The Jimmy Ryce Act, Florida, USA protects children from molesters

The Jimmy Ryce Act, Florida, USA protects children from molesters

When 10-year old Jimmy Ryce, barely a fortnight away from his 11th birthday, got off his school bus on September 11th 1995 and walked home, his life changed forever. The little boy was forced into a truck at gunpoint, sexually assaulted, and then shot in the back of the head by Juan Carlos Chavez. His lifeless body was then decapitated and dismembered. Police would later recover his remains during a search of Chavez’s trailer. Devastated by their son’s untimely and senseless death, family and friends worked with full cooperation of the community to ensure that sex offenders like Chavez would be legally subjected to evaluation to ensure their level of threat to society at large, if released from prison. The result of their efforts bore fruit in the form of the Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators Treatment And Care Act.

The Act was passed by Florida legislature on May 19th, 1998, and was signed by then-Governor Lawton Chiles; it became official and effective from January 1st 1999. As per the Act, those inmates with a history of sexual offenses, especially against minors, will be psychologically evaluated by Florida’s Department of Corrections, the Department of children and family service, along with legal professionals, all of whom will assess their ability to repeat their previous offenses. In order to further prevent those inmates at risk of repeat offending from being released into free society, the Act calls for them to be transferred into secured facilities after they have served their time in prison, which specifically work towards rehabilitating and monitoring known and convicted sex offenders.

The Act generated both applause as well as criticism, given that it did not specify a time period during which the risky inmates were to be kept in the secure facility. The general prison attitude towards known sex offenders has always been known to be one of great disdain, and a number of inmates have been attacked and even murdered due to their crimes becoming public knowledge. Funding issues ensured that actual counseling time during which offenders would be tested and evaluated, was restricted to only 5 hours a week, thereby lengthening the duration of their stay at the facility. This not only caused wastage of funds, but also caused considerable overcrowding and other management issues at the facility. The issues were later addressed and resolved by 2009 in a court of law.

The most valuable aspect of the Jimmy Ryce Act in context with protecting children from sexual abuse, is its ability to recognize the rehabilitation needs of sex offenders, and their ability to re-offend, if not treated properly. Perhaps India, which is slowly but steadily acknowledging the prevalence of abuse, this Act could serve as a reminder to law making authorities to not merely subject a sex offender to jail, but to ensure that they receive appropriate psycho-social counseling, and if required remain in jail or another facility if they are found to be capable of additional violent acts. As with other laws in the USA which deal strictly with child molestation, the Jimmy Ryce Act serves to reinstate the country’s respect for it’s younger citizens, and its ability to get to the root of sexual violence.

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