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Legislature Considering Tougher Crackdowns on Sexual Predators in Wake of New Findings

| September 24, 2013

In certain Florida counties, local police are scarlet-lettering the properties of sex predators.

In certain Florida counties, local police are scarlet-lettering the properties of sex predators.

The Florida Legislature is poised to strengthen the Jimmy Ryce Act — named for a Miami-Dade County boy who was raped and murdered in 1995 — after the high-profile killing of a Jacksonville girl this summer and a newspaper series showing the state isn’t doing enough to prevent sexually violent predators from striking again.

The Jimmy Ryce Act requires the state Department of Children and Families to evaluate sex offenders before their releases from prison, confining the most dangerous at the 720-bed Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia.

But according to an investigation published last month by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, DCF has been recommending fewer and fewer sex offenders for confinement, with the number falling from a high of 228 in 2000 — two years after the law went into effect — to a low of 19 in 2012.

At least 594 offenders reviewed and released under the law have been convicted of new sex offenses in Florida, the Sun Sentinel reported, and their crimes included molesting more than 460 children, raping 121 women and killing 14.

On Monday, DCF released a series of recommendations intended to lessen the number of sexually violent predators who fall through the cracks. Two Senate committees will meet jointly Tuesday to consider a legislative response.

“I think that the entire Legislature is on board,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, which will meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Program.

“When I read the articles about these sexual predators, I get sick to my stomach and want to puke,” Sobel said. “Talking to my colleagues, I know they feel the same way.”

The Jimmy Ryce Act targets sexually violent predators who cannot stop themselves from further violence. Identifying them is a three-step process, requiring a DCF screening, a psychological evaluation and a trial. When committed to the Florida Civil Commitment Center, they must remain until a judge finds that they are no longer dangers to society.

The Sun Sentinel found that of the 594 offenders who were released under the Jimmy Ryce law and re-offended, 96 had been referred for a psychological review. Of these, 32 had been sent to court to be committed to the Florida Civil Commitment Center, 5 were confined there and all 5 were subsequently released.

The newspaper’s investigation was already underway when Donald Smith, 56, was released from jail on a sex offense in May and, according to prosecutors, abducted, raped and strangled 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle of Jacksonville within three weeks.

Smith, a registered sex offender, had an extensive criminal history, including repeated attempts to kidnap young girls.

After DCF Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo was tapped to lead the agency in mid-July, she ordered a review of the Florida Sexually Violent Predator program. Her recommendations, released Monday, included, “In addition to automatically sending cases that include kidnapping and murder convictions for evaluation, cases that include ‘attempted’ kidnapping and ‘attempted’ murder should automatically be sent for evaluation.”

Had that recommendation been in place in May, Smith likely would not have been eligible for release, and Perrywinkle might still be alive.

Other recommendations include:

— The policies and procedures for the evaluation process should be reviewed and evaluated by a team of expert stakeholders before being finalized and implemented.

— Screeners will be trained to understand they are not solely responsible for screening out offenders who do not meet civil commitment criteria. They must refer cases for face-to-face evaluation when there is any doubt or ambiguity as to whether an offender will meet criteria.

— When two evaluators believe an offender meets commitment criteria, the multidisciplinary team should be required to recommend a commitment petition be filed. Implementation of this recommendation will require rulemaking.

— Contracts with forensic evaluators should be limited to one year with the option of renewal instead of the current three-year policy.

— A system for evaluating the evaluators and providing them with feedback about the clarity of their reasoning should be implemented as a standard practice.

“The recommendations make sense,” said Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and one of those expected to appear at the joint Senate committee meeting Tuesday. “They’re likely to move the (Sexually Violent Predator Program) in a good direction.”

Jacobo also named attorney Greg Venz as interim head of the Sexually Violent Predator Program, describing him as an expert on the Jimmy Ryce Act. Last week Dan Montaldi stepped down as the program’s director after the Sun Sentinel reported that he’d written an email to an association of mental health professionals, pointing out that more than 31,000 sex offenders had been screened since the law took effect 14 years ago and as a group they are “statistically unlikely to reoffend.”

Dritt noted that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the country, and that rapists are highly unlikely to be arrested or convicted.

“It’s very hard for victim advocates to say the recidivism rate is the whole story,” she said. “It can’t be…We’re not taking issue with the research, but it’s not the whole story.”

Dritt also recommended that a victim advocate be included on the multidisciplinary team that evaluates sex offenders.

Approximately 200 to 400 files are referred to the Sexually Violent Predator Program each month. Over 40,000 have been reviewed since the inception of the program.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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15 Responses for “Legislature Considering Tougher Crackdowns on Sexual Predators in Wake of New Findings”

  1. John Justice says:

    Convert the government shutdown military bases in Florida to containment facilities for these “perverts” of society. Judges are to BLAME for these FREAKS re-committing other sexual crimes against children. Along with street signs of the “pervert” should be a sign below stating the judge’s name and county who released the animal back into society !

