An online petition calling for better laws to protect children from sex offenders named for an 8-year-old Jacksonville victim is gaining signatures.
"Cherish's Law" would carry the name of the girl abducted from a Walmart, raped and murdered in June. Donald Smith, the man charged in her murder, has a long criminal history of sexual abuse toward young children.
Late Monday afternoon, the petition calling for stricter laws on repeat sexual offenders has more than 1,600 signatures. By 9:30 p.m., there were nearly 2,000 -- the goal set for the petition drive.
"We can't let our children become victims. The petition is out there. Sign it online," said Sara Magill, who supports the drive. "Why does the court system keep letting them go through again and again and again? I don't get it. I think there's people with lesser charges who stay in jail for a long time and this is so serious."
In two days, criminal justice experts and members of the public will meet here at City Hall for a legislative town meeting to help answer that very question. The meeting will be hosted by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Nassau County, who says the statistics are shocking.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, more than 15,000 sex offenders are currently incarcerated in Florida. The Florida Department of Corrections also provides probation and parole services for more than 7,000 offenders. Thousands of those cases involved victims younger than 12.
Adkins says one of the things lawmakers will consider is the issue of parole once sex offenders are released from jail.
"We're going to look specifically as to what is involved in community supervision; who's conducting the supervision," said Adkins. "Are they actually trying to understand what these individuals are thinking to determine if they are a public safety risk? Or are they simply, making contact and checking off their list?"
Mark Lunsford, whose daughter Jessica was kidnapped and killed by a sex offender back in 2005, said that current laws are good ones, they just need to be better enforced. A law named after his daughter requires lifetime monitoring of sex offenders.
"We can advocate for what is created," Lunsford said of the current petition drive. "We can advocate for that and keep up with it, and find out if it's working."
To read and sign the petition, visit thepetitionsite.com.