On Sept. 12, Judith “Judge Judy” Sheindlin appeared on Larry King Live to discuss—in her words “kvetch”—about the recent case of a registered sex offender who allegedly kept a girl locked in a secret cellar in California for 18 years.
“The only way to rehab cure a pedophile is to kill him,” Sheindlin told King. “There is no other cure…Unless you want to put him somewhere in the Sahara and make sure that they can’t get away.”
Sheindlin argued that building new prisons ought to be part of the stimulus package.
Local victims’ advocates say they support Sheindlin’s view, despite the Draconian attitude.
“Personally, philosophically, I agree with her,” Santa Fe Rape Crisis & Trauma Treatment Center Executive Director Diane McWilliams tells SFR. “We’re not safe from them. I would actually agree because we know their behavior is unpredictable, and we don’t know if they will offend again. But, on the other hand, where do we stop as a society?”
Public safety advocates have floated ideas from lifetime incarceration to chemical castration—McWilliams is certainly interested in medical breakthroughs that may be able to control certain sexual impulses. But, as a former legislator in Delaware, McWilliams notes there’s a thin line between tough-on-crime political posturing and genuine concern for public safety.
“If we’re requiring them to report every hour and they can’t get a job and they have no credit, we’re basically encouraging them to go underground,” McWilliams says. “That’s just horrific…I think the answer is to know where they are and give them some ability to function.”
Patti March, the founder of New Mexico Survivors of Homicide, worries layering restrictions upon sex offenders might exacerbate their impulses.
“It just seems logical that if somebody thinks they’re going to be tracked for the rest of their life, they might just think, ‘I better kill this person so I don’t get caught,’” March says.
In the late 1990s, March was part of the first grassroots effort in New Mexico to release information regarding sex offenders. Initially, the group collected data from the Corrections Department about murderers and sex offenders who were coming up for parole. Eventually, the program became obsolete as the Corrections Department instituted an online database of inmates and the Department of Public Safety launched its online Sex Offender Registry.
Karen Herman, director of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs’ sexual assault service, says GPS tracking is an important tool for law enforcement, but questions the need to put the offenders’ personal details, such as where they live and work, on the internet.
“We do know some surveillance coupled with treatment works to help some offenders from reoffending, but posting their address on a website is probably not the most effective way,” she says.
Overall, Herman believes GPS monitoring may provide a false sense of security.
“To the public, it’s the stranger that we have to be aware of and that stranger needs to be tracked because they could commit an assault,” Herman says. But “often the offender is someone known to the victim and they have a range of ways they can gain access to that victim.”
March also wonders if focusing only on sexual offenses distracts from greater problems in the criminal justice system. Like Santistevan’s clients, March asks why sex offenders receive much higher supervision than those who commit other violent crimes, such as murder.
“My son was murdered in 1995 and, to this day, I wish my son had only been molested,” March says. “He could have been molested 10 times, but he would be here and he could work on that issue.”