MARTINSBURG, W.Va.—There are 46 adults and juveniles currently supervised by probation officers for sex crimes in eastern West Virginia and at least half of them live in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.
Like other regions of the state, “we have a very energetic caseload,” 23rd Judicial Circuit Senior Probation Officer Danielle Hofe said Wednesday.
While the vast majority of more than 200 sex offenders residing in the Eastern Panhandle are not currently supervised by probation officers, Hofe said they still have to adhere to the state sex offender registration law, which she said has been recognized as one of the toughest.
Hofe is coordinating a group of probation officers recently hired to exclusively supervise sex offenders in Region 1, a nine-county area that includes the Eastern Panhandle.
The officers are scheduled to be sworn in Friday morning by Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret L. Workman in Charleston, W.Va., but already have begun their duties, officials said Wednesday.
The new hires are part of a phased plan to staff all regions of the state with specialized probation officers who can carry out the provisions of the Child Protection Act of 2006. The state law requires extended supervision for sex offenders, especially those convicted of crimes involving children, according to the state’s high court.
Three of six new officers hired for eastern West Virginia reside in the Martinsburg area and will handle cases in the Eastern Panhandle. They could still be asked to help with other cases in Region 1, which also includes Hampshire, Mineral, Grant, Hardy, Pendleton and Tucker counties, officials said Wednesday.
Hofe said all of the new officers hired for Region 1 have a background in law enforcement and/or social work.
Offenders placed under heightened supervision must be visited by a probation officer “face-to-face” four times per month, Hofe said. The officers also must track the offender’s employment and participation in any court-ordered counseling and treatment programs. Court-prohibited contact with victims and other minors also must be enforced and the duties of a “Sex Offender Intensive Supervision Officer” or SOISO, also includes polygraph examinations and electronic monitoring.
Caren L. Bills, the state supreme court’s deputy director of probation, said the original plan was for hiring 30 officers to carry out the specialized supervisory duties. Now, projections call for five or six more because of the increasing caseload statewide.
Bills said the supreme court has enough money budgeted for the additional hires, but would have to ask the state Legislature for funding if they need to add more. Bills said she hopes to have officers hired for the Charleston area, which is part of the last remaining region to be staffed, by October.
The additional staff, spread out proportionate to where the offenders reside, is expected to help ease the burden on probation officers, who often are busy in court and other cases, Bills said.
The officers will work from their vehicle and will not have an office, Bills said.
Hofe also credited state police for being “very active” with enforcing the registration law, which requires offenders to provide and update information about their place of residence, Internet and phone accounts, and other detailed personal information.
The online State Police sex offender registry, which lists individuals’ age, race and street address, is on the Internet at www.wvstatepolice.com/sexoff/websearchform.cfm.