Nice job Virginian Pilot!
Editorial: One size fits all isn't always wise, April 3, 2014
Few public policies galvanize bipartisan political support like measures that target convicted sexual offenders.
Lengthy prison sentences, registration and civil commitment for the most dangerous offenders are among the tools used to mete punishment, protect the public and serve justice.
But as The Pilot's Louis Hansen reported Sunday, Virginia's practice of committing violent sex offenders to a lifetime on a public registry, and requiring them to jump through bureaucratic hoops long after they've served their prison sentences, can sometimes prove problematic.
Hansen's report on Willie Combo, an aging offender who recently landed back in jail after failing to renew his registration, underscores the need for policymakers to examine whether justice and the public are served through a rigid policy of imposing a lifetime of paperwork on every violent sexual offender, even after they are no longer a threat.
Combo, now 68 and sickly, was convicted in 1966 of attempted rape and assault. Since his parole in 1999, Hansen reported, Combo has twice failed to abide by a monthly registration requirement. He received two additional years in prison for failing to register in 2008, and he remains jailed for forgetting to register in July. "My mind just wanders," he told Hansen. "Maybe I'm just getting old-time."
Being tough on crime shouldn't demand lawmakers cling to a policy that leaves no room for reconsideration of circumstances, whether it's a mandatory-minimum sentence or a lifetime on a state registry.
"Defendant has registered as required since 1999. He has missed 2 months in this period. He served 33 years for this charge. He is no danger to the public. Incarceration of this defendant is a waste of the taxpayers' money," wrote Norfolk Circuit Judge Charles E. Poston.
Requiring every geriatric offender to register monthly under threat of imprisonment, even after time has taken its toll and reduced the threat, is hardly the most efficient use of public funds.
The cost of incarcerating an elderly inmate is about $31,700 a year; meanwhile, state police spent nearly $12 million over the past two years to track sex offenders, some of whom, like Combo, are older and no longer pose a serious risk.
Lawmakers should consider a more practical approach.