Sunday, July 24, 2005

Maryland Senator wants sex predators committed

By DAVID ABRAMS, Staff Writer
The Capital - July 24, 2005

Less than a week after Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said he's crafting a bill to call for lifetime supervision of some sex offenders, a Glen Burnie senator has suggested even stronger restrictions.

State Sen. Ed DeGrange yesterday called for a new state law that requires certain classes of sex offenders to be sent to mental institutions after their release from prison.

"It goes a bit further," Mr. DeGrange said. "The whole point is maybe there's some other solution that can come out of it. The main thing is we're protecting the children - that's the bottom line - and not the offender."

Both measures would apply to violent sexual predators, violent sexual offenders and the most serious child sexual offenders - largely rapists, molesters and those likely to commit similar crimes again. Of the 4,348 people on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, at least 1,050 fall into those categories.

Mr. DeGrange's plan is modeled after a Kansas statute, while Mr. Curran's follows a law in Illinois.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said lawmakers must weigh the best method of protecting the public while being mindful of the $75,000 cost of institutionalizing each person.

"It's important to remember that these young people's lives are scarred forever," he said. "The stories are tragic in terms of what happens to their lives after being abused. We need to make sure their assailants, the people who take advantage of young people, are severely punished with adequate guarantees that activities like this cannot happen again. They need to be locked up, warehoused, or a psychiatrist is going to have to certify that abuse like this won't happen in the future."

How the state's public mental health system would handle the influx of patients will be worked out later, Mr. DeGrange said. The state provides psychiatric treatment for people without insurance, though the number of beds has been shrinking in recent years. Last year, the state closed Crownsville Hospital Center, which at the time had about 200 beds.

The last time the legislature considered a package of changes was in 2002, when judges were given the option of sentencing repeat violent offenders to life without parole. Bills that failed would have denied parole for any offender convicted of abusing a child and would have barred plea bargains for defendants accused of abusing children.

Russell Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, said Mr. DeGrange's bill will likely face an uphill battle. He said one small step the state can take is to give judges guidelines to better evaluate if someone is likely to re-offend.

"You just can't lock people up forever," he said. "You've got to give them treatment. And if there's no treatment that helps, what do you do with them?"

Forcing people to be locked up after they've served their time raises some other questions, said Meredith Curtis, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Public revulsion about horrible crimes leads to a race to the bottom in this area, but proposals related to sex offenders, like everything else, will not be limited to sex offenders," she said. "It's a slippery slope."

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