Sex Offender Registries and Public Safety
This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," April 18, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The Vermont chapter of the ACLU wants to get rid of Web sites that list sex offenders by name. This comes after a man in Maine shot and killed two people whose names were on one of these lists. The man then later shot and killed himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE MCCAUSLAND, SPOKESMAN, MAINE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: We don't know what exactly the motives are here. We don't have all the answers. The only link we have is this sex offender registry and that both victims were registered sex offenders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIBSON: It seems both the ACLU and advocates of these sex offender sites are just concerned with public safety, but is keeping the registries online or taking them down more dangerous?
Jane Skinner is here with the story.
JANE SKINNER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, about a half-million sex offenders are registered in this country, most of them online. Some people fear that these state Web sites do encourage not just violence, but harassment and general poor treatment of offenders in the community. Others say they keep our kids safe, and that is more important.
So what's the reality? Greg Skordas has seen it from both sides. He is a former prosecutor and head of the DA sex crimes unit in Salt Lake City. And now he is a defense attorney who often represents sex offenders.
Greg, let's start with the premise that these sites actually do work to make our community safer. Do they? Can we even prove that they do?
GREG SKORDAS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't know that we can.
I think that the theory behind them is probably good. If you're a parent and you have a child that is visiting a friend or is walking by a certain house, would it be helpful to know that a sex offender, a convicted sex offender, lived in that house? Sure, it would.
If you were a school, if you were hiring coaches, would it be helpful to know that predators were applying for jobs? Absolutely it would.
Whether it has worked or whether people have been able to successfully use those to flush out those individuals, I guess only time will tell.
SKINNER: Yes. They certainly make us feel safer, that's for sure.
Well, and the big story, as you probably know, has been today the mother of one of these guys who was listed on the site in Maine who was killed, said he was convicted when he was 19 for having sex with his girlfriend who was two weeks shy of her 16th birthday.
She said my son was not a pedophile. He's dead because he was labeled as one.
I can imagine there are some concerns that it's just this wide swathe that kind of carries all types of offenders with it.
SKORDAS: And that's really the problem. You create a set of laws that are intended to catch sexual predators. And sometimes you have a case that really catches some national attention, and you say well, wait a minute, we can't let that happen again. Let's create a law that is going to stop that and is going to put these people on the Internet.
And what happens is, of course, like you just indicated, Jane, it's going to create a huge net, and we're going to bring in a lot of people in that maybe we never intended on making a public spectacle all out of, and that may be what happened with this young man.
He, at 19 or 20 years old — I forget — had sex with someone who was barely under the age limit, certainly not excusable, by any stretch of the imagination, but has he been rehabilitated or the things that have happened...
SKORDAS: ... in the meantime — he certainly didn't deserve to be killed.
SKINNER: Well, is there some sort of solution? Should there be a balance in protecting both these interests? Or shouldn't there be a balance? Should protecting the community be more important?
SKORDAS: I think we're really going to have to take a look at these.
You know, five years ago we didn't have sex offender registries. Now every single state has one. In my state, it's a system where you're on the registry for 10 years after you're released from probation or prison.
Does that take into account the fact that some of these people can be rehabilitated? It's a good idea.
Is it working? I don't think so. And I think that what happened in the last 24 hours certainly points to that.
We're creating a site where people are going. They are looking at their neighbors. They're looking at who's in their neighborhood. And a vigilante, like what happened here, is just as likely to happen again.
SKINNER: And, Greg, we should point out that there have been very few cases like this one, just one other one in the past.
Greg Skordas, who is a former prosecutor, thanks very much.
John, back to you.
GIBSON: And, Jane, thank you.
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