Should the legal system’s priority be to reform sex offenders, or just put them away?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed raising the sentence for first-degree sex offenders from 12 to 25 years. He says such offenders need to be “locked up for as long as possible.” Today’s Question: Should the legal system’s priority be to reform sex offenders, or just put them away?

  • Bob Tracy

    61,000 sexual assaults in Minnesota each year. The state needs a balanced approach. Instead, we spend zero state dollars for primary prevention, we cut in funding for victim and survivor services and the courts, then open checkbook to lock up those who create the biggest headlines but represent only the smallest fraction of the problem. It may be good for an aspiring presidential campaign’s image, but is not good public policy for Minnesota.

  • Wade

    The priority should be to get them off the street and away from my family. I don’t think it’s possible to reform someone who is capable of committing a first degree sex offense.

    Zero Tolerance.

  • Emily Erickson

    The state needs to focus on the prevention of sexual violence, rather than how we react those who have perpetrated sexual violence.

  • CaliGuy

    Isn’t the bigger issue this:

    Our “visionary leader”, Gov. Timmy, is once again standing on his tippy-toes to swat at the lowest hanging fruit?

    What politician, in the face of the likely backlash, would ever stand in the way of longer sentences for sex offenders?

    Even the DFLers are trying to frame this as an ECONOMIC issue (by citing the costs of rehab vs. prison), as if the investment in the rehabilitation of sex offenders is somehow sub-human.

  • bsimon

    The state’s priority should be to find the most cost-effective way to keep our citizens safe. If perpetrators can be rehabilitated for a lower cost than locked up, then rehabilitate them. If rehabilitation’s effectiveness is questionable, then lock them up. Which brings us to the next point: did the good governor include a funding mechanism for this proposal, or is he another big government fiscal conservative in name only who has all kinds of spending plans without bothering to find the funding?

  • mwatson

    Pawlenty is obviously just trying to position himself as tough on crime for his future Republican presidential run. The idea that you should automatically double the sentence for an entire range of offences is a knee jerk solution to a very complex problem. But that’s what politicians, from both sides of the aisle, seem to specialize in these days.

  • Garyf

    Reform sex offenders?

    If you think you can reform sex offenders than you need to let them move down the street.

    Will the judges and panels that let these folks go gladly accept them to live next store to them?

  • Lily

    Our society needs to work harder at preventing sexual violence at all levels. To do that we need safe neighborhoods, good schools, access to health care which includes mental health and substance abuse treatment, and respect for all from conception to death.

    Doubling the sentences of sex offenders is good political fodder, but will not accomplish anything in the long run. Sexual violence can –and must–be prevented.

  • Steven

    Any offender of any sort who is capable of reform should be helped to do so. We’re talking about human beings, not demons. An offender who are unwilling or unable to be reformed should be humanely removed from society.

  • Joe Schaedler

    Our priority should be whichever option is most cost effective, which I imagine would be the reform alternative.

    If all costs were equal, I’d prefer reform as that would enable these offenders to be more productive for our society.

    I strongly doubt Gov Pawlenty’s assertion that incarceration is more cost effective than reform – his economics have consistently been shown to be selectively myopic & unrealistic throughout his governorship.

  • Gordon from Two Harbors

    Research shows that sexual preditors/sex offenders tend to have a very low success rate for rehabilitation. The government’s first priority must be to protect the public from these people. Sure, continued rehab needs to be a part of the criminal justice system for anyone who will eventually be released back into society, but long prison sentences and a serious consideration of using surgical castration as a deterent for these criminals is also needed. The revolving door policies of the current system doesn’t cut it.

  • Mary

    Government should be looking at prevention and rehabilitation. Experience has shown that stiffer sentences do not equate to lowering the problem of offenses. Prevention and rehabilitation should be the first recourse. Only if a person cannot or will not be rehabilitated should there be a way to humanely remove this person from being able to offend again.

  • Sue de Nim

    Maybe we should amend the Constitution to say that castration of violent sex offenders is not cruel and unusual punishment.

  • Garyf


    The problem is in their heads and not in the swimsuit area.

  • Timothy Farrell

    Reform is not always possible, but the determination that it isn’t is not particularly easy to make. The first step, for myself, to agreeing with the longer incarcerations would to be shown that the mental health system isn’t well suited to dealing with such individuals.

    Separately, I don’t necessarily believe that cost-effectiveness to the state should be the determining factor. The greater good in terms of both the safety and productivity of society have value, as does the personal impact of reformation.


  • Khatti

    I can’t help but wonder: to what extent do sexual offenders fill the political void today that communists filled in the 1950s?

