trickier: Violator registry is growing as tech-savvy predators put a greater burden on officers." Here are excerpts:

The nationwide crackdown on child pornography and other sex offenses has created severe manpower shortages and technology challenges for probation officers, police and federal agents struggling to track offenders who are jumping online with cellphones and portable game systems and flocking to social networking and other sites, where children or pornography can easily be found.

There are more than 716,000 registered sex offenders nationwide, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a 78 percent increase since 2001, and that does not include all offenders because some crimes do not require registration.  Sex-offender registries have grown even faster in the Washington area, with more than 24,000 people listed....

The focus on crimes against children that began in the Bush administration shows no sign of abating under President Obama. Federal child sexual exploitation prosecutions are up 147 percent since 2002, and the Justice Department is hiring 81 more prosecutors for these cases.  Funding for task forces that bring charges in state courts rose this year from $16 million to $75 million.

But many of those offenders are now leaving prison, even as revenue-strapped states are cutting the budgets of probation departments.  In Virginia, probation and parole cuts this year totaled nearly $10 million, including $500,000 for electronic monitoring of sexually violent predators.  Maryland also has cut its budget. "The burden on probation and parole officers is going to explode," said Ernie Allen, the national center's president.

The monitoring of virtually all sex offenders is required by law when they are on probation or parole. The problem has gained national attention with the discovery of 10 bodies and a skull at a registered sex offender's home in Cleveland and revelations that Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 and allegedly held captive at a California sex offender's house until her reappearance in August.  Officers had visited both homes and noticed nothing wrong.

Those cases underscore a troubled registry system that has been the public face of sex-offender monitoring.  An estimated 100,000 offenders do not comply with registration requirements. Law enforcement doesn't know where many of them are.

But the most alarming development for officers is proliferating electronic gadgets and the temptations they pose to sex offenders.  A man on probation in Iowa for molesting a 9-year-old girl, for example, was recently caught downloading pornographic images of a young girl on his PlayStation Portable -- while walking to his probation appointment.

Sometimes, offenders cannot be monitored even while in custody.  David L. Franklin, a church deacon, pleaded guilty in federal court to sending child pornography to an undercover D.C. police detective.  While awaiting sentencing, Franklin struck up another online conversation with the same detective, who traced the defendant to an unusual address -- the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility.  Franklin had smuggled a cellphone into his jail cell and was on his bunk, online, when guards grabbed it, sources familiar with the case said.

November 23, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I have wondered why there is such hysteria about child porn. I don't even know what it is. Where does it come from? I don't know anybody who wants to do this, and I sure would never waste my time with such boredom. But, I read so much about how many resources are being spent on prosecuting offenders of this law, and monitoring them afterwards, and registering them. Who does it hurt?
I believe that when adults commit acts of violence or serious harm to other people, that is what we need to be spending our resources on. Then we would have more time to watch people like dugard who had kidnapped, a serious violation.

Posted by: DLJ | Nov 23, 2009 4:47:46 PM

i read a report years ago that stated that upward of 90% of it on the web was in fact placed there by the u.s govt as bait.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Nov 25, 2009 3:35:05 AM

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