State looks to tighten sex offender screening

Nearly 1,400 screened were rearrested


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As a way to keep the public safe, the Department of Children and Families are working with state lawmakers to strengthen the state's Sexually Violent Predator Program. The recommendations are gathering support from both republicans and democrats.

State lawmakers are scrambling to make sure the most dangerous sexual predators are not victimizing the state's most vulnerable people.

"First of all, we want to make sure that the public is protected," said Democratic Sen. Eleanor Sobel.

The Department of Children and Families is recommending changes to the state's Sexually Violent Predator Program. The department released a 40-plus page copy of the recommendations early Monday afternoon.

"I want it to be as tight as we can to protect our youngsters. That's all there is to it," said Republican Sen. Alan Hays.

In Jacksonville, sexual predator Donald James Smith allegedly killed 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. Smith was released from jail three week prior to the murder. He had been in and out of special prisons for sex offenders.

An investigation released earlier this year shows that nearly 1,400 people screened under the current law were re-arrested on sex charges.

Lawmakers say it's now their place to make sure sexual predators remain behind bars.

"All of us believe something should be done. I believe the penalties will be longer," Sobel said.

Senators say it's a bi-partisan plan and they will take DCF's suggestions very seriously.

"I can't imagine anybody not being in favor," Hays said. "Forget any party affiliations, this is a human issue."

Nearly 700 sex offenders are being kept past their sentences because they are considered a danger to society.

A Senate committee is set to meet Tuesday morning to further discuss possible changes.