More sex offenders tagged by GPS

A program using GPS locators to track sex offenders has expanded to include all the state's Level 3 offenders -- those considered most likely to commit new crimes -- for at least the first 30 days after their release from prison.

The Department of Corrections announced that the new criteria would take effect Wednesday and would likely boost the number of offenders being tracked through the Global Positioning System.

As of last week, there were 89 offenders monitored statewide through the program, said administrator Anmarie Aylward.

There are about 3,200 Level 3 offenders.

GPS tracking had little financial support in Washington state until the July 4, 2007, rape and murder of Zina Linnik, a 12-year-old Tacoma girl whose accused assailant was a sex offender who had failed to register.

In September 2007, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered immediate funding for the GPS program, infusing it with $400,000 to start.

But the program began slowly, with 13 offenders as of last December.

Those placed under the GPS monitoring were Level 3 offenders who either had no home, no job, or failed to comply with some rule of their community supervision.

They also had to have been sentenced after July 1, 2000. In March, the program was expanded to include Level 2 sex offenders meeting the same set of criteria.

Now, GPS monitoring will be required of all Level 3 offenders upon their release from prison.

Aylward said the first 30 days after release have proved to be the toughest for offenders as they struggle to adapt to the rules of their supervision and find a place in the community.

The majority of these offenders will then be removed from the GPS monitoring.

But some sex offenders will have to keep the ankle bracelets on even after that 30-day period if they still lack stable housing, a steady job, or have violated some rule.

In Washington state, the equipment for the monitoring is obtained by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which in turn leases it to the Department of Corrections and provides the training.

Don Pierce, executive director of the association, said the gradual growth of the program under the state agency has worked well.

"We couldn't be more pleased," Pierce said. "We've had a chance to grow our support along with the Department of Corrections."

Nationally, there has been a growing trend to use GPS tracking devices as a way of providing 24-hour monitoring of sex offenders, with more than 40 states having such programs as of last year.

The effectiveness of the programs in reducing crime remains a matter of debate and the programs are labor intensive.

"We know that offenses are still going to occur. But it really has enhanced the ability of the community corrections officers to know where their high-risk guys are, to double check what they're being told," Aylward said. "It's been really successful for those reasons."

But Pierce believes the monitoring changes behavior.

"The bottom line is, if they know they are being watched, they are less likely to re-offend," he said.



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