The Virginia State Crime Commission's sex offender task force has recommended tougher punishments for violent sex offenders and improved efforts to track offenders once they are released from prison.
The task force, composed of legislators, law enforcement officials and members of the public, endorsed a proposal to set a 25-year minimum prison term for a violent sexual assault against a child and mandate a life sentence for a second offense. The group also wants to tighten the requirements of the state's online sex offender registry and supports hiring 71 Virginia state troopers to ensure that offenders follow registry rules.
The group's recommendations will be considered by the full crime commission Wednesday. Those approved will be put before the General Assembly in January.
Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), task force co-chairman and a former prosecutor, said that he expects most of the measures to receive broad support and that the biggest issue facing lawmakers will be whether money is available to implement the changes.
Crime commission officials estimated that funding all of the task force's proposals would cost about $31 million in fiscal 2007 and 2008. The additional money would be needed by the State Police, the state attorney general's office and the state Department of Corrections. The estimate includes money for new workers, including troopers, lawyers and psychologists, as well as for computer equipment for updating the offender registry.
"The question is a matter of resources," Albo said. "I happen to think there is no amount of money better spent than sticking these guys behind bars."
Virginia has stepped up efforts to target sex offenders in recent years. It is among about a dozen states that allow some convicted sex offenders to be held indefinitely in psychiatric institutions after their prison terms end. Such a civil commitment requires a court determination that an offender poses a danger in the community.
Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R-Virginia Beach), task force co-chairman and also a former prosecutor, recently was certified the winner of the election for state attorney general. He has pledged to make reform of sexual predator laws a focus. McDonnell won by a narrow margin, and his Democratic opponent, Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), has requested a recount.
McDonnell said many of the proposals were prompted by concern that pedophiles who are released from prison will commit new crimes.
"We have to take these people off the street for longer periods of time after they commit a violent offense against children," McDonnell said. "And these offenders, if they do get out, have to be monitored in a much better way, using all the available technology."
McDonnell cited the proposal that would increase the mandatory minimum punishment for a violent sexual assault against a child to 25 years. Currently, Virginia law calls for a sentence of five years to life for such an offense.
He also noted a task force recommendation that some offenders have their movements tracked by the Global Positioning System after they have been freed. GPS is a navigation and tracking system that uses a belt of satellites ringing the Earth.
In addition, the group wants lawmakers to tighten some requirements of the online registry and add rules. For example, sex offenders who move now have 10 days to report a change of address. The task force recommended shortening that window to three days. The group also has suggested that updated photos of offenders be placed on the registry every two years.