  • Joe Minneapolis

    Gov Pawlenty’s suggestion, as stated above, is bad, but some of the suggestions by people on this page are even worse. For example, “castration” — surgical or chemical — cannot stop or diminish these offenses. How would they castrate the women, who commit an appreciable proportion of sex crimes? The castrated men or women could still cruelly murder little children in disgusting ways assaulting their organs of generation and elimination — part of what makes criminal behavior a “sex crime.” Rape-murder and “inappropriate touching,” are both “sex crimes,” but how many of the latter would it take to put a person away forever? Tossing uncontrollable “sexual offenders” into the general prison population will just make our prisons even more horrific hell holes than they are. Why have our prisons become so awful? Reform, treatment, college and vocational courses in prison, help for erring souls to suit them for life outside, have been replaced by retribution and punishment perhaps due to this same motivation to hurt or to torture. The Gov’s “suggestion” may not even save money for the state — the real reason behind it, I think — since the sex offenders under the current regime cost more than twice as much to keep in jail than the regular crooks, but they would spend twice as long in detention while costing half as much! The whole area of sex crimes is twisted by the sick avoidance, fear, religious teachings, and the crazy laws of humanity’s sexually obsessed cultures.

  • Paul Conklin

    While repeat offenders make big headlines, I’d like to know what percent of first degree sexual assaults are done by previously convicted offenders. If it is small, then doubling sentences will probably do little reduce the crime. I expect someone in the middle of a violent sexual offense seldom stops to think, “oh oh, it’s 25 years if I get caught now, better stop”.

    Assuredness of detection and immediacy of punishment is what prevents crime. That means good police work, community involvement, public education, electronic monitoring, enforcement of restraining orders, support for courts and public defenders, strong moral standards… and maybe tougher sentences if they can be shown to be effective by some measurable standard.

  • curt

    This is just a hot button issue that Pawlenty can grab onto in order to get some time in the media. There is no doubt that perpetrators of sex crimes are a serious problem in any civilized society. I’m once again disappointed in our headline seeking Governor. In my view, this is just another one of his ploys to get air time while the legislature is in session.

  • Jenny

    Some of what I have read made me ill! What manner of human being detests his fellow humans badly enough to be so vindictive–castration, throwing away the keys to the lock, .

    What office if Pawlenty running? Minnesota or running for President. He is grandstanding and playing to his conservative audience outside of Minnesota, in my opinion.

    I, for one, would like many more details to make an informed decision—none of which the governor is offering which leads me to still trust in human beings–charity begins at home and we need to have more rehabilitation and less cruelty..

  • JJ Helm

    All prisons need reform programs that work. To think people can change on their own is ignorance, especially for a sexual assaulter.

    1% of the country is now in prison, that’s just not right.

  • kennedy

    Unfortunately, we are not very good at reforming sex offenders. In the 10 years after release, nearly 1/3 are likely to be reincarcerated for another offense. Not all infractions result in a conviction, so actual criminal behavior is likely more common.

    Until we can consistenly achieve better outcomes, the best course is to keep offenders in prison for the duratino of their sentence. This keeps them away from temptation and also keeps them away from potential victims.

  • Art Dickson

    It is easy to be a demagogue about the issues of sexual predators. I have no expectation of rational discussion from the politicans in St. Paul. I doubt that the Democrats will take the Republican bait and I doubt that the Republicans really want to solve the problem.

  • James

    Cut um off and let them loose.


  • LBJ

    Convicted sex offenders who have been castrated are rare; a lack of testosterone and the consequent ability to better control their own libido does result in negligible recidivism.[34] Wikipedia

  • Wayne

    It makes no sense to treat these crimes more seriously than murder, nor to fill the prisons increasingly full of persons who can never ever be let out again because their potential re-offense will be blamed on the politician in charge.

    Our failure to create effective deterrents has both economic and ethical consequences, and says as much about us as it does about the criminals.

  • Connie

    No it’s not murder. But sexual offenses will impact the rest of the victim’s life. Research has shown that rehabilitation has not worked. I vote to keep them away from re-offending is to keep them locked up for a long time.

  • Jay

    Reform is what prison should be about for sex offenders or pot smokers or white collar criminals or drunk drivers. It is one expensive “time out” but as the Super Nanny will tell you that the time out by itself will not change behavior. All offenders need a chance to become a productive member of society. Sex offenders treatment is not known to be highly effective. However, if you delay the treatment by doubling the “time out” that may not be as effective as if the penal system started the treatment at day one.

  • jessica Sundheim

    According to the Minneapolis Police Department website, a group of psychologists and others study a sex offender prior to release to determine the level of risk that offender has of reoffending. Level I is low risk, Level II is moderate risk of offending again, and Level III is likely to reoffend. Why are we releasing people who experts have studied and found to be likely to go out and rape and harm children and women? Yes, we notify the community about the Level III’s, which I know because I have one who has the habit of raping 14 year old girls, that lives a block from me and my four daughters (eldest 12). Girls who are no longer allowed to ride their bikes to the library.

