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Friday, March 22, 2013
Re: "Botetourt neighbors: Rapist is unwelcome," March 7 news story:
For four years, I was executive director of the since-dissolved nonprofit Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia, and am now a part-time volunteer advocate to reform the Virginia sex offender registry.
I am not going to address Calvert Thompson's background or past convictions nor attempt to look into a crystal ball to presume what he might do in the future.
I will say he has served his court-ordered debt to society.
The commonwealth then considered him for civil commitment as a sexually violent predator and determined he did not qualify.
Gov. Bob McDonnell established the Virginia Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Re-entry Council so that those who have served their time and are released can successfully re-enter society while reducing recidivism.
Posting signs from the state police website about a registered sex offender, as Thompson's prospective neighbors have done, significantly hinders a successful re-entry.
I am concerned that if neighborhood actions escalate, concerned residents could face charges of their own for harassment or worse.
The location of registered sex offenders' homes or places of employment in relation to a school bus stop, school, day care facility, park or a recreation center has no bearing whatsoever on their re-offense rate. This has been well documented in numerous studies and reports by experts in the field.
The commonwealth has taken the stance that the public has the right to know about people who have been convicted of sex crimes, so we have a public registry.
Yet the commonwealth makes no effort to educate the public about the inferior classification system we have or about the real risks - so now, there are citizens posting signs.
Ignorance breeds fear, and fear begets hate.
The "not in my back yard" attitude doesn't benefit anyone or solve anything.
Thompson has a wife and a home to relocate to. That makes his odds of a successful re-entry into society higher.
But neighbors posting signs to banish him increases his risk of failure.
As a society, we need to take facts and data into account, and we should be offering Thompson and his wife support and encouragement.
Misuse of information taken from the Virginia State Police website is a misdemeanor. Commonwealth's Attorney Joel Branscom has decided the yard signs do not violate the law, but I think they tread very close to harassment and intimidation, and I hope state police will investigate.
I have made McDonnell's administration aware that the registry postings are not sufficient when an offender is moving into a neighborhood. Educational meetings would be beneficial so neighbors will understand the obstacles of re-entry that the 19,000-plus registered sex offenders in the commonwealth face.
Perhaps the administration will form a subcommittee of the re-entry commission for sex offenders.
And if any crime is committed against Thompson or his wife, it should be prosecuted as a felony, as it is in many states.
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