Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Has This New Land Turned Thee Into A Heathen?
Spurred by the killing of a 9-year-old girl, Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday signed a law imposing tougher penalties on child molesters and requiring many of those released from prison to wear satellite tracking devices for the rest of their lives.
The Jessica Lunsford Act was quickly drafted after Jessica's death was discovered in March and was pushed through by lawmakers outraged that the man accused of killing her was a registered sex offender. It passed both the Senate and House unanimously.
It establishes a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life behind bars for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children 11 and younger, with lifetime tracking by global positioning satellite after they are freed.
The 25-year minimum would not apply to anyone convicted of molesting older children. Those offenders would have to be monitored electronically only during their probation, not for life.
Some offenders already on the street could be ordered back to jail or be placed under GPS monitoring if they violated their probation.
Lots of other states have minimum mandatory sentences for sex crimes against children. A number of states already require some form of lifetime supervision of sex offenders, including GPS tracking, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
However, Florida's new law may be the first requirement of lifetime GPS monitoring for an entire group of people who commit a certain crime, the NCSL said.
Florida's new law could also open the door to the death penalty for more killers, because it allows a defendant's status as a sexual predator to be considered as an aggravating factor during sentencing for a murder.
First, the yes-Saddam-was-bad part of the argument. Sexual abuse in any form is bad. Sexual abuse of children is particularly awful. This case was tragic.
But this law is wrong. Dangerously, stupidly wrong.
First -- it sets differing legal values to different ages of children. For an eleven-year-old, we'll hound you for the rest of your life, but for a thirteen-year-old, just for twenty-five years. You don't think this will be challenged, noisily?
(This is not so much a note of sympathy for child molesters -- although I believe they suffer a form of mental illness and need some damn help -- as it is pointing out that, when you corner a predator, it does tend to strike back. Hounding these people and calling them "SEX CRIMINAL" with every breath will tend to reinforce that, y'know?)
Third -- this lifetime GPS tracking. If they can do it for one crime, one circumstance, one anything, they can and will do it for others. And if you say, "Well, I'm not a criminal, they won't do any such thing to me", I will point out that some people in this country want to disqualify others from public office on the basis of their faith or race. How long before such disqualification slid down into crime, given the right amount of elbow grease, lung power, and collective bigotry?
We as a people have a tendency to deal with symptoms rather than solving the core problems. Any time we do go after the core problems, we make things better for decades at a time, e.g., labor laws, Social Security, etc. This is another instance of treating the symptom but ignoring the disease, and we're too good a country to keep doing that, dammit. It might actually be fairer to just declare all child molestation crimes punishable by life in prison without parole -- because all this is is a big, permanent, electronic scarlet letter.
I'll add that when every third person is a "criminal" for smoking pot in the wrong place or having consensual sex with the wrong gender (and thus being labeled a "sex offender") the whole concept of law inforcement crumbles. And we're already seeing that.
It's a knee-jerk, reactionary idea that obviously hasn't been thought through. Life in prison is, I agree, the best option for convicted child molesters. That effectively takes them off the street for good.
And invariably the personalized laws are bad ones, as one might expect when laws are hastily written and enacted in a rush of passions.
Of course the feelings of grief, anger, outrage, fear, and frustration provoked by heinous crimes are natural, legitimate, and understandable. But they should not drive an unchecked legislative process.
The "victim's rights" concept is problematic at best, but isn't furthered by laws compounded from an urge to both reassure and appease an appalled and vengeful public.
That said, I bet filkertom gets his ass kicked. Because anyone who criticizes or opposes such bad laws are easily smeared with the absurd suggestion that they are "pro-molester". Pissed-off, freaked-out people will always prefer a bad law to the alternative of "doing nothing".
The shamefully abused and often slaughtered innocent is much more present to the myopic masses than the fates of unknown people of dubious character who will be persecuted by institutionalized mob rule.
It's easy to argue for the summary execution of pedophiles, and to enthusiastically support anything offered as a solution to eliminating their nefarious conduct, but the devil is always in the details.
Child molesting is not like bank robbery. A bank robber who is released may or may not do it again. A child molester who is released will. Definitely. It is, as you note, a form of mental illness (personality disorder, whatever). But there is no effective treatment for it. Child molesters do not "learn their lesson" by being locked up. All it accomplishes is keeping them away from potential victims. If GPS is not the answer, what is? Mandatory life sentences?
BTW, the "debt to society" metaphor is rather antiquated. Justifications for prisons go through cycles--punishment, rehabilitation, protection of society, treatment, etc. Given the climate in the country today, the punishment metaphor is probably on the upswing. The GPS proposal is more of a "protection of society" metaphor, and people are likely to see it as more "humane" than life-time incarceration or , say, the death penalty.
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