The interim Secretary for Florida’s Department of Children and Families is calling for changes to the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Program.
A review of the program, which is used to screen sex offenders and predators and recommend whether they should be confined indefinitely or released, began shortly after Secretary Esther Jacobo took office. It comes amid calls for change in Florida’s sex offender laws which have surface since we learned the man believed to be responsible for the abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle is a sex offender.
The nearly 50 page report gives an in-depth look at the history of the program, current practices and some results. The review panel who conducted the review also offer forward a series of recommendations, many of which Jacobo says she will recommend to lawmakers heading in to the next legislative session.
Despite the recommended changes, however, the panel points out that “the SVPP selection process is imperfect” and will remain so because of the significant human element through the process and need to examine case-by-case. The goal, therefore, was not to eliminate errors but to figure out which errors were most prevalent and reduce that as much as possible.
One of the most significant errors uncovered was actually the tendency of examiners to refer low-risk offenders to commitment. There are several statistical analyses put forward to support the claim that a significant number of “false alarms” are raised each year.
Many of the other errors link to questions on the scope of the program. The panel wants “evaluations” to be done to more offenders. As an example, they recommended an evaluation be automatic for any offender who is convicted for a case that is an “attempted” murder or kidnapping, not just if they commit the act. They also want guidelines put forward for the evaluations and more face-to-face interaction between the evaluators and the subjects.
Further, the panel recommends there be less restrictive alternatives added to Florida laws.
“In Florida, an offender is either committed indefinitely or released. There is no middle ground,” reads the report.
The panelists think if there were a third options, possible something including conditional release, probation, etc, it would better help evaluators classify the potential risk and needs of an offender. Further, they recommend a timeline for completing the commitment program as well as a more supported transition back in to the community. Jacobo did not include any of these recommendations in her memo relating to the study.
DCF has declined to comment on the study and its results.