    This debate should not be about political careers, or headlines, or money. This question should not be asked in that context!!!!!!!!!!!!! This debate should be about punishing criminals who often severly damage their victims physically and emotionally (90% of them knowing their victims). This debate should be about protecting our children and adults from sexual violence. Why are we releasing those criminals into society who have been studied by experts and found to be “likely to reoffend”? Where are our priorities? If it really is about rehabilitation for all those “civil liberties” people out there, answer that one for me.

    Finally, why are there so few resources for women and children? Why are the resources that are out there, especially in rural Minnesota, so underfunded and understaffed? Rape happens everywhere! With so many crimes unreported, so many criminals unpunished and never rehabilitated, why aren’t there properly funded resources for victims?

    I’ll tell you why, very simply, one hundred years ago it was legal to rape your wife. It takes a long time for a society to go from turning a blind eye to actually seeking out answers and solutions and then funding them.

    Maybe in my daughter’s lifetime.

  • jessica Sundheim

    Sorry, just can’t let this one go. So, if we were to frame this in a political context, the Governor should know that none of us will ever by the bull that the Republicans are tough on rapers. Not after 30 of them, Republicans, voted AGAINST Sen. Franken’s Amendment. Pawlenty’s idea is to keep them in jail longer after his buddies vote against a victim’s right to pursue justice in the courts. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it.

  • Andrea

    The priority should be the protection of children! Research has demonstrated that pedophiles do not respond well to rehabilitation. Ideally, we should continue to research and invest in ways to prevent these abuses. But I am not willing to subject children to level III sex offenders while approaches to prevention and rehabilitation are developed, tested, and evaluated. Not my children; not anyone’s.

  • Anonymous

    These people should be locked up and away from people’s families. If you are a sex offender you have lost your right and privilege to be free. What is worse is by allowing these people to remain with the population you allow for murders and rapes to occur. For example the late Chelsea King who was a 17 year old from San Diego who was jogging was murdered and possibly raped. No one should be murdered and possibly raped because they are jogging in their community. Zero tolerance for these sick, unbalanced, disgusting individuals. Lock them up and keep the rest of us safe!

  • eunicia cantu

    Our legal system’s should just put sex offenders away, these inhumans are destroying our children’s lifes and our life too.

  • e

    I was only 18 at the time and I went online to chat. I was home for the weekend from my first day of college. While on line I describe myself as being an 18 year old college freshman. A girl starts iming me and says that she likes smart guys. I asked her how old she was and she said 16. I looked at her pictures and she looked 16 and in my state the law requires that individual not be more than 4 years older than the other person. So we talk off line and then we meet up. We went back to my dorm and we started to mess around, but before anything could get too intense my roomate came back so I presided to take her home. The next day I get a call from her parents and it turns out the girl is really fucking 13, but Ignorance of age is no excuse because society thinks girls don’t lie about their ages. Wtf? I end up stuck with an over zealous prosecutor who gives me a plea to a class g felony with all of the 2 years on probation. Since this event I have received my mba, I volunteer in the community, I am part of two honors societies, but yet I have to register as a tier 2 sex offender. People are assessed into their tiers in the state of delaware by the conviction and not by the facts surrounding the case. If they would assess everyone on an individual level then their wouldnt be 750,000 sex offenders nation wide. The country has U.S. marshalls looking for 100,000 of them and all this does is leave our boarders unprotected. Research has proven that 90% of people who commit sex offenses are known by their victimes. 1.5-5% of sex offenders reoffend compared to other crimes this is the lowest recidism rate. Now if you take 20 of the worst possible cases like the AG does and then yeah the recidism rate is much higher. 95% of all new sex offenses happen from people who are not on the sex offender registry, but when a sex offender does reoffend the media uses sensationalism to scare society. Since the increase of the registry regulations, the amount of sexual crimes in this country has gone up. If we are going to have a registry that protects that public then we need to assess people on an individual basis. People are on the registry as young as 9 years old in delaware. Also many people have a misconception about the registry. Everyone thinks that all of the people on the registry are rapists, people who look at child porn and chid molestors, but this is wrong. There people who moon, streak, expose themselves, romeo, and juliet cases, and plenty of occassions of girls lying about their ages. If I was one year younger I wouldnt have been prosecuted. I didn’t have sex, but the prosecutor was over zealous. Before and after this incident I haven’t been in anymore trouble. I went for a pardon, but it’s during an election year so the assholes politicians tell me that I made a compelling case, but to come and see them in 18 months. Wtf? I am tired of beng on this God awful list with real monsters. I just want my life back. I have learned not to trust anyone and that the law is in black in white when society lives in the grey. The next time any of you looks on the registry look at the age of the convict, the age of the victim, and see if there was any force because the list doesn’t tell you what happened. The legislatures don’t want you to know that there are cases like mine because they wouldn’t be able to scare all of the ignorant people of this so called great nation.

    “They came first for the Communists,

    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,

    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,

    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for me

    and by that time no one was left to speak up.”