For the past two years, numerous criminal justice reforms have taken place in the city of Philadelphia, largely aimed at reducing the prison population and focusing on rehabilitation instead of incarceration. According to Mayor Jim Kenney, the “revolving door” prison approach was not working and instead, the city has tried to enact a more holistic approach to dealing with offenders—especially nonviolent offenders.
Some of the major changes in the system included enacting a process for early bail review to try to reduce bail and allow offenders to wait outside of jail while their cases are resolved. Reports indicate that about 82 percent of defendants who had their bail reviewed ended up being released and the large majority showed up for court.
In addition, many drug offenders are being diverted to a treatment program instead of being charged with a crime. Since the beginning of this program in December, no participants were later arrested, indicating the early success of the program. Finally, courts are granting more requests for parole applications prior to the initial parole date. Prosecutors are not opposing most of the petitions and many early parole applications are being granted by the parole board. This has resulted in many nonviolent offenders being released well before they ever expected to be.
Overall, the reforms have reduced the prison population by 33 percent—from over 8,000 in 2015 to about 5,400 today. This decrease has opened space for more rehabilitative programs and has also led the mayor to announce the planned closure of the House of Corrections by 2020. This prison is notorious for its poor conditions, including no air conditioning or fire sprinkler systems. The justice reforms will prevent the need to send inmates to this facility in the coming years.
Challenges Faced by Released Sex Offenders
Many of the nonviolent offenders being released on early parole include those convicted of sex offenses. There is a variety of nonviolent sex offenses under Pennsylvania law, many of which can result in jail or prison time. However, simply because a nonviolent sex offender is released does not mean that their struggles and involvement with the criminal justice system are over.
First, like any offender on parole, a sex offender will likely have numerous conditions with which they must comply until they complete their parole period. These can include meeting with a parole officer, treatment or counseling, staying out of trouble with the law, limitations on travel, employment requirements, and more depending on your specific situation. Any violation of parole conditions can result in an offender being summoned back to court and facing new charges and a possible return to prison.
Sex offenders—even nonviolent ones—may also face additional requirements, which can include registering with the Pennsylvania sex offender registry and possible residency restrictions. Megan’s Law initially set out registration requirements, which were more recently updated by the Adam Walsh Act and the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) in 2012. The specific requirements for an offender will be based on the date of conviction of an offense.
Initially, the Adam Walsh Act and SORNA were applied retroactively, which meant many sex offenders then faced more stringent registration requirements for longer periods of time despite their initial requirements prior to 2012. Many offenders did not realize the increased requirements and ended up facing criminal charges and jail sentences for noncompliance. However, in 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to retroactively apply increased registration requirements under SORNA and the Adam Walsh Act, as the Court deemed such requirements to be punitive in nature. Therefore, thousands of sex offenders had their registration requirements changed yet again. Understanding your specific requirements and knowing how to comply can be complicated and you should never hesitate to discuss your situation with a skilled Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. This is especially important if you have been arrested or are currently behind bars for noncompliance.
Any registration requirements upon release can have an adverse effect on many aspects of your life. Noncompliance means you can be arrested and returned to prison. However, compliance with sex offender registration can affect your job, housing, and reputation. Even nonviolent sex offenders must regularly report their address—including any updates if you move—as well as their employment information and other personal details. Your name, address, workplace, physical description, offenses, and other information will then be posted on a public website. This website is searchable by name, address, or even simply a zip code, making your information highly accessible, which means future employers, landlords, and friends or family can easily learn of your sex offense conviction.
In addition, some sex offenders in Pennsylvania may face residency restrictions limiting where they can live. While no state law enforces statewide residency restrictions, numerous localities through PA have enacted their own laws prohibiting sex offenders from living in certain areas, usually in close proximity to schools, parks, daycares, or other areas in which children may be present on a regular basis.
Residency requirements can also be confusing, however. In 2011, the courts struck down a residency requirement in Allegheny County for being too stringent and, therefore, unconstitutional. Other areas have no residency requirements but if you move only a short distance away, you may be subject to restrictions of another locality. Furthermore, the state legislature has considered numerous proposals over the past few years to enact a statewide residency restriction, though nothing has been successful. Some laws affect all sex offenders while others only restrict where offenders convicted of child-related crimes can live. Overall, knowing whether you are subject to a residency restriction—and knowing exactly what that restriction entails—can be complicated and confusing.
Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney as Soon as Possible
Upon release, too many nonviolent sex offenders find themselves back behind bars because of alleged noncompliance with confusing registration requirements or residency restrictions. The Zeiger Firm represents defendants in and around Philadelphia to defend against both initial charges and any later cases related to sex offender registry. Please call 215-546-0340 or contact us online today to discuss how we can help you.