Perhaps second only to mass murderers, the most repugnant criminals in our society are offenders who have victimized children. All too often, we must read in the paper about a small child being kidnapped, abused and even murdered by a person with a long history of pedophilia. This type criminal is not only abhorred by people in polite society, but is even shunned and isolated among his fellow inmates of murderers, robbers, con-artists and just thieves. Sexual offenders are generally severely punished, and should be.
Unfortunately, in our lawmakers’ zeal to be the toughest on crime and to assure that our youngsters in Texas are not victimized by sexual predators, we have taken a shortsighted approach to dealing with sexual offenders.
I, and those dear to me, certainly care about the welfare of our families and take the trouble to review the registry. While keeping track of sexual offenders in most respects is a good idea, the problem with the registry in Texas is that it contains 70,000 registrants. The Texas definition of sexual offenses is so broad one cannot review the registry and determine whether the person so registered is a raving pedophile maniac who is subject to attacking small children found alone on the street, or whether the person could have been a 19-year-old who had a love affair with his 16-year-old girlfriend and was convicted of what most of us know as the offense of statutory rape.
I submit it is important for those of us who care about protecting our children and grandchildren to know the difference. It is also in the interest of justice that the latter category above described is not lumped with the former.
Tales of injustice of such a system which paints all with a broad brush, effectively sentencing them to a life sentence, recalls ancient times when part of the punishment of certain criminals was to be branded on the forehead, sometimes for minor violations.
A recent edition of The Texas Observer chronicled the plight of a young man sentenced as a sexual offender at the age of 12 basically for engaging in curiosity--acting out--with a sibling. The article pointed out that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called sexual offenders on the registry who were basically sentenced as children. And there are hundreds of other registrants branded as lifetime sexual offenders who are now married to the alleged victim. The 19-year-old who had the love affair with his 16-year-old girlfriend--and who is now married to his longtime sweetheart and raising a family--has no business on the sexual registry.
Sociological studies have clearly established the vast majority of children branded as sexual offenders, and those described herein as those slightly over the edge--having had affairs with their teenage sweethearts, are imminently unlikely to be repeat offenders. Some system should be devised either to remove this type offender from the registry or to create a categorized system of registration so that those concerned about protection of our loved ones could review the registry and determine the type of person who might be residing within the geographical area of our concern.
I would suggest two possible solutions to the overuse of sexual offense registration. The preferable method would be for the Legislature to simply comb through the categories currently designated as sexual offenses and provide that, if convicted of the lesser type offenses, the registration be shortened to a reasonable term of years after whatever sentence they receive for the offense. This would allow parole officers or probation officers to determine whether or not the person has exhibited any propensity to continue or repeat as sex offenders.
The other solution would be to create a subsection of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles--staffed by professionals such as counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists--and allow persons required to register to apply to be freed from the onus of registration and be evaluated by a team of experts to determine the likelihood of their being repeat offenders and the degree of risk that each person might be to his or her community in which they reside.
Until such reforms are adopted by the Legislature, those of use who care will continue to be unable to tell the bad guys from the really bad guys.