MY VIEW: Penalties for sex offenders out of step
By Special to The Birmingham News
May 16, 2010, 5:35AMBy CECIL M. JONES JR.
The ministry addresses their spiritual and physical needs. All offenders are difficult to help, but sex offenders are more so. Shiloni is the only program of its kind in the entire state.
Recently, the Legislature unanimously passed and the governor signed into law a bill affecting where sex offenders may live. Already, under a prior law, sex offenders cannot live or work less than 3,000 yards from a college, school or day care center.
I believe such constraints are reasonable, but the new law is not.
For example, along with other ill-conceived requirements, the law says no more than one adult criminal sex offender and one unrelated juvenile sex offender can live in the same house, and only one sex offender may live in an apartment complex within 100 yards of the residence of another sex offender.
Basically, the thrust and intent of the law are that sex offenders may not live anywhere.
However Draconian and unfair it may be, it is easy to pass a law in Alabama affecting sex offenders. I believe that if a bill were proposed to brand offenders on the forehead with the letters "SO," it would pass the Legislature unanimously.
Like other people, I thought I knew all I needed to know about sex offenders: Put them in prison and throw away the key. Case closed.
It is not that easy. We think we know what a sex offender is, but we do not. What do a 17-year-old boy having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, a streaker, and a drunk, naked frat boy rolling around on the front lawn of his fraternity house shouting "Roll Tide" have in common?
According to Alabama law, they are all "sex offenders." Once arrested and found guilty, they are branded for life.
The streaker and the drunk frat boy are easily dismissed, but the two teenagers are not. Alabama law holds that a girl under the age of 16 cannot agree to consensual sex with a boy older than she is; therefore, the boy is a rapist and a sex offender.
Ridiculous? Think again. I know such a boy in the Shiloni program. Mom and dad get mad, and the boy gets jail.
Or, consider "Brad." Brad's father left when he was 1 month old. He was later molested by his half-sister's husband. When he was 14, his mother suddenly died. Brad was alone and an emotional wreck.
He then started acting out sexually. He was arrested and sent to the state juvenile detention center at Mt. Meigs, where his life was saved. However, when Brad was released at age 18, he was branded as a sex offender.
One person I will never forget was a 53-year-old man who had consensual sex with an underage girl. Having been a missionary and a pastor, he was stricken with guilt at his sin and turned himself in to police. He knew it was wrong in the sight of God.
None of his past life's goodness and his deep remorse was taken into consideration at his sentencing. He was given 30 years.
When sex offenders are released, if they have not found a place to live within three days, they are arrested and put back in jail. This is not morally right. They have served their sentence and committed no additional crime. They are in a catch-22 situation.
What we should be concerned about are real sex offenders -- the predators, the pedophiles and the serial rapists who cannot be rehabilitated.
The biggest barriers sex offenders face when they are released are finding a place to live and finding a job. The Shiloni ministry helps with these two needs. Providing a place for sex offenders to live is a huge problem because, understandably, no one wants them in his backyard.
Without a lot of fanfare, well-intentioned people representing the city, the county and their respective police forces should be able to work together to find an appropriate place for a shelter.
Bill and Barbara Grier have put their hearts and souls into helping sex offenders. They have spent endless hours and thousands of their own dollars to sustain their ministry. They are what I call "special people" who have been tapped on the shoulder by God. They need help both in goodwill and in financial support.
Shiloni is just one program. There should be more like it.
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