Editorial: It’s time for changes in sex offenders laws

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 2004

Finally, our legislators are losing sympathy and patience with the most violent and repeat sex offenders and are preparing to &uot;lock ’em up and throw away the key.&uot;

The Minnesota House approved a bill Wednesday that would bring life in prison without parole in the most violent rapes and open-ended sentences for other sex offenses. Current law carries a presumptive sentence of 12 years for those crimes.

Penalties for other felony sex offenses are also ratcheted up. Many would come with an indeterminate sentence. A judge, for instance, could sentence someone convicted of fourth-degree sexual conduct to 15 years to life. The person would have to serve the minimum sentence before becoming eligible for conditional release.

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The Senate also is advancing legislation calling for stiffer sentences in sex crimes. But its bill reserves the life sentences for repeat offenders. If the Senate stays on that path, differences will have to be worked out in a conference committee.

The bill represents a dramatic shift in the way the state deals with sex predators considered most likely to commit new crimes. When their prison terms expire now, authorities can ask a court to civilly commit the person in a secure state psychiatric facility.

Regardless, we are happy to see a move toward tougher sentences.

If they can help one family not to have to go through what the family of college student Dru Sjodin has been going through since she disappeared in November, it will be worth it. The man charged in her abduction never should have been released, since he was deemed likely to reoffend. Something must change.

Critics are concerned about costs, and yes, it will be expensive to keep offenders in civil confinement or in prison, and that sad events don’t necessarily require sweeping changes in law. But what price do we put on the lives of innocent victims?

We feel the Legislature’s moves are steps in the right direction.