In an effort to stop repeat offenders, particularly those who target children, a pilot program will open June 23 in Allegheny County, according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After a year, if deemed effective, it may be expanded statewide.
Judges hope that channeling sex abuse cases through a specialized court will speed up the process so that “victims and witnesses don’t have to wait before getting their day in court,” said Steve Schell, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
New York and Ohio have introduced similar courts in recent years.
In western Pennsylvania, the separate court will be composed of judges specializing in sex offender cases. It will focus on creating a uniform system, strengthening accountability and coordinating the management of adults who violate Megan’s Law, a mandated public registry for convicted sex offenders.
“This is a large-scale issue because it involves everything from rapes to minor sex offenses,” said Judge Jeffrey Manning, one of the judges working on the program.
“We’re going to try to make sure that those people who are convicted or plead guilty are immediately accountable.”
The separate court is designed to improve public safety by reducing repeat offenses by convicted sex criminals.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd called the specialized court an “innovative approach for achieving consistency in sentencing and managing the difficult population of sex offenders, in our continuing effort to reduce recidivism.”
Programs like the sex offender court have arisen because “people are upset about this issue of sex offenders in their communities,” said Rebecca Thomforde Hauser, associate director of domestic violence and sex offense court programs at the nonprofit Center for Court Innovation in New York.
“It’s a newer kind of arena for the criminal justice system, but there’s a lot of national research and organizations that have been working around how communities can work in a more collaborative way to manage (sex offenders),” Hauser said.
Pennsylvania’s sex offender court will be funded with reallocated tax money, said Schell.