By Sandy and Larry . . . Pursuant to its constitutional authority, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has granted pardons – “restoration of civil and political rights” – for more than 70 years. To the board’s credit, rather than having an arbitrary policy that excludes sexual offenses from consideration, 21 of those granted restoration of their rights have been convicted of sexual offenses.
The Georgia Supreme Court has determined that the board’s action means that the individuals are no longer required to continue complying with the onerous restrictions of Georgia’s sex offender registry. The high court’s decision was necessitated by the state’s ridiculous position that removal of the disabilities engendered by these types of convictions did not include sex offender registration requirements. How absurd can you be? What would be the value of a pardon if the conviction’s disabilities and record remained in the public domain?
Despite the ruling from the state’s highest tribunal, Georgia Bureau of Investigations’s director Vernon Keenan still disagrees and is now working with Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Lawson in what appears to be a media offensive to undermine the Board of Pardons and Parole. Lawson has gone on record saying that, contrary to the findings of psychological examinations and the Board of Pardons, she does not believe that those who have sexually offended against a child can be rehabilitated. While entitled to her belief, it is contradicted by overwhelming evidence and by the low reoffense rate for sexual offenders with child victims, shown in some studies as low as a little over three percent.
WSB TV and investigative reporter Mark Winne prominently feature Director Keenan and another spokesperson for GBI. They feature Ms. Lawson and her views. And they give significant airtime to a former victim of one of those pardoned and her dismay, almost 30 years later, that her abuser is no longer on the registry. While any victim of sexual assault fully deserves justice, any perspective brought in after 30 years has little bearing on the facts of today and are certainly not relevant in terms of the person’s sex offender registration obligation, which is a civil regulatory scheme and not part of the person’s punishment.
Much is missing from WSB’s report. WSB did not reach out to anyone with an opposing view and chose only to feature those seeking to sway the public against the autonomy of the board and to incite anger against the state Supreme Court.
They do not cite research showing the very low reoffense rate for sexual offenders in general – 5.3% arrested; 3.5% convicted within three years — or for those whose victims are children specifically – 3.3% rearrested within three years.
They do not include research showing no relationship between having a public registry and a decrease in sexual crime, including child sexual offenses.
They do not include research showing that former sex offenders are less and less likely to reoffend the longer they live offense-free. In its online airing of this story, WSB chose to show the names and offenses of 8 of the 21 recently removed from the registry. It also shows their dates of conviction, and they range from 1987 to 1997.
They do not offer any of the multitude of research showing that as high as 96% of sexual crime, especially against children, is committed by persons with no previous arrests for sexual offending and not on the registry, thus seriously negating the statement by Director Keenan that these 21 persons should be on the registry so that the public “…can protect themselves…”
The do not interview or include statements from any treatment providers or experts in the areas of treatment and prevention. Even for the small subgroup of sexual offenders who actually have pedophilia — and many who sexually molest children do not —various treatment programs have had success.
The public today not only deserves but critically needs balanced reporting. We need truth and facts in all issues but never anywhere so urgently as in matters pertaining to our safety and that of our children.
NARSOL has repeatedly asked for this from the media in general. We specifically ask it of WSB-TV, Channel 2 in Atlanta. Give us all of the facts and let us decide for ourselves.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.