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States all over the country are beefing up laws addressing how best to enforce sex offender registry requirements and manage the growing number of convicted sex offenders, according to StateNet, a website that tracks activity in state legislatures nationwide. Some of those trends include implementing different forms of Jessica's Law, which requires mandatory sentencing for violent sex offenders and GPS monitoring of parolled offenders. Others include implementing the statues included in the Adam Walsh Act, a 2006 federal law which includes location restrictions and community notification as well as registration with local law enforcement, among other provisions. Additionally, some states are seeing even newer trends emerge such as preemptive notification before a sex offender relocates into a new state, chemical castration, and identifying markers on state IDs like driver's licenses. All of these measures may seem controversial, but they are widely supported in the states where the legislation has been introduced.
Arkansas Representative Jon Woods is working to step up the requirements for sex offender registration, requiring offenders to register before they relocate, not after, as the law currently requires. House Bill 1009, "An Act To Provide for Public Notification of Sex Offenders Registered in Another State," would do just that. Current law in Arkansas requires out-of-state sex offenders to notify local authorities within the first ten days of moving into "The Natural State." The new bill would require sex-offenders to notify authorities ten days before moving. Many of them would be codified in the registry as Class 3 offenders, a status that carries with it residency restrictions. In this way, Arkansas law enforcement would be able to prevent sex offenders from living too close to schools, parks or day-care facilities, and be better able to notify communities in which sex offenders are moving.
While Arkansas uses registries and notifications to better deal with new sex offenders, Virginia hopes to manage the increasing costs of incarceration and civil confinement with a chemical castration bill introduced into the state House this year. Typically, a civil confinement program would allow for a sex offender who is deemed very likely to re-offend to be confined in a mental institution for longer than his or her sentence. Chemical castration, in concert with counseling and other services, is meant to help prevent recidivism and allow for sex offenders to be released into society after serving their sentence. Currently in Virginia, a dangerous predator must have known family or friends to whom he or she can be released from prison and into their custody - otherwise the offender is kept in civil confinement, costing the state up to $80,000 per year.
Marking a sex offender's driver's license is a less severe measure, but one garnering no less outcry as it gains momentum in states around the country. A surviving father of a victimized daughter, Moe Dubois is spearheading the effort to pass the measure in California. Similar laws have passed in Alabama and Tennessee and are now being considered in Maryland, Georgia and Kentucky. Driver's license markings have gained support because they would enable law enforcement officials to more completely evaluate a situation at a routine traffic stop. Those who oppose the measure say it will only serve to further marginalize convicted sex offenders, since a driver's license is the standard form of identification used for everything from writing a check to buying beer. Some states, including California, which has garnered recent media attention, is considering a mark that would only be visible under a blacklight or other technology exclusive to law enforcement officials. This would allow a greater ability on the part of law enforcement to make sure that sex offenders are following residency and other requirements but still protect the privacy of those with the mark.
As states face the challenge of how best to manage the growing population of convicted and released sex offenders, it is clear that the trend is to get tougher and tougher on those who prey on our nation's children.