Monsters among us

The 2008 Legislative Session may be over, but the debate about ensuring the public’s safety from sex offenders continues in Louisiana.

During the session, lawmakers proposed a number of “get tough” laws aimed at sex offenders. Among them, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law a measure to force convicted rapists and those guilty of second-degree sexual battery, incest and aggravated crimes against nature to undergo chemical castration. On a first offense, judges have the option of ordering injections of medroxyprogesterone acetate, which reduces testosterone levels thereby suppressing a man’s sex drive.

Senate Bill 144 was OK’d by the governor on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Louisiana cannot execute anyone guilty of raping a child under the age of 12. Saying the death penalty was not “proportional punishment” for the crime, the ruling stopped the death of Patrick Kennedy, a 44-year-old Harvey resident who was sentenced to die for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter.

Jindal called the Supreme Court’s ruling an abuse of judicial authority and vowed to seek to have the bill put back on Louisiana’s books.

Now the state is considering a move that would confine sex offenders beyond their prison sentences by placing them in mental health facilities – involuntarily – for treatment. Sixteen other states have similar laws.

Opponents argue the move violates offenders’ constitutional rights by keeping them locked away longer and puts other psychiatric patients at risk. Meanwhile, supporters contend it is a way to keep violent sex offenders from hurting anyone else and the threat of being locked away again may serve as a deterrent for other offenders.

The state health department has been asked to create a civil commitment system for the state’s most violent offenders. Final recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Legislature within six months.

The Kennedy case in Jefferson Parish stunned south Louisiana. The 8-year-old required surgeries to repair the physical damage, and will undoubtedly be left with emotional scars for life. But Jefferson Parish does not have a lock on sexual offenses. It’s a threat to every community.

Hopefully, state lawmakers and hospital officials can find an alternative that gets these monsters off our streets and helps ensure our young people can enjoy their childhood free of abuse.