HARRISBURG – Attorney General Tom Corbett released a performance audit of Pennsylvania’s “Megan’s Law” registration of sexual offenders, recommending a series of enhancements to ensure accurate and comprehensive information about sex offenders.
Corbett explained that the Pennsylvania General Assembly first enacted Megan’s Law in 1995, following the brutal rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka. Megan was murdered by a neighbor who, unbeknownst to the Kanka family, had twice previously been convicted of sex offenses against young girls. “Megan’s Law” requires the registration of sex offenders and provides detailed information about various offenders on the state’s Megan’s Law website.
Corbett said the audit reviewed the accuracy of sex offender registration in Pennsylvania and identified ways the system can be improved. Additionally, Corbett noted that the review by the audit team from the Office of Attorney General has resulted in the Megan’s Law registration of 369 sex offenders who were required by law to register, but who had not previously done so.
“It is essential that Pennsylvanians have access to timely, accurate and comprehensive information about the sex offenders living in their communities,” Corbett said. “This audit has identified several issues and concerns that must be addressed in order to prevent sex offenders from evading the registration process, as well as to ensure that Megan’s Law continues to provide Pennsylvania citizens with the best possible access to this vital information.”
Corbett said that in November 2004, the General Assembly provided for a first-ever audit of the performance of the various criminal justice agencies that have a role in the Megan’s Law registration of convicted sex offenders. The legislature directed that the audit be comprehensive in nature, and specifically indicated that the results should not be released to the general public any earlier than 18-months from the authorization date.
As part of this review, auditors examined the policies and practices of the Pennsylvania State Police, Board of Probation and Parole, Department of Corrections, State Sexual Offenders Assessment Board and Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts. Additionally, the audit reviewed the Megan’s Law-related actions of the Clerks of Court for Pennsylvania’s 67 counties; county probation and parole systems; county prison systems; District Attorneys and police departments charged with maintaining supervisory contact with offenders.
In order to assess how various agencies performed the duties assigned to them by Megan’s Law, auditors reviewed more than 15,000 individual cases. The process was made more difficult by the absence of electronically available information concerning the disposition of various cases, requiring a lengthy county-by-county review of court records.
The audit process was further complicated by numerous amendments and adjustments to Megan’s Law since its initial passage in 1995, resulting in significant modifications to the registration and notification requirements. This initial audit covers the period from the inception of Megan’s Law, in late-1995, through Dec. 31, 2005, while future audits will be conducted on a calendar-year basis.
In addition to reviewing the Megan’s Law registration system, auditors also studied Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law Web site and analyzed the impact of recent federal legislation concerning the registration and public notification about sex offenders.
Megan’s Law Registration
The rate of compliance with sex offender registration requirements in Pennsylvania during the audit period was 95.9 percent.
A total of 15,763 cases were examined, resulting in the identification of 401 cases where an offender’s Megan’s Law conviction was not properly recorded, along with 369 cases in which offenders were required to register, but had not.
The records for improperly recorded or unregistered sex offenders were updated and corrected during the course of the audit. Additionally, auditors accounted for offenders who had not yet been released from prison (and were not yet required to register), had died, or had been deported.
Megan’s Law Web site
The Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law Web site is the primary mechanism for public information about sexual offenders. The audit determined that the PA Megan’s Law website is in compliance with state law, but also concluded that increasing the information available on the website would be beneficial to the public.
Corbett explained that auditors compared Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law Web site to the sites maintained by other states. During that review, auditors determined that a majority of states posted information about sexual offenders that was not allowed by Pennsylvania law during the time period covered by the audit, including physical descriptions and addresses. Recent amendments to Megan’s Law have changed this.
The auditors also noted that many states use improved technology to present this information, including mapping functions that show the whereabouts of sexual offenders in relationship to schools, day care centers, churches and other facilities, following a national trend of providing the public with as much information as possible about Megan’s Law offenders.
Corbett added that the enactment of the Adam Walsh Act will require certain adjustments to Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law website, and recommended that other upgrades and improvements be undertaken in order to enhance the public’s ability to obtain useful information about sexual offenders in their communities.
Adam Walsh Act
Corbett explained that the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, signed by President George W. Bush on July 27, 2006, elevates the classification, registration, notification and apprehension of sex offenders to a national level. The law established a national database, maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with a national sex offender public website.
The chief effect of the Adam Walsh Act in Pennsylvania involves the classification of various sex offenders, the registration requirements for those classifications, and community notification.
Additionally, the act established minimum content and search functions for various state Megan’s Law websites, and requires that each state site must allow visitors to access the national sex offender public website.
Based on the comprehensive review of the implementation of Megan’s Law in Pennsylvania, the auditors made a series of recommendations to enhance the accuracy of the Megan’s Law registry, provide more comprehensive public information to the public and adjust state statutes to fully integrate Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law system with federal law and the new national sex offender registry (created by the Adam Walsh Act).
The recommendations of the Megan’s Law audit are as follows:
1. Registration of sex offenders should be required at the time of sentencing –
The current registration provision in Pennsylvania generally defers Megan’s Law registration until the time of release. Requiring registration at the time of conviction would eliminate possible delays in public notification and would better serve the interest of protecting the public. Responsibility for completing the Megan’s Law registration should be assigned to specific court officers and the corrections and probation/parole system should be required to periodically update registrations during the course of an offender’s incarceration and supervision so the information remains current.
2. Technology for enforcing Pennsylvania Megan’s Law should be improved –
The audit determined that the lack of adequate technology to communicate case information between various agencies was the single largest factor in delayed or missing information about sex offenders. All criminal justice agencies responsible for reporting and tracking a sex offender’s status should be able to access the record of any sex offender at any time. The audit recommends the development of a secure, web-based system to permit communications about sex offenders between all criminal justice agencies, within Pennsylvania and between various states.
3. The Pennsylvania Megan’s Law Web site should be upgraded and expanded –
Additional information and features should be made available on the state Megan’s Law website in order to supply more useful information to the public, including, but not limited to, improved mapping and tracking of sex offender locations; notification of victims; the inclusion additional data about sex offenders; and e-mail tips concerning sex offenders.
4. Adjustments should be made to PA law to implement the Adam Walsh Act –
Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law should be amended to implement the national three-tier system for classifying sex offenders. Changes are also necessary to expand the information provided in connection with registration, as well as web-based disclosure of information about sex offenders.
5. Sufficient resources should be provided to carry out these enhancements –
Additional technology, personnel and funding will be required to implement the more intensive registration requirements of the Adam Walsh Act, as well as to improve the public dissemination of information about sex offenders and the monitoring of agencies involved in the registration process.
Corbett thanked the various agencies involved in the audit process for their assistance and cooperation.
A copy of the Megan’s Law audit is available for public review on the Attorney General’s Web site.