Bill Would Provide Resources and Training to Parole Officers, Change Juvenile Sexting Penalties
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Linda R. Greenstein, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Kevin O’Toole that would revise and strengthen Megan’s Law to improve community supervision of convicted sex offenders and to better protect New Jersey’s children received final legislative approval today. The legislation also updates the law based on advances in electronic communication and would ensure that minors whose only sex-related offense was sexting are not placed on the sex offender registry.
“The brutal murder of 7-year-old, HamiltonTownship resident, Megan Kanka, prompted one of the first-in-the-nation sex offender registries. This registry has provided countless parents across the state with vital information of who is living in their neighborhood and the dangers that could await their children,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “Like any piece of legislation, as times change, it is important for the Legislature to revisit and update it. Since technology has so rapidly advanced, parents must now be vigilant against sexual predators both when their children are outside and inside the home, because luring and sexual advances can happen on computers and phones in living rooms and bedrooms. This legislation will help better arm law enforcement – including parole officers – with the skills, training and tools to effectively monitor those convicted of sex crimes to ensure the continued safety of our kids.”
“The State Parole Board has the daunting task of monitoring convicted sex offenders throughout the state under Megan’s Law,” said Senate President Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “What has always been a large task to ensure that sex offenders do not prey on our children has grown exponentially as more offenders have been added to the registry, and technological advances have provided offenders with new outlets to recommit. We must provide our parole officers with the training and resources necessary to effectively monitor these individuals’ online footprints, notify families of dangerous individuals in their neighborhoods and ensure that sex offenders do not recommit these heinous crimes and harm another child.”
“It is imperative we empower law enforcement officers to better track and lock down sex offenders,” said Senator O’Toole, R-Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Morris. “This balanced legislation keeps the most-heinous sex offenders behind bars longer and provides authorities with improved resources to monitor certain predators for life. They will face higher penalties, and convicted sex offenders will be forced to pay for their supervision.”
The bill, S-2636, would provide training to parole officers to better prepare them to identify supervised sex offenders who are using electronic devices in unlawful activities. The officers would receive instruction in determining if supervised sex offenders have illegally used computers or telecommunications devices to commit unlawful or criminal acts; in forensic recovery, evidence preservation and analysis of data in computer systems seized because of possible criminal activity; in monitoring the use of interactive computer services by supervised sex offenders; and in cooperating with other law enforcement agencies to coordinate efforts in investigating and prosecuting unlawful computer activity by supervised sex offenders.
A 2007 law, sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Greenstein and co-sponsored by Senate President Sweeney, outlawed the use of the Internet for sex offenders who were convicted of using the Web to commit their crime. The Senators note that this bill will help to train parole officers to better enforce this legislation.
The bill creates a new revenue stream to ensure the continued supervision and monitoring of sex offenders. Under the bill, a $30 per month penalty would be imposed on those convicted of a sex offense. The money would go to pay for expenses incurred in supervising sex offenders, including but not limited to covering the salary and benefits for additional parole officers, the acquisition of equipment for monitoring offenders such as GPS devices, and purchasing equipment to expand the Parole Board’s ability to supervise offenders. The bill would allow for those making 149 percent of the poverty line or below to be exempt from the penalty.
The bill would also provide that a juvenile who has committed a consensual sexting offense, and is adjudicated delinquent, would not be required to register as a sex offender. Sexting is the act of creating, exhibiting or distributing nude photographs through an electronic communication device such as a cell phone or computer. According to an Associated Press-MTV poll, one in four teenagers has been involved in naked sexting. While the Senators note that sexting has severe consequences, they feel that this lapse in judgment should not destroy a juvenile’s life.
The bill makes additional revisions to Megan’s Law including:
- Upgrading the crime of sexual assault – a crime of the third degree – against a person with an intellectual or physical incapacitation to aggravated sexual assault – a crime of the second degree – which is punishable by five to ten years in prison and/or $150,000 fine;
- Prohibiting tier-two sex offenders who have shown repetitive, compulsive behavior from invoking a statutory exception to keep his or her name off the Internet registry. Currently all of tier three – high risk to reoffend – and some of tier two – moderate risk to re-offend – are placed on the Internet database; and
- Permitting a person who was given Community Supervision for Life, and commits any subsequent sex offense, to be given a special sentence of Parole Supervision for Life. Community Supervision for Life applies to certain sex offenses committed from 1994 to 2004. A person who violates provisions of this program is committing a criminal offense and must go through a criminal proceeding for additional punishment. Since 2004, sex offenders have been sentenced to Parole Supervision for Life. Parole supervision differs from Community Supervision in that a violation of this program is considered a parole violation; therefore punishment is an administrative function not requiring a criminal proceeding.
Megan’s Law was passed in 1994, only one-month after the sexual assault and murder of seven-year-old Hamilton resident Megan Kanka by her neighbor, a repeat sex offender. The law requires sex offenders to register with local law enforcement and, depending upon the severity of their crime, requires law enforcement to notify community members when a sex offender moves into a new neighborhood.
The bill was approved by the General Assembly today with a vote of 78-0-1. The Senate voted to concur with Assembly amendments with a vote of 39-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.