David Pellerin/AP

Texas Sex Offenders Push for More Lenient Laws

December 16, 2008 08:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Convicted sex offenders in Texas have started an organization advocating more lenient penalties for nonviolent and low-level offenders.

Sex Offenders Argue for Softening of Sex Crime Laws

Martin Ezell, a 42-year-old Austin, Texas, native, founded the group Texas Voices to represent low-level sex offenders who believe the conditions of their sentences are too harsh. Ezell, like many in the group, is listed on Texas’ sex offender registry, which alerts the community of his presence. The registry makes it difficult for sex offenders to find homes and jobs.

Ezell is required to register as a sex offender for life after being convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl when he was 32. The sex was consensual and that girl is now his wife, but on his registry profile, “there’s little to distinguish him from the repeat pedophiles and violent rapists who are among the 54,000-plus registered sex offenders in the state’s database,” writes the Houston Chronicle.

Ezell believes that he should be allowed to move on with his life without the stigma of his crime. He argues that his presence on the registry dilutes the effectiveness of the registry by placing nonviolent and low-level offenders alongside more serious offenders who pose a threat to the community.

The group has the support of several state legislators, including state Sen. John Whitmire. “If we’re not careful, we’re going to have a sex offender registry that is so large and so encompassing, it’s not much good,” said Whitmire.

“Current laws, as structured, are not keeping our children safe,” argues Texas Voices on its Web site. “They are, in fact, costing the taxpayer millions of dollars to prosecute, monitor, incarcerate, and severely punish many individuals who are of no danger to children, society, or the communities in which they live. We believe that laws which will truly benefit the safety of our children, and society in general, must differentiate between those who are dangerous offenders and those who are not.”

Background: Controversy over sex crime laws

Strict sex crime laws are typically widely supported by the public, which has little sympathy for sex offenders. However, there have been questions raised over the extent of some laws, especially those that apply to low-level and juvenile offenders.

There are many teenage sex offenders who are convicted for consensual sex with younger teens. The laws for consent vary from state to state, and many teenage sex criminals were unaware that they were committing a crime. Often they are placed on sex offender registries, where they remain as adults.
A notable case is that of Genarlow Wilson, who, at 17, was convicted of child molestation for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl at a party. He was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison, creating a national controversy. After nearly three years in prison, his sentence was reduced and the strict Georgia law that he was tried under was changed.

In Texas, state officials have objected to stipulations under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, a federal law that created a national registry and increased penalties against sex offenders. The law makes no distinction among sex offenders who committed their crime over the age of 14, filling up the registry with low-risk juvenile offenders.

“There are an awful lot of sexual assault cases, and then there are kids who engage in sex at an early age,” one official told the Houston Chronicle. “The Adam Walsh Act wants to put them all together.”

There are even doubts that strict penalties against violent offenders are in the best interest of society. Some states’ residency and work restrictions, which forbid sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools and parks, force sex offenders to the fringe of society and increase the risk of repeat offenses.

PBS’ NewsHour reported on California residency restriction laws and found that many sex offenders cannot find residences in approved areas, forcing them to become homeless or return to jail. That, according to California Coalition Against Sexual Assault executive director Suzanne Brown-McBride, creates a more dangerous situation.

“So you go from a place where you have an offender where you know where they live, you know where they’re sleeping, you can check up on them and monitor them, to they’re transient and you have only really a guess of where they’re at, that they may be down at some different part of the city, they may be down in an alley somewhere,” she told PBS. “So you go from a known quantity to, quite honestly, a fairly unknown one.”

Reference: National sex offender registry


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