The Florida legislature began a massive overhaul of state sex predator laws this year, prompted in part by the abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Periwinkle from a Jacksonville Wal Mart, and in part by a damning series by the Sun-Sentinel that showed hundreds of new crimes committed by previously convicted sex offenders, reported First Coast News.
Lawmakers said they wanted to make Florida "Scorched Earth" for offenders, and the changes they approved greatly expanded the authority of law enforcement under the state's Jimmy Ryce Act. That law, named for a South Florida boy raped and murdered in 1995, allows the state to permanently detain inmates whom officials believe might re-offend at some time in the future. Because the law anticipates future behavior, rather than past crimes, it is opposed by civil libertarians, but has thus far survived legal challenges.
The expansion of the law this legislative session includes a provision that permits the State Attorney's Office to "red-flag" inmates being held at the Duval County jail, and recommend them for review for possible permanent confinement. Previously, only the state Department of Children and Families could order such a review, and only when an inmate was being released from Department of Corrections custody.
Now, even someone picked up on a misdemeanor charge – like petit theft -- is subject to review. The State Attorney's Office can decide an offender's history of offenses made him too dangerous to ever release.
Citing "a mental abnormality and/or personality disorder which makes him likely to engage in acts of sexual violence," the office can asked that an offender be evaluated by a team of psychologists. Through the use of a risk matrix obtained by First Coast News, an offender receives a numerical score that indicates whether the offender is a high risk to reoffend.
Since the new laws went into effect July 1, State Attorney spokesperson Jackelyn Barnard says the office has reviewed 253 jail inmates for possible indefinite commitment. Only one inmate has been detained.
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