Genarlow Wilson: The Rest Of The Storyby Doug Mataconis
There’s an interesting post-script to the Genarlow Wilson story at CNN.com this afternoon.
In it, Wilson discusses why he rejected a plea deal back in 2005 that would have kept him of prison.
The reason is pretty clear — pleading guilty would have ruined his life just as much as the prison sentence did:
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — Genarlow Wilson, freed last week from a Georgia prison, said he’s glad he rejected a plea deal from prosecutors, even if it would have sprung him from prison months earlier.
The 21-year-old, who served two years of a 10-year sentence for aggravated child molestation, said the prospect of being labeled a sex offender drove him to turn down the deal. He had to think about his 9-year-old sister and having a family of his own one day, he said Sunday.
“It might’ve been lesser time, but then again, I would have nowhere to go because I would have no home,” Wilson said during a CNN interview scheduled to air Monday at 8 p.m.
“I wouldn’t be able to stay with my mother because I have a little sister. You know, when you’re a sex offender you can’t be around kids. Basically, I can’t even have kids myself, you know, so what is the point of life?” he asked.
And that raises all on it’s own the interesting question of whether we’ve gone over-board in the whole sex offender craze. In the criminal justice system, with the exception of murder, there is almost no crime that justifies a sentence of life in prison (or death), and most people who commit even the most violent felonies are eligible to be released at some point after serving their time. This is as true of sex offenders as it is of carjackers and thieves.
When felons are released from prison, they are required to report to parole or probation officers, but only for a set amount of time, not for life. Unless they offend again, the presumption is that they’ve served their debt to society, and reformed themselves to life within the bounds of the law. If that’s not the case, then they’ll end up back in prison.
What we’ve done, though, is create an entire classification of crime — the sex offense — that is considered so especially heinous that the people who are convicted of it are essentially branded for life. And the consequences of receiving such a classification are quite severe. Typically, they aren’t allowed to work around children, live in the same home as a child, or live within a certain distance from a school or other place where children gather. Depending on the type of offense, they may also be barred from owning or using a computer or accessing the Internet.
Viscerally, there is a certain amount of logic to this. Our society, like any other healthy society, is protective of it’s children (some might argue overly protective, but I won’t address that argument here). When someone harms a child in this way, the gut reaction of most people, including myself, is to do whatever it takes to punish them and make sure they can never do it again.
The problem is that we’ve gotten to the point where the type of offense that can lead to someone being branded a child sex offender has become so broad and all encompassing that it snares the innocent act along with the cunning pedophile, and the Genarlow Wilson case is a prime example. Thanks to the Georgia Supreme Court, Wilson will not have to worry about spending the rest of his life branded with the scarlet letter of someone who has abused a child (a ridiculous designation under the facts of his case). However, had the Court not intervened, he would have not only spend the next eight years in prison, he would have spent the rest of his life branded a sex offender, all because he had oral sex with his girlfriend when he was 17.
The question is — how many other Genarlow Wilson’s are there out there ?