Ed Koch: Sexual Predators and Recidivism

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New York State has finally enacted civil detention legislation allowing the state, as described in The New York Times, “to detain convicted sex offenders in psychiatric hospitals after they have served their prison sentences.” New York thereby became the twentieth state in the Union to do so. The vote was an overwhelming 53 to 8 in the New York Senate. The Assembly passed the legislation on March 6th by a vote of 127 to 19.

The New York Times ran a three-part series of articles on sex offenders and their treatment. While The Times apparently could find no U.S. survey reporting on recidivism of sex offenders in the U.S., it cited Canadian studies that found “roughly 15 percent of convicted sex offenders are caught re-offending after five years and that those driven by deviant sexual interests like pedophiles and exhibitionists are the likeliest to do so.” Considering how many sex offenders are never caught, the recidivism rate has to be higher.

Some states have approached the problem differently. Virginia, which also has civil commitment, also increased a penalty applying to sex offenders from 10 years to 25 years. Without researching Virginia’s statutes and parole provisions, it is not possible to determine what that actually means in prison time served before parole occurs. The use of civil confinement based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions is constitutional if the sex offender is given treatment while civilly detained, even though the effectiveness of treatment is problematic. Treatment of sex offenders in civil detention facilities according to The Times, “averages more than $100,000 [annually], compared with about $26,000 a year for keeping someone in prison, because of the higher cost for programs, treatment and supervised freedoms.”

My own opinion, and I pretend no expertise, based on The Times article which reports, “But the myriad problems have concerned some advocates for victims of sexual abuse who suggest the money is being wasted and that other options for dealing with dangerous sex offenders—such as giving them longer prison terms, preventing sentencing deals with prosecutors and mandating treatment during incarceration—would be more effective,” is that I concur with that approach.

The Times editorial of March 13th sets forth its apprehension on the New York legislation, stating “The Times [series of articles] … found that civil commitment laws have led to post-prison warehouses, where offenders check in, but don’t check out.” Sounds like a roach motel. I don’t believe sex offenders should be released so long as medical authorities in charge conclude they remain a danger to society, particularly endangering children. I view their civil commitment to be at least as necessary as was that of “Typhoid Mary,” who was quarantined in New York City.

People with contagious diseases, e.g., SARS, infectious tuberculosis, smallpox, Ebola, etc., can be and have been quarantined under federal law. I believe that sexual predators, particularly those who prey on children, pose comparable dangers to society.


Three members of the Bush administration should do the honorable thing and resign their offices immediately. I'm talking about F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, Jim Nicholson.

All three evoke the ineffective “Brownie,” former FEMA director Michael D. Brown, who was praised until his aura of competence was washed away with the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina.

I supported and still support the Patriot Act. I believed that when it was enacted and reenacted, it was a necessary tool in the war against Islamic terrorism. The most persuasive argument given in defense of the Patriot Act for me was the challenge of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to the ACLU to produce anyone whose rights had been violated by the U.S. government under the powers granted to it to collect information that would help our security agencies to protect us from terrorists.

The ACLU was unable to produce a single person who could prove that he or she had had their civil rights violated.
Now we have learned from a report by the Department of Justices’ own Inspector General that the F.B.I. has misused the Patriot Act and violated the privacy of thousands of Americans who had no connection with terrorism.

In Japan, a comparable situation would result in immediate resignations and in earlier times, probably hari-kari.
The third person who should, if he were honorable, walk the plank, is Jim Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. The President inadequately tried to sum up his and the country’s feelings with the comment, “My decisions have put our kids in harm’s way and I’m concerned about the fact that when they come back, they don’t get the full treatment they deserve.” His lame response makes his decision to terminate Nicholson even more necessary.

Here, as in most situations, failure can justly be shared by the President, Congress and the Pentagon. They failed to provide the money and supervision needed to ensure that the returning members of our armed forces injured in Iraq received the best medical treatment and care for their wounds suffered in defense of the United States. Those soldiers were and are entitled not to minimum and adequate treatment, but to the best available anywhere. Instead, they received treatment that can only be described—as it was at Congressional hearings—as substandard and inadequate.

In the second-term of every administration, there are people who become burned out or whose incompetence is publicly revealed. It is the mark of a good administrator to timely fire incompetent people. If the President fails to fire these three, he will become directly responsible for their prior and continuing failures.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch can be heard every Friday at 6pm on Bloomberg Radio.

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