A Look at the Sex Offender Registry

Not too many months ago, I wrote that if there's a dirty old man in my neighborhood, I want to know about it.

I agreed not to discriminate--so if there was a sex offender, rapist, or pedophile of either sex in my neighborhood, I wanted to know about it.

Now that Massachusetts has become the 41st state with a sex offender registry, I decided to test the system. Here's how it works.

Basically, a convicted sex offender has to, within 48 hours of his release from prison or jail, register address and intended place of employment with the State Department of Public Safety and the local police department. The criminals have to provide photo and fingerprints, too. Local police then notify school administrators that there is an offender registered in the district.

You have a right to this information. You can find out if any live in your neighborhood. Or work where you work. Or work at your kids' schools.

All you have to do is contact your local police department, or the State Police if you don't have a local cop shop, and request the information you want, for neighborhood, school or work.

I tried it.

I was required to pick up a request form at the Westfield Police Department. After I filled it out--with pretty simple information, like my name and address, and why I wanted the information--I had to have it notarized, and then I returned it to the police station in person.

About a week later, the chief's office called and said the information was ready. I picked it up. And, now I know. Two sex offenders live within a mile of my house.

There is one flaw in the legislation. If a sex offender fails to register, you won't know about it. And, up until now, there haven't been penalties for not registering.

We plan to change all that. Legislation has been introduced with penalties, including fines, for violators.

I think our children, particularly, need protection. And, yes, I'm aware that these convicted sex offenders have served their time and, perhaps, deserve anonymity. But I'm also aware that there is a very high rate of recidivism among this type of criminal.

Meanwhile, the system seems to be working. And, common sense tells us that offenders are a lot less likely to commit a criminal act again if the police are keeping an eye on them.

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