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Don’t Overreact

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Mark Lunsford makes a passionate plea!

His daughter, Jessica, was the little Florida girl who was assaulted and murdered by a neighbor with a history of sex offenses. Subsequently, Florida passed “Jessica’s Law,” mandating stiff mandatory minimum sentences for sex predators, especially those who target kids.

Lunsford is traveling the nation, making his case for similar stringent sex offender laws in all states, including Utah.

Lunsford’s plea evokes tremendous empathy. It tugs at the emotions. And some Utah lawmakers are exuberantly latching onto the issue. They should be cautious, however, and avoid overreacting based on empathetic emotion. Especially, as they explore the issue, they should reflect on the past.

Back in 1983, in response to similar concerns about certain increased crime, Utah jumped on a national bandwagon and passed a stiff, mandatory minimum law, only to learn with time it didn’t work as well as intended. The law gave prosecutors headaches, often directed critical resources toward the wrong people, and became unnecessarily costly to administer.

The legislature wisely changed course in 1996 when an indeterminate sentencing system was implemented. Experts say it is working well.

While KSL empathizes with Mark Lunsford and others who want to throw the book at sex offenders, all should be aware that knee jerk reactions may ultimately do more harm than good.

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