HARRISBURG, Pa., June 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that the state's Megan's Law website has improved in recent years but it still has significant problems with accuracy and usefulness.
In a special report released today, Wagner gave the state's Megan's Law website an overall grade of C-, with marks of C- for offender photographs, B for information provided, D for search functions, and D- for features and tools. The advocacy group Parents for Megan's Law gave Pennsylvania's Megan's Law a grade of D four years ago when it issued report cards for every state.
"Our conclusion is that the Pennsylvania Megan's Law website does not make the grade in providing the public with useful, accurate and easily accessible information," Wagner said. "The website must be improved."
The special report follows up on a special performance audit of Megan's Law that Wagner conducted in 2006. That audit faulted the website for failing to provide the public such basic information as up-to-date photographs and street addresses of registered sex offenders.
Under Pennsylvania's Megan's Law, the Pennsylvania State Police must maintain a public registry of convicted sex offenders, which included more than 10,000 offenders as of June 2010, Wagner said.
Wagner's 14-page special report was based on auditors' monitoring of the website from August 2009 through January 2010, with updates through June 18, 2010. Auditors focused on four elements: offender photographs; information provided; search functions; and features/tools. Letter grades were awarded using these criteria: A=excellent, needs no improvement; B=good, needs minimal improvement; C=average, needs some improvement; D=below average, needs substantial improvement; and F=failing, needs complete improvement.
In addition to monitoring, auditors tested the website's search functions to see whether results included all possible registrants. They also reviewed features and tools, including links to other sites, and any pending state legislation. They compared this information to outside evaluations of Megan's Law websites from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Wagner said the website received a C- for offender photographs because the photographs were inconsistent and some were so inadequate that sex offenders could not be recognized.
The lowest grade Wagner gave the website was a D- for its features and tools because the website only met the minimum requirements, and did not offer enhancements such as mapping tools, which are common in other states.
Wagner said he graded the website a D for search functions because it had inadequate search functions and data entry errors that resulted in incomplete searches and compromised public safety.
The state received its highest grade, a B, for the information provided on the website, Wagner
said, adding that as a result of his department's May 2006 audit report, Megan's Law was amended to require additional useful information about each offender, which has been posted on the website.
Wagner made several recommendations to improve the Megan's Law website, including:
- The website should have multiple clear and color photographs, including profile views, of each offender that include the date each photograph was taken;
- The website should include a listing of all sex offenses for which an offender was convicted and include a method for emphasizing the verification dates of offenders who are not in compliance with the law;
- The website should allow more types of searches, including an extended search function to account for spelling errors and inconsistencies;
- The state police should implement routine procedures to identify and correct website data entry errors and inconsistencies; and
- The website should include additional features and tools, such as a sex offender mapping tool and an e-mail notification option so the public can receive e-mails when registered offenders move into designated areas.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the commonwealth's elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts more than 5,000 audits per year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department's website at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General