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 November 7, 2003
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Exclusive Investigation
Is Megan's Law Working In Rhode Island?
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Eyewitness News investigates a law that's expected to protect you and your family.
It's called Megan's Law and it's supposed to let you know if a sex offender lives in your neighborhood. But is it working in Rhode Island?
Each state is required by the federal government to have such a law. Rhode Island's version was enacted in 1996, but Megan's law has been a failure in Rhode Island.
Eyewitness News has learned a new version of the law has been written and introduced in the General Assembly. Maureen Kanka testified before a Rhode Island house committee in 1996. She described how her 7-year-old daughter Megan - after whom Megan's law is named - was raped and murdered in New Jersey. He lured her in with the promise of seeing puppy, raped her, strangled and suffocated and he dumped her body in a nearby park.
Rhode Island enacted a Megan's Law that year, designed to make convicted sex offenders register and allow for community notification.
There are 1,400 registered sex offenders in Rhode Island. But only 150 of them have been reviewed by the Sex Offender Review Board. And only 6 of them have made it all the way through the process to community notification. So clearly, community notification is not at all working in Rhode Island.
Langhammer, who is also executive director of the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center, says the current law is too complicated.
�It�s been a very cumbersome process. It simply was not working because it was a two-tiered process.�
So the resource center spearheaded formation of a task force that came up with a new bill that was introduced in the General Assembly last week. This bill I think is streamlined and it's going to make a big difference.
The poster boy for the old system was Chester Kidd. He was the first person in Rhode Island to be classified as a sexually violent predator ďż˝ a designation that was later changed. His North Providence address was made public and vandals tossed a brick through his window, forcing him to move. The head of the state police says the new legislation tries to avoid the possibility of vigilantism.
It's a balance between the community's right to know who's living in their community against the privacy of someone who perhaps has made a mistake and has been rehabilitated and has not re-offended.
But the proposed new law is tough. Sex offenders who do not register can be charged with a felony and sentenced up to 10 years in jail upon conviction and fined $10,000. Other changes include address verification by the Sex Offender Notification Unit. And use of the state to publicize the location of sexually violent predators.
The General Assembly will hold hearings on dates yet to be announced on the proposed new law.
There are those who feel that sex offender notification is unfair to those who have already completed the terms of their punishment. But the federal government requires community notification and advocates in Rhode Island promise that this time it will work. More Information is available from the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center. The phone number is 421-4100, extension 223.

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