Jessica's Law, NC -- What Do You Think?

The NC General Assembly is considering large mandatory minimum sentences for certain sex offenders. In addition, they're looking at the following bills:

One bill appropriates $1.3 million for electronic monitoring. It requires global positioning satellite monitoring of the most serious and intermediate sex offenders for the period of their probation, parole or post-release supervision.

Another requires sex offenders moving to North Carolina to register with the state and requires the DMV to notify people moving into the state of the requirement when they first get their North Carolina driver’s license.

Another bill expands sex-offender registration to include people convicted of statutory rape. It also would require in-person registration and annual verification of the address by the offender.

Yet another would make harboring of a sex offender a felony.

The New Bern Sun Journal

Jessica's law would require 25-life for sex offenses involving a child victim. My wife and I disagree about criminal law a lot, but she's usually the harder nose. But a few years ago, after we read about a Texas man who had a big red sign on the front of his house announcing that a sex offender lived inside, we realized that our positions are reversed on this topic. Something about the sign didn't sit right with her, while I kind of thought it should be bigger and brighter.

Given that sex offenders are more likely than other criminal groups to repeat their crimes, what do you think of the proposals before the NC GA?

Comments

Nobody is despised like the sex offender

I would be for almost any measure to keep this type of srime rate down, but I do not know of a shred of evidence suggesting that these new laws work. Think about a sex offender who has to tell his neighbors of his past; the neighbors may be aware and keep an eye on their kids, but the offender could walk to the next neighborhood and no one their would be the wiser. And as far as statewide disclosure on a website or something, who really spends the time to scan those. I think that these proposals are more publicity than actual benefit in reducing crime.

As for mandatory minimums, you need to be real careful. There are bound to be people in circumstances that do not warrant the minimum. Also, they are very costly when put too high. It does cost a lot to keep someone in prison. And there was a study recently that shows that sending people to prison for long periods can increase their liklihood of committing future crimes (due to the lack of rehabilitation programs, exposure to criminal culture, etc.). This increased tendency may be linked to the recent upswing in violent crime in this country. So I would be hesitant to enact any of these minimums before there was more data developed on the long term effects.

Also, just a note on poor reporting, NC does not have parole anymore (some criminals who committed their crimes years ago are still technically eligible, but no new punishment law would include provisions for parole).

I agree about mandatory minimums

But for sex offenders—particularly those who prey on kids—I think I could get behind a criminal sentence followed by civil commitment.

For those who prey on kids...

I actually support the death penalty.

CHICAGO - Charges were announced Wednesday against 27 people in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain in connection with an Internet chat room allegedly used to trade child porn and view real-time child molestation...U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who appeared at a news conference in Chicago, said seven victims were identified, one of them less than 18 months old.

Gonzales said the images, sent through a peer-to-peer network, represented "the worst imaginable forms of child pornography."

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Also, on monitoring

Just who would do the monitoring? I know from talking to people involved in house arrest monitoring, they do not feel that they have the resources to keep up with those people, who are easier to track since the house arrestee is by definition either at home, work, or in violation. The sex offender on the other hand is free to roam anywhere but certain areas (such as schools). I think that would be a huge continued burden on the enforcement end.

But again, show a study where it has worked effectively and for a reasonable cost, and I would be for it.

I'm thinking that with GPS tracking

You wouldn't need very much human monitoring. They'll probably either define no-go zones or safe zones and then have software let someone know if the con is in violation. That's how I'd do it, anyway.

Another advantage remains even if nobody is watching but the software: if they do commit another crime, you either have a detailed record of their movements or proof that they evaded their trackers at the time of the new crime (strong circumstantial evidence of guilt).

Friend of a friend

had an ankle bracelet. He cut it off and went far far away for quite some time. What about a nice "chip" stuck down in their femur?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

How about a

shock collar?

Hell, it keeps my dog in the yard.

(kidding!)

Children deserve all protection possible

Here is a letter that was printed in the Chapel Hill News.

Children deserve all protection possible

It is surprising I have not read nor heard anything regarding Martha Jenkins' letter in support of Jessica's Law (which requires mandatory prison sentences for violent sexual offenders), which appeared in The Chapel Hill News June 4.

What could be more precious or important than the safety of our children? It would seem to me that there would be a public outcry insisting on the passage of this law. Has there been anything about this on the radio? Did I miss something?

As Jenkins stated, "Many states ... have already passed Jessica's Law. ... North Carolina has not." How and why is it being held up?

