Thursday, November 16, 2006

Unpopular Sentiment

I have been trying to figure out lately why I am so disturbed by all the initiatives surrounding convicted sexual offenders.

For a while now, we've had Megan's Law requiring registration and community notification of all convicted adult sexual offenders with victims under 17. In recent local news, there are now cries for some way of notifying the "people who need to know" if a juvenile sexual offender is out of jail. Even more recently, punishment was handed down to include wearing a shirt in public places to declare the convicted man's status as a sexual predator.

To me, this seems to be getting a bit overboard.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm a supporter of sex crimes, or that I don't want to protect our nation's children, or that I think criminals' rights are more important than victims' right. But expressing any opposition to any of these proposals or laws is viewed exactly that way. Thus, no useful debate can be done on these topics. And so, our politicians have to continue to support every stupid piece of legislation that comes along on this topic. Really, which congressperson wants to go back to their constituency and try to get re-elected when they voted against Megan's Law? The public outcry would be uncontrollable.

Anytime that people are afraid to speak up against the majority, the majority oversteps reasonable bounds. So, here I am, speaking up against the absurdity of this line of policy-making. Please try not to skin me alive for my opinion. At least beat me to death before you skin me. I think that would hurt less.

I guess my biggest concern is about the notification that occurs for sexual offenders when they move into a new area. It's as if we're saying it's more important to know that a previous sexual offender that has been released from prison has moved in than a murderer or a person convicted of DUI or drug dealers or anything else. Why can't a sexual offender give out candy (and there is major public outcry trying to make sure everyone knows and makes sure they keep their porch light off), but we apparently don't worry about any other criminals coming into contact with our kids.

It sends the message, in my mind, that sexual offenders are the only criminals that aren't rehabilitatable (I hope that's a word). If that's not true, then let them reassimilate into society without the shameful sign hanging around their neck. If we don't make other criminals list their rap sheet on their sleeve, don't make these folks do so either. However, it's possible that we don't think they'll ever turn from their sex crime ways, but if that's the sentiment, then why are the punishments for these crimes so small compared to other crimes? If we really think we can't make these criminals safe for reentry into mainstream society, then why can't we sentence them to life in prison or to death? I'm not talking about death penalty as a legitimate punishment here, but if we use it for other crimes, why not these? As I was doing "research" (it's hard to think of internet searching as research -- no library, no card catalog, you know) for this piece, I came across someone who apparently questions this, as well. I'll be interested to see what happens with some of those pieces of legislation here in Texas.

The other concern I have on this is that general movement by this country to offload the raising of our children to public officials. Teachers, police, and others are expected to carry more of this load than parents. I'm not wholesale blaming parents for their child's molestation -- of course there are unavoidable situations. I'm just saying that parents shouldn't let their kids stay the weekend at Neverland. Beyond the highly publicized stranger encounters, though, most sexually oriented crimes occur in the family. And family incidents tend not to be prosecuted but hidden as part of that family's "skeletons in the closet." If they're not prosecuted, you can't be warned unless the family talks about it (unlikely).

I just don't want parents to get a false sense of security that with all these regulations that their children become "safe." Continue to be vigilant, and good luck!


mr. kyle said...

I agree on a number of points, most specifically on the offloading of personal responsibility to gov't, whether it's demanding the FCC censor words and situations you find offensive or putting t-shirts on sexual predators. It's the difference between taking an active role in your situation and demanding that someone else handle doing all the look out for you.

The more interesting part is about the punitive vs. rehabilitative nature of punishment. Is punishment supposed to prevent the convicted from committing the same crime again? To convince those actors who would consider the crime that it is not in their interest? If so, as you point out, what do we make of laws that seem to indicate that some people are beyond help or remedy, that they are 'sick' and need to be monitored by the public on an ongoing basis. I'm not saying this is incorrect, in fact, just the opposite. I just find it interesting that some of the same people who will readily admit that the behavior and sexual preferences of child predators is something innate will also tell you that other sexual preferences, like homosexuality, are a choice. Let no one think I'm equating homosexuality with being a sexual predator, simply pointing out that people inconsistently apply nature and nurture arguments when it comes the behavior of others to suit their present arguments.

I'd be interested in studies regarding recidivism in areas with the most draconian predator laws versus those with alternative or no such laws. If the laws and their underlying premise are effective, then it would seem only to drive predators to areas with no such laws, while failing to treat or address the predators problems to begin with. This is where all those studies on chemical castration and off swell of support for it among convicted predators becomes interesting, but I'm too lazy to keep typing.

Heather said...

That has got to be the longest comment I've ever gotten! Thanks for all those thoughts. Now we'll need to explore the reasons for punishments. Feel free to beat me to the punch on that one.

James said...

I've also had many reservations about the way this is handled. Are these criminals' debts to society never paid? I also worry about the way 'sex crime' is defined very loosely in some counties. For instance, should a 17 year old who has consensual sex with a 16 yr old be branded a sex criminal? In some places they are.

scotirish said...

I'm going to have to put this on My Favorites and comeback and talk about this.

As an organizer and Director of a prison ministry I talk about this stuff all the time.

As an ex-con I talk about this stuff even more. Just last week I drove a single mother (and her mother) 600 miles round trip to pick up her son after 15r consecutive years, he is now 30.

Check Out my blog "I Left Prison Behind"