Sex Offenders’ Early Releases Prompt Lawmakers to Change Laws

by dmatson on May 5, 2012

If there is any single category of crime that gets a disproportionate amount of disdain from both lawmakers and the public, it’s sex offenses. And a new story out of Indiana is a good example of this. Two sex offenders slashed their sentences by following guidelines used by all inmates. But their early release, unlike the releases of drug offenders or thieves, has prompted Indiana lawmakers to consider changing the laws.

Currently, in Indiana, you can shorten your prison term by getting a degree while incarcerated. The idea is to reform inmates and to help decrease recidivism once they are released. A college degree will increase a person’s chances at gainful employment, with unemployment being one of the main risk factors in prison return-customers.

Convicted sex offender Christopher Wheat was sentenced to 15 years in prison for two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and one count of child solicitation, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The judge suspended 5 years of his sentence (leaving 10), and said 2 years would be served in community corrections (leaving 8). Then, Wheat earned 4 years of good time (leaving 4), and earned two degrees in prison. The two degrees further cut his sentence and Wheat will end up serving around 2 years total for his offenses, something the victim’s family and lawmakers are not happy about.

While their anger may be understandable to some, it’s important to note that Wheat did nothing that other offenders don’t do every single year in order to cut their sentence. The difference, however, is Wheat’s crime.

“I think he gamed the system. And we need to make sure nobody does that anymore,” said Republican Sen. Jim Merritt of Indianapolis.

Merritt is mistaken. Wheat didn’t “game” anything; he simply took advantage of the guidelines that were in place, like any motivated inmate would do in his situation.

But, Wheat’s early release and a similar case that led to a sex offender serving a fraction of his sentence after getting an education behind bars are causing lawmakers to rethink those very guidelines.

Now, Indiana lawmakers would like to see sex offenders made an exception in the guidelines that allowed Wheat to gain early release.

This wouldn’t be anything new, setting up a different set of rules for sex offenders. Many states have rules and laws specifically made to penalize sex offenders more severely than other criminals. It may not be fair, especially considering some sex offenders are far less likely to reoffend than drug offenders, thieves, or violent felons. But, it’s because of the pervasive stigma associated with crimes of this nature.

If you are charged with a sex offense, you can expect to be treated with a certain level of disdain—by the cops, the prosecutor, the judges, the media, and anyone else involved.

By having a defense lawyer on your side, you can be certain that you have an advocate within the legal system, someone who is actually interested in protecting your rights and working towards a positive resolution in your case.

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