Debt Paid, But Beware the Hidden Fees
June 22, 2009

On first blush, this sounds like a good local law: "prohibit those who have sexually abused minors from living within 2,500 ft of anywhere where children congregate, such as schools, libraries and parks." (BBC article) In fact, this sounds like common sense. Most pedophiles seem to be repeat offenders operating under compulsion - so just remove the temptation, as much as possible. This Miami law sounds like it's a good thing, right?

Before I go any further, let me point out one fact: I am a survivor. I know first-hand the types of things some of these offenders have done and the pain and long-term effects those actions can have.

That said, the law in Miami which forbids these convicted offenders from living within 2500 feet of anyplace kids might congregate means these folks are living in a tent city under a bridge, because there is nowhere in Miami for them to live otherwise. They are literally being dropped off by Florida's correctional system at the bridge with no money, no water, no food ... no toilet facilities ... they are being issued driver's licenses which list the bridge as their "home" address.

Dr. Pedro Jose Greer of Florida International University (Dean of Humanities, Health and Society) says "This is the stupidest damn law I have ever seen and it's purely mandated by revenge without any consideration for the well-being of these people - who deserve better despite the severity of their crimes."

I agree.

Yes. That's what I said. It is one thing if our justice system were able to sentence someone to a life in a tent city for their crimes - some kind of Coventry area. However, we don't do that. We sentence people to time in jail - and I will certainly be the first to say we often don't sentence them long enough for the things they've done. But that's the way the system is currently. We sentence them to time served and then we say they've paid their debt to society and we set them free. Their rights are curtailed. They are going to find it difficult to find employment.

Their lives are not going to be easy. Perhaps they will be easier than the lives of the children they violated, but that is not the issue. Our justice system is not really built on "an eye for an eye" in a strict, literal fashion. We have instead opted to say that murder is equal to twenty years to life in prison, for example. We have opted to say that a rape equals, on average in the U.S., a sentence of 11.8 years, with an actual time served being more like five and half years. (source, source) We have, in some states, opted to say that aggravated rape is equal to the death penalty (Louisiana). Some states offer to reduce sentences if the convicted will undergo chemical castration - that's another controversy/issue altogether. But our justice system is based on: serve time, pay your debt, rejoin society, debt paid.

These consequences are all things that most Americans know about our justice system and our society. You commit a serious crime, you're going to do time and then you are going to have a difficult time getting a job when you get out. As a registered sex offender, you're going to be required to also tell the system where you're living. In many areas, you are going to have to live a certain distance from schools, et cetera.

But Miami's law goes too far and in my opinion becomes cruel and unusual punishment. What's worse is this punishment occurs after we claim these folks have paid their debt to society. If we want to punish sex offenders more severely, we need to change the laws about their incarceration times because that is how we handle crime and punishment in the U.S.

To condemn these people to a tent city AFTER their time in jail is to, in essence, sink to the level of their crime. The city of Miami is violating people who are already vulnerable.

Think about it apart from their crime: dropped off at a bridge. Under the bridge, you have huts and tents. People living in squalor with no running water, no sanitary facilities ... people with little hope of living any kind of normal life again. Really think about this ... drop off people in an area where they are deprived of everything, an area which is actually worse than prison because now they don't have a guarantee of shelter or food ... or even basic sanitation. Where is their motivation to behave? Where is their motivation to become productive members of society again? It seems to me they have only two intelligent choices: leave Miami (if the terms of their sentence allow it and they can afford to leave, that is), or commit another serious crime and go back to prison where they are guaranteed shelter, food and sanitation. They lose freedom, but gain some security.

We know, from studying modern correctional facilities that many inmates aren't rehabilitated in the typical prison, that instead, many of them learn new skills in illegal activities because they learn from each other.

Let's think about that a moment, shall we?

Is it wise to turn some 70 pedophiles loose together in a tent town where they have no real hope of ever being a part of normal society again? Don't you think at least some of them are going to plan more offenses together and maybe learn from each others' mistakes?

I mean if we're not going to consider the humanity of these folks - which I think is a cruel and petty way to be - at least can we look at consequences of this kind of petty punishment?

In my own petty hours when I really think of what I was forced to go through ... how my entire life was shaped and warped by events over which I had no control at all ... yes, I want petty punishments for those responsible. But I am bigger than my id. Instead I would prefer things like mandatory counseling, stiffer prison sentences, making them pay for the victim's counseling ... up front "fees" that are in line with our justice system's precedents.

It's not right to hold these folks in a kind of double-jeopardy punishment where the sentence served is only the smallest part of their true punishment.

While I would love to see the punishment of sex offenders in general intensified, this is not the way to do it - to tell them they've paid their debt, but now there's all of these hidden fees to pay which total quite a bit more than the original bill ....

And oh, how ironic is it that I write this post as Father's Day 2009 slips away?

Posted by Red Monkey at June 22, 2009 1:02 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Mark said:

I can't imagine that law going unchallenged and surviving the challenge, though you never know with these hot-button issues.

June 22, 2009 5:31 AM


Tara R. said:

There is a similar law in Destin, Florida. As small as the town is, the law affectively bans any registered offender from moving into the city limits. I've not heard about a tent community of disenfranchised offenders, but I wouldn't be surprised.

I have a hard time feeling sorry for them, being a survivor myself, but agree that there should be a better way to deal with released offenders. Definitely longer prison terms, and counseling is a start. But I still don't want a convicted pedophile or rapist living in my neighborhood.

June 22, 2009 10:38 AM


Momo Fali said:

What we really need to do is rehabilitate these offenders, and this certainly doesn't sound like rehabilitation. Not even close.

June 23, 2009 11:02 AM
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