Just two minutes after being sworn into the 27th Legislature, Senator Liston Davis sponsored a bill to open the Virgin Islands sex offender registry, picking up where former Senator at Large Craig Barsinger left off.
Barshinger introduced the bill in an effort to clarify the territory’s current laws governing the sex offender registry, which is currently accessible to law enforcement officials only.
“Victims also have rights, and is it too much to ask that when sexual predators are released back into our community that those whom they have preyed upon should know their whereabouts?” said Davis in a written statement. “This is like trying to close the barn door after the horse has been let out, but at least the ability to inspect the registry would give some psychological comfort to the victims of rape and other sexual offenses.”
Registry Intended to be Open
The current law governing the sex offender registry, proposed by Senator Allie-Allison Petrus in 1997, provides access to the registry to “any law enforcement agency for law enforcement purposes and to government agencies conducting confidential background checks.”
Petrus intended for the registry to be open to the public, he explained after being notified that a 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,” said Petrus. “It was never intended to be a protection for sex offenders. That should be clarified.”
Barshinger’s legislation stalled due to a high amount of bill requests — more than 1,000 — and only six attorneys to handle them, the former Senator at Large explained.
Registered sex offenders’ information is kept more private in the Virgin Islands than in any other state. A National Sex Offender Public Registry, www.nsopr.gov, allows citizens to search for registered sex offenders in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Guam — but not the V.I.
“State sex offender registration and notification programs are designed, in general, to include information about offenders who have been convicted of a ‘criminal offense against a victim who is a minor’ or a ‘sexually violent offense,’ as specified in the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act — more specifically, information about persons convicted of offenses involving sexual molestation or sexual exploitation of children, and persons convicted of rape and rape-like offenses,” according to the national sex offender Web site.
Davis considers making the sex offender registry open to the public a “significant issue,” according to his release.