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Public safety vs. personal morality

The Webster Retort
For March 16, 2007

Public safety vs. personal morality
Jessica’s Law was long overdue. But there is a pressing issue which, by this law’s passage, we as a society must address.

Jessica’s Law requires that convicted sex offenders be slapped with a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years. Repeat offenders may be sentenced to death. Say what you will about the death penalty, but if any offender class deserves a mandatory minimum, it is the child molesters.

Let us consider our own back yard. Seventy adults convicted of molesting a child under the age of 12 live in Denton County; none of whom have served prison time. The county’s total number of offenders comes to 176 at my last count, and only 12 are behind bars. Flower Mound is home to 13. Five more dwell in Highland Village. Dallas County abides another 843.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children claims 80-100,000 convicted offenders have absconded form our databases. The Department of Justice says that a child is sexually assaulted in this nation EVERY FOUR MINUTES. And, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management, over half of all convicted offenders are arrested again for a repeat offense or other crimes.

If that is not enough to get you outraged, I doubt your humanity.

The American Justice System needs a basic – yet radical – reform. With Jessica’s Law, we have an opportunity like none other to emphasize how vitally important our children are, placing them above all other items of import.

It starts in our prisons and courtrooms. We must clarify which offenses we as a state are willing to destroy an individual’s life over. Molesting and/or murdering a child should be chiseled in rock atop the list.

Today, the most widely committed crime is the smoking of marijuana. One-in-three Americans have tried it. In 2000, 646,042 Americans, making up 41 percent of all drug arrests, were incarcerated for possession - not distribution. No scientific study has ever linked the death of an individual to marijuana use.

Whereas alcohol – our most intoxicating recreational drug - knocks off over 110,000 of our citizens annually. Additionally, 36 percent of violent felons committed their crime(s) with alcohol coursing through their veins. Cigarette smoking kills 430,000 Americans every year. And aspirin, along with related over-the-counter pain killers, claims an additional 7,500 lives.

In 1986, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders went into effect in many states. By 1997, the national corrections budget had shot up 135 percent, and America had become the most incarcerated nation on Earth. As of 1997, the cost of putting one person through a drug treatment program was $6,800. The costs associated with keeping that same person incarcerated for one year exceed $23,000.

In 2005, Texas arrested and incarcerated 51,563 people for small possession, on whom we proceeded to waste over $1 BILLION in state funds. And let’s not even think about the number of man hours our police officers invested in such a shocking sum.

Our jail population is about to swell thanks to the long-overdue measures within Jessica’s Law. We will be spending a much larger sum of money on our corrections due to prisoners who will be staying in state facilities much, much longer than before.

Texas is, at least fiscally, a Conservative state. One would hope the legislature recognizes our money as a finite resource. Jessica’s Law will place a much greater burden on our law enforcement and local municipalities in keeping track of the thousands upon thousands of offenders who have absconded or have been released.

Before we commit a lion’s share of our citizens’ hard-earned, begrudgingly-paid taxes to building new cage-motels to handle the additional overflow, a most important question must be asked: Where do our priorities lie?

I believe everyone would agree that the child molester and murderer does far more damage to society than the marijuana smoker, if indeed the later has much impact at all.

House Bill 758 in the Texas Legislature aims to reduce penalties for marijuana possession under one ounce – which accounts for the majority of pot arrests – from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor. Class B carries a penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Class C is a fine of $500 and mandatory confiscation of the substance.

The bill keeps a punishment aspect close at hand for minor drug abuse, and addresses the issue of overcrowded jails.

Should House Bill 758 pass, we would be enabled to designate a greater portion of our jail space to those who really deserve incarceration: pedophiles, whose offenses our society has neglected far too long.

Jessica’s Law is a good start. Now it is time to brace for its wake. Call your Representatives and tell them to make some extra room in our cages for the real monsters by supporting H.B. 758. It is the only Responsible and Conservative thing to do.

Little Jessica Lunsford did not have to die in agony for our society to realize that public safety, not personal morality, should be paramount in our System of Justice.

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