Sex-offender bills debated

Some on House panel push to confine worst predators after prison

General Assembly

February 08, 2006|By KELLY BREWINGTON | KELLY BREWINGTON,SUN REPORTER

Proposals to create more stringent monitoring of sex offenders overlook a key potential solution -- confining the state's most dangerous sexual predators after they are released from prison -- several members of the House Judiciary Committee said yesterday.

Lawmakers are considering more than a dozen bills this year to increase monitoring of and community notification about child molesters. Some of the state's leading politicians have offered proposals, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.; Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is running for the chance to challenge Ehrlich for governor; and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who is O'Malley's father-in-law.

In a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bills yesterday, Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, called the plans "window dressing" because they did not offer a complete solution.

Simmons said he would push for an amendment that would allow for the post-prison confinement of the state's most violent sexual predators. Several other lawmakers said they would support such a measure.

"Where does this cut down on violent acts?" said Simmons. "We shouldn't be talking about keeping track of predators, we should be committing predators so they don't act again."

The plans from the governor, the mayor and the attorney general are similar but have a few distinctions. Ehrlich's plan includes satellite monitoring of some serious sex offenders; O'Malley's proposal would require lifetime monitoring of sexually violent predators and child sex offenders; the bill based on Curran's plan would set up a team to assess which sex offenders should be monitored and how.

It's likely some version of the legislation targeting sex offenders will be adopted this year, since many of the proposals have similarities. But post-prison confinement has been a volatile issue in Maryland and around the country, receiving opposition from mental health experts and advocates for civil liberties.

In previous years, lawmakers attempted to establish a dedicated facility -- possibly within a mental health institution -- where violent sexual predators could be confined and treated. But the proposals failed.

A state task force rejected the idea years ago, Curran said yesterday, mainly because of cost. While he supports the concept, which he says has worked well in Kansas, Curran said he doesn't believe it would win support in Maryland. Several weeks ago, a Senate committee heard hours of testimony on two bills that would authorize such confinement. Mental health advocates argued that placing the state's most dangerous sexual offenders alongside mentally ill patients would leave some of the society's most vulnerable at risk.

"Up to 95 percent of patients in mental institutions have themselves been victims of sexual abuse," said Lisae C. Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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