Attempts by Massachusetts prosecutors to keep convicted sex offenders locked up indefinitely even after they serve their prison sentences have reached an all-time high under recent changes in state law that expand the pool of criminals considered potentially too dangerous to walk the streets, reports the Boston Globe. The number of petitions filed to commit soon-to-be released sex offenders for an indefinite term to the state Treatment Center in Bridgewater has risen sharply, from 75 in 2003 to 124 in 2004. This month, 157 petitions were pending statewide. In large part, court officials trace the increase to the outcry after the murder of Alexandra Zapp, 30, who was killed by a convicted sex offender in a Burger King restroom in 2002.
New laws greatly expanded the pool of offenders who could be committed to include people convicted of such offenses as possession of child pornography, propositioning a minor, and ”open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.” The old law was much narrower, focusing, for instance, on sex offenders who assaulted children. The man convicted of killing Zapp, Paul J. Leahy, was a convicted rapist, but he had most recently been in jail for propositioning a minor. If the new law had been in effect, prosecutors say they might have been able to keep Leahy in custody.