Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Keeping better track of sex offenders

It's been 14 years since the Jimmy Ryce law took effect requiring the state to examine convicted sexual offenders and decide whether they should be held in a treatment center after finishing their prison sentences. It hasn't proven to be a foolproof reform. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's series "Sex Predators Unleashed" documents horrific cases in which rapists and child molesters were released from prison only to assault new victims — sometimes on the very day they were freed. The question at the center of the newspaper's investigation asks: Why were these men were allowed to leave confinement?

State lawmakers are calling for new mandatory minimum sentences, an expansion of civil commitment after criminal sentences are served, and other knee-jerk measures. But they aren't the answer, just as the Jimmy Ryce law wasn't the answer 14 years ago. There are other, less expensive approaches to improving public safety, including better monitoring of released sex offenders and enhanced treatment in prison and after release.

Since 1999, the Jimmy Ryce law has allowed the state to subject sexual predators to civil commitment after they have served their criminal sentence. The law was named after a 9-year-old boy who was raped and murdered in South Florida. Civil commitment seems to violate due process by confining people in anticipation of what they might do in the future. But the courts have found it constitutional, and Florida appears to be stuck with it.

Of the 3,000 or so sex offenders in Florida who are evaluated each year for civil confinement after serving their sentences, only a handful are considered dangerous enough to qualify. The Sun-Sentinel's investigation suggests that too many dangerous sexual predators are slipping through the cracks, but the system is not as broken as it first appears.

The newspaper's investigation found 594 instances over 14 years where a sex offender was arrested for another sex crime after release. That added up to more than 460 children molested, 121 women sexually assaulted and 14 people killed. Those are terrible crimes, but the recidivism rate for sexual offenders who were reviewed and let go was less than 10 percent. Florida's overall recidivism rate is 30.5 percent over three years, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. This indicates that a large percentage of sex offenders are not appropriate candidates for civil commitment.

Determining who is dangerous and mentally troubled enough to enter Florida's 720-bed sex offender treatment facility is not an exact science. But if standards for civil commitment are loosened, it will lead to costly and unnecessary confinements. The state has spent more than $450 million on this population since the law took effect, and there is no data on how effective the treatment has been.

What makes more sense is for Florida to do a better job tracking sex offenders after they are released. Since 2000, state audits have made that recommendation but no agency has been assigned to do it. Treatment should start in prison and help should continue after release. If the Legislature can find money for more confinement beds, it should be able to fund cost-effective, less restrictive alternatives. These are awful crimes that deserve more attention, but longer prison sentences that limit judicial discretion and more civil commitments to a "treatment facility" are not the answer.

Comments
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBIís handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but itís also suppression

The Supreme Courtís ruling last Monday to allow Ohioís purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they havenít voted, Ohioís purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18