July 10, 2005 in Opinion

Federal act could curb sex offenders

The Spokesman-Review
 
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Worried parents everywhere nodded their heads in agreement when Steve Groene declared: “This needs to stop here. People like this should not be out in public.”

The shocking plight of his two small children, Shasta and Dylan, should intensify that effort so violent sex offenders such as Joseph E. Duncan can no longer roam the country with such ease.

A foolproof structure for tracking serious sex offenders is easier to wish for than achieve, but the current system could be improved upon.

Congress has been kicking around some ideas for a unified federal solution. The Senate and House are both considering bills that would create a federal registry that consolidate or link up all states’ lists.

One of the difficulties in tracking sex offenders now is that they move from state to state and can be slow to register; or, they decline to sign up altogether. Some states don’t even have registries.

Another problem is that requirements for notifying the public about sex offenders vary across the country.

The congressional delegations of Idaho and Washington are solidly behind the principle of a federal solution that can close loopholes, iron out inconsistencies and provide a clearinghouse of information on sex offenders.

Yes, there are civil liberty concerns in calling for closer scrutiny of former felons who have already served prison time. Congress needs to be mindful of that. But the consensus among criminal justice experts is that the rehabilitation of serious sex offenders is difficult at best. Therefore, a stringent monitoring regimen is a must.

Federal lawmakers can fix the system without doing damage to the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps if an effective federal system were already in place, the judge in Minnesota would not have set a paltry $15,000 bail when Duncan was charged with the molestation of a 6-year-old boy. The amount sought by prosecutors – $25,000 – was inexplicably low, too.

Duncan posted bond, jumped bail and disappeared. Authorities there seemed oblivious to his extensive history as a serious sex offender. The next time they heard about him was when he was discovered with 8-year-old Shasta Groene in a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene.

Authorities believe Duncan killed three people in the Groene house, kidnapped Shasta and her brother Dylan and later killed him. The public is right to be outraged by the apparent bungling in the Duncan case, but part of the problem is systemic.

Congress can’t make such crimes “stop here,” but it can make them less likely to occur.


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