To the Editor;
Last week the Daily Press published an article entitled "When Justice is Questioned" written by Ryan Sheridan. The article described the viewpoints of several people, including myself, regarding the sentencing of sex offenders and specifically addressing a recent plea agreement made between Chief Deputy District Attorney, David Waite and former Craig resident Grant Taylor. When I spoke with Sheridan he asked me how I felt about this plea agreement and I told him several times that I had mixed feelings about the outcome of this case. After reading the article and noting the statement that was attributed to me, I am compelled to clarify my position.
After working with survivors of sexual assault for more than a decade, I have developed very strong opinions about sex offender prosecution and management. A long time ago, I thought that when people did something bad they got caught and went to prison where they stayed until they paid for their crimes. I would have been outraged by the fact that a sex offender received probation rather than a very stiff jail sentence. A part of me still feels that way. However, over the years I have come to learn that while a "throw away the key" jail sentence might assuage my outrage, it is not the cure-all answer nor is anything totally black or white.
I didn't know that very few convicted criminals serve the actual amount of time that they receive at sentencing but rather the majority serves much, much less. So while a huge jail sentence sounds good at sentencing it is highly unlikely that the offender will actually serve that amount of time. I can tell you that it comes as a huge shock to run into an offender at the grocery store when you think that that individual is still in jail. It comes as a huge shock when you hear that the offender is being released when you thought there were many more years left of the sentence.
I didn't know that sex offenders had one of the highest recidivism rates. And most importantly, I didn't know that a grave danger to community exists when the offender is released back into society after completing jail time without being ordered to supervision or treatment because the sentence has been served and the offender has "paid in full" for his/her crime.
I didn't know how difficult a trial could be or how a victim of sexual assault could be traumatically and irrevocable re-victimized by the judicial process. I didn't know that sexual assault remains the most underreported crime in our country and that statistics say that out of 100 sexual assaults only one is reported and of those, only one in a hundred ends in conviction of the alleged offender.
However, I have learned that each survivor of sexual assault has different needs when it comes to recovery. One individual might need to have their day in court and publicly tell their story because it is essential for their recovery. Another may be so horrified at this possibility that they seek to avoid it any cost including that of their own silence. I have learned that there is no right or wrong when it comes to personal recovery needs.
I have heard many individuals state that the main reason they reported the crime was to prevent it from happening again either to themselves or to others. I have learned that it is the responsibility of the community to provide the best possible victim-centered response to sexual assault in terms of investigation and evidence collection so that each individual has prosecution of the offender as a possible option.
I have learned that justice comes in many forms and that lifetime supervision of sex offenders is a critical component in victim safety. I have learned that a plea bargain, initially appearing as a dismissal or minimization of a case, can at times provide a victim of sexual assault with a measure of justice as well as offering a victim some protection from the trauma of a trial. I have learned that the public rarely hears the details upon which a district attorney must base his/her decisions regarding the course of action taken and that the details contain many variables, including the feelings of the victim, that will influence the outcome of the case. As I told Sheridan, I have mixed feelings about this sentence. What I didn't tell him was that I don't know all the facts in this case and cannot presume anything nor can I pass judgment on the outcome. I still want to see the bad guy/gal go to jail and pay for what they have done and at the same time I want the system to do what is right and necessary for the victim.
My statement is that jail time ALONE will not enhance victim safety. Unless we change our entire system and make it so sex offenders receive life sentences without possibility of parole, sooner or later the offender is going to be released into a community somewhere. It is my belief that intense lifetime supervision is absolutely critical for offender management and future victim safety and that no sex offender should get any sentence that does not carry a long-term supervision component.
I apologize to Sheridan and to the community for being unclear. I also applaud his need to question justice. The system belongs to all of us and we have both the right and the obligation to question it when it appears to be unjust.
Sincerely, Pat Tessmer
Executive Director, Advocates-Crisis Support Services