By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
REGULATIONS tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday contain a provision for the public to be notified through the Royal Bahamas Police Force of the release of a sexual offender from the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.
The Registration of Sex Offenders Regulations were tabled by National Security Minister Marvin Dames yesterday, however they were not debated or passed and it is unclear when they will come into force.
According to the regulations, the commissioner of corrections has to notify the minister of a release six months before the intended release date of the offender.
However, before determining to give any notification in relation to a particular sex offender, the minister of national security has to, after consultation with the commissioner of police, satisfy himself that “a sex offender presents a risk of significant harm to the health or safety of the public and a disclosure should be made to the public or a part thereof to heighten their awareness of the presence of the sexual offender in or near the area,” the regulations state.
Where the minister is satisfied of this, he must cause notification to be given by police to the public. The regulations suggest that victims can also be notified on an individual basis of a release to heighten their awareness of the presence of the offender in or near their area. However, ultimately the police commissioner has to be satisfied of the need to protect the health and safety of the person.
Additionally, it is proposed that an offender must report to the registry within three days of prison release.
At that time, the offender has to disclose where he/she lives and official identification for a report to be entered into the register.
Authorised identifying factors include a recent photo of the offender; a name and any aliases or name changes as a result of marriage, dissolution or legally recognised circumstances; race, sex, age and height; distinguishing features such as scars and tattoos; occupation and employment status; the type of sexual offence convicted of and primary and secondary addresses of the offender.
In cases where the offender is moving and changing names, the register will also have to be updated within seven days. Addresses are to be verified by the police, the regulations state.
Notification has also to be given in cases where the offender is travelling out of country.
Public officials who are privy to the sex offender register also will be duty bound to uphold a level of secrecy relating to its contents.
The regulations state: “Every person having or having had an official duty or employment in the administration of these regulations shall regard and deal with as secret and confidential all information, books or documents relating to the register and the registry; maintain confidentiality of all information, books, record or other documents relating to the registrar and registry coming to his knowledge as a result of his duties under these regulations.”
Regarding the upkeep of the register, particulars of a conviction are to be provided and will be kept in a computerised database or other form approved by the minister.
In cases where a registration has to be removed from the registry resulting from a person successfully appealing a conviction, the person’s information will be placed in a separate database solely for research and statistical purposes. However, in this instance identities will be disclosed.
Any inaccuracies in the registry are to be quickly corrected by the registrar.
This comes a month after the country’s leading counselling and advocacy services provider for abuse victims said she does not want a sex offender register to be made public.
Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, director of the Bahamas Crisis Centre, said a public register would be ineffective and would lure people into a false sense of security.
Her comments came when contacted after the government published draft regulations for a sex offender registry earlier on its website.
Many likely assume the sex offender register will be public, but neither the regulations nor the substantive law expressly state that the register would be accessible to the public.