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Revise sex abuse law based on evidence
Nov. 29, 2011 11:02 pm
Two recent, high-profile scandals have Gov. Terry Branstad calling for a review of state sex-abuse laws.
Branstad told reporters Monday he wants to tighten restrictions on sex offenders in response to a recent sexual assault case, in which an 83-year-old man, a previous resident of the state civil commitment unit for sexual predators, is alleged to have assaulted a 95-year-old woman at a Pomeroy nursing home where they both lived.
Now Branstad wants an interdepartmental working group to figure out what the state might change to prevent future assaults.
Moved by Penn State's football program scandal, he also wants the Board of Regents to review policies for sexual misconduct allegations at Iowa's public universities.
Both ideas sound good on their face - you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'd call Iowa's convoluted set of protections and punishments for sex crimes anything close to perfect.
But a knee-jerk response to aberrant high-profile cases is just bad policy - ask anyone charged with enforcing or obeying the laws cooked up in 2005 in response to the horrific, and exceptional, crimes committed against 10-year-old Jetseta Gage.
For years, the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council, an advisory group formed to analyze Iowa's sex-offender treatments and punishments, has practically begged legislators to revise those laws, which lump together vastly different types of offenders and which is slowly bleeding our corrections system dry.
Experts have cautioned that parts of the law actually work against rehabilitation of minor offenders - making it harder for them to establish the stable lives and normal routines proven to help prevent repeat offenses.
In a draft report they plan to present to legislators this week, Iowa's Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning estimates that by 2021, about 2,600 sex offenders will be serving special sentences, increasing the state's parole caseload by 78 percent in the next 10 years and costing an extra $150 million - a figure that just keeps expanding.
But lawmakers have simply brushed away concerns. It feels good to pass get-tough legislation to punish sex offenders, but doing away with those empty, expensive and sometimes even harmful restrictions - that's a different story.
So the governor's right: We need to take a hard look at how we are - and aren't - protecting potential victims of sexual abuse. But any revisions must be based on evidence and best practices, not headlines.
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