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8 Jul, 2010 23:06

US legal system should differentiate between types of sex offenders

The issue of what to do with convicted sex offenders in America is not black and white. There are several shades of gray, both in terms of the types of offenders and the types of laws that deal with them.

Marc Klaas is the founder of the KlaasKids Foundation. His daughter, Polly, was kidnapped from her own slumber party, raped and later murdered by a repeat sexual predator when she was 12 years old. Since Polly's death, Klaas has devoted his life to protecting children.

In Miami, sex offender laws have become increasingly harsh, making it nearly impossible for them to even live in the city. Klaas said he fully understands the laws and where they come from. He can relate to the fear many feel. However, Klaas said distinctions need to be made between the types of offenders and laws need to address them differently.

I don’t believe that all sex offenders should be considered in the same boat. The “Romeo and Juliet” scenarios are very different from the John Couey type of scenarios and I think that society has to understand that,” said Klaas.

Klaas argued that the legal system needs to ensure the worst of the predators are put in prison and those who are lesser offenders should enter programs where they can be observed and tracked.

He also said that the system needs to “weed out” those who are 19 year old men who have sex with their 16 year old girlfriends and those who get caught simply urinating in public.

There should be different levels at which sex offenders are evaluated, however hysteria has prevented that from happening, said Klaas. Media and political conversations and coverage of sexual offenders fail to differentiate between different cases and types of offenders, causing the public to lump them into a single category.

Since the tragic murder of his daughter, Klaas said progress has been made in the legal system.

We have Megan’s Law, which requires widespread sex offender registration and notification across  the country. And we’ve also seen the implementation, or partial implementation, of the Adam Walsh Act,” said Klass.

The Adam Walsh Act is aimed at coordinating state efforts and laws towards ensuring that a safe society can be maintained without extreme measures, like those currently in place in Miami.

Randy Young of Habitat for Sex Offenders helps find housing for convicted sex offenders and their families. As a convicted sex offender himself, he is well aware of the challenges many face when they try to rejoin society.

The families are put through a grueling process of traveling through neighborhoods and being turned down by landlords and then being turned down by the state of Florida, that it is too close to this or too close to that or that we don’t want to rent to sex offenders. That can be really tough on a mother who loves her child and would like to help him get back on the right track,” said Young.

In the Miami area, the airport, the everglades, and the space under a causeway are the only areas that meet distance requirements from schools, churches, and other places children gather.

Like Klaas, Young agrees that the legal system needs to differentiate between the types of sex offenders. He calls for a tier system. Those convicted of severe crimes should be kept away from children, while those involved in conventional sex between consenting teenagers and public urination should be treated differently.

Young himself was convicted and placed on the sex offender registry because, in his case, two young people engaged in sexual acts in his house while he was home. Young himself was not involved in the acts.