After years of hard work, the Virgin Islands’ Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) Task Force has concluded its effort to draft proposed legislation mandating the punishment, registration requirements and occupational limitations for those convicted of sex offenses.
The task force convened following the enactment of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act by Congress in 2006, which mandates that all 50 states and territories substantially comply with SORNA by July of this year.
The V.I.’s SORNA Task Force met for the last time this month at a two-day retreat convened by V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa. The proposed legislation drafted by the task force is currently in final review, and will subsequently be sent to the Office of the Governor, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Virgin Islands Legislature for adoption.
“Provided that the new statutory language passes muster with the U.S. DOJ and is subsequently changed very little, if any, by the Virgin Islands Legislature prior to adoption, it is our belief that the territory will be substantially compliant with SORNA by the July 2011 deadline,” said V.I. DOJ spokesperson Sara Lezama.
The Virgin Islands faces unique challenges when it comes to regulating sex offenders, such as whether those vacationing in the territory should register, and whether the small size of the islands lends itself to restrictions on how close sex offenders can live to schools and other child care facilities.
“The new statute requires that a sex offender who enters the territory for a period of 30 days or less, i.e. on vacation, must register with the Department of Justice and provide the address where they intend to reside,” said Lezama. “The legislation does not restrict where a sex offender may live in relation to schools; however, if a registered sex offender is a student at a college, vocational school, or otherwise, they must provide the DOJ with the address of each school where the sex offender is, or will be, a student.”
Additionally, Lezama added, the proposed legislation requires all owners, employers and operators of child care facilities to apply for a V.I. Sex Offender Background Check via the DOJ for all prospective employees and volunteers. Additionally, those applying for a business license to operate a child care or child residential treatment facility must undergo a background check. Registered sex offenders will not be permitted to work at child care facilities.
The issue of sex offenders in the territory was brought to the forefront recently with the arrest of Aaron Thomas McCord, a two-time convicted sex offender, who failed to register upon arriving in the Virgin Islands.
The V.I. DOJ was alerted of his intent to relocate to the territory by the state of Arkansas, and when McCord failed to register locally, an investigation into his whereabouts was launched. He was subsequently arrested in Estate Pastory.
“I believe the passage of the federal law mandating that the V.I. meet SORNA requirements has heighted the DOJ’s sensitivity to the presence of sex offenders in the territory and its obligation to maintain a current and working registry of those individuals,” said Lezama.
The Virgin Islands’ sex offender registry can be viewed at the DOJ’s Web site, www.doj.vi.gov.