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Ever wanted to know if a convicted cocaine dealer lives near you? Now a few clicks of the computer mouse can tell Georgia residents the address of every state parolee in the neighborhood who is finishing a criminal sentence. Billing the new parolee database as an “electronic neighborhood watch,” Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, president pro tem of the Georgia Senate, unveiled the system Thursday at the State Board of Pardons and Parole office in Atlanta. Johnson introduced the bill that led to creating the database. The database is similar to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s sex offender list already available on the Internet. The laws creating those databases are dubbed nationally as “Megan’s laws.” Georgia’s sex offender Web site lists 6,988 sex offenders living in the state. The new parolee Web site lists 22,000 parolees in Georgia, their addresses, most serious offense and a recent photograph. It also will flash a red “wanted” sign next to the parolee’s name if the person is wanted on a new offense or for violating parole. You can search the database by ZIP code, parolee’s name or prison identification number. Unlike the GBI sex offender database, which requires offenders to update their address information, the parolee database will be updated by parole officers. The parole board’s database may be linked eventually to the GBI database, parole board member J. Michael Light said. Johnson said the list will be a useful tool for parents and crime victims. A rape victim, he said, could track the rapist once the person has left prison, and find out if the person has moved back to the victim’s city. The database will enable parents to keep their children away from the homes of parolees in their neighborhood, Johnson said. “You will be able to tell your children which way to ride their bicycles down the street,” Johnson said. The database compiles information already available to the public using the state’s freedom of information laws, he added. Johnson acknowledged that he’s heard of some civil rights concerns nationally, but none locally, about this database. Stephen B. Bright, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the parolee database raises serious privacy concerns and fears the database will be used “more recreationally” than for legitimate law enforcement purposes. He also said it could be “contrary to the interest of people readjusting in the community and being rehabilitated.” “My understanding of the Megan’s laws is that they are based on the notion that there is a public interest in knowing this and being able to take precautions,” Bright said. “It sweeps very broadly to say [the listing] should be for every single person on parole. What would a citizen do in response to that information?” he asked. CONVERSION TOOK SIX YEARS The legislation creating the database, called the “Know Thy Neighbor” bill, became law in 1997, but it took six years for the parole board to convert from paper to computer filings. The new system requires parole officers to fill out their paperwork on computers via laptops, and it cost the agency $250,000 to develop, Light said. The parolee database was then created for less than $15,000, according to Light, and will be updated daily by parole officers via their laptops. Light said the site also would help law enforcement statewide. Johnson said the timing of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings upholding Megan’s laws did not delay the unveiling of the database — that was stalled because of scheduling conflicts, he said. On March 5, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld states’ Megan’s laws after hearing arguments challenging the sex offender databases for violating due process and depriving people of a “liberty interest” to prove they are no longer dangerous. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that the question of danger is “of no consequence,” because the law only reveals past convictions. “Mere injury to reputation, even if defamatory, does not constitute the deprivation of a liberty interest,” Rehnquist wrote. Two other states, Florida and Michigan, already have parolee databases, though Johnson said Georgia was the first to adopt legislation authorizing the list. Florida’s database has received 4,778,009 Web hits since February 2000. Florida also has a database of all probationers, which Georgia doesn’t have. Georgia does have a database of all prison inmates, which received 20 million hits in February, according to the Department of Corrections. The Georgia Sex Offender Registry received 630, 870 hits in February. The Georgia parolee database is available at www.pap.state.ga.us. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s sex offender registry is at: www.state.ga.us/gbi/sorsch.cgi. The Georgia Department of Corrections’ inmate query database is at: www.dcor.state.ga.us.

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