A reader sent this in and requested it to be posted.
'Sarah's Law' should focus on protecting innocent children
A heinous crime -- the kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old Salisbury girl mere days before Christmas -- has sparked an outcry from Lower Shore residents. The suspect charged with abducting Sarah Haley Foxwell is a registered sex offender, which has prompted at least two petitions demanding tightening of Maryland's sex offender laws --dubbed "Sarah's Law" -- to circulate on Facebook. State legislators who represent Lower Shore districts are being inundated with requests from constituents to change the laws to better protect children.
There is little doubt that this discussion will surface early in the 2010 legislative session in Annapolis. Lower Shore residents are fired up and demanding swift action.
While changes in the state's laws are apparently needed, it would be wise to at least take time to research the subject and find out what works --and what might sound good and make people feel better without actually making our children any safer. Maryland passed its own version of "Jessica's Law" in 2006 during an emergency session. This law, in addition to creating a statewide sex offender registry, also dictates minimum sentences for various offenses. That same year, the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 was signed into law, nationalizing a set of similar guidelines and mandates. Both laws include provisions for monitoring and reporting on registered offenders.
What we need is a law that zeroes in on the offenders who do, in fact, pose a severe risk --who, given the opportunity, will prey on children in their own family or the offspring of their friends, neighbors or anyone else.
Sentencing guidelines must strive to keep the highest-risk offenders off the streets and out of our communities for the duration of their natural lives. The rules for evidence at trials should be made flexible enough to allow a defendant's history of sex offenses to be introduced so that a pattern of sexual offenses against children, or of escalating violence, is known to the judge and jury. The registry must be manageable, strictly enforced and well-publicized -- but it should only contain the names of high-risk offenders who truly pose a threat to children, not individuals who had consensual teenage sex and got caught and prosecuted for it.
"Sarah's Law" should focus on keeping children safe at any cost, not on revenge or punishment -- as satisfying as that might seem. A law that creates a wide and unbroken gulf between child sexual molesters and their potential victims would be a fitting tribute to the little girl who galvanized our community this Christmas.