A sex crime in California that captivated the nation for most of this month was a painful and frightening reminder of our vulnerability to such predators. Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz have lobbied for longer prison sentences, extended probation or lifetime parole for the worst offenders.
A sex crime in California that captivated the nation for most of this month was a painful and frightening reminder of our vulnerability to such predators.
Local police and prosecutors say there’s no reason to believe the same type of brutal attack – which led to the Feb. 28 arrest of a convicted sex offender for the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in California – couldn’t happen here.
Registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III is accused of murdering Chelsea King and is a suspect in the murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois as well.
His arrest has raised many questions.
Do sex offender registries work?
Should residency laws be strengthened to further corral where offenders can live and work?
Should the worst offenders serve longer sentences or be incarcerated for life?
Unfortunately, there are no simple answers.
Our prison system is already overburdened. And limits on where sex offenders can live and work push them further away from the support and services that are needed to keep them from re-offending.
“This problem doesn’t lend itself to one solution,” said William Keating, Norfolk County District Attorney.
Both he and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz have lobbied for longer prison sentences, extended probation or lifetime parole for the worst offenders.
“Some of these people can’t be fixed or helped,” Cruz said. “Some of them should never be released.”
Opponents to such moves argue they violate our Constitution and would push the prison system to the point of collapse and bankrupt the state in the process.
The parents of Chelsea King have launched a campaign in California – with plans to push it as a federal law – that would strengthen oversight of child-sex predators.
They’ve introduced a bill, called Chelsea’s Law, that would increase electronic monitoring, including lifetime parole with GPS monitoring for certain offenders.
It’s an idea worth serious consideration.
Meanwhile, there are things that should change immediately, such as aggressively using existing laws.
That means judges imposing maximum-allowed sentences on the predators most likely to re-offend. That means vigilant enforcement of the existing terms of parole and probation. It also means parents taking advantage of access to information – either through the state or at local police departments – about potential threats.
Yes, the sex offender registry has it’s flaws. Some offenders do not register properly or at all.
But while it cannot pinpoint all possible threats, it gives parents more information than they would have without it.
Few things elicit the kind of visceral reaction we have to stories of sex crimes against children.
Elected representatives should continue to push for laws that improve protections without bankrupting us or gutting our system of justice.
At the same time, stories like Chelsea King’s are important reminders that even as legal protections evolve, we can never let down our guard.
The Patriot Ledger