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Judicial Branch experiments with GPS to track sex offenders

Associated Press | August 22, 2005
By CARA RUBINSKY

HARTFORD, Conn. -- State court officials are experimenting with a global positioning satellite system to monitor sex offenders on probation.

William H. Carbone, director of court support services for the state Judicial Branch, said three probation officers tested the small, purselike GPS devices by wearing them on their belts for three months.

A convicted sex offender in Hartford is now wearing one, and judges may order others in the area to do the same as part of a pilot program.

If the technology works as it should, Carbone said, his division hopes to offer it statewide by the fall. The total cost has not been estimated.

"The main concern is that to make sure that it works, that it doesn't give false positives on things," he said.

House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said Monday that GPS tracking of convicted sex offenders is part of a package of Megan's Law reforms that he and other Democrats plan to push in the 2006 legislative session.

The law is named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl, Megan Kanka, who was raped and killed in 1994 by a neighbor who was a convicted sex offender.

Last month, Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed lifetime GPS tracking for sex offenders who prey on children or the elderly. Under her proposal, offenders would pay the cost of their own monitoring, estimated at $10 to $15 a day.

Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano said Monday that technology already used by shipping and trucking companies could help to keep kids safe from sex offenders.

"We do it in those industries to protect the business interests that are affected," Morano said. "We need to utilize that same tracking technology to protect our children."

Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Ohio and Tennessee all have sex offender tracking laws, and Minnesota and Texas are experimenting with GPS.

Though GPS could be used to track anyone on probation, Carbone said it would be particularly useful for keeping tabs on sex offenders. Many are required to remain set distances from places children gather, such as schools and playgrounds.

The GPS system alerts probation officers when offenders enter areas that are off-limits, and officers can track their movements via computer.

Sex offenders "require very intensive supervision," Carbone said. "This really gives the officer extra eyes and ears on someone. It's really an invaluable tool."

Each probation officer in the division that supervises sex offenders handles 45 cases, though federal guidelines suggest no more than 25.

Decreasing their caseload by hiring more officers is another reform Amann and Democratic lawmakers said they plan to push next year.

They also want to link Connecticut's sex offender registry to a new national database and make permanent incarceration an option for the most serious offenders.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he believes all of the suggested reforms, including the GPS tracking, are constitutional.

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