  2. I/M/O says:

    Psychiatrists are almost unanimous that serial sexual predators are beyond rehabilitation be it with therapy or pharmaceutical drugs. That even when identified, arrested, incarcerated they will sexually attack children again after release.

    So the obvious answer is to have a Court declare them mentally ill and lock them up in institutions as incurable. Keep then totally isolated from innocent children.

    Instead your politicians give you another pretty sign. (So which politicians brother in law is getting the sign contract?)

  3. I/M/O says:

    Just wondering what the neighbors on the block will be thinking when these bright red signs start going up for everyone to see.

    Just wondering what the neighbors on the block will be thinking as their property values plummet because of these bright red signs.

  4. John Adams says:

    Red sign? Why not blinking neon sign that the perp pays for? Our children must be protected from these predators.

  5. Because says:

    I wish Flagler would post these for every sex offender (not just predators) in Flagler County with their photos on the sign. There are a gazillion in Flagler County, and something needs to be done. I worry about all the children every day. As far as I’m concerned the sexual predators should be put on an isolated island with each other. Don’t forget, we have to worry also about the ones who haven’t been caught. Every time I see a young person or teenager walking alone it makes me cringe.

  6. Tax Payer says:

    Need to hang a sign around their neck.

  7. m&m says:

    Good idea.. There are too many of these creeps around. They should all be put together at Gitmo or some deserted island..

  8. rhweir says:

    We need those signs here too. But bigger and brighter.

  9. Florida Native says:

    I don’t think one sign will be enough. Go on the Florida predators web site. Palm Coast is ground zero.

  10. I say says:

    Is the sign going to stop someone from committing another crime? What about those that haven’t been caught or yet acted on their intentions; how are they going to be identified? This is absurd….it is only going to make towns look bad where people will either move out or move on and not move in. Just because someone doesn’t have a sign in their yard doesn’t mean there is nothing to worry about.

  11. ryan says:

    Life in prison with no parole for sexual predators who go after children is the only way to stop this. Maybe if the community stops worrying about who made an illegal u-turn or has a yard sale without a permit we can focus on stopping REAL problems like removing pedophiles from our communities. I am also tired of the media not using the word pedophile, which is the proper term. Politicians are always trying to use the excuse of protecting children when it comes to drugs or guns, but this is a more serious problem than either.

  12. Sherry Epley says:

    The idea that “short term” treatment for the criminally mentally ill needs to change radically and quickly. Just as with drug addicts, and others who are deeply disturbed enough to be a danger to themselves or society, they need to be REMOVED from living among innocent citizens, and treated LONG TERM, until they have PROVEN that they can safely be returned to any community. That means extensive “in house/incarcerated” treatment, thorough testing and analysis by consensus of a “team” of high quality psychiatrists, close scrutiny in half way housing. . . etc. etc.

    BUT, we do NOT have those kinds of services in our state! Our lack of high quality, extensive public mental treatment and drug rehabilitation services is criminal! Again, here the deeply mentally ill are just labeled “scum of the earth” and eventually thrown in prison as soon as they commit a crime that carries a sentence heavy enough to keep them safely away from society. . . at great tax payer expense.

    Our legislature, sheriff and judges doing the same thing again and again, while expecting a different result is where the real INSANITY lies! Signs on a lawn are NOT going to fix this problem. Signs do NOT protect the innocent or stop the criminal. They merely inject fear into a neighborhood, and cause blight because people move away. Signs indirectly place the responsibility for living safely in a neighborhood on the people who live there instead of on our government. Signs place the needs of the criminal above the needs of the innocent, to live in a safe community. We need more than just the CHEAPEST solution. There are times when we need our government to serve, preserve and protect the innocent 24/7. . .this is just one of those situations!

  13. snapperhead says:

    So how soon before these signs show up in front of catholic churches?

  14. erica wilson says:

    I think this is very juvenile. If the prison or court system has deemed them safe to be released and live freely in the world, then why are these people being treated like lepers? I cannot see this as doing any good towards protecting anyone. It only seems to serve as a shaming and punitive tool for the people who are living in so much torment and fear…If I had a child molested I might be susceptible to joining in on the “mob mentality” … and my heart goes out to the people who have been injured. But, I don’t think that a realistic answer to kids being hurt is further violence, shaming, ostracization, and name calling.

  15. The Sun Sentinel has done a good job of scaring the bejeezus out of people but not much else. They are neglecting to emphasize the fact that of the 31,000 people screened by the state, over 29,500 never reoffended. To claim they didn’t screen enough people is a bold-faced lie. I’d say we’re erred on the side of caution so much, we’ve flooded the screeners with too many people. Rest assured if Kaitlyn Hunt is convicted, we’ll waste time screening her as well.

    Civil commitment is expensive, and they only have so many beds. Since they at capacity, they can only accept so many new cases. And there is no foolproof plan because no one can predict human behavior. Can you predict who among our population will commit a crime of this nature in the future? No.

    My screen name is also a site that has factual info. I invite readers to visit it and become educate on this subject.

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