NY TIMES OPINION
STARTING in the 1970s, lawmakers across the United States enacted punitive “lock ’em up” policies. The prison population more than quadrupled, and the United States became first in the world in both the total number of prisoners (about 2.3 million) and the rate of imprisonment (1 of every 100 adults is behind bars).
Now, budget pressures, court orders and a recognition of the social costs of incarceration have prompted America to reconsider some of these draconian laws. Incarceration rates may be topping out.
But most criminal justice advocates have been reluctant to talk about sex offender laws, much less reform them. The reluctance has deep roots. Sex crimes are seen as uniquely horrific. During the Colonial, antebellum and Jim Crow eras, white Americans were preoccupied with tales of sexual dangers to white women and children. McCarthy-era paranoia, stories of Satanic ritual abuse and other sex panics stirred pervasive anxieties about lurking strangers. Sexual predators play a lead role in the production of a modern culture of fear.
In fact, the crimes that most spur public outrage — the abduction, rape and murder of children — are exceedingly rare. Statistically, a child’s risk of being killed by a sexual predator who is a stranger is comparable to the chance of being struck by lightning. The reported incidence of most forms of child abduction, including the most serious, has declined since the 1980s.
The most intense dread, fueled by shows like “America’s Most Wanted” and “To Catch a Predator,” is directed at the lurking stranger, the anonymous repeat offender. But most perpetrators of sexual abuse are family members, close relatives, or friends or acquaintances of the victim’s family. In 70 to 80 percent of child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect, a parent is held responsible.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Monday, August 22, 2011
NY TIMES OPINION