13 March, 2007

The Problem With Jessica's Law

Yesterday I missed out on the blogosphere, and therefore missed out on the discussion of mandatory sentencing for child molesters. I hate coming late to the party, but I really need to go on record.

I believe that mandatory sentences for any crime are a gross abuse of our legal system.

I believe that any time a mandatory sentence is invoked for any crime we have turned from a society of law into a mob on a witch hunt.

Allow me to explain.

The purpose of the justice system is not to exact revenge. The purpose of the justice system is to punish those who have done wrong. The sad and simple truth is there is no punishment that will mend any sense of violation a victim has. Nor is it meant to. I could go on and on about the outdated philosophy of wergild, and how our legal system was revolutionary for assessing an equal value to all lives by dismissing the concept of vengence from our sentencing structure. But that would be eggheadedly pointless, boring as dried dog snot and of interest only to me and maybe three other people.

So allow me to say this:

A mandatory sentence doesn't allow any room for the law to show mercy. It robs the judicial system of absolute justice.

When people think of mandatory sentences for molesters, they imagine locking the door forever on some fellow who fondles little girls on the kindergarten playground.

What they don't realise is that a 17-year old boy who has sex with his 16-year old girlfriend could be convicted of the same crime and under a mandatory sentencing law would receive the same jail term, chemical castration and other penalties as the kiddie-diddling Aqualung. The judges' hands would be tied.

I have no illusions about the depths of sickness in the mind and actions of any sex offender. As we learn more about the human mind and the human animal I have become very much in favour of creating a new criminal class and penal structure for sex offenses. I think things like chemical castration and residential restriction are very good ideas. By all means rob these men and women of their sex drive and make sure they can't live within a certain distance of a school. I am also quite insistent that we remove the statute of limitations on sex crimes, especially as these crimes often involve children who are unable or unwilling to testify until they reach maturity. We should definitely make sentences stricter, too. There are a thousand ways to make the voices of victims heard without removing the blindfold from Justice.

10 Comments:

At 1:01 PM, March 13, 2007, Anonymous Darrin said...

Amen

 
At 1:16 PM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Rob Robinson said...

Yep, I agree. The spirit behind mandatory sentencing, as you noted, is on the mark to ensure that perpetrators can't commit further crimes, but the letter misses the target by increasing the risk that justice is misapplied by default.

Good call.

 
At 1:22 PM, March 13, 2007, Anonymous nm said...

Yup.

 
At 1:51 PM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Slartibartfast said...

Ugh. This is a very tough one. I'm quite torn.

The elephant in the room, which you kind of touched on, is that science is slowly revealing to us a horrible, ugly truth:

Those who commit sexual offenses, real ones, cannot be "cured", rehabilitated, or otherwise "fixed" (no pun intended). I don't know if chemical castration is the answer because I'm not sure that science has told us that these tendencies are indeed sexual by nature. Maybe could shed light on the science.

So, we're left with the choices we have in front of us. Could not Jessica's law be written in such a way that calls for an independent medical diagnosis? Wouldn't that "fix" your 17-year-old in the backseat problem?

 
At 1:52 PM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Slartibartfast said...

Dang tags. That link was for Rachel, blogress of the Night.

 
At 3:00 PM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Chance said...

I think you are right. I think the arguments for mandatory sentencing comes about when judges give paltry sentences for heinous crimes. However, I think their our other ways to fix that, maybe through the people choosing to reinstate judges or something like that. I believe mandatory sentencing is bad for reasons you mentioned and that it doesn't seem good for separation of powers.

 
At 3:05 PM, March 13, 2007, Anonymous CE Petro said...

I went into a fairly lengthy post on Jessica's Law a couple of weeks ago. Note, that I am completely against enactment of Jessica's Law on several levels, the least of which it will be very costly to taxpayers, far more than what Bredesen estimated. That additional cost is for increased incarceration, and not for the monitoring for the remainder of the offenders life.

I disagree with you that sexual offenders can't be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation for sexual predators is a growing science, because "funny uncles" and such were kept locked away in the family closet.

Nor can we treat all sexual offenses in the same manner, there are, after all, several different classifications of sexual predators, including the Romeo & Juliet relationships. Let's face it, a R&J relationship is hardly on the same level as a pedophile. And in that vein, all child molesters are not pedophiles, etc.

