Governor wants 200 sex offenders tracked

Local News: Rockford
Published: March 26, 2005

By AARON CHAMBERS, Register Star Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD When a convicted sex offender on parole leaves his home, its not clear exactly where he goes.

Most sex offenders on parole in Illinois including 27 in Winnebago County are subject to electronic detention, state officials say. But they can negotiate with their parole officers for time to be free from electronic detention, for such things as going to work or finding a job.

Now, the state Department of Corrections is preparing to fit 200 sex offenders with GPS units under a pilot project ordered by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The experiment would target the highest risk sex offenders, most likely those who preyed on children.

Illinois plan also shows the increasing lengths to which government is going to track offenders once they are out of prison and in the community. At the same time the GPS experiment is being discussed, Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants the state to have the option of keeping certain sex offenders under supervision for life. Under current law, the maximum term of supervision generally is three years.

The House this month passed legislation to implement lifetime supervision, and the Senate could vote in early April. If the state adopts GPS monitoring as a permanent tool and Madigans measure becomes law, some sex offenders could be carrying the units for life.

Critics, including lawmaker Rep. Art Turner, wonder whether government is putting scarlet letters on people who have served their time.

Hitting repeat offenders

The initiatives by Blagojevich and Madigan, both Chicago Democrats, are part of an ongoing effort to contain and monitor sex offenders.

Law enforcement officials say sexual predators are more likely than other criminals to repeat their crimes, and policy-makers have long given extraordinary attention to this class of criminals.

A sex offender on lifetime supervision will be electronically monitored GPS or the (standard electronic) bracelet as long as his behavior and risk warrant that level of supervision, said Cara Smith, policy director at the attorney generals office.

The state, Smith noted, has case after case of repeat offenders.
An Illinois law developed in the late 1990s permits the state to keep dangerous sex offenders behind bars indefinitely. When criminals are released into the community, the list of offenses for which they must register as sex offenders covers more than 30 crimes.

Illinois has pushed well beyond containment of pedophiles: This class of crimes covers such offenses as sexual relations within families and hiring a juvenile prostitute. The state posts the names of these sex offenders, as well as their mug shots and home addresses, on the Internet.

Critics say the state has gone too far.

Its certainly true that, with respect to a certain percentage of the sex offenders, its sort of mental illness and there would be a recurrence of the problem, said state Appellate Defender Theodore Gottfried, the states ranking public defender. But this class of people thats being called sex predators is so large now that its beyond that group of real child predators.

Turner, D-Chicago, was the only House member who declined to support the lifetime supervision initiative; he voted present. He said people can change for the better and should have the opportunity to live normal lives once they serve time in prison.

This is 2005, and I dont think people should be wearing scarlet letters on their chests for the rest of their lives.

Making parolees accountable

The GPS and lifetime supervision initiatives are aimed at sexual predators, as opposed to people who committed lesser crimes.

Other states, including Georgia and Minnesota, already use the global positioning systems to track sex offenders, and officials there say they generally are pleased with the results.

In Illinois, the GPS technology would be used in lieu of standard electronic tracking devices.

Offenders would be required to wear an electronic bracelet and carry a tracking device. As the wearer goes about his or her daily routine, the GPS units would track every movement.

When the offender returned home and put the tracking device in its cradle at the end of the day, it would transmit a digital report of the offenders travels. If the offender had stopped near a school, a victims home or another off-limits spot, the parole officer would know.

It allows you to hold the parolee accountable for where they go when they do leave their house, said Deanne Benos, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, which manages parolees.
You know where theyre going and if theyre going where they say theyre going.

The lifetime supervision initiative also is aimed at the most dangerous offenders: those convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault or criminal sexual assault.

Once sex offenders completed three years of post-prison supervision, they could argue for release from supervision. If they failed to convince the Prisoner Review Board that they no longer posed a threat to society, supervision would continue.

The idea of this bill is, put Illinois in a position where it can fashion supervision programs and dedicate resources where theyre needed, Smith said, versus a one-size-fits-all approach that we have right now.