Accuracy in Media

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) spoke before the Senate Monday of his frustration that Senate Bill 1086, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last October, has yet to reach the Senate floor.  Introduced in May 2005 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), S. 1086, or Jetseta’s Bill, would establish “a national database of convicted sex offenders” and require “states to notify prosecutors of impending release of high-risk sex offenders,” Sen. Dorgan said.

In January when Vermont Judge Edward Cashman changed his sentence of Mark Hulett from 60 days to 3 years for the repeated rape of a 10-year-old girl, it still fell short of what many believe is a fair punishment for someone convicted of such heinous acts.

“It’s 18 times 60 days, so it’s certainly an improvement,” said Gov. James Douglas of Vermont.  “Personally I think it’s inadequate for a crime of that magnitude.”

And Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said, “Cashman’s concern for the rehabilitation of Hulett overrode justice for the abused child.  This cannot happen in the USA.”

Cashman who stood by his sentence said he believed punishment was a “valuable and necessary component of society’s response to criminal conduct.”

“As stated during the sentencing, however, punishment is not enough of a response in some cases,” Cashman said. “This is one of those cases.”

In an October 2005 editorial the Iowa State Daily said sex offenders would “have a better chance at rehabilitation” in facilities to treat their mental illness than they would in prison.

So is treatment of sex offenders more successful than prison time?  There are supporters for both sides and some who say the key to dealing with sex offenders is to have them undergo treatment while serving time in prison. 

In February 2005 TalkLeft’s website said, “Treatment while in prison dramatically reduces the risk of recidivism” of sex offenders. 

TalkLeft made reference to a 2003 report by the Corrections Department which found that “three of every four sex offenders who received no therapy reoffended, compared with one in every six for those who completed the first phase of treatment.  The rate improved to one in 10 for those who finished the second phase in a minimum-security facility for sex offenders.”

So what about that one in every six offenders or the one in ten who aren’t successfully treated?  Or what about the convicted sex offenders like Brent J. Brents from Denver who refused treatment while incarcerated on rape charges? 

So far the government’s response to keeping recidivism of sex offenders under control comes in the form of three laws, the most popular being “Megan’s Law,” which was passed in 1996. “Megan’s Law” provides the public with information to locate convicted sex offenders in their area.

“The fundamental flaw in Megan’s Law,” reported The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in November 2005, “is that it is a public information program, not a public safety program.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also said the problem is that citizens and not the state are responsible for surveillance of known convicted sex offenders in their neighborhoods.  But several states are adopting longer terms of surveillance for convicted sex offenders out on parole, even lifetime surveillance. 

On the other hand, in December 2005 The Capital reported that the Maryland “attorney general’s office estimated that about 750 convicts were under investigation for ‘absconding’ and about 75 had disappeared.  Only about 1,350 offenders on the registry are currently under supervision, compared with the 4,343 total.”

And a recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported, “Nationwide, one-fourth of registered sex offenders cannot be located.”  And “compared with other offenders released from state prisons, sex offenders were four times as likely to be rearrested for a similar crime.”

In May 2001 the Center for Sex Offender Management also said that accounts of recidivism are grossly underreported.

So what are citizens’ other options when dealing with recidivism among sex offenders?  Perhaps the most drastic action would be to sentence all convicted first time or repeat sex offenders to life in prison.

A close but perhaps harsher second might be adopting a law “mandating chemical or surgical castration for repeat sex offenders,” said Brenton Kenkel of the Kentucky Kernel, in August 2005.  He said Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Pence supposedly suggested a coalition for harsher punishment for sex offenders.  Kenkel reported that, “Castration lowers testosterone, in turn lowering the sex drive, thus reducing the offender’s desire to commit further sex crimes.”   Kenkel also said such an issue raises huge ethical questions “even if you take at face value the assumption that castration would be primarily for rehabilitation and not revenge.”

If anything the Senate should stop sitting on its’ hands, doing nothing about S. 1086.

“It has strong support in the Senate,” Sen. Dorgan said.  “There is no longer any excuse for that not to come to the Senate and to be debated and passed.  Will it take the next vicious murder, the next brutal murder of some young child, to understand that violent sexual predators exist and are being let out of prison with little monitoring? I hope not.”

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