Cracking down on sex offenders justified but compassion also warranted

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, January 27, 2009

By Staff
As evidenced in Sunday’s Daily News, Beaufort County is among 10 northeastern North Carolina counties with a high number of registered sex offenders as compared to other counties in the state.
That’s a disturbing and not easily explained phenomenon, one that should be examined further.
According to the most recent statistics compiled by the North Carolina Sex Offender &Public Protection Registration Programs and 2007 U.S. Census Population Bureau, Beaufort County has the 11th highest rate of sex offenders per capita in the state. But even more puzzling is that Beaufort borders three counties among the top 20 for sex offenders per capita: Martin ranks fifth, Hyde ninth and Washington 14th in the state.
Bertie County ranks first in the state: For every 358 people living there, one is a registered sex offender.
Beaufort County has one registered sex offender for every 538 residents.
So what’s going on?
There are several different theories: Law enforcement agencies are doing a superb job identifying and arresting sex offenders, and/or the rural areas that dominate the affected counties are havens for sex offenders wishing to remain inconspicuous.
As Washington County Sheriff James Ross said in Sunday’s article: “It means we’re either really good at what we do, or there’s some really nasty people.”
Most likely it’s a combination of the two.
We applaud Beaufort and our sister counties for proactively keeping tabs on sex offenders.
Recent state law requires sexual offenders to report changes in their living status and appearance within three days — they used to have 10 days. We applaud this change, and believe it should help prevent repeated offenses.
But while law enforcement officials must remain diligent and dedicated to finding and arresting sexual offenders, there’s another side of the story that we would be remiss in ignoring: Registered sex offenders who are sincerely repentant and have paid their debt to society — through jail time, ostracism from society, loss of jobs, psychological counseling, etc. — must be allowed to live free of harassment.
Offenders must live someplace, after all, and they could very well be in your town. While their offenses strike people as particularly devastating because many involve defenseless children, they must be allowed to turn their lives around as would any of us who have failed in the past and realized our transgressions.
We urge law enforcement agencies to continue to brainstorm ways to safeguard our communities from sexual predators, while simultaneously helping offenders become productive members of society.