Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he has signed legislation to better protect New Yorkers from sexual offenders. This legislation complements reforms already implemented by the administration which strengthen the state's civil confinement procedures and better detect the risk of recidivism among sex offenders.
These steps further strengthen the Governor's commitment to making New York the safest and fairest state in the nation by getting the right information to law enforcement and the public, and by following the science and relying on evidence based practices.
"These new laws, coupled with our comprehensive reforms, will better protect the public against sex offenders," Governor Cuomo said. "These changes will ensure that offenders are carefully tracked with the goal of keeping sex offenders off the street when they pose a threat to society, as well as giving the, the opportunity to receive better treatment if they are able to live in the community without re-offending. I thank the sponsors of this legislation for joining with us to strengthen these procedures and helping to keep New York safe."
The first bill authorizes law enforcement officials to update the photographs of high-risk sexual offenders every 90 days or if the offender's appearance has changed, depending on which comes sooner. These photos will also be sent to the sex offender registry for use by the public and law enforcement. Currently, these high-risk offenders must submit a photograph only once a year.
This bill will help police to apprehend criminals in the event that they repeat their crimes or flee from supervision by ensuring that officers have all the tools they need to identify them. This bill will take effect in 30 days.
The second piece of legislation signed today requires the Board of Parole to record and write down a transcript of the release interviews for detained sex offenders. These records will be provided to the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the Office of the Attorney General for use in determining whether to seek a civil confinement hearing for an offender.
This bill will help make informed judgments about the risk posed by sexual offenders, and it will also take effect in 30 days.
Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi (D-Utica), who sponsored both measures in the Assembly, said: "These laws are common sense measures that will help protect New Yorkers from violent sex offenders who try to skirt parole requirements or who are not mentally fit for release from incarceration. I commend Governor Cuomo for working with us to help protect our families and loved ones from violent sexual offenders and to provide law enforcement and the public with the most up to date information to catch these individuals if they violate parole requirements."
Senator Joseph A. Griffo, who sponsored this legislation in the New York State Senate, said: "These new laws will address flaws in the system. I vowed that I would do everything in my power to advocate and pass the measures necessary to protect people of Oneida County and not let New York families, already victimized once by predators, to be victimized a second time by that system. Today, we moved to show that no community anywhere in this state should have to live in the kind of fear that gripped Oneida County because of gaping holes in existing policies. We believe that keeping the public safe is an important responsibility, and that had these measures been in place, there could have been a far different chain of events than the tragedy that transpired last fall in Utica. We're pleased that Governor Cuomo saw the need to plug the holes in the system by signing these measures which have the overwhelming support of lawmakers, law enforcement and the public."
The third bill that was signed into law by the Governor today requires that law enforcement officials be notified by a professional conduct officer from the State Education Department's Office of Professional Discipline when they are investigating a complaint of sexual misconduct against a licensed health care provider. This bill takes immediate effect.
Senator Stephen Saland, the Senate sponsor, said: "For an act as heinous as sexual abuse by a mental health provider, we must ensure that the state acts in a strict, uniform manner to protect victims and punish offenders. We have an obligation to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Regardless of the technical certification of the mental health professional, the vital patient-provider relationship requires rigorous and consistent oversight on behalf of the state. I applaud the Governor for signing this legislation and thank my colleagues for making it a reality."
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said, the bill's Assembly sponsor, said: "This bill helps protect victims and strengthens the efforts of law enforcement officials. I commend the Governor for signing this legislation and creating one more tool in the fight for patient protection. As the Assembly sponsor of this measure, I am beyond pleased to see these stringent professional conduct requirements becoming the law in New York State."
In addition, Governor Cuomo today announced a series of comprehensive reforms that use science to minimize the risks sex offenders may pose to communities across New York State.
Under the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (SOMTA) law passed in 2007, sex offenders who are about to be released from prison in accordance with their sentences are evaluated by OMH and, in appropriate cases, by a court, to determine whether they should be recommended for civil confinement by a court upon release from prison, allowed to be released, but placed on Strict & Intensive Supervision & Treatment (SIST), or instead released under parole supervision by Department of Correctional Services if time remains on the underlying sentence. The reforms include:
New Standards for Referral by the Office of Mental Health (OMH) of Sex Offenders for Possible Civil Confinement
OMH has redesigned its case review process to give greater weight to factor that are proven to predict risk of re-offense. These factors go beyond a person's prior criminal history and include "dynamic" risk factors" such as inability to form healthy relationships, sexual pre-occupation, emotional identification with children and psychopathy. In addition, these factors are identified earlier in the screening process to insure these cases move forward through the review process in a timely and complete manner.
Any sex offender approaching release will automatically be referred for a full, in-depth Case Review Team (CRT) evaluation if he has a significant sex offending history or he is high on OMH's measurement of dynamic risk factors.
To ensure a complete understanding of the offender's history, the CRT will ensure that its comprehensive review will also include an examination of any concerns expressed by parole regarding an offender's risk of re-offense. These new triggers and rules for an in-depth CRT assessment and psychiatric examinations will increase significantly the number of sex offenders whose cases will be thoroughly reviewed and, if appropriate, referred to the Attorney General for court proceedings to seek civil confinement or SIST supervision.
Already this new process has resulted in a significant increase in referrals to CRT teams and for psychiatric examinations.
New Information Sharing System and Protocol To Ensure All Relevant Records Are Reviewed By the Office of Mental Health Prior to a Sex Offender's Release from Prison
All relevant records on an offender from DOCCS, OMH, and the Division of Criminal Justice Services will be digitally scanned and loaded electronically into a centralized digital image bank. That system and protocol will ensure that OMH has all relevant records in its possession during its review of sex offenders for potential civil management.
Reforms of Parole Supervision of Sex Offenders to Protect Against Recidivism
DOCCS will incorporate new dynamic risk assessment tools into its supervision of sex offenders on Parole who are not on SIST. This tool is designed expressly for sex offenders to identify over time indicators of the offender committing another crime.
The tools will be administered regularly by Parole Officers in their meetings with offenders will help alert DOCCS to any signs that an offender could commit a crime. DOCCS staff will begin training with this tool in September 2012.
Improvements to Sex Offender Treatment in the Community
All sex offender treatment providers serving sex offenders on parole will now be required to communicate with the offender's Parole Officer regularly concerning the offender's status in treatment and any failures to participate in meetings. Previously, this has only been required for offenders under SIST.