— Because of a paroled rapist, Gene Schmidt can only say hello to his daughter Stephanie when he visits her grave. So he was skeptical when another convicted sex offender, Michael Crane, was given a chance at redemption.
"When he was released, he told reporters, 'I'm anxious to get on with my life. I want a life and I want people to feel comfortable around me,'" said Schmidt, the victims' rights coordinator for the state of Kansas. "I just shook my head and thought to myself, 'He's a con man. They all are.' "
Sixteen months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that led to his release, Crane was arrested again, after police said DNA linked him to the rape of a woman in a Kansas City, Mo., apartment complex. Schmidt wasn't surprised.
As Crane awaits his scheduled July 15 arraignment, his case has renewed the debate over how the criminal justice system should handle violent sex offenders. Some victims' rights advocates in various states are pushing for "one-strike, you're out" legislation that would impose life sentences without parole on convicted sex offenders — both first-time offenders and re-offenders.
"Cases like that [Crane's] are going to continue to happen," said Tracey Oetting, founder of Citizens For A One Strike and You're Out Law, a group that is petitioning for one-strike legislation in Washington state.
"What people fail to realize here is that by allowing these people to go free, we're helping breed a new generation of sex offenders," Oetting said. "Studies have shown that most sex offenders were victims themselves."
Not In My Back Yard
The drive for one-strike legislation in Washington began when the state's Department of Social and Health Services announced plans to build transitional housing facilities for sex offenders in various residential areas. But residents of those areas complained that they feared for their own — and their children's — safety. They did not want sex offenders living near their neighborhood.
Oetting argues that the housing facilities will cost taxpayers more money in the long term. On average, the housing and living expenses for each offender would be $365,000 a year, and more facilities would need to be built to accommodate more prisoners who would be released, she says. She believes it would be more economical to keep offenders imprisoned and that the harsher penalties would act as a deterrent to would-be offenders.
"I remember when three-strikes legislation first came up and people argued that our prisons would overflow," Oetting said. "But there's evidence that crimes that would fall under the one-strike category did go down after three strikes was signed into law. The sex offenders either knew about the law and left the state, committed other crimes or decided not to commit the crimes — but the crimes did go down."
Shutting the Door on Redemption
But critics maintain one-strike legislation would aggravate the problems of overcrowded prisons and would cost taxpayers more money, because they would be paying for more prisoners sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison. In addition, these critics say, the legislation is too broad: It labels all sex offenders as beyond reform.