|PREDATORS OR CITIZENS?|
November 19, 1997
in this forum:
Do we offer molesters necessary privacy or do we condemn offenders to life sentences? What are the statistics regarding effective therapy programs in keeping offenders from repeating their crimes? Is there leniency of sentences in the first instance by the criminal justice system? Why should someone who harms children not be denied the right to be out among potential victims undetected? What is an offender? And what is the purpose of the laws that make registered sex offenders addresses publicly available?
June 2, 1997
Should convicted sex offenders be freed after serving their sentences?
December 10, 1996
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments over a Kansas man convicted of child molesting whose prison term is complete, but who the state does not want to release.
January 31, 1996:
In Washington state, there's a debate over whether sex-offenders should remain incarcerated even afterserving their sentences.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
William Gormly of Great Falls, VA asks: Not mentioned in the summary of "John's" case history is the original sentence and the length that he served before parole was granted. A major problem in the criminal justice system is the leniency of sentences in the first instance, followed by the ready granting of parole.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the median sentence for murder is 15 years, the mediam time served for murder is 5.5 years; for rape, 8 years sentence and 3 years served; robbery, 6 years sentence and 2.2 years served; for assault, 4 years median sentence and 1.2 years time served.
Add to this the fact that 42% of inmates arriving at prisons were on parole or probation for an earlier conviction, and the magnitude of the problem is apparent. Comments?
Dr. Jerome Miller responds:
I question the validity of the Bureau of Justice statistics quoted in your comments. Having prepared sentences for offenders (including those convicted of murder) in most states of the Union, this has not been my experience. Realize that most homicides do not resemble those seen in cop TV shows - the stranger on stranger crime, to the "hit man" of organized crime. Approximately 80% of homicides involve family members or friends - and may be handled as one or another degree of manslaughter or murder. The pre-meditated murder is rare among homicides.
It is no surprise that 42% of inmates arriving at prisons might have been on probation or parole or were otherwise known the criminal justice system. We presently maintain over 50 million active criminal records in this country - 90%+ on males. There are only about 130 million males in the country including children and the aged. If you are poor, male, and member of a minority (african american or Latino) it is likely that you will have been arrested and charged - and thereby saddled with a "criminal record" before you complete age 35. Indeed, approximately 75% of Black and Hispanic men can anticipate being arrested before age 35.
It is not unlikely that the numbers on probation and parole - usually for minor public order offenses will be relatively large. In most cities, the percentage of minority males on probation or parole approaches 40% or more. Harsher handling and longer sentences will only add to the total mess. In fact, it is clear that as a nation we have chosen to deal with what are essentially social, economic, personal and family problems -through the criminal justice system. Contrast this with the Nethertands where less than l% of "criminalizable" events are handed off to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system. Rather, other means of redress are (drugs), etc.
Ms. Sarah Sappington responds:
Mr. Gormly's statistics represent national median sentences. Specific sentences for specific crimes vary dramatically, of course, from state to state.
What Mr. Gormly seems to really be asking is: Shouldn't we have longer sentences? Shouldn't people who are convicted and sentenced serve a greater portion of the time to which they are sentenced? Some states, such as Washington, have answered this question with a resounding "yes." In 1990, as part of the same package of legislation that included the nation's first "Sexually Violent Predator" law, Washington doubled sentences for all major sex crimes. In addition, a convicted sex offender must serve at least 85% of his sentence before being released from confinement. Upon release, he will be required to serve up to three years of supervised release.
Voters in Washington state have also enacted tough new laws for repeat offenders. In 1993, the voters passed a "three strikes; you're out" initiative, which provides for lifetime incarceration without parole for offenders who have committed three "most serious" felonies. In 1996, "two strikes; you're out" legislation was passed, which provides for lifetime sentences without parole for persons convicted of two or more serious sexual crimes. In both cases, the crimes which trigger the two or three strikes laws are defined by statute.