It's difficult to say what's more disturbing about the system for protecting Floridians from sexual predators:
But just as disturbing is that no agency in Florida, no lawmaker, no one, was aware of the extent of this problem until it was brought to light in August by the reporting of Kestin and Williams.
"Sometimes," said Department of Children and Families interim secretary Esther Jacobo, "the media is able to shine a light on something that might have been missed and focus everything."
But the agencies, and the lawmakers, have now read plenty about the problem. They have heard from outraged Floridians.
And in a nonpartisan way, the lawmakers have pledged to put the issue at the top of the legislative agenda for the next session.
Already, there has been action. Dan Montaldi, the DCF administrator in charge of identifying sexual predators too dangerous to be released back into society, resigned after the Sun Sentinel raised questions about his views and record.
Florida legislators were riled that Montaldi made comments urging his mental health peers to stand up for the rights of sex offenders, perhaps to the detriment of public safety.
There will be multiple bills brought up in the next legislative session to address the sentencing and monitoring of sexual predators, and how to better identify them and protect the public.
Because of a review of Florida's Sexually Violent Predator program released last week, Jacobo ordered some immediate changes to the program, including:
Expanding the offenses that trigger an automatic psychological evaluation — murder and kidnapping — to include attempting kidnapping and attempted murder;
Requiring screeners to forward cases to courts whenever questions arise about whether a sex offender should remain confined;
Shortening contracts with outside psychologists hired to evaluate offenders from three years to one.
Lawmakers say plenty more changes are coming, too.
A particular focus will be strengthening and getting rid of loopholes in the Jimmy Ryce Act, which requires the state to evaluate convicted sex criminals before their release and recommend for civil detainment those who have a mental disorder that makes them likely to re-offend.
"The holes in the Jimmy Ryce Act are gaping," state Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, told the Sun Sentinel. "We've got to plug those gaps, and I don't think we should stop there."
Lawmakers said they were shocked to learn that hundreds of sex offenders released under the Ryce law had gone on to hurt more women and children, many in unspeakable ways.
Don Ryce and his wife, Claudine, lobbied for the law after their fifth-grade son, Jimmy, was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Juan Carlos Chavez in south Miami-Dade County in 1995.
"It's quite obvious that a lot of the worst of the worst are getting out," Don Ryce said in an interview at his Vero Beach home. "That's not what was intended."
"I never dreamed that there were so many sex offenders that were let go," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. "We can't send these people out on the streets anymore. They need to stay where they belong — in prison."
"We need to keep child molesters away from children," said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz. "It's just that simple. We don't need to hold six months of hearings to know that we have a problem."
It's good to hear Florida lawmakers vow to address the problem and make sure necessary changes get made.
They say this critical issue will get their focus from the start of the next legislative session. For safety's sake, the public must hold them to that promise.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun