Local/Regional News
1:00 pm
Thu July 15, 2010

Stalking - Domestic Violence Law Debuts Amid Lingering Questions

Frankfort, KY – Amanda's Law, which won unanimous legislative approval this year, and was quickly signed by Governor Beshear, allows judges to require violators of domestic violence orders to wear satellite tracking devices. Similar systems are already tracking parolees in almost 30 states, including Kentucky. Gary Tullock of the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole says the systems work well, but can be labor intensive, because someone has to respond when violations occur.

"It's not just putting a unit on an offender and sending them out the door and expecting nothing to happen," said Tullock. "I have told panels in Tennessee, that the only thing worse than not knowing where a sex offender is and what they're doing, is knowing where they are and not doing anything about it."

Tullock says to avoid high staff turnover, it's important to determine a sustainable caseload for officers and to use an on-call officer for after-hours alert responses.

"If you've just got one person working in a county and they're going to have to respond to every alert, it's going to be a tremendous intrusion on their time," said Tullock.

Tullock, who appeared before a legislative panel in Frankfort, says state employees keep track of Tennessee parolees and sex offenders. But with Amanda's Law, that duty will be handled by private vendors, says Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Jensen.

"One of the things that you saw here is that Tennessee opted to - although they hired a vendor to supply the matters, the state was operating it themselves," said Jensen. "In Amanda's Law that's not the case."

Also listening to Tullock's testimony was Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson, who says Kentucky uses GPS to track more than 300 released inmates and parolees. But she says Tennessee and Kentucky use the systems differently.

"They put their high-risk offenders on the bracelets," said Thompson. "We put our low-risk offenders on the bracelets. We bring back maybe five, six every month, and part of those are inmates who've lost their phone or home placement. So, it's not always some type of infraction. And generally, what we bring them back for are drugs and alcohol."

Parolees have already broken the law, but Amanda's Law aims to prevent individuals from crossing that line. GPS systems not only allow authorities to track the location of individuals, but can also warn intended victims of the presence of potential attackers. The costs - estimated at $12 to $17 a day - will be borne by those ordered to wear the devices. But that's one aspect of the law that still worries Sen. Jensen.

"Under Amanda's Law, that company's supposed to eat that amount if the person can't pay for it, can't afford it," said Jensen. "So, you're gonna have a lot of companies that are going to ignore several counties in the state because it won't be profitable."

But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the primary sponsor of Amanda's Law, recommends counties band together to reduce costs.

"If you're a very small county - like a Wolfe County, or a Lee County, or an Owsley County - the smart thing for you to do would be to partner with whoever your neighboring county is," said Stumbo. "It's the same thing we're doing with the jails now. The more participants, the more likely it is that the rate would be kept lower."

Amanda's Law is not mandatory. But in coming months, lawmakers will be watching to see how many counties adopt it, and how effective it is. The law is named for Amanda Ross, a former state employee who was shot to death outside her Lexington townhouse last September. Prior to her death, she had taken out a domestic violence order against the man accused of killing her, former state lawmaker Steve Nunn. Nunn, who has pleaded not guilty, still awaits trial.