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Township Moves Toward Sex Offender Residency Law

Facing the justice system.

Facing the justice system.

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – A draft of a prospective ordinance that would impose residency restrictions on convicted sex offenders, first discussed by the township Board of Commissioners last August, is expected to be unveiled to the public later this month (January 2009).

Board members and their solicitor, R. Kurtz Holloway, have held several discussions about the law that is apparently intended to limit where identified offenders can live within the township’s 8 square miles. None of the proposed law’s specifics have been made publicly available, but commissioners’ Vice President Jonathan Spadt said during the board’s Dec. 18 (2008) meeting that he expected the ordinance would be ready before January’s end.

Board members declared their interest in such a law during their Aug. 21, 2008, meeting, after a representative of Oak Drive residents expressed concerns about what the board’s official minutes describe as “a sexual predator who was residing in their neighborhood.”

Pennsylvania’s “Megan’s Law” requires the State Police to maintain a registry of anyone who lives, works or attends school in the state and has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to certain child or youth sex offenses. The law, which took effect in 1996, is named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered by a known offender.

The state registry is available online. It showed 56 identified offenders living in Pottstown’s 19464 zip code as of Thursday (Jan. 1, 2009) and, of those, five who live in Lower Pottsgrove Township. The federal government operates a similar database; as of Thursday it showed 71 offenders living in the zip code but did not specifically identify those with township addresses.

Municipalities across the country have enacted laws like that being considered for Lower Pottsgrove, with varying restrictions.

In October (2008), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania for enacting an offender residency law it claimed was overly broad. Allegheny County’s law prohibits convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, daycare centers, parks, playgrounds and other places where children congregate.

Witold Walczak, ACLU legal director in Pennsylvania, claims that “sex-offender residency laws are political placebos that offer the public a false sense of safety, while in reality they interfere with Megan’s Laws and undermine more effective individualized efforts to prevent future crimes,” according to a United Press International report.

Related (from the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 18 meeting):

Photo from Clipart.com

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