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Lawmakers Discuss Strengthening Sex Offender Laws

Karen Feagins

At a hearing Wednesday afternoon at Jacksonville City Hall, state legislators, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals discussed what new legislation might protect children from sexual offenders and predators. 

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the hearing following the June abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

The man accused of Perrywinkle's murder is a repeat sex offender who had been released from jail only about a month before her death.

"I am committed as are my colleagues in the legislature to standing with children and families who deserve a safe environment to call home," she said. "Nothing is more threatening to Florida’s families than predators who lurk in the shadows waiting for the vulnerable and innocent."

Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, made an emotional plea for lawmakers to strengthen sex offender laws.

"If something was done years ago, this wouldn't have happened," she said.

Credit Karen Feagins / WJCT
Cherish Perrywinkle's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle addresses lawmakers.

Several experts said the state should require a risk assessment of offenders before they are released into the community.

The former director of Florida’s Sexually Violent Predator program, Suzonne Kline, told lawmakers that the state could provide better treatment once offenders are released.

She specifically pointed out a need for a transition program to help those who are released from the civil commitment program under the Jimmy Ryce Act. That law allows the state to hold some sex offenders for treatment even after they have served their time for the crime.

"There’s no transitional program to follow up with them in the community," she said.

"These type of people are going to need very intensive case management, monitoring, supervision and treatment. And with those things, the risk substantially is removed."

In the 14 years since the state passed the civil commitment law, nearly 600 people who have been released from the program have committed another sex crime.

Representative Adkins plans to hold similar hearings across the state before filing legislation next session.

Some also cited a lack of community treatment services as a problem once offenders are released.

Karen found her home in public broadcasting after working for several years as a commercial television reporter. She joinedWJCTin 2005 as the host of 89.9 FM’s Morning Edition and has held many different roles at the station in both radio and television. She has written and produced documentaries includingBeluthahatchee: The Legacy of Stetson Kennedy and Jacksonville Beach: Against the Tide and directed the oral history project, Voices of the First Coast.