Although Megan's Law makes data on paroled sex offenders available to the public in all 50 states, an organization out of Scottsdale, Ariz. is taking this public information one step further. As a part of a program called Child Help Alert, subscribers will get a phone call to let them know a sex offender has moved into the neighborhood; they can then log on to the organization's Web site and get a picture, address and nature of the offender's crime.
When my photographer, Scott King, and I went to Gilbert, Ariz., we met up with one of the few families that already signed up for the program. (It will officially be available nationwide this fall.)
Kimberley Nickel, a mother of three, believes that Child Help Alert makes her kids and neighborhood safer. Nickel dismisses the associated cost of $20 a year saying, “The fee is nominal and to protect my kids, nothing, nothing's too expensive.”
I pressed her a bit further, asking why Nickel would pay for a service that she could get for free on the Internet. She reminded me that she is a busy mother of three, which does not give her enough time to be constantly checking law enforcement websites.
When I walked away from our shoot, I thought, this service is a good one: It's not expensive and it alerts parents to potentially dangerous people in their neighborhood. But then I thought, how do parolees begin to put a life together after they have committed a crime, served their time and have been released from prison, if the public as a whole wants them out of their neighborhoods?
That's when I started looking for someone who defends parolee's rights, which as you might imagine, is not large group of people. After a little search, we did contact Rose Braz, from an organization called Critical Resistance, based out of Oakland, Calif.
When I interviewed her, she came up with an interesting statistic: 90 percent of sex offenders prey on someone they already know. Braz adds that notification services that provide pictures, addresses and the details of sex offender's crimes, only further isolates parolees and often, keeps them from accessing the necessary services they need to turn their lives around: “We are addicted to a system where we lock people up, we throw away the key and then when they are released from prison, we make it virtually impossible for them to find basic housing, jobs and counseling services.”
While Braz makes a valid point, I could not help but wonder what kind of information I would want if I had children. Since Child Help is a private organization, the choice to get the details of sex offenders' whereabouts will be left up to parents. I have a sneaking suspicion this kind of information will be hard to ignore.
Lindsay Stewart produces political stories in the western United States. She started at Fox in 2004 as a general assignment producer. Before coming to Fox, she produced Special Projects and Investigative pieces in the Los Angeles and Las Vegas television markets. In addition to covering politics, she values her time covering Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and loves putting together visually interesting profile pieces like Bob Barker's last day on the Price is Right.