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November 1, 2011

Crackdown on Iowa sex offenders increases costs, not public safety

11-1-2011 Iowa:

More than 3,000 Iowa adults have been convicted of sex crimes since 2005. Still, Iowa sex offender law remains largely shaped by one offender. Roger Bentley is serving two life prison terms at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison for the 2005 kidnapping, rape and killing of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage.

The crime continues to repulse, fueling the legislative sentiment to punish each of those 3,000 sex offenders the same way as Bentley.

Consequently, Iowa jails and prisons are filling up with sex offenders. Parole caseloads are packed with them. County sheriff’s deputies and local police statewide have expended millions enforcing registry laws.

Fortunately, the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council has studied those 3,000 adult offenders and some 300 juvenile offenders to determine if this massive increase in taxpayer resources is working. A draft report recommends a more focused approach that research shows can have a greater impact at less cost.

Their conclusion: All sex offenders, particularly juveniles, are not Roger Bentley. The panel’s research of Iowa cases, and a review of the latest studies elsewhere, concludes that routinely labeling sex offenders for life deprives them of a decent place to live, a decent job, decent friends and the support of decent family.

Consequently, the public registry “increases stress on the offender, destabilizes their community lives and could lead to a sense that changing behaviors would not improve their life circumstances.”

In other words, treating all offenders like Roger Bentley can turn some into Roger Bentley, remorseless predators who prey on gullible acquaintances

This study also points out what prosecutors, cops and researchers have long known: “The difficulty in moving emphasis away from the general perception that the greatest risk of child victimization is from strangers, to the evidence-based reality of victimization from family and friends.”

Lawmakers’ absolutely mistaken belief that sex offenses are most often committed by strangers led to those absolutely useless perimeters that local police judiciously enforce to keep former offenders away from schools, parks and day cares.

“Where offenders live and work has little to do with where they are likely to re-offend,” this study concludes.

This new study seems to support a complete reversal of the crackdown that increased prison and parole terms since Bentley’s conviction.

But the primary recommendation is much more modest: Periodically review sex offenders on mandatory lifetime and 10-year parole to determine if it is warranted in every case.

Those inflexible paroles are expected to swell caseloads by 78 percent in the next 10 years at a cost exceeding $35 million.

Some might argue that $35 million in taxpayer dollars over 10 years is worth it if it saves just one child. But the research fails to find any conclusive evidence it is saving any children.

What it shows is a system that leaves every offender — a remorseful teen or the next Bentley — in the same miserable boat, unable to find work, lawful acquaintances, or even a home that isn’t surrounded by other sex offenders.

That conclusion suggests that rather than reduce sex offenses, Iowa’s one-size-fits-none crackdown threatens to turn one-time offenders into lifetime offenders. ..Editorial.. by The Quad-City Times, like the Globe Gazette a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

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