DES MOINES, Iowa – A program to monitor child sex offenders with electronic ankle bracelets equipped with global positioning devices should be in operation by Sept. 1, a state corrections official said Monday.
The abduction and killing of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage, of Cedar Rapids, last year prompted the Legislature to pass a law requiring closer monitoring of child sex offenders. Lawmakers provided $2.4 million for the Iowa Department of Corrections to establish the system.
Three vendors placed bids to provide the monitoring equipment and a company will be chosen within a week or two, said Gary Sherzan, director of the 5th Judicial District Department of Corrections, which will administer the monitoring program.
Six additional staff members will be hired to help monitor the offenders on equipment to be installed at Fort Des Moines, where the 5th Judicial District has offices.
The devices will have the capability of recording a sex offender's location and alerting staff when offenders enter a forbidden area or violate curfew, Sherzan said.
Iowa has been doing electronic ankle bracelet monitoring of parolees. That program notifies authorities automatically when a violator leaves his residence after curfew hours.
With GPS monitoring, authorities will know if a violator gets too close to schools, day care centers or playgrounds. Local law enforcement officers or parole agents will respond to suspected violations, Sherzan said.
"This will allow us to track them down 24-7 in real time," Sherzan said. "We will notify the appropriate individuals when we believe there's a violation."
Sherzan said the plan is to place all child sex offenders on the GPS monitoring system. Corrections officials estimate about 500 will be hooked up at any one time. Iowa has more than 6,000 registered sex offenders.
Lawmakers reacted angrily to the kidnapping and abduction of Gage after they learned the man suspected in her murder was a registered sex offender.
Attempts by some Republicans to reinstate the death penalty in cases of sex abuse against children failed to pass the Legislature and a Republican-sponsored bill that would have required a mandatory 25-year prison sentence for an adult convicted of a first-time sexual offense against a child aged 12 or under also did not pass.
"While electronic monitoring is an extremely valuable tool in tracking Iowa's sex offenders, it is also important that we have tough laws to keep these criminals in prison," said Senate Republican Leader Mary Lundby in a statement. "The more predators we put behind bars for a longer period of time, the less we have to worry about where they are spending their days."
Gage was reported missing from her home March 24, 2005. A tip led police to an abandoned mobile home in rural Johnson County, where her body was found.
An autopsy determined Gage had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.
Roger Bentley, 38, of Brandon, was arrested and charged with her kidnapping and death. A jury found him guilty in January and he was sentenced to life in prison.