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Appropriate sentences

Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra clearly was troubled by a defendant he sentenced on Monday. He ordered the 40-year-old Barnesville man be imprisoned for the maximum term allowable, five years.

The man had been found guilty of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, a third-degree felony. His victim was 12 years old.

In addition to serving a prison sentence, the man will have to register as a sex offender for 25 years.

This was not his first offense, however. Previously, he had been convicted on a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual contact with a minor.

And, as Vavra noted in court, “There’s no showing of genuine remorse …”

Vavra said that, in this defendant, “there appears to be an unhealthy and uncontrollable impulsive attraction to minors.”

Yet the man will be free in five years.

Many convicted sex offenders make sincere and often successful attempts to turn their lives around. But some do not, and it is appropriate to ask whether their potential victims, especially children, are being protected against them adequately.

One myth about sexual offenders is that the recidivism rates for them are higher than those for people convicted of other types of crime, according to a federal Office of Justice Programs study.

But the recidivism rates for sex offenders are troubling: 5 percent commit new crimes within three years of leaving prison, while 24 percent do within 15 years, according to the OJP.

State officials in both Ohio and West Virginia should be taking a fresh look at how sex offenders are handled. Should some be sentenced to longer prison terms than permitted under current law? Should effective treatment programs be mandated?

Answers to those questions need to come from professionals with the knowledge and experience to provide unbiased, expert information, of course. Unease over specific situations is not a good foundation on which to make judgments.

But the questions should be asked, perhaps by state legislators.

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