Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2002 / 14 Kislev, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

On question of Megan's Law, information trumps other concerns

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "I'm coming home, I've done my time." -- Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando

You'd have to be thicker than the average cinderblock not to appreciate the logic behind the so-called Megan's Law. If the kindly old grandfather who just moved in down the street was a sex offender with a history of preying on children, you'd surely want to know about it when he offered your son a few bucks to mow the grass or offered to watch your daughter while you ran to the market. More to the point, you'd have a right to know, wouldn't you?

Maybe not. The Supreme Court is considering the question now -- it heard arguments last week from convicted child molesters in two states who are challenging that right. The court probably won't rule until summer. Meantime, we are left to chew on an exceptionally knotty moral and legal conundrum.

Megan's Law is named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor. Nobody knew he was a convicted sex offender. Under this law, variations of which have since been enacted all over the country, child molesters and rapists who have served their sentences are required to periodically apprise police of their whereabouts and activities and provide updated photographs of themselves. In most states, Florida included, authorities must post the information on the Internet.

It is, in effect, a probation that never ends. The lawyers challenging the law call it "a modern-day scarlet letter."

As such, it flies in the face of the notion, espoused in a hundred movies of the week and one corny old song about a yellow ribbon, that after one has paid one's debt to society, one is entitled to a second chance, a clean slate. There is evidence that Megan's Law may have led to extralegal sanction of those who have already served their time.

Consider a few headlines from recent years: A family in St. Cloud, Fla., loses its lease on its residence, reportedly for failing to disclose that one of its members was a pedophile.

A political consultant in Torrance, Calif., files suit because, he says, his business was ruined after letters detailing his history of child molestation were sent to his clients.

Residents in Fresno, Calif., gather outside the home of a sex offender and demand that he leave their neighborhood. A woman at the scene told a reporter the man should go back to jail. The problem, of course, is that he had already been in jail -- and finished his sentence.

I'm not trying to get you to feel sorry for child molesters and rapists. Lord knows I don't. I'm just making the argument made by civil libertarians who oppose Megan's Law.

Now, here's my argument: There is no sense in pretending that crimes of sexual predation, particularly against children, are like other crimes. They are not. It's not just that these crimes are more heinous and the fears they raise in us more primal. It's also that sex criminals are more prone to recidivism. Note that the woman in Fresno eventually got her wish. The offender was back in jail just a few years later -- for another sex-related violation.

Note, too, that most of the information gathered and disseminated under these ordinances isn't exactly secret. To the contrary, it's a matter of public record. The only thing Megan's Law does is make it more easily accessible to the general public.

This is not an incidental concern.

For me, as, I suspect, for most parents, any debate about the value of Megan's Law inevitably comes down to very personal considerations. My child, my street.

If I had questions about some guy down the block who seemed to watch with too avid an interest as my daughter went bicycling by, I'd want to be able to get answers -- not to harass, but to take appropriate precautions. And I'd want those answers sooner rather than later. And though the guardians of civil liberties raise some excellent points, I think that trumps every other consideration on the table.

Let's hope the Supreme Court agrees.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

11/12/02: Winona, just say, 'I'm sorry'
11/08/02: Your local police, brought to you by Joe's Bar and Grill
11/05/02: A father, a son and an essay
10/29/02: Things like this don't happen
10/22/02: Real monsters look just like women and men
10/18/02: Snoop's new tune rings hollow
10/15/02: A reminder of life's random cruelty
10/08/02: He toils in the name of change because he can't just stand by
10/01/02: Sharpton, crossing swords with the white corporate dragon, needs to learn what the civil rights movement really was about
09/25/02: A skewed sense of compassion
09/18/02: On death and a pop-culture mindset
09/10/02: Inconvenience me, PLEASE!
09/06/02: Latest CBS joke isn't funny
09/03/02: A rewarding life as a working stiff
08/30/02: We infants in men's clothing
08/27/02: Sept. 11 - How much is too much?
08/23/02: Cut it out already, media!
08/20/02: Brace yourself for attacks of the stealth ads
08/16/02: Russia, please, pretty please let the rocker hitch a ride into space
08/12/02: Racial 'colorblindness' is silly
07/30/02: Oh, to be famous
07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

© 2002, The Miami Herald