Senate committees review Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act

Cherish Perrywinkle case prompts lawmakers to review sex offender law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday two state senate committee panels will review the Jimmy Ryce Act, a law formed in the late 90s to keep violent sexual predators behind bars so that they cannot commit more crimes.

The law is named after Jimmy Ryce, a South Florida boy who was raped and murdered in 1995. 

The Jimmy Ryce Act makes it harder for violent sex offenders to get out of jail, calling for inmates with sex offense histories in Florida to be reviewed by the Department of Corrections, the Department of Children and Family Services  and the state attorney's office to determine the inmate's risk for re-offense. 

Upon release, inmates with sex offense histories are evaluated and subject to civil proceedings as well as a commitment to a secure facility for treatment.

Lawmakers are reviewing the Act as the Jacksonville community continues to heal from the June abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. Police said Perrywinkle's accused attacker, Donald Smith, was a registered sex offender and killed Perrywinkle just three weeks after being released from jail.

Tuesday the Department of Children and Families will go before the Senate Committees to discuss the recommendations on how the Jimmy Ryce Act can be strengthened. DCF presented lawmakers with a 40 pages of recommendations on how to strengthen the law. An investigation revealed that close to 600 sexual offenders were released under the current law and then convicted of new sex offenses.

Local lawmakers spoke to Channel 4 about the law and what needs to change.

"We have to figure out a way to do it that the judge is not going to throw it out and say this is not constitutional," said Senator Aaron Bean. "But do it in a way that's going to make the public safe and in a way that the public is aware of what's happening."

"Obviously a civil process is different from a criminal process. Should they be combined? Is the right treatment, is it truly rehabilitative?" questioned Senator Audrey Gibson. "If it's not, what actions do we need to take to make sure that criminally convicted sexual offenders stay behind bars?"

Some of the recommendations include changing policies and procedures from screening people and retraining screeners.