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Mandatory Sentences for Repeat Child Molesters Approved by House Subcommittee

On August 2, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime approved, by voice vote, legislation (H.R. 2146) that would require life sentences without parole for repeat child sex offenders. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Green (R-WI), the bill states that “a person who is convicted of a federal sex offense in which a minor is the victim shall be sentenced to life imprisonment if the person has a prior sex conviction in which the victim was a minor.”

The committee approved, by voice vote, a manager’s amendment that would make technical changes to the bill. Rep. Green explained that the amendment would “change the definition of a minor from 18 and under to 16 and under.” Also, a defendent would receive a life sentence based on an earlier conviction for a federal felony rather than a federal misdemeanor.

The committee rejected, by voice vote, two amendments by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). One would have added language to make clear “that the bill is aimed at someone who engages in a pattern of activity,” explained Rep. Scott. The other would have exempted Native Americans from the provisions in the bill.

Rep. Scott was critical of the bill. “The trouble with mandatory sentences is that it eliminates reason and discretion to promote tough sentences,” he said.

On July 31, the subcommittee held a hearing on H.R. 2146. Despite the criticism by Rep. Scott that “the bill is a solution in search of a problem,” most of the witnesses were in favor of the bill.

Marc Klaas of the KlaasKids Foundation told the subcommittee that “H.R. 2146 places responsibility for crimes against children on the shoulders of offenders.” He said that “children continue to be victimized in ever escalating numbers, and offenders serve an average of 2 years and 9 months for sex crimes against children, which is totally inadequate if public safety is a priority.”

Polly Franks Sweeney told the subcommittee that two of her daughters were “violated by a repeat sex offender.” They were violated by a man “who was repeatedly allowed by our criminal justice system to literally walk away unpunished,” she said, adding that “it’s not only the child who is violated by these pedophiles; the trauma touches everyone involved; from parents to grandparents to siblings to cousins, neighbors and teachers.” Phyllis Turner Lawrence said that she was raped at age 39. She testified that she was an attorney who thought “it would never happen to me.” She said, “There’s little in the way of resources in federal or state prisons to deal with accountability and treatment of sex abusers.”

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