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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Sex offender laws need reworking

The Spokesman-Review

Almost every day, the media bring us more awful news about sex offenders.

For the past 10 weeks, the Inland Northwest has been riveted on the emerging story of the Groene family homicides and kidnappings near Coeur d’Alene, allegedly at the hands of registered sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III. The rescue of 8-year-old Shasta Groene at the Denny’s all-night restaurant elated us. The news that her brother Dylan, 9, had been killed depressed us. The known details of Shasta’s harrowing experience at the hands of her captor horrified us.

We were stunned again last week when an Athol girl, 12, survived multiple stab wounds in the woods 35 miles north of Wallace, Idaho, allegedly at the hands of another convicted sex offender – her father, John Collins Tuggle. Tuggle, who’s accused of leaving the girl for dead, was caught Wednesday. The enormity of the crime, and the sense of betrayal involved if the girl’s father was the perpetrator, have North Idahoans shaking their heads again and locking their doors.

Last weekend, The Spokesman-Review reported more unsettling news – that Idaho’s worst sex offenders are largely unsupervised after leaving prison.

It’s easy to conclude that registered sex offenders are running amok and that clever ones have used disjointed state laws to reoffend at will. It’s easy to demand lock-‘em-up-till-they-rot laws for all levels of sex offenders, too. Rather than overreact to sensational crimes, Idaho should overhaul sex offender laws to ensure that dangerous predators are incarcerated for as long as possible – even indefinitely – then closely monitored afterward; to categorize types of offenders; and to close loopholes that allow prosecutors to plea bargain a sex crime away as a non-sex injury to a child.

Currently, Idaho has only two classifications for sex offenders – violent sex predators and everyone else. Of 2,562 registered sex offenders in Idaho, only 31 are viewed by the law as violent, which means they have to check with authorities and update their addresses every three months instead of once a year, and their photos will be published in local newspapers when they move. Not only is the number of violent offenders unrealistically low, but Idaho’s lax approach to these dangerous characters offers society little protection. Closer monitoring by authorities is a must.

Tom Hearn of the state’s Sex Offender Classification Board said there are “lots of people that are dangerous” in the “everybody else” category. To make wise choices about nearby sex offenders, citizens should know whether they’re dealing with a predator or a low-level risk, such as a person convicted in a consensual sex or incest situation. A category system would be a good start to reining in this criminal population – one with neighborhood notifications and a newspaper announcement when a Level 3 or a Level 2 offender moves into an area.

North Idaho representatives should lead the movement to reform sex offender laws, as a tribute to the local families harmed by predators this year.

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