TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Lawmakers believe the Jimmy Ryce Act that was passed 15 years ago isn't doing enough to keep the most dangerous sexual offenders from repeating their crimes and Tuesday began looking at ways to strengthen sex offender laws.
House and Senate committees began discussing current laws and problems with them and will begin crafting bills. While a variety of issues were discussed, the heart of the conversation revolved around the law named for 9-year-old boy who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in Miami-Dade County.
The law allows the state to civilly commit sexually violent predators once their prison system is completed if an evaluation finds they are likely to reoffend. But lawmakers say too many predators are being released and committing more sex crimes.
"Our system has been porous. It's had too many holes, too many side doors," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. "Too many bad guys have slipped out and have gone back to reoffending with tragic, tragic results."
He's asked the Senate Judiciary and Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee to start developing proposed bills addressing problems, saying "We have to plug the holes."
The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, chaired by Gaetz' son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, also began working on the issue Tuesday.
The June death of Cherish Perrywinkle was mentioned several times during the discussions. A registered sex offender is charged with abducting the 8-year-old girl from a Jacksonville Wal-Mart in June and murdering her.
"Are we going to stop all offenses against children or all sexually violent offenses? We can't. No law can fundamentally alter the badness of human behavior," Rep. Gaetz said. "But I think when we have bad guys that are in our custody, we can do a better job of making sure they don't go out and hurt somebody else."
Those ideas could include longer prison sentences for the worst offenders, making sure more offenders are reviewed for potential civil commitment, doing a better job of evaluating the performance of the people who evaluate offenders' risk potential, changing the way offenders are monitored once their released and more.
"When we let these people go, we sort of release them into the wild and in some circumstances, we're not doing enough to follow up on them," Rep. Gaetz said.
The Department of Children and Families operates the civil commitment center in Arcadia where the worst offenders are treated after their prison is finished. A judge or jury ultimately determines whether an offender determined to be at risk of reoffending should be committed.
Broward County prosecutor Kristin Kanner suggested that sex offenders should begin treatment while in prison instead of having treatment begin at the Arcadia center.
"I've tried upwards of 40 of these (civil commitment) cases and every single, solitary jury has asked me, 'Why aren't they getting treatment in prison?'" she said. "And I have to stand there and say, 'I don't know.' The treatment program in prison is not robust in Florida and that is something that seriously should be addressed."
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