Should Sex Offenders Stay Locked Up Forever?

This week a judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, ruled that 14 registered sex criminals must post signs in their yards and bumper stickers on their cars reading, "danger: registered sex offender."

The controversial ruling highlights the country's wrenching debate over the punishment and rehabilitation of sex offenders.

Perhaps no where has the issue aroused more anger and uncertainty that in the Florida case of now 28-year-old sex offender Kevin Kinder.

Set for Release

In the fall of 1999, Kinder was set to be released from jail on good behavior after serving seven years of a 17-year sentence for molesting Judy Cornett's son, Jason Flores and three other boys.

Kinder felt he was a changed man and Florida authorities agreed. While serving time, he worked hard improving his education, taking classes in sex offender treatment and anger management. "I was just waiting for my bus ticket," Kinder says.

When Cornett learned of Kinder's imminent release, she panicked. To Cornett, the seven years he served didn't come close to the punishment she felt he deserved for molesting her son.

Furious at the news, she set out on a crusade to keep Kinder behind bars — organizing protest rallies and passing out flyers.

Freedom on Hold

Her protests prompted the state of Florida to use a controversial new law designed for sex offenders who've already served their prison sentences. Kinder was be tried once more, this time in separate proceeding to determine whether he still represented a threat to society.

Such proceedings are now used in 14 other states. Nationwide, 900 sex offenders deemed incurable are incarcerated indefinitely. Juries, in states using this novel trial arrangement, will decide whether Kinder or other sex offenders will join their ranks.

In his trial, desperate for freedom, Kinder and his attorneys had to convince the jury he had been rehabilitated and would not yield to his old impulses. But in order for Kinder to testify in his own defense, he had to answer questions about the lurid details of his original crimes.

Incriminating Witness

On the stand, Kinder told the court what he had done to his victims eight years earlier: "I reached over and began to fondle him, and he said, 'no, no.'"

Despite his years in prison and efforts toward rehabilitation, his incriminating testimony prompted the jury to reach a quick decision. The jury decided that Kinder was still a threat to society. He is back in prison and though his case is being reviewed yearly, he has to ponder the prospect of serving an indefinite sentence.

"I'm not the monster Judy Cornett makes me out to be ... I am still very remorseful, very sorry for what I did," says Kinder.

However, Cornett argues, "We got a life sentence so why shouldn't he?"

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