By Sandy . . . A democracy works as it should only when the people trust their elected officials. Trust is not a given; it is earned, and the key to earning it is truthfulness, honesty, and candor.
In this age of fake news, claims of fake news, and social media pundits who can spread both at the speed of lightening, how can the public know if their elected officials are being truthful and candid?
The question may be best answered by looking at the opposite.
For example, Orange County, CA, District Attorney Todd Spitzer, angry over the release of inmates due to the Covid-19 pandemic, criticized the release of those with prior sexual convictions, saying, “We do not want these people out on the streets because we all know registered sex offenders have the highest propensity to commit additional offenses.”
This statement may be believed by a certain percentage of the population, but the exact opposite has been known, proven, and reported too often and too long by too many in the way of both governmental and academic studies and reports to be accepted as truth by a large percentage of the population. What many know upon reading Mr. Spitzer’s words is one of two things: Either he is woefully ignorant about a subject on which he should be well informed, or he is lying.
Spitzer was so indignant over the release of seven men with former sexual crime convictions who were incarcerated, not for additional sexual crimes but for violation of their monitoring conditions, that he issued a press release warning the public about these men. Repeating the untruth about high re-offense risk, he said, “These kinds of high-risk sex offenders are the most dangerous kind of criminal and the most likely to re-offend. They are doing everything they can to avoid detection by the parole officers assigned to monitor them so they can potentially commit additional sex offenses.”
This type of generalization and assumptions as to the men’s risk, dangerousness, and motives is not the stuff of which candor is made. One of the reporters covering the story was concerned enough about the statements and inferences made by Spitzer that she felt compelled to include this disclaimer in her report: “To be clear, these men have already served their time for their sexual offenses.”
Compounding either his inability to know the truth or his willingness to deliberately obfuscate it, Spitzer additionally said, “I’m here to tell you: sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated . . .” On a personal level, as one who knows a great many persons on sexual offense registries, persons who committed a single offense, often years ago, accepted responsibility and served their sentences, persons who have since built lives of respect, honor, family commitment, and community service, I am, on their behalf, offended and angered.
On a less subjective level, the low re-offense rates, low single digits for the most part, reported year after year, state after state, once again show how out of touch with reality and the simple truth District Attorney Todd Spitzer is.
People who commit crimes should be held accountable. They should pay their dues in the courts and in the prisons. Those dues should not include risking their lives in virus-ridden penal institutions because ill-informed and dishonest public officials use their ill-informed and dishonest rhetoric in an attempt to sway public opinion against them.
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.