Legislature has once more failed to pass much-needed ‘Jessica’s Law’
During my time as a prosecutor, I took over, for a time, part of the caseload of a colleague who specialized in crimes against children. If Tom Diester, now District Judge Diester, were to do nothing else in his life other than the care and diligence he put into those desolate cases, his place in heaven still would be assured.
I bring this up because this week the Colorado Legislature rejected another opportunity to enact harsher penalties for child sex predators under what’s referred to as “Jessica’s Law.”
These laws, passed in now 45 states, are named in memory of the 2005 kidnapping of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a previously convicted sex offender who was on probation at the time. He subsequently sexually assaulted and buried Jessica alive in Florida.
The bill would have required courts to impose 25 years in prison when a sexual offense is committed on a child 14 years of age or younger and more than seven years younger than the offender. It would also require mandatory parole for the remainder of the offender’s life, should he be released. It was defeated in committee on a straight party-line vote by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Democrats who defeated the measure have a point, however, when they note that, although the bill was killed by Democrats, Republicans had the opportunity to pass such a bill during the time they controlled portions of the lawmaking machinery. They didn’t. Nevertheless, had some on the left spent the kind of resources dealing with child sex offenders that they have on gun control or legalizing marijuana, something meaningful might have been accomplished.
This is not to say Colorado does not have strong penalties concerning crimes against children. It does. In fact, the law is such that a judge may sentence a sexual predator to an indeterminate sentence. Given the limited resources committed by the state to criminal justice, Jessica’s Law would add a lot more cost.
It’s partially for this reason that the Colorado District Attorney’s Council and the State Public Defender did not support this year’s legislation. However, this doesn’t mean that some version of Jessica’s Law is unnecessary. I would impose penalties and lifetime monitoring for certain classes of offenders.
The objections really come down to two things: money and philosophy — not enough money to prosecute, incarcerate and supervise such offenders on one hand and a predisposition against hard-line criminal justice positions on the other. It is for reasons such as these that one sees opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum such as district attorneys and public defenders coalesce on a topic.
My experience, and I believe that of many, would indicate that most hard-core child predators don’t get better, aren’t capable of rehabilitation and are likely to offend again, if permitted. They are a unique subset of criminal behavior.
Because of this tendency, I believe punishment and release has a very limited effect. A long prison sentence is necessary, but even more so is lifetime parole with electronic monitoring for many of the worst offenders. Just saying it’s needed will not make it so. Without the attention and funding, it’s just an idea.
An idea without resources and commitment can result in events like the California case of Jaycee Duggard, who suffered 18 years of captivity after being abducted at 11 and being repeatedly drugged and sexually assaulted by a sex offender who been released 11 years into a 50-year sentence. He was on parole supervision, yet kept Duggard on the property he was occupying.
The kidnapper, misclassified as needing only low-level supervision by an overwhelmed system, was the beneficiary of a weak and broken system in which opportunities to rescue Duggard were missed until she was the mother of two daughters by her abductor.
We need legislators with the desire to fund a system to deal with incarcerating and monitoring these individuals loose in society. Our Legislature squanders time and money on some pretty frivolous things. Perhaps it’s time to get some priorities in order.
There’s also a move afoot to get rid of the death penalty. Maybe some proponents of that should spend time with some of these children.
Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.