13 Aug 2008

Law pushed to keep sex offenders off street after they get out of prison in response to planned release of sex-cult leader & child rapist

The Patriot-News Pennsylvania
August 13, 2008

by Carrie Cassidy

A state lawmaker is pushing legislation that would keep potentially dangerous sex offenders off the streets after their release from prison, in response to Friday's planned release of a Harrisburg sex-cult leader and child rapist.

George Feigley's pending freedom from prison has prompted plans for protests outside his Harrisburg home and a petition drive, calling for authorities to do something to keep him from returning to their Allison Hill neighborhood. But residents' fears reveal a problem with laws, authorities said.

Prosecutors try to find ways to monitor potentially dangerous sex offenders. And, like the Allison Hill residents led by Angel Fox, residents can post fliers, protest or do other things they think will keep their neighborhood safe. But no other tools are in place to protect Pennsylvanians from sex offenders who served their maximum sentences and don't fall under the state's Megan's Law.

Stories in The Sunday Patriot-News highlighted the problem and prompted a state lawmaker to take action. Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Susquehanna Twp., and his staff are drafting a bill that would address cracks in regulations. He wants authorities to be able to confine potentially dangerous sex offenders even past their release dates. Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. supports the idea.

Eighteen states have implemented civil-commitment laws since 1997, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar measure in Kansas. The laws permit the confinement of sex offenders in mental health facilities when they complete their prison sentences but are still deemed a threat to society.

Feigley, 68, is a convicted sex offender who ran a school that authorities called a sex cult, which he started in the early 1970s in his Derry Street home. It's the same house to which he plans to move after his release from prison. Feigley, who raped three girls, will not only be free from prison, but he will also be free from monitoring. That means no probation or parole, and no Megan's Law, even though authorities still consider him to pose a danger to the public.

Megan's Law is named for Megan Kanka, 7, of New Jersey, who was raped and killed in 1994 by a twice-convicted sex offender who lived across the street. Pennsylvania's Megan's Law requires the state police to make a registry of sex offenders and predators who live, work or attend school in the state, available to the public on the Web site pameganslaw.state.pa.us.

"Up until now, I have always thought that Pennsylvania's criminal justice system provided sufficient tools to deal with sex offenders, such that civil commitments were not necessary," said Fran Chardo, Dauphin County's first assistant district attorney. "This case has demonstrated an unfortunate loophole. Regrettably, George Feigley fit through it."

Piccola's proposal calls for a one-year involuntary commitment for sex offenders who might still be dangerous but who cannot be monitored by authorities. Those offenders would be subjected to an annual review by the court with the possibility of one-year extensions to their involuntary commitments, he said.

Piccola had the idea several years ago after his staff helped draft a similar law for potentially dangerous juvenile sex offenders who turn 21 and are supposed to be released from the system. A Lebanon County boy prompted lawmakers to act after he told keepers that he planned to rape after he left the system. Feigley's case is an example of why civil commitments for adults are needed here, Piccola said.

"Clearly, this is a case that, because of its age and its intensity, has escaped ... statutes that we drafted that apply directly to sexual offenses," he said.

Experts, however, wrestle with the legal and ethical dilemmas that civil-commitment laws raise. For example, the New York Times reported last year that the city's legal bar published a policy paper saying that such laws could be abused and that misplaced fears could keep sex offenders incarcerated for years after their sentences and could represent a threat to civil liberties.

Statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Justice show that as little as 5 percent of sex offenders reoffend within the first three years after their release, but prosecutors and Feigley's victims say they don't want to take the chance Feigley won't return to his old ways. Residents of the Allison Hill neighborhood where Feigley plans to live must walk a delicate line in how they prepare for his return, said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The line between free speech rights and harassment is a delicate one, he said.

"Harassment is one of those legal words that is difficult to define. ... Figuring out where the line is between free speech and unprotected harassment has consumed many courts," Walczak said, adding that he believes Fox's efforts to inform her neighbors of Feigley's return through fliers and a planned protest is protected speech.

Fox said she never thought she'd be the face of an effort to highlight a problem that has been overlooked for so many years. She's just doing it for her children, she said.

"I think what we're doing is informing the public in a positive way," Fox said. "Whether the system steps up and gets [Feigley] out of our neighborhood or not, at least we're doing something to protect our kids."


Not all sex crimes land an offender on the state Megan's Law list. Here are examples of offenses that will result in a criminal being on the list:
10-year registrations:

Kidnapping in which the victim is a minor
Luring a child into a motor vehicle
Institutional sexual assault
Unlawful contact with a minor
Sexual abuse of children
Sexual exploitation of children

Lifetime registration:

Offenders with two or more convictions for any of the 10-year registration offenses
Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
Aggravated indecent assault
Offenders designated by the court as sexually violent predators
Sexual assault

Source: State Sexual Offenders Assessment Board

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment