Loophole in Georgia sex offender law making it easier for some offenders to get closer to children

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TRENTON, Georgia(WDEF) – Loopholes within the Georgia sex offender laws are allowing some convicted sex offenders from other states to have legal access to children in Georgia.

The loopholes were discovered by Dade County resident Jessica Castillo who is now teaming up with local law enforcement to improve the state law.

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Back in November of last year, Castillo was scrolling through the Dade County sex offender list when she made a startling discovery.

“I saw a person on there who looked familiar. He has access to field trips. He can go on field trips and be able to access the school to access his child,” Castillo said.

The man in question moved to Dade County Georgia from another state where sex offender laws were a lot tougher. Because his conviction was prior to June 2003, he’s grandfathered into a restriction clause that allows him to live and work anywhere in the state of Georgia where children are present. That means he can legally attend school field trips with his child and other children who are present.

News 12 has made an editorial decision to not disclose the identity of the man because since he moved to Dade County, he has not been convicted of a crime.

News 12 is also not identifying the school he has had access to because he has a child attending that school.

News 12 has learned he’s not the only convicted sex offender parent in Dade County with  legal access to school children.

Dade County School Superintendent Cherie Swader told News 12 she was shocked when she and other school administrators learned about the loophole in the sex offender laws.

“Many of us were surprised when it came to our attention that they were not exactly as binding as we thought they were,” Swader said.

After learning about the loopholes, school administrators enacted a strict policy to keep school children safe.

“They check in with the principal. Anytime they are in the school, they are to check in and they must have someone who will escort them. We have to know at all time where they are going to be,” Swader said.

Detective Tim Mitchell of the Trenton Police Department told News 12 it’s no coincidence why sex offenders from other states are flocking to Georgia.

“We have people moving out of Tennessee and Alabama because laws are more stronger in Tennessee and Alabama. They move right across the line into the Dade County; Trenton Georgia area. Laws are a lot softer here and they like that,” Mitchell said.

Some sex offenders who are grandfathered into that 2003 restriction clause can in some cases legally work around children.

“Say someone works as a subcontractor for another company, They can still access a school, library or park. They could work for a janitorial service subcontracted because it’s based on where they draw their paycheck from and not the actual job site,” Castillo said.

The 2003 restriction clause that currently allows some convicted sex offenders access to children may soon come to an end thanks to Castillo, Mitchell and Sheriff Ray Cross. The trio recently traveled to Atlanta to speak with state officials in the governor’s office about closing the sex offender law loopholes.

“We’re basically asking to have sex offenders pictures posted at the county and city parks. They wouldn’t be allowed access to the school without law enforcement approval,” Castillo said when detailing her proposal.

Also under the proposal, if a sex offender parent wanted to attend their child’s school play, musical or graduation, they would have to get written permission from the sheriff’s office. If granted, a deputy would be required to be present at the event to monitor the parent.

The proposal also calls for criminal background checks of any resident who wanted to volunteer in the schools or go on field trips.

News 12 has learned the proposal stands a great chance of turning into a bill that could become law.

“We were very well received at the capitol. We met with Senator Mullis and he’s really been pushing for this very hard for while. We also met with a representative, the governor and Lt. governor. They all seem to be really behind this and they want to make sure our children are safe in Georgia,” Mitchell said.

“It’s going to be very beneficial for our county and other counties in Georgia so we we can have some control and enforce laws on these sex offenders. Right now there’s not many restrictions that we do have,” said Dade County Sheriff Ray Cross.

The proposal does not effect nor interfere with the Romeo and Juliet laws. It’s main focus is sex offenders who have previously harmed young children.