That said, I find solely punitive measures to deal with sexual offenses abhorrent. Jessica's Law is a legislative knee-jerk reaction to a horrible crime.

 
At 5:19 PM, March 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone with extensive training/education in psychology and years of experience with treating juvenile sex offenders, I'd like to go on record as saying that the common perception that sex offenders (i.e., child molesters, etc.) can't be successfully treated is patently false. What's true is that treatment of these individuals is extremely difficult and that recidivism rates are tragically high. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a professional worth their salt who would advocate throwing in the towel and giving up on treatment altogether.

Our society in general seems to have no problem assigning the "beyond hope" label to child molesters, and given the abhorrent nature of their crimes it's not hard to understand that inclination. However, I think that the original post was on the money when it pointed out the importance of "blind justice" in our legal system. Mandatory sentences that are a direct reflection of our disdain for a particular class of crimes/criminals may not seem like such a clear cut good idea when applied to other (current or potential) criminals that may one day be deemed beyond hope.

What happens when our social pendulum swings to the point of declaring that Christians or some other religious group are a dangerous group and that someone sharing their faith with someone over coffee constitutes hate speech? What happens when it's determined that Christians have an even lower "cure" rate than child molesters? Will we be comfortable with mandatory sentencing laws that require life imprisonment upon an offender's third conviction for saying "God bless you" when someone sneezes? Sure, that's taking the argument to a ridiculous extreme, but the basic point is the same.

There's a fundamental danger that's inherent in hyper-criminalizing one particular class of crimes and/or criminals, to the point where we tie the hands of the justice system and force judges to eliminate any degree of discretion from the process. Wouldn't it make more sense to simply be more discerning about who we put on the bench to interpret our laws and to guide the sentencing process?

 
At 6:57 PM, March 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you and your readers will actually take the time to read the current bills by our legislators before putting out erroneous information.
First of all, regarding the current legislation before us, no one wants to put 17 and 16 year olds behind jail for consensual sex. That may fall under statutory rape, and there was an terrible incident in Georgia where a young adult went to prison for such relations. This has nothing, however, to do with the legislation before us now.
Jessica's Law deals with adults having sex with someone 13 and under.
Second, some of the things you say you are for are some of the things being presented to the legislators.
PLEASE everyone read the legislation being proposed by various legislators. Some are good bills and some aren't.
I posted who is proposing what on my site, yesterday. If you don't read my site or don't want to, you could have gone to the legislators site and see who is proposing what.
It's just wrong to state something as fact (like 17 year olds and 16 year olds having consensual sex would be affected by the current legislation) when that is patently false.
Unless you think it's okay for an adult to have forced sex with someone 13 and younger, then you're probably not against most of the bills in the current session.
I hope ALL of you who have posted here will get the facts. The proposed bills are public. Read them and then make up your mind, but I assure you, the scenario Kat posed (about the 17 yr old and 16 yr old)is not part of any of the legislators bills.

Anonymous,
When a child molester falls off the wagon, he/she sexually molests a child. That is not a chance the vast majority of us are willing to take with our children.

And I never post anonymously, but this friggin new blogger won't let me sign in on my old account, so I had to check "anonymous" but clearly I am not.

And Kat, totally off subject, you are so totally lucky you were not forced to switch to new blogger. Don't. It totally sucks.

Sharon Cobb

 
At 9:05 PM, March 13, 2007, Anonymous Sarcastro said...

Right off the bat, let me state my opposition to any law that contains an apostrophe. Is the law and the reasoning behind it so weak that a child's tragic death has to be attached so that it elicits an emotional response?

Having said that, the only recourse for a society that has kiddie raping monsters that cannot be rehabilitated, is to end the lives of the recidivists. It isn't about revenge. It is about removing a threat that cannot be cured, but will sadly reproduce itself through the victims.

A little blood on our hands now will save a lot of blood on our children later. Of course that was the rationale behind killing Freddy Krueger, so I could be way wrong.

As for mandatory sentencing, look no farther than the retarded War on Drugs to see how that is working in the interests of justice and the fate of those who may fall into the same category as the teenager in GA.

 

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