Individuals who come through the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on charges covered by Megan’s Law rules will soon find themselves assigned to a special system. The State Supreme Court has given the go ahead for the county to open the state’s first Sex Offender Court.
Local officials began the process of building the Sex Offender Court late last year using a similar court in Buffalo, New York as a guide. They are now ready to roll out the new process June 23rd. Administrative Judge Jeffery Manning says after the defendants are identified in a preliminary hearing they will be put into the Sex Offender Court and the case will be watched closely by one of three judges. The idea is to make sure the case gets to a plea or trial within 90 days.
“The purpose of close judicial involvement in these cases is to assure that both sides have all the information necessary to go forward,” said Manning, “Undue delays are avoided, thus protecting the victim from being subjected to continual reappearances in court and providing a prompt resolution of the case for the accused.”
The court will first focus on accountability according to Manning and then on treatment. That is opposite tack taken by the “problem solving courts” set up in Allegheny County for drug offenders, veterans and other select cases.
While the convicted is on probation a probation officer trained to deal with sex offenders and the judge assigned to the case will closely monitor them. Allegheny County Adult Probation Director Thomas McCaffery said having the judge involved gives his officers more clout. McCaffery said that seems to have been key to the success of the court in Buffalo. “They had the ability to react to violations from the offenders on a higher level than we normally in probation and parole can do,” said McCaffery. Usually judges only get involved when probation is revoked.
District Court administrator Raymond Billotte said the overall goals of the special court is to reduce recidivism, make the community safer and improve services to victims.
The court is expected to handle about 300 cases a year. An evaluation process is being created and if it is successful it could be expanded to other counties.