If you would like to lend your support, you may sign the petition for Jessica's Law at
http://www.ncfrw.com/programs/legislation/child_protection_amendment.htm.

In addition, you may contact your Congress persons.

Remember, children are neither Democrat nor Republican; they are just children who deserve all the protection we can give them. --

Virginia T. Ellington, Carrboro

eh

i think that mandatory minimums might be better justified with respect to pedophiles than non-violent drug offenders, but no 19 year old needs to go to jail for having consensual sex with his 17 year old girlfriend. sentencing should ultimately lie with the judge hearing the case. blanket statutes cannot account for the infinite variations of circumstances in any situation.

ps-personally, i think if we're going to create mandatory minimums and track them using gps, we might as well just castrate them. it's cost effective and a little more to the point.

Say what now?

I agree that statutory rape shouldn't be one of the crimes that falls under anything like a Jessica's Law, and I'm not sure whether it will or not under the proposed legislation.

But what's this about GPS monitoring being like castration? I don't think you have to be a guy to see some important differences.

sorry.

someone very near and dear to me was a victim of child molestation, so i tend towards the dramatic when discussing the subject. as for the link between tracking and castration-it's about restricting someone's liberties with preventative measures.

Reminds me of a story...

from South Carolina of a guy who was arrested for doing just that (I seem to think the girl was the sheriff's daughter of something). The guy is now in his 30s with a family, but every time he moves he has to go inform his neighbors that he is a registered sex offender.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Enforcement is the key

It seems to me that there are already some decent laws in place but there is a lapse of enforcement. Many of the recent atrocities we've heard about have been committed by repeat offenders that "the system" lost track of.

If we adopt a GPS system, can "the system" keep up with it? Will we still lose track of offenders if, say, they figure out how to strap the monitoring device to the dog while they scoot across the border to committ another crime?

I'm worried that no matter what approach we take, "the system" will still fail us.

Perfection is elusive

We just try for better than yesterday. I guess we could have perfect if we could put at least one incorruptable cop on each offender 24-hours a day...

Bad math, big issue.

I would start, Lance, by pointing out that your blanket statement of "Given that sex offenders are more likely than other criminal groups to repeat their crimes" is an error at best, and a lie at worst.

Among the ones that I found, economic and socially driven crimes such as burglary, drugs, and property offenses are all more likely to re-offend than violent criminals and sex offenders. Other findings conclude that:

* For males, the last tested education grade level is the third most influential factor on re-offending and reimprisonment.
* For both males and females, the two most influential factors on re-offending and reimprisonment are prior recidivism and age at release, in that order.

http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/recidivism/2003/index.html

In a recent six-year span, only *1* sex offender in the entire state of Hawaii re-offended. Lest we not forget, sex crimes are highly emotional subjects, and therefore are most susceptible to spin.

Studies have also shown that most sex offenders are relatives of, or people with privileged access (read: friend of the family, not day-care center employee) to the child, and that no amount of distance laws are going to change that.

It's also important to note that sex offender registries tend to be all-encompassing nets that don't really care much about who they catch. I've heard stories of a father who had to register as a sex offender because of a simple despite over spanking his own child.

You have to be careful with what you do with a person once they have served their prison sentence. There is a line between carefully watching a high-risk potential offender, and continual life-long punishment.

I don't know why, but people seem so ready to throw a sex offender into prison for life, brand them with ankle bracelets, and announce their presence on community billboards, yet have absolutely no problem with convicted murderers walking around as free as if they had only jaywalked.

I know it's very important to some people, yet I get that sinking feeling like the entire issue has turned into a flag burning/gay-marriage ideological war, than a true spirited engagement over serious and prevalent social problems.

To Meredith: I agree, 19 and 17 don't warrant incarceration, and in fact it doesn't here. The age of consent in North Carolina is 16 for girls. In the Union, the average age of consent for sex is 17, with 28 states setting the limit at 16 (making 15 and below illegal), including: The District of Columbia (16) and the United States Uniformed Code of Military Justice (16).

And if you think that's bad, or awkward, consider: the age of consent in the United Kingdom is also 16. It's 15 in France, 14 in China and Canada, a staggering 12 in Chile and Mexico, and naturally there is no age of consent in Iran, because it's illegal to have any sex outside of marriage there.

My friends, when people go after kids, they aren't going after fifteen or sixteen year olds, they are going after actual kids. Not because they are kids, but because these people have real and lasting problems that aren't going to be solved by jail time, or high tech monitoring equipment.

