When Pennsylvania and several other states created and implemented drug treatment courts, the new programs focused on helping convicted offenders beat drug or alcohol addiction and get their lives back on track. Therefore, it can be said that these new drug court programs existed primarily for the benefit of convicted offenders, with an added bonus of decreased costs to the Pennsylvania court and jail system.
When it was announced that Pennsylvania would implement a new sex crimes court, many believed that the goals would be similar. However, from the statements of court officials throughout the state, it appears that the opposite may be true.
According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, a pilot sex offender court program will begin next month in Allegheny County. After an unspecified period, court officials will evaluate the program, and if it is deemed a success, it will be expanded statewide. Pennsylvania is the third state in the U.S. to implement such a program.
Instead of focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders, the court will be focused on protecting and improving public safety by reducing repeat crimes committed by registered sex offenders. Specifically, the court will create a uniform system for coordinating Megan's Law cooperation and punishing those who violate the terms of sex offender registration requirements.
Pennsylvania Judge Jeffrey Manning says that consistency and accountability are the primary goals of the sex offender court program. "This is a large-scale issue because it involves everything from rapes to minor sex offenses," he said. "We're going to try to make sure that those people who are convicted or plead guilty are immediately accountable."
While a streamlined and consistent court program is certainly a desirable goal, the public stigma surrounding sex crimes and registered sex offenders will likely make this court more focused on offender compliance and less on rehabilitation. We will continue to update our blog on this issue as the court gets underway.
Source: Reuters, "Pennsylvania to be third state with dedicated sex offender court," Daniel Lovering, 6 May 2011
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