As Senator at Large Craig Barshinger leaves office, his more than 40 proposed bills will leave with him unless a senator from the 27th Legislature takes them over — and that includes the bill that would make it easier for V.I. residents to obtain listings of sex offenders in their area.
The current legislation, proposed by Senator Allie-Allison Petrus in 1997, provides access to the territory’s sexual offender registry to “any law enforcement agency for law enforcement purposes, and to government agencies conducting confidential background checks.”
The Virgin Islands Sexual Offender Registration and Community Protection Law also requires the V.I. Attorney General to “notify the owner of a child-care facility whenever a person who is required to register under this chapter lives within a one-mile radius of that child-care facility.”
Info Private In V.I.
Schools must also be notified when a sex offender moves within one mile, although Julius E. Sprauve School Principal Mario Francis acknowledged that he has not been notified of any sex offenders living in the area during his six-and-a-half years at the school.
It is not known if there are any sex offenders living within a one-mile radius of the school.
Registered sex offenders’ information is kept more private in the V.I. than in any other state. A National Sex Offender Public Registry, located at www.nsopr.gov, allows citizens to search for registered sex offenders in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Guam — but not the Virgin Islands.
The current law is vague and open to interpretation when it comes to notification of the public.
“The Attorney General shall release to the public relevant and necessary information regarding a specified person required to register under this chapter when the release of the information is necessary for public protection,” states the law.
Tradewinds Request Denied
Petrus was surprised to hear that a January 2006 request by St. John Tradewinds for a list of registered sex offenders in the area was denied by the Department of Justice.
“It was intended to be public information,” Petrus said in March. “It was never intended to be a protection for sex offenders. That should be clarified.”
“It was my intention to make the information available to the public,” Petrus added.
Department of Justice Special Programs Coordinator Judy Gomez responded to St. John Tradewinds’ request.
“Please note that the Virgin Islands Code specifically states with whom and under what circumstances this information may be released,” states Gomez in her response letter. “Based on your letter, I can not provide you with the information requested.”
There is a Web site dedicated to the Virgin Islands Sexual Offenders Registry, www.sexualoffenders.vi, but the site does not list registered sex offenders, and has not been updated since 2004.
Out of Date Web Site
The site is under construction and features an information request form, where one can ask to be sent information on Virgin Islands law, or ask to be contacted by a V.I. Justice Department attorney.
By sharing registered sex offenders’ information with the public, communities are safer, stated Attorney General Robert Gonzales on the National Sex Offender Public Registry.
“The Department of Justice is committed to working with our state and local partners to keep our communities safe from sexual predators,” stated Gonzales. “As part of this initiative, the Department has launched a nationwide, Internet-based, searchable Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry Web site. The silent sex offender can be just as dangerous as notorious neighborhood gang members, and because of this we must keep parents and communities informed and engaged.”
Bring V.I. Up To Date
Barshinger’s proposed legislation would bring the V.I. in line with the rest of the U.S.
“I suspected there was a need for better legislation,” he said in April. “I put in legislation to update it to the current standard, because we certainly need that. We need to update ourselves, and the Tradewinds has proved that point by trying to make a request and being denied.”
If Barshinger’s proposed sex offender legislation is not picked up by a senator from the 27th Legislature, it will die, according to the outgoing Senator at Large.
“If there is another senator who wants it, I will personally sign it over to them so they can carry it,” said Barshinger. “Otherwise, it will dissolve just like sugar crystals into a glass of water.”
The legislation is still in its very early stages, Barshinger explained.
“There is nothing significant done on it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where it’s an idea that hasn’t even gone to a draft. Right now it’s in play, but it’s only in the beginning stages.”
The sex offender legislation is just one of 40 bills that Barshinger is trying to pass on during his last weeks in office, he said.
Public Can Help
“I’m trying to give away all my bills,” said Barshinger. “That’s my job next week.”
The public can help the sex offender legislation stay alive by urging members of the 27th Legislature to take it over.
“If the senators had 80 emails from different people wanting the sex offender bill to go through, it would get through in four to six months,” said Barshinger.
Senators can be contacted through the V.I. Legislature’s Web site at www.senate.gov.vi.