A recent editorial in a national newspaper reflected that hurt people hurt people. The identification of at-risk offenders and, more importantly, at-risk victims requires real work.
Bills advancing rapidly in the Florida Legislature with virtually no debate highlights that this is not the focus this session.
Many bills are being pushed forward addressing a range of offenses of a sexually criminal nature. Most are technical in nature. Some are badly needed.
However, SB1230/HB1235 suggests the greatest concern of this legislature are those individuals already convicted of past sex offenses. How so? SB1230/HB1235 potentially meters the harshest penalties in the Legislative term.
A mistake made by a registered offender while renewing a registration will be a new felony with a 5-year sentence. Keeping that mistake on subsequent registrations adds additional felonies with additional 5-year sentences. A transposed number; an I vs a 1; a typo; a failure to remember this registration cycle was when you changed hair color, grew a mustache, or a license plate was changed – these are all separate 5-year in-prison felonies.
Offenders update their registrations either 2 or 4 times per year depending on their charges. Something missed once could be missed several times before noticing. It is easy to compound a simple paperwork issue into a new 15, 20, even a 30-year prison sentence.
Worse, an offender may write something legibly and correct on a county created form that is then typed incorrectly by an officer into a state registration. While the registrant is responsible, that error wasn’t even the product of their own work other than the role of oversight of an individual who is free to choose or choose not to listen.
A recent study of FDLE conviction data from 2020 to 2023 published by Data4ChangeFL shows first time sex offenders being arrested for a new sex offense at a 1% sexual recidivism rate in this 3 year period. National statistics show 95% of new sex offenses are committed by someone not presently on a sex offender registry.
More alarming is that 14% of released offenders have probation violations in that same Florida study. While re-offense of a sex offense risk rate remains low, paperwork failures are proven to be too common. Increasing the penalty for paperwork violations is the panacea? How do these paper felonies correlate to the prevention of new sex crimes?
A new report from the Sentencing Project demonstrates that legislatures across the country are working to enhance punishment for the same crimes. Victim advocates cited in that report, and writing independently but concurrently, are increasingly disillusioned with the lack of focus on creating no more victims. The use of their family members as icons in the pursuit of forever punishment on known offenders while new victimization occurs regularly galls them.
Additional punishments and unending punishments for those who committed bad crimes and are already in a lifetime punishment scheme does not prevent new bad crimes.
A first amendment group began a recent notice with the Marshal McLuhan quote, “We drive into the future with our eyes fixed on the rearview mirror.” An apt description of this predicament.
SB1230/HB1235 is a spotlight on FDLE’s misdirected approach to crime prevention. Florida’s Legislature is unwilling to rebuke them and to take on the hard challenge: No more victims.