HI passes on GPS measure for sex offenders

For a state with good treatment programs and low recidivism rates, high-tech, highly invasive strategy seen as unnecessary.

Just about every state is advancing bills aimed at throwing the book at sex offenders. In Hawaii, three such bills were offered but only one passed the House's Judiciary Committee yesterday, the Honolulu Advertiser reports. The one bill that passed would put sex offenders on lifetime parole.

One bill that was deferred would impose lifetime imprisonment without parole for a sexual assault against a child under 10. A proposal to allow judges to sentence offenders to wear GPS devices for up to 10 years after the offense received little support.

Even the bill's sponsor said he didn't expect many parolees to have to wear the devices but wanted it to be an option for judges. "This is only a last resort, in my opinion," State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu said. "In his mind, the convict's mind, he knows he's being tracked," Karamatsu said.

But in Hawaii, there's actually very little justification for a measure that so strongly impinges on one's liberty.

State public defender Jack Tonaki opposed the bill. "Sex offenders are already monitored pretty closely through the registry law and they've got their pictures posted on the Internet and there are all kinds of regulations that already apply to them," he said. "I'm not sure it's necessary to have a GPS locator. I'm not sure what the purpose would be."

Meda Chesney-Lind, a criminology professor at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, said she was ambivalent about "these more draconian approaches to post-sentence punishments" and credits the state's sex-offender treatment program for Hawai'i's even lower recidivism rate.

Even nationally, sex offender recidivism is probably being overstated.

A national study of almost 10,000 sex offenders found that 5.3 percent were arrested for another crime within three years, she said. Looked at another way, she noted, "That means over 90 percent didn't. That's actually a fairly encouraging statistic."

Barry Coyne, who heads the treatment program within the Department of Public Safety, said that GPS would be good in a state like Florida, California or Texas, where there are no treatment programs and a problem with repeat offenders, but said that in Hawai'i, "We don't have that problem."