2 N.J. assemblymen re-introduce bill monitoring domestic abuse offenders

Two South Jersey assemblymen re-introduced a bill Thursday that would create a pilot program for monitoring domestic violence offenders — despite a report by the Attorney Generals Office that raises concerns about cost and how it would work.

The bill’s sponsors, Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, and Ron Dancer, R-Ocean, say they still believe there’s a way to use a GPS monitoring program to protect victims and alert them when an offender is close by. Both the victim and offender would have to be equipped with a GPS device.

“We may not be able to eliminate all the risks, but we can minimize them and we can save lives,” Dancer said. “This technology is available. GPS technology is being used every day, it’s being used on sex offenders.”

The bill, Lisa’s Law, is named for Letizia Zindell, a Toms River woman who was killed by her former fiancé in 2009 — one day after he was released from jail for violating a restraining order she had filed against him. The pilot program would be conducted in Ocean County, under the proposed legislation.

Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill late last year. Christie conditionally vetoed it in January, adding language that asked the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether technology was available to support the program and issue a report in 120 days. Singleton said he only received the report from the Attorney General’s Office Wednesday night, after his office put out an advisory for his Thursday news conference on Lisa’s Law. Dancer, who was in a committee hearing, did not attend the news conference.

The Attorney General’s Office said it made the report available online Wednesday, as soon as it was completed.

In an 18 page report, Acting Attorney General John Hoffman notes that the state parole board uses GPS to track high-risk convicted offenders, but he says there are several concerns with expanding the program to include monitoring both domestic violence offenders and victims. He says the technology can be unreliable and give victims a false sense of security, some victims refuse to be monitored and it’s expensive. He estimates the Ocean County pilot program could cost as much as $2.4 million.

Hoffman also raises concerns about alerts being sent to both the victim and offender, which are meant to serve as a deterrent and warning. He says those alerts could let offenders know the general location of their victims when they otherwise wouldn’t and that victims could manipulate the system to cause violations in order to retaliate against the offender. For instance, a victim could stay in close proximity to an offender to cause multiple violations. Or an offender could harass a victim by staying nearby.

Singleton said he was offended by the report’s suggestion that victims would take advantage of the technology.

“To me as we mark October as Domestic Violence Awareness month I can think of no more unconscionable thing that one could even say to blame the victim or use the victim some way as a scapegoat for the use of this technology,” he said.

Singleton said the report cites examples from only three jurisdictions, Johnson County, Kansas; Ramsey County, Minnesota; and Shelby County, Missouri. He offered as a contrast a 2012 study funded by the federal Department of Justice that surveyed 616 respondents, finding that149 use the technology for domestic violence offenders.

That report also concluded the program can be cost-prohibitive and victim participation can be challenging. But it also found that the most rigorous programs were the mostly likely to prevent restraining order violations.

The Attorney General’s Office declined to respond to Singleton’s criticisms.

Original article