Child abuse is a social and health issue, it's not a moral or legal issue, and it is certainly not a problem I see being properly addressed anytime in the near future so long as people continue treating it so.

There's my buck and a dime, beat that with a stick.

A few points

I would start, Lance, by pointing out that your blanket statement of "Given that sex offenders are more likely than other criminal groups to repeat their crimes" is an error at best, and a lie at worst.

No, I definitely heard them say that on Law & Order. But I am properly chastened for being sloppy with my terms. What I meant to talk about (and I really did use the wrong term) was pedophiles. Some quick Googling turns up sites that say things like: "More than 1/2 of all convicted sex offenders are sent back to prison within a year. Within 2 years, 77.9% are back.--California Department of Corrections"; and "Recidivism rates range from 18-45%. The more violent the crime the more likelihood of repeating. --Studies by the state of Washington." Those come from this page. But as I was getting at with my Law & Order comment above, I "know" what I know in this area largely from second- and third-hand sources. I'm open to education on this topic.

Also, Hawaii? Dude, why Hawaii?

I don't know why, but people seem so ready to throw a sex offender into prison for life, brand them with ankle bracelets, and announce their presence on community billboards, yet have absolutely no problem with convicted murderers walking around as free as if they had only jaywalked.

I have urges that, unmoderated, could lead me to kill someone. Why, just a little while ago, some lady in the grocery store kept materializing in front of me and then parking her cart in the space I was about to move through. If she'd wanted to drive me into a murderous state of mind, she would not have had to change a thing about her behavior. And there are circumstances in which moderation fails.

Now there are murderers who kill because they are broken, and not because some normal emotion got beyond their control. But sexual predators who target kids? Where does that even come from? How should we understand these people? How can we make a place for them in society? They are, to my mind, irretrievably broken and an ongoing danger and appropriate subjects for civil commitment. I'm a law student, and before that I majored in Math and Philosophy, so take my opinion only for what it's worth. But that is my opinion until someone convinces me otherwise.

Finally:

Child abuse is a social and health issue, it's not a moral or legal issue....

When we are making policy decisions about what level of danger to society (and especially society's weakest members) a person has to pose before we put them away, it's a moral issue. When we're talking about how existing laws should be applied and about what the law ought to be, it's a legal issue. I don't have any problem with the statement that "[c]hild abuse is a social and health issue," but I'd love to hear someone make the case that there is no moral or legal component to it.

When it stops being about

When it stops being about punishment for a crime, and becomes an issue of revenge and righteousness, the words legal and moral become nothing but excuses for blood lust, and cease being foundations of reason.

I understand peoples emotional response. I have two little nephews, and when I think about them, and these crimes, all I really want to do is kill. And then (figuratively speaking, I am not religious) I thank God that we have a system in place where the impartial decide the fate of the accused, and not the victims families.

A very important line must be drawn here. You punish them for a set amount of time which you believe is directly proportional to the seriousness of the crime they have been found guilty of. Once the sentence has been served, they must be given the opportunity to move on. It is a fundamental part of civilized society that punishment ends when the sentence ends.

*You cannot have society without that concept*

Now when you are talking about second-time offenders, that's an entirely different debate than just talking about sex offenders. Mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders has been tried for other crimes and generally hasn't work all that well, and it's a much larger issue than any specific crime alone. It is difficult enough to debate the first issue, and virtually impossible to debate them both at the same time.

This country is running dangerously low on people capable of applying an even hand, and this issue above most others requires such moderation and care, lest we devolve into lynchings and summary executions bases solely on how pissed off you are at any given moment.

Revenge and righteousness?

Although revenge is a time-honored motivation for punishment, I'm talking about crime prevention.

Suppose a guy has a funky chemical composition so that he might one day explode with the force of a few sticks of dynamite. Say his chances of going off over the next 10 years is about 50/50. Would you be comfortable letting him go on about a normal life? Or do you need something for this guy that isn't jail but isn't quite the American dream, either?

One other thing:

A very important line must be drawn here. You punish them for a set amount of time which you believe is directly proportional to the seriousness of the crime they have been found guilty of. Once the sentence has been served, they must be given the opportunity to move on. It is a fundamental part of civilized society that punishment ends when the sentence ends.

*You cannot have society without that concept*

There are a number of accepted reasons to jail someone: deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation, protection of society.... These all play into sentencing, so it's not at all easy to say what amount of time is "directly proportional to the seriousness of the crime." And if you have a good reason to think that a class of criminals is particularly likely to repeat their crimes, then the motives of rehabilitation and protection of society may continue beyond the time when society's retributive goals are served (and for such criminals, there may be no way to serve the goal of deterrence).

