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My Turn: 2003 - Year of the Alaska child

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

For a long time Alaska has been all talk and no action. We talk about children first, about making them our priority and yet when we look at the real picture, our children are not coming first. We speak of civil liberties and constitutional rights; all the while we are robbing our children, our very future, of the most basic and fundamental right. The right to be safe. In nature a mother protects her young, to the death if need be. She does not sacrifice her young to a predator in some deluded belief the predator has the right to prey. And yet that is what Alaska does everyday. We sacrifice our children to sexual predators because they have the right to prey.

Everyday our children are being victimized by sexual predators and everyday we are plea-bargaining with those it predators. Sentencing them to minimal incarceration time and releasing them onto our streets with little or no supervision. This is not a fault with the Courts or our Corrections Department. The fault lies with the D.A.'s plea-bargaining policy and with the Legislature for not enacting meaningful penalties for victimizing children.

Under a plea-bargaining policy that puts budgetary concerns above concerns of public safety, Alaska has sold out the safety of its children. District attorney offices statewide take indictments handed down by grand juries and reduce what were initially multiple counts to one, often reduced, charge. Predators of multiple victims are allowed to plead to only one victim. Repeated instances of child rape are often pleaded to one instance of second degree. District attorneys rely on the sentencing phase for justice. After having hamstrung the charges to the point of impotence. With only the one conviction available to be sentenced, the judge is stuck with a max sentence of 10 years versus 30 or more years that he could have imposed if the original charges had gone forward.

The judge is relegated to a role of announcing what the D.A. has already bargained for. Not meting out justice. Combine that with the minimal sentences allowed by statute, and lack of provision for additional probation above and beyond incarceration time, and we are seeing child rapists serving far less than the 10 years D.A.s promise to the victims.

Once the judge is finished suspending a portion of the sentence in order to put a predator on probation, and the Department of Corrections has applied the "good time" mandated by law, a predator will serve far less than the 10 years a victim was lead to believe. Letting these individuals out after mere months in jail does not preserve the public faith in the justice system. And I do refer to these sentences in terms of months because once all the time is taken off a predator spends no more time than a child growing from an infant to a preschooler, 36 months. The damage caused by these predators lasts a lifetime.

There are those who talk the talk. Yet they are unwilling to work to make a difference. It is someone else's job. They don't have the time. They are afraid. Whatever. It is everyone's job to protect our children. It hardly takes anytime at all to e-mail, call or write a legislator. You don't have to be on the front lines to watch a child so some other parent can be. It is never someone else's job to do what you can do yourself. The phone call that you do not make, the e-mail you do not send, and the meeting you do not attend: all of those are helping the predators in Alaska. Your silence, your apathy supports the current situation. Only through action are you a part of the solution. One call, one e-mail, one letter is all you need to make a difference. Five minutes out of your day. Aren't the children of Alaska worth that? Or do you intend to sit in silence and allow it to continue until your child or your friend is the victim? Until then do you not care? Is it not your problem? Can you turn to your child and explain it to them? Why you sat by and did nothing? I know that I cannot.

Won't you join us in telling the Legislature that this is the year of the Alaskan child? This is the year we give our children the first and most fundamental right. The right to be safe.

Theresa Williams of Juneau is president of the organization P.O.P.



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