As the 2010 legislative session enters its final 30 days, two tragic events have dominated other issues faced by the House Judiciary Committee: the Christmas death of 11 year old Sarah Foxwell on the Eastern Shore by a convicted sex offender, and the May death of 14 year old Christopher Jones in Crofton by a gang of former schoolmates.
The tragedy in each case was magnified by a clear failure of government at different levels to adequately respond, supervise and follow up after repeated notice. Bad things sometimes happen, but if the crime is preventable, we expect more from law enforcement than to simply clean up the mess after the crime. The greatest tragedy was that these deaths could and should have been prevented.
Sarah Foxwell’s murderer had been convicted several times as a sex offender, both in Maryland and in Delaware where he was listed as a high risk predator deserving of extra scrutiny. Unfortunately, misplaced clemency and a failure to communicate allowed him the freedom to torture and kill in Maryland.
In response, the Judiciary Committee is considering over 40 bills (changes in the law), to crack down on sex offenders. Most popular are bills extending criminal sentences by cancelling time off for good behavior in prison, so called “good time” credits (8 bills). Also popular are bills expanding the information and public warnings provided by the state sex offender registry website (7 bills).
Most severe, HB 473 proposes the lifetime supervision of all sex offenders after prison. HB 288 would require sex offenders who preyed on children to be continually monitored with a GPS system to track their whereabouts after their release. HB 306 would put to death any sex offender who murdered a child.
Hopefully any new laws that pass will receive the support and enforcement of the courts. In 2006 and 2007 several sex offender bills passed with great celebration but have never been implemented. One allows the judges to order continued supervision of a sex offender after prison, a second allows judges to order mental evaluations of sex offenders who prey on children before their release. More could have been done to protect Sarah Foxwell.
The threats to Christopher Jones were well known by school administrators before his untimely murder. The problem was so serious he was allowed to switch high schools to avoid his murderers; however, they eventually found him after school near his home and beat him to death.
Part of the explanation by school officials, to my great frustration, is that they were unable to do more because of laws that prevented them from sharing information with the police and vice versa, even though the high school has a full-time police officer posted in the school. The justification for such inane restrictions was to protect “student privacy”, but these artificial walls put children at risk.
After delving into this issue, I wonder now to what extent the “gag” laws are in place to protect “privacy”, and to what extent they are to protect inaction. The schools unfortunately have been less than enthusiastic supporters of their repeal.
Of the twenty bills proposed on “bullying” and “gang” prevention, the most comprehensive remedy is HB 1160, the “Safe Schools Act of 2010″ which requires law enforcement agencies to report criminal law violations by students to the schools within 24 hours, and permits the schools to separate those students from their victim(s) by moving them to a different school. Similar, HB 1165 requires law enforcement to report criminal violations to schools, whereas HB 17 would permit school administrators to share information with police.