So when you say "You cannot have society without that concept," you're compressing these questions into one and saying everything ("a person should not be imprisoned too long") and nothing (there's still no answer there as to how long "too long" is).

Ok, one more thing: I'm enjoying this discussion, and I hope you are too. It's nice to get to engage someone on a difficult topic in the kind of reasoned discourse I've come to expect as a regular Bitch what? reader.

Nothing pleases me more than

Nothing pleases me more than being able to do this. I always learn something about the subject of discussion, and a little about life and people as well.

You have made some very good points, and usually those are the ones I don't address, so here are the two that I will address.

When I said "You cannot have society without that concept", what I meant was "jail is fine, punishment is fine, but once the punishment mandated by a jury is complete, you must be extremely careful that everything you do after that point does not cross the line back into extra-judicial punishment." I believe in that very strongly.

And as for the 50/50 question, that's incredibly difficult to answer. I for one wouldn't want to try without having a very firm understanding of the situation, and I don't say that because I want to be dodgey, but because it is a *very* good question, and necessitates a very complex answer.

If there was prior evidence, such as a psychological evaluation indicating that the threat to society is greater than we can accept, and that his mental health will not improve on its own, I would recommend involuntary confinement in a mental health facility. (People in New York are right now trying to do this with sex-offenders the instant they have finished their prison sentences, not because they are mentally ill but simply as a measure to keep them off the street *indefinitely*.) But I would be very cautious at any action that was not immediately justified by real evidence, simply because of human nature. Any person is capable of becoming a murderer or a law breaker in a heart beat. Do we monitor every human on the planet, and detain them when they come within five feet of another person, while they are holding a gun or sharp object?

You can ask thousands of those questions, come up with thousands of answers, and thousands of new laws that on paper appear to protect the public. Only they don't, because they never really address the core problem, a persons mental state. Did they steal the car because they *really* needed money, to like, buy food? Or did they steal it because they have a mental predilection towards theft? Do we treat them differently, or the same regardless?

For the record, so this is utterly clear, I have no problem with ankle bracelets on high-risk sex-offenders during their probation. I have no real objection to the existence of registries either. My objections come when people are more concerned with creating new things like ankle bracelets and registries without paying equal attention to being fair about them. (I concede this is a problem with law makers and politicians in general.) Registries bare a striking resemblance to the federal no-fly list. You can't get off it, and you have no control over how you get on it in the first place (remember the father who got on one just by disciplining his child?)

Ultimately, my motivation comes from "fairness to others, for fairness to myself". I support same-sex marriage because for every bit that I want gays to be treated equally to me, I want myself to be treated equally to them. Sanctioning unfair treatment to one person for one reason just opens to door for myself to be treated unfairly as well.

P.S. It's been great fun debating with you Lance. Ever thought about creating a Google Group for extended discussion? Also, may I have your permission to reprint yours and my own comments from here on my weblog? We both make great points and it is a great discussion, and just posting the back-and-forth kind of tells the tale all by itself, and makes for a great post.

Appeals, Car Thiefs, and Collars

Paul,
You mention several things that I would like to address.

My objections come when people are more concerned with creating new things like ankle bracelets and registries without paying equal attention to being fair about them. (I concede this is a problem with law makers and politicians in general.) Registries bare a striking resemblance to the federal no-fly list. You can't get off it, and you have no control over how you get on it in the first place (remember the father who got on one just by disciplining his child?)

This is a problem, but it shouldn't be insurmountable. In fact, it shouldn't be a big deal at all. The fact that it is a problem doesn't mean you do away with the system. For the death penalty, we have a problem, the result is death, so yeah, you might want to AT LEAST freeze the outcome until you figure out the problems.

You can ask thousands of those questions, come up with thousands of answers, and thousands of new laws that on paper appear to protect the public. Only they don't, because they never really address the core problem, a persons mental state. Did they steal the car because they *really* needed money, to like, buy food? Or did they steal it because they have a mental predilection towards theft? Do we treat them differently, or the same regardless?

I'm a big proponent of the homeless project that actually rents houses and hires a full-time social worker to make sure those people are on the right meds (many hardcore homeless have severe mental health issues). So, I agree that you can delve into why people do things and try to fix the underlying issue. But, not with child molesters. I just don't see any fix to child molestation. It isn't stealing a car for kicks, robbing a store for food, or even mugging someone for cash to buy drugs - it is physically abusing and mentally torturing a baby. There is no fix for that in my mind.

