Some very bad people live in this world, police, prosecutors, and judges do their best to protect the rest of us from them. It is not however possible to guarantee safety to anyone. We are a nation of laws, a nation based upon individual liberty. As such we must respect and protect the fundamental rights of everyone, even truly evil people, for if we did not no ones rights or liberty would be safe.
I’ve been following the big news about sex offenders lately, it seems that the media does it’s best to whip people into a frenzy, ordinary people want the government to guarantee their safety, and politicians want to create yet more ineffective programs.
Let’s review what has happened recently:
A convicted sex offender was released from prison having served his time. He had nowhere to live, so the Department of Corrections dropped him off under an overpass. His story made the news because he was fitted with a GPS device that he cut off.
People were shocked; politicians were ‘outraged,’ how on earth could the Department of Corrections drop this fellow off under an overpass? How could they have dropped him off within walking distance of a school? How could they have dropped him off so near to his victim?
The shock is misplaced, the ‘outrage’ disingenuous. The fellow had no place to live because citizens pressure local governments into creating ‘zones’ in which no sex offender can live. He had no place to live because landlords are afraid to rent to sex offenders since citizens have burned houses down and even murdered the offenders to keep them out of their neighborhoods. He was dropped off within walking distance of a school simply because that is the nature of a built urban environment. Most every spot is within walking distance of a school. Lastly, he was dropped off so close to his victim because the law forced it. State law says that offenders, having served their time, must be returned to the county where the crime was committed. This law was pushed by Pierce County legislators who were tired of having so many ex-cons living within their county. Of course the ‘outraged’ politicians know all of this, especially the last since they passed that little law just last year.
I am not an apologist for sex offenders. They are the worst kind of criminals and must be punished for their crimes. They must be held accountable.
That said, we as a society must recognize that virtually all of them will get out of prison eventually. They will re-enter society. That is the nature of our judicial system, a system created to protect the rights of us all.
If we are smart, we want them upon re-entry to become law abiding, productive members of society. We want them to lead normal, crime free lives, lives without the horrible deeds they committed in the past.
We are not smart though, for we do not allow them to re-enter society in any normal manner. We virtually force them to turn back to a life of crime; we virtually force them to re-offend.
Upon getting out of prison we force a sex offender to register, and check in with police on an extremely frequent basis. Those check in times make it hard for an offender to maintain employment. Imagine for a moment a registered sex offender trying to live and work in the town of Skykomish within King County. He would have to take off work once a week to register with the Sheriff. The Sheriff located two to three hours away, each way. I doubt if the offender could maintain employment under those conditions. Hence, we, as a society force him to return to a life of crime.
We also take the step of plastering his picture and personal details all over the neighborhood in which he lives. Posters, the internet, public meetings, all to discuss this new menace, all sponsored by the government. We cannot possibly expect anyone to lead a normal, crime free life when we create such an environment around him or her.
We create zones in which sex offenders cannot live, and we intimidate landlords who otherwise could rent to sex offenders into not doing so. As a result we have an extremely large percentage of sex offenders who are homeless. Again, we leave the offender virtually no choice but to return to a life of crime.
All of this is wrong-headed policy. All of this makes society less safe, not more safe. Unfortunately people are clamoring for more of the same, greater restrictions, and politicians will give them what they want. Thus the problem will worsen.
We need new thinking on this subject. We need clear thinking free from panic on this subject. We need to create policies that help sex offenders to lead normal crime free lives instead of policies that make it impossible for them to do so. In such a way we will make society safer. Alas, I don’t think our politicians are up to it. More importantly I don’t think that we are up to it.