State Fulfilling Obligation To Protect Children
Maryland legislators will likely leave Annapolis with a strange feeling next month. It should be one of uncertainty over what lies ahead next year. They will have the rest of 2006 to wonder how the state will tackle a huge structural deficit that will most likely lead to higher taxes for Marylanders and slot machines at a handful of locations.
Despite the unfinished work on that critical financial business, legislators can head home with their heads held high for at least one reason - they have provided further protection for kids from sex offenders. Certainly, there are measures individual legislators are proud of, but there are not many bills introduced and approved each year that will actually save lives.
There are lots of versions of bills known best as 'Jessica's Law' after the young Florida girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by a convicted child sex offender, but Maryland is leading the charge here in a national movement. Bills in the House and Senate have sailed through, and Governor Martin O'Malley is on board as well. They call for prohibiting parole for individuals convicted of sexual offenses against children. This comes after a series of bills passed last summer established minimum mandatory sentences of 25 years for the sickest offenders, a bolstered tracking system for offenders and more community notification.
What happens routinely in Maryland and other states is a sex offense case is tried before a judge or jury, the defendant is sentenced and is then punished with a certain amount of prison time. The sentence grabs headlines, but the actual time serves is always less than what was initially ordered by a judge or jury. For any number of reasons, a prisoner can be granted parole. There are many limitations and conditions placed on parole, but the fact is once these so-called rehabilitated criminals walk out of jail they are able to go about daily life. In many cases, that means back to the deviant kind of life that put them in jail in the first place. It may start with child porn on the Internet but quickly balloons into something far more dangerous, and in many cases, devastates victims and their families.
The Maryland legislature is also poised to pass a bill classifying sexual abuse against a child as a crime of violence, resulting in more serious penalties. It's actually startling that's not the case already. In addition, the legislature would be wise to reverse a disturbing clause in Maryland law. Currently, if a man rapes a woman and a child is conceived as a result, he has all the normal parental rights. That desperately needs to be changed. It's a disgrace that's on the books in Maryland.
Although there remains room for improvements, Maryland has come a long way in establishing its position on sex offenders, particularly those that are repeat criminals. The apparent success of 'Jessica's Law' may not be as groundbreaking as 'Megan's Law' but it represents the nation's rage against tolerance for these sex offenders.
'Megan's Law,' named after a New Jersey girl who was killed by a twice-convicted sex offender, mandates notification of schools, day care centers and parents about certain convicted sex offender residing in the area. It essentially created a sex offender registry that allows residents in any part of the country to enter their town or zip code and learn about the number of sex offenders living nearby. Maryland's website can be found at http://www.dpscs.state.md.us/onlineservs/sor/.There is no greater crime than those committed against innocent children. By passing a strong Jessica's Law and stiffening other measures dealing with the same subject, the state can send a message it's at the forefront of this fight to hold these sick criminals accountable for their actions and ensure they serve every day of their respective sentences.