Americans allow prisoners in its penitentiaries to get raped, despite the fact that it is a blatant violation of the prisoners’ civil rights. They even tolerate TV shows making light of the situation, which is a human rights scandal: how many times have you heard the FBI agent or police in shows like “Law and Order” or “The Mentalist” taunt an arrested criminal with the prospect that he will soon be a prison sex-toy? Never mind: American don’t really care about the abuse of prisoners. Similarly, the nation is systematically making it impossible for convicted sex offenders who have served their time to live a normal life anywhere. They might as well be in prison. Well, except then they might get raped.
Now, in addition to schools and parks, sex offenders—who might just be someone arrested for urinating in public, or an 18 year-old who had consensual sex with 15-year-old—can’t use libraries in Knox County, Tennessee. Those listed on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry have been banned from visiting county libraries under an executive order issued Monday by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. They can still use the county library system’s online services and have a proxy check out and return materials on their behalf. If caught inside the buildings, however, they face arrest. “I just don’t want them anywhere around our kids,” Burchett said. “The ultimate decision is how we pursue it. I want to get out in front of this. There’s no need to toil around with it. I don’t want them anywhere around our kids.”
If anyone is aware of a prior problem with children being molested at public libraries, I’d like to know about it. There haven’t been such incidents in Knox County. Parents have just decided there, as they have elsewhere, that “not in my back yard” can and should be applied to human beings, especially those who have few advocates and no powerful allies. And as for the former sex offender who has served his debt to society and sincerely wants to start anew, be part of a community, and enjoy the rights of being a citizen of the United States? He’s out of luck. Eh, who cares? He’s just a pervert, right?
The treatment of former sex offenders who have served out their sentences is no less than persecution, justified, as so many abuses of government power are, by concern for children. This is an ends justifies the means solution in which the means are unconscionable. Let’s designate a level of sex offender status that warrants permanent custodial oversight, and allow the rest to serve their sentences and rebuild their lives, like other former felons. America’s principles do not permit it to have an “untouchable” class, but that is what fear and callousness are creating, in Tennessee and elsewhere.