Violent offender registry a help but not a fix

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  • The brutal killing of Sierah Joughin last year still stuns and chills us in northwest Ohio. 

    Miss Joughin’s accused killer, James Worley, faces multiple charges after authorities say he snatched her as she rode a bike along a country road near Delta and murdered her. 

    Beyond our anger, perplexity, and grief, we wonder: How can we prevent such crimes?

    And why did Worley’s neighbors not know that he had been convicted of abduction in a separate case 26 years earlier?

    Why did the local sheriff not know?


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    In response to the tragedy, State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) has worked diligently for many months to create a statewide registry of violent felons. Mr. Gardner has put his heart into the work, consulting Miss Joughin’s family often, seeking input and support from the many interest groups with a stake in the legislation, and hammering out compromises to address all their concerns.

    That earnest legislative heavy-lifting has led to a bill that would create a mandatory database of anyone living in Ohio who was convicted of aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, abduction, or attempting or conspiring to commit these crimes. The database would include each offender’s name, address, driver’s license number, car license plates, fingerprints, and palm prints, among other information.

    County sheriffs would be required to maintain the database, and offenders would be required to reregister each year. 

    The database would provide crucial information to police, which could help to quickly identify and locate suspects.

    But the database would not be a state-wide one, since it would be county-based, and would only be available to citizens and neighbors who were aware that it existed in their counties and had the wherewithal to get themselves to a county courthouse and access it.

    Moreover, registries have become increasingly unpopular in recent years. Critics argue that they are not really preventative and give the public a false sense of security, while at the same time branding convicts who want to reform and re-enter society as criminals for life. They say the net gain is not worth the loss in civil liberties.  

    Mr. Gardner’s efforts illustrate the hard truth that legislating is tough work. Coalitions have to be built and compromises made. The legislative process often produces half-measures that satisfy no one. And, at the end the day, no law can cover every eventuality or every dark corner of the human heart. 

    Furthermore, there are practical gaps and shortcomings in any registry. For instance, under this proposed registry, after being released from prison, offenders would remain listed in the database for only 10 years (as long as they do not commit a new offense). That means if the registry had existed when Miss Joughin disappeared, her accused killer would not even have been on it.

    Nonetheless, giving law enforcement one more tool they need, however blunt, is worthwhile.

    ● The Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association has endorsed the bill. 

    ● Toledo Police Chief George Kral, who once led the department’s sex-assault unit, says that, when investigating a sexual assault, detectives quickly check the sex-offenders registry for potential suspects.

    ● Oregon Police Chief Mike Navarre says he understands concerns about how a database could make it difficult for people released from prison to reintegrate into society, but the benefit to public safety outweighs those concerns. “You have to find some balance,” he said. “A detective will tell you that you have to fish where the fish are. And it is an unfortunate fact of life that violent offenders reoffend. You’re better off knowing who and where they are.”

    Mr. Gardner, a master legislator, should be applauded for his patience and persistence and his deference to the Joughin family.

    Legislating, like life, resists “solutions.” We do our best to make things better anyway.