Washington State lawmakers have joined in the clamor to get tough on sex offenders with a flurry of proposed legislation that aims to protect children. But the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says victims advocates fear lawmakers are going too far and could actually hinder prosecutions and leave more sex offenders on the streets. “I worry that when you make penalties more severe, it doesn’t lead to more convictions; it leads to fewer,” said Lucy Berliner, director of the King County Assault Resource Center.
Lawmakers hope to mirror Jessica’s Law, which was passed in Florida last year after the killing of a 9-year-old girl by an unregistered sex offender living in her neighborhood. The effort could result in longer sentences, stiffer penalties for sex offenders who don’t register with authorities, and GPS monitoring for convicted offenders on parole. The legislation calls for a 25-years-to-life sentence for violent sex crimes committed against a child younger than 14. “Under present standards, the guy would probably get 10-12 years in prison,” said one lawmaker. The concern among advocates is that harsher sentencing requirements could discourage victims from testifying, particularly when relatives are the perpetrators. “When you make penalties so severe, fewer people will plead guilty to that,” Berliner said. “You’ll end up with some people sent to prison longer, but fewer people sent to prison at all.”