Virgin Islands Is Safe Haven for Sex Offenders

The Virgin Islands’ sex offender registration law keeps registered sex offenders’ information more private than any U.S. state, and even the former senator who proposed the bill said he is unhappy with how the law is being interpreted.

The Virgin Islands Sexual Offender Registration and Community Protection law, passed 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 law also requires the V.I. Attorney General, a position currently held by Kerry Drue, 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.”

Schools must also be notified, said Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Programs Coordinator Judy Gomez.

Julius E. Sprauve School principal Mario Francis said he has not been notified of any sex offenders in the area during his six years at the school. It is not known if there are any sex offenders living within a one-mile radius of the school.

Vague Notification of Public
The 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 specific person required to register under this chapter when the release of the information is necessary for public protection,” states the law.

A request by St. John Tradewinds for a list of registered sex offenders in the area was denied by the DOJ.

“Please note that the Virgin Islands Code specifically states with who and under what circumstances this information may be released,” states a letter from Gomez. “Based on your letter, I can not provide you with the information requested.”

Former V.I. Senator Allie-Allison Petrus, who proposed the Sexual Offender Registration and Community Protection law in 1997, said he was surprised to hear that St. John Tradewinds’ request was denied.

“It was intended to be public information,” he said. “It was never intended to be a protection for sex offenders. That should be clarified.”

Petrus said that while he compiled the bill, he worked with the Law Enforce-ment Planning Commission to compile a database of local sex offenders’ information, which he intended to be posted online.

Web Site Not Operational
A Web site devoted to the Virgin Islands Sex Offender Registry,, was created. The site was functioning at the end of 2005; however, it did not list sex offenders in the territory, and instructed citizens to write to the DOJ for information. The site, which stated that it had not been updated since 2004, is no longer operational.

Petrus himself crossed paths with a sex offender, when his daughter was a student of registered sex offender Terry Bolinger of Georgia, who taught under the alias Donald Poncel at All Saints School on St. Thomas.

“You can see how close it hits home,” he said.

The V.I. government is in the process of deciding whether to allow Bolinger, who is residing in Douglas County, Ga., to return to the territory.

Petrus said that he will contact Senator at Large Craig Barshinger to ask him to amend the current law.

“This should become public information,” he said. “That was my intention, to make it available to the public. I’ll talk to him about making this public information.”

Gomez said she agrees that the law needs to be clarified.

“It’s a very limited provision,” she said. “It may need to be expanded. I’d like it to be open to the public, and I think it’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Lack of Psychologist Violates Law
Another problem faced by the DOJ is a lack of a psychologist on the board that regulates the sex offender registry, which is a requirement of the Virgin Islands Sexual Offender Registration and Community Protection law.

“I think that it’s very important that we get a psychologist named to the board,” said Gomez. “In order to classify sex offenders based on psychological classification, you would need someone who understands and practices in that field. I’ve been trying to lobby for one.”

The law provides for a board of five professionals.

“A territorial board composed of experts in the field of the behavior and treatment of sexual offenders is hereby established,” states the law. “The board shall consist of five members, including a psychiatrist, psychologist or a M.S.W. social worker; a child therapist; an expert in sex offenders; a victim’s rights advocate, and a law enforcement representative, all of whom shall be appointed by the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands for a term of four years.”

The other positions on the board are staffed, according to Gomez.

Not Registering A Crime
A person is required to register as a sex offender in the territory under several circumstances.

Those convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of a criminal offense against a minor or of a sexually violent offense must register, along with those who were determined to be a sexually violent predator. Anyone who is required to register, and fails to do so, is guilty of a crime, according to the V.I. Code.

Offenders must also notify the DOJ of a change of address, and are required to continue to register for 15 years following the initial registration date.