Once an offender, always a threat.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

The only issue I have with

The only issue I have with what you've said is this. (hope this quotes right)

But, not with child molesters. I just don't see any fix to child molestation. It isn't stealing a car for kicks, robbing a store for food, or even mugging someone for cash to buy drugs - it is physically abusing and mentally torturing a baby. There is no fix for that in my mind.

The problem is, nobody really sees a fix for schizophrenia either, but we still think about it. We still try to help them. Consider that if these people saw what they were doing as torture and painful abuse, one can only assume they wouldn't be doing it in the first place. I am not making excuses by any means, though.

It's easy to look at the real bad ones, and say "hey, there's a really sick bastard who is the very definition of evil", without taking a moment to consider that maybe they are a few beers short of a six pack. There are generally very few people in the world that do something they know is wrong unless they either don't consider it wrong, or can't mentally do anything about it (obsessive compulsive is a great example of otherwise normal people that just *can't stop* doing something.)

I obviously feel very bad for the victims of these crimes, but I try not to let that get in the way of my natural human compassion for the person who is in such a dark place, that the human mind and spirit which is capable of so many beautiful things could do such horrible acts. I feel sympathy for them that they got so messed up that their lives are just ruined for all time, and I hope other people would be capable of acknowledging that not everything going on in a persons brain is a simple matter of choice.

If a schizophrenic committed a violent act, say brutal assault or murder, most people wouldn't demonize them for it, we'd look at them and think how sad it is for a human life to be twisted and lost like this. And how sad is it that as advanced as we are as a species, we couldn't do a damn thing about it. Replace the schizophrenic with a child molester, and it's a whole different ballgame.

And I don't think that's fair -- and maybe I'm wrong, maybe wrapping our brains around this is what this country should be doing instead of fighting wars and screwing up medicare.

I don't mean to demonize

But if a schizophrenic was violent and had a history of violence and wouldn't stay on her meds, I'd expect her to be locked up. Not whipped, or beaten, or left in a hole to rot (one advantage to a mental hospital for the schizophrenic is that it's easier to keep them on their meds; that could mean a higher quality of life inside than out). But locked up.

Fairness is right

I agree that fairness should be the touchstone for new laws, and I'm all for case-by-case analysis. A person shouldn't be treated to jail (or civil confinement) indefinitely just because they fall into a broad category. I just think there ought to be a mechanism to protect kids from people who we have a good specific reason to think will attack again.

Feel free to reprint! Just provide a link back. I like it when these discussions take place here, in part because I visit this site anyway, so it's like one stop shopping. But it's also nice when someone who came for some other reason stumbles into a conversation on something that matters to them.

I'm enjoying it too, Paul

It sounds like you know your stuff in this area and I'd love to see some diaries/posts that share your ideas. Thanks!

Thank you. I love engaging

Thank you. I love engaging people and myself in public policy and debates on the evolution of our society.

I am currently writing a screenplay involving a young man who did something rather innocuous in his past that landed him on a sex-offender registry, and has caused his life to become filled with harassment and ridicule, and in the end, places his very life at stake when a young girl goes missing, and everyone focuses their rage on him.

It's a wonderfully complex debate, and given that I am writer, I thought how better to illustrate a view like that, than to write a movie about it?

Good luck with that screenplay!

I'm glad to know that about you. I'm working one one novel and playing around with another . . . when I'm not beating the BlueNC drum to take back our country.

I wish I knew more about

I wish I knew more about North Carolina politics. Sadly all I know is what I read here, and I'm really glad you guys are doing this so I'm not completely in the dark. I'm not native to this state, but I've been here a long time and it's comforting to know that not everyone is a Bush-a-holic around these parts.

Keep up the work on your novel. I have a book started called American Disillusion, but I can't put hardly any time into it since books are on the periphery of my craft, professionally speaking.

Just remember that 99% of success is just finishing the damn thing.

Heh.

My problem is . . . I've finished my novel three times already!

:)

I forgot I was going to take

I forgot I was going to take up this point..

Also, Hawaii? Dude, why Hawaii?

Naturally I Googled for numbers that supported my argument (heh) and there was a weblog post that cited that Flordia report that I came across, and the Hawaii statistics were inside that post. I followed the link to the report, and happily stole the information ;)

"Lies, damn lies and statistics" - Mark Twain