This is the group I work with in Dutchess County New York(my hometown area), Iím very proud of them and Iím proud as well as honored to work with them.
Kathianne at The Poughkeepsie Journal
has been truly wonderful in getting the word out for us about sex offenders and victim assistance. Sex offender project praised at state meeting
By Kathianne Boniello
May 16, 2006
One of the best ways to keep convicted sex offenders from creating more victims is to enlist the public in efforts to monitor and manage them.
That's the working theory of Dutchess County's Sex Offender Management Project, which was lauded last week at a statewide conference on sex offenders.
The project was launched after the county won a U.S. Justice Department grant to study the sex offender issue. The coalition of criminal justice representatives created under the grant has continued their work, even though the grant money recently ran out.Award earned
Several project members led workshops at the Corning conference, said Sharon Doane, who heads Dutchess' sex offender treatment program and is a project member. The Dut-chess project also earned an award from the conference for its work.
"The message is that the work that we're doing on sex offenders here in Dutchess County is very cutting edge and very well regarded," Doane said.
Dutchess probation officer and project member Jeffrey Walraven discussed some of the county's practices at the conference, while county Legislator Robert Rolison, R-Poughkeepsie, talked about the county's community forums on sex offenders.
With nearly half a dozen such forums held throughout the county in the last year, Rolison, also a Town of Poughkeepsie police detective, is convinced of their effectiveness.
"People have to know what you're doing," he said. "You can't make decisions about your safety and your family's safety, about sex offenders if you don't really know what government is doing."
At the most recent forum, held last month in Dover, Sex Offender Management Project members discussed everything from how to keep kids safe from predators to what the county does to monitor sex offenders.
When a woman asked what people should do if they think a child is being abused, there was a quick answer.
"You have to report it. You have to say something," Rolison told the woman at the April forum.
Getting local police involved immediately is critical for any eventual conviction of an offender, Dutchess County Senior Assistant District Attorney Marjorie Smith said.
"Instead of doing your own investigation and going to the concerned parties, it is vitally important that you go to law enforcement," Smith said.
The longer it takes to bring such a case to law enforcement, the more likely it is the culprit will go without punishment, Senior Assistant Dutchess Public Defender Nancy Garo said. "The more people who talk to that child about what happened ó that's a defense lawyer's gold mine," she said.
With sex crimes often underreported to law enforcement, it is important to remember to get the victim help, said Whitney Bonura, associate director of the Family Partnership Center's Crime Victims Assistance Program.
"It doesn't mean the incident didn't happen for the victim," she said.
As the topic shifted at the forum to how the county keeps track of offenders, Smith pointed out the effectiveness of Dutchess' work so far.
"We're big enough that we have enough people who are dedicated to doing this, but we're small enough that we can do a lot more than other jurisdictions," she said.
Project members consider the community forums a vital part of Dutchess' efforts, Doane said.
"What I consider the most essential element of the safety net is an informed citizenry," she said as other panelists nodded. "Sex offenders in particular are skilled in deception. A lot of times when they are arrested it's a shock to the people around them. An informed citizenry is the best weapon."
Kathianne Boniello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org