This whole "Sex Predators Unleashed" series of articles, in our opinion, is nothing more than fear mongering. They claim many are committing additional sex crimes, but they don't show you the statistics, and it's not backed up by studies done in their own state by professionals who work with ex-sex offenders. Of course there are going to be a few who do commit additional crimes, but a vast majority do not!
By Sally Kestin and Dana Williams
A violent sex crime devastated Don Ryce's family. A kidnapper raped and murdered his young son, and the resulting pain and grief may have hastened the deaths of his wife and daughter.
Ryce found some comfort in the Florida law, passed in his son's memory, that is supposed to safeguard other families from sex predators. But a Sun Sentinel investigation last month found hundreds of rapists and child molesters reviewed and released under the Jimmy Ryce law (Wikipedia) went on to attack more women and children.
"It made me sick," Don Ryce said in an interview at his Vero Beach home last week. "That was the very thing the law was supposed to try to protect us from."
- No amount of laws is going to prevent all sexual crimes. If someone is intent on harming someone, they will.
Ryce and his wife, Claudine, lobbied for the law after Jimmy's 1995 disappearance in south Miami-Dade County. Farmhand [name withheld] abducted the fifth-grader after his school bus dropped him off and forced the boy into his trailer. [name withheld] sexually assaulted Jimmy and shot him when he tried to escape.
For three months, the Ryces searched for their son before a tip led police to [name withheld] and the discovery of Jimmy's dismembered remains on a nearby farm.
"It's a devastating thing that you just can't possibly imagine," said a tearful Don Ryce. "Just the thought that your child had to go through that still gets me upset."
The Ryces, both lawyers, used the tragedy to advocate for change. "My wife and I always felt strongly we didn't want Jimmy to be remembered just as another victim, or worse yet, forgotten entirely," Don Ryce said.
The legal measure they chose to endorse, called civil commitment (Wikipedia), allows the state to confine sex offenders after their prison sentences end if they're considered too dangerous for society. Predators are court-ordered to a treatment center in Central Florida until a judge allows their release.
The Jimmy Ryce law was designed to capture the worst of the worst, Don Ryce said, sex offenders "who just are never going to quit."
But for every offender Florida has committed since the law took effect in 1999, the Sun Sentinel found, two others have been released and arrested again on sex charges.
- And how many have been committed? Also, how many who haven't, but still are registered, have not committed an additional sex crime? We'd like to know those statistics as well.
"It's quite obvious that a lot of the worst of the worst are getting out," Ryce said. "That's not what was intended."
- Getting out of civil commitment, or prison? And so by your words, was the intent to lock them up in prisons outside of prison for life then?
At least 594 sex offenders have been convicted of new sex crimes after being reviewed under the law and let go, the newspaper found. Nearly half attacked within a year of their release.
[name withheld] began molesting an 8-year-old girl the very day he got out of prison.
Child molester [name withheld] lasted five months before befriending and sexually assaulting a 10-year-old. The state let [name withheld] go despite a note in his screening file that he had "admitted to a history of thoughts to pursue little girls as long as he could remember."
The short time it took many of the offenders to strike again "tells you these people are absolutely a clear and present danger," Ryce said. "I frankly don't understand how they could have been let out, what thought process could have possibly led people to let them back out."
- Maybe the thought process that when someone has been convicted and done their time, then they are free to go maybe?
An original sponsor of the legislation also said the law named after the South Florida youngster who loved baseball and reading hasn't worked as intended.
- So what was the intention of the law then?
The Sun Sentinel investigation "identified a number of areas where the legislation that was adopted has not been administered properly," said Ron Klein, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who sponsored the bill in the Florida Senate. "It shouldn't have taken this long to figure out what was working and what wasn't."
The state Department of Children and Families is responsible for evaluating sex offenders before their release and deciding which ones are predators who should be confined at the treatment center.
"I think they've not effectively administered the program in a way to protect the public," Klein said. "That's a serious problem."
The department is reviewing its sex offender evaluations and working with legislative leaders "to improve the laws related to sexually violent predators and keep Floridians safe from this dangerous population,'' said spokesman Whitney Ray.
The failures the Sun Sentinel uncovered are too numerous to ignore, Ryce said.
"What price have we paid? Something needs to be done," he said. "I want Jimmy's law to work the way it was supposed to work in the beginning."
- And that is?
In response to the Sun Sentinel series, state Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, last week called for a hearing on the law's "unacceptable and disappointing results." And other lawmakers are working on legislation that would identify and confine more predators and lengthen sentences to keep offenders locked up longer.
Ryce said he supports tougher punishment.
"You have to be careful to pick the right crimes," he said, "but with the worst of them, there's nothing wrong in my opinion with making the first sentence severe and if they repeat, making it increasingly severe."
- This is how the "justice" system was always setup to work like. You commit a crime, you get locked up, you commit another crime, you get locked up for a longer time, so you don't need more laws to do what the "justice" system is suppose to do in the first place.
Ryce said he's more convinced than ever of the need for civil commitment. Despite the law's shortcomings, it remains a crucial safety net that has protected the public from many dangerous offenders who otherwise would have been released, he said.
"What if there was nothing at all?" he said. "We picked this law to put Jimmy's name to. We're proud of the idea. We want it to work fairly and legally, but we want it to work effectively."
- Well, if they murder someone lock them up for life, if they commit another crime, lock them up for a longer period of time, like it has always suppose to work.
Ironically, the law would not have prevented Jimmy's death. The state would never have had an opportunity to stop his killer because [name withheld] had no prior criminal record.
Now 46, [name withheld] remains on Death Row, his execution delayed by appeals.
Ryce lives alone, two more members of his family now gone. His wife died of a heart attack in 2009. She was 66.
Claudine Ryce never got over her son's murder.
"My wife used to say, 'What disease might have he cured? What thing might he have done?'" Ryce said. "At her funeral, the minister said that essentially she died of a broken heart. That pretty well says what happened."
In December, Ryce's 33-year-old daughter, Martha, took her own life. She was 16 when Jimmy disappeared and became a pillar of strength, representing the family publicly, her father said.
"She was having some problems, but [Jimmy] was very much on her mind," Ryce said. "It's hard to describe if you haven't been through a tragedy like this, but it ebbs and flows. For some reason, it was just really on her mind a lot."
Ryce, 69, works as an arbitrator and tries to remember his family in happy times.
"Sometimes I do get angry thinking about the man who killed my son so horribly," he said. "He's still alive, and my wife, my daughter and my youngest son are dead. That's hard to take."