Thursday, February 25, 2010

Will Sex Offender Have to Pay for Old Crimes? Will sex offender have to pay for old crimes?

Fifteen years have come and gone since he was arrested, pleaded guilty and received five years' probation for the third-degree sexual offense of trying to solicit sex from a prostitute who was 13 years old. Larry -- a name I've given him for the purposes of this column -- served his probation and took part in weekly group therapy sessions at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Records indicate that he has not committed such a crime -- or any crime -- since then. "In fact," he adds, "I would say I've lived an exemplary life since then."

There aren't many sex offenders going public these days. Larry, who told his story provided I did not use his name, says he "came out of the woodwork" only because of what he (and others) see as election-year hysteria in Annapolis to toughen laws and regulations on sexual offenders, particularly those who victimize children. One of the dozens of measures in the legislature would expand Maryland's sex offender registry to cover cases from 15 to 25 years ago.

That means Larry's face and his record would appear where it doesn't now: on the Internet, for the entire world to see. "I hadn't really been paying attention to all this nutty, knee-jerk sex offender legislation," he says. "But I am now."

When he was arrested in 1995, he had been a consultant on several government-funded projects. He lost his security clearance, lost his job. He had a difficult time finding another. "Categorically turned down by many, many employers," he says. So he took a lot of lousy jobs that didn't last. Finally, he found a good job commensurate with his education and training, but he's sure he would lose it if the General Assembly expands the offender registry.

Larry wrote an anonymous letter to the House Judicial Proceedings Committee. He had a friend deliver it for him. He gave me a copy. I told him I'd let him have his say in this space because an anonymous letter to an Annapolis committee probably never gets much attention.

"Over the past 15 years," he wrote the committee, "I have been continuously employed. I completed an advanced degree; and I have provided time tutoring and guiding adult students in my field. I am involved in an international program to improve technology in third-world countries. I have made valuable contributions using my artistic and creative side.

"I do not seek contact with children, and I usually go out of my way to avoid it. I do have several nieces whose lives I've been invited into with welcome arms. Friends have knowingly welcomed me into their homes. Rehabilitation has not been easy. I've worked extremely hard at it and succeeded at it. Were I to detect potential triggers, I know how to employ avoidance strategies involving family, friends and therapists." Larry credits the group therapy sessions at UMMC with having the most effect on his thinking and behavior, and he thinks the state should spend its money on such programs instead of the costly expansion of its online offender registry.

"I attribute a certain amount of ease in rehabilitation to the fact that I was not subject to any post-probation placement on Internet sex offender lists or unsolicited neighborhood notifications. For example, my current employer, who I hope to be my long-term employer, would not have hired me, according to their policy, had I been on the state's sex offender list. If I get on such a list, who knows whether I'll keep my job? It's open season on you once you're on that list."

Larry believes he made a contract with the state 15 years ago -- a guilty plea in return for five years' probation, the court-ordered therapy and nothing more. "I have lived in a contract with the state of Maryland," he wrote. "Now the state of Maryland wants to impose stringent, retroactive reporting requirements on me and put my picture on the Internet, parading me like a circus freak. The state wants to humiliate me and set me back. The state wants to open me up to potential violence. The state is about to punish me for having done everything right for over 15 years."