H. L. Mencken once opined, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”.
The truth in that statement often results in policy makers exaggerating the need for their existence, discounting objective data and at times solving problems that don’t exist.
Then Governor Pawlenty’s actions, redacting major portions of a legislatively commissioned report on treatment of Minnesota Sex Offenders, is the most recent example. The report, while compiled by people who actually work with sex offenders, and who most people would consider experts, did not gel with Pawlenty’s political ambitions, or his intuitive beliefs. And since he held the bully pulpit, he, or his minions, decided what the legislature, and by extension the public, should hear.
Now, at least one of our elected representatives has suggested castration as a punishment. Perhaps this amused his committee, or the people he represents, but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Constitution, and its’ protections against cruel and unusual punishment, knows better. And I would guess that Introductory State Representative Class 101 includes some reference to the Constitution. But then maybe he was just playing to the media. When the expert witness told him that there were many motivating factors in why people offended, and testosterone was rarely one of them, he opined, “well it works on the farm”. Unfortunately, his experience suggests he knows as little about farming as he does about sex offenders. Before being elected to the legislature, he sold insurance.
The same committee that was asked to consider castration for sex offenders has also endorsed a proposal to certify 10 year olds as adults in serious criminal cases. It has been brought up for at least the past 4 years, but never passed out of committee before now. No one can ever remember a case where a 10 year old was convicted of the types of crimes covered by the proposed certification provision. The law change is being sought by the parents of a young girl who was tragically murdered by her daycare providers’ 13 year old son. They are more than entitled to be passionate in their quest to make some sense of their daughters’ death, and take steps to assure others don’t suffer a loss like theirs. But putting a 3rd grader in the adult corrections system likely would not have prevented the death of their daughter. The truth is, we can never eliminate risk, we can only manage it. Groups that represent both law enforcement and County Attorneys, along with corrections professionals, behaviorists and experts on the development the adolescent brain have all testified against the proposed law change. The committee passed it nonetheless.
Coincidentally, the committee also endorsed a proposal to make the sale of handguns to adults, who do committ the kinds of crimes referenced above, less cumbersome.
Back in grade school social studies, we learned that we elect our policy makers to represent us, and make difficult, but informed, decisions. We also need them to be courageous, and not pander to the base fears and intuitive quest for simple solutions that we all lean toward. We need them to listen to the experts, not play to the media simply to create a platform from which to skewer their opponents for voting against a law they never intended to pass anyway. In short, we need them to act like adults.
Somebody should pass a law.