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On the Everlasting Punishment of Offense

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Written by Basil on 05/24/2005 7:46 PM. Filed under:

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Morning Coffee on the Sex Offender Registry

What constitutional rights do convicts retain once they have paid their debt to society? Do they ever pay their debt to society, or is it licit to punish them until the end of their natural life, even if their sentence was only a certain number of years in prison? Is it possible to repent, or is one forever a thief, a pedophile, a rapist?


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8 Responses to “On the Everlasting Punishment of Offense”

  1. Jim N. Says:

    Good questions. I’ve been mulling this over since I discovered today that a convicted child molestor lives one end of my block and a person convicted of 2nd degree, violent rape lives on the other. We’re in the middle. I’m really not sure what to think at the moment…

  2. Erich Says:

    “Once a thief, always a thief, what you want you always steal…” Can’t help but think of Les Miserables when this issue comes up. However, that was obviously a different sort of crime. Sex offense often involves an extremely (absurdly) high recidivism rate because the problem is usually deep and psychologically addictive. So, statistically, it makes sense to tag them forever, cuz the odds are greatly in favor of repetition of their crime. Also, responsibility is a hard thing to adjudicate. Of course, the offenders will be responsible for their crimes all of their lives.

    All that being said, I’m not a hundred percent behind these types of lists. In theory at least, one must be at least given the option of paying for his crime in some finite way. It seems very problematic the way things are set up. That’s my inner liberal speaking. My inner conservative says I have a pregnant wife who weighs only slightly more than 100 lbs and a convicted sex offend a few houses down the block (a fact which one of my neighbors was quick to point out on the second day after I moved into my house). My principled stand would be to say that this is bad. We have to at least allow people a second chance after committing a crime, or we’re in a really bad place. My visceral stand would be to shoot first and shelve the principles. This is a tricky one, to put it mildly. It was much easier for me to be principled about this issue before I was married. Now, I can’t figure out which way to go. Still, if I were ever to repress a Jean Valjean, as I would by default for supporting this approach, then it would bother me to no end.

  3. James Says:

    I think law abiding citizens have a right to know if someone in their area could pose a threat to them, but on the other hand I think there are a few flaws to the whole sex offender registry thing. For one thing, I think that as soon as the words “registered sex offered” are spoken most people, including myself, immediately think, “Pedophile;” however, anyone who is convicted of any kind of sex crime, including the 18-year-old convicted of statutory rape of his 17-year-old girlfriend, must register with the local authorities and can be put on that list. I think the registry puts everyone under the same condemnation, which is unfair and probably unconstitutional (if only that old piece of parchment meant anything anymore).

  4. Basil Says:

    “I think law abiding citizens have a right to know if someone in their area could pose a threat to them….”

    This strikes me as a privilege, not a right. It strikes me as peculiar to say that I am endowed by our Creator with the right “to know if someone in [my] area could pose a threat to” me, a right which the state and federal governments may or may not be infringing by not providing such information to me. Even so, the question is still, what rights are retained by convicts after they have served the term of their sentence? If the right to privacy is retained, then does the interest of the people in safety and protection make the infringement of the former convict’s right to privacy licit?

  5. Basil Says:

    “‘Once a thief, always a thief, what you want you always steal…’ …if I were ever to repress a Jean Valjean, as I would by default for supporting this approach, then it would bother me to no end.”

    I think this is the heart of my questioning this practice, but I agree with your ambivalence, too. The majority must always be acting with a moral conscience toward the needs of the minority, according to conservative political philosopher Michael Novak, otherwise democracy simply becomes tyranny of the majority. I am not sure identifying your ambivalence with left and right is necessarily accurate, though it is true to the real meaning of liberality to question the virtue of this program.

    Of course, you probably hold the same views I do on the use of “liberal” and “convervative,” so I’m probably preaching to the choir.

  6. Erich Says:

    Yes, I am the choir. When I use the terms liberal and conservative, they have nothing to do with contemporary American politics. They just seemed to overlap at this point. However, I am far enough into my own world that I often don’t realize that people don’t have the same definitions of these terms in their heads that I have in mine.

  7. pete Says:

    I was troubled to find a friend of mine from elementary school, in wilmore (though he lives in the 40356 zip code) on this list.

  8. James Says:


    Well, it’s refreshing that you don’t demonize sexual sins to the exclusion of other sins like so many people in our society. I should point that out Sex crimes are of course particularly heinous especially when minors are involved, but so many people focus on the evil of sexual sins while ignoring other sins.