The Unforgiven: Sex Offenders Hounded after Prison Communities Erupt in Outrage When Ex-Convicts Return

Article excerpt

A firestorm of hatred greeted child-killer Raul Meza's release from a Texas prison in June. Protesters hounded him and drove him from seven towns.

Finally, Meza retreated to his grandparents' ranch in Uvalde, Texas.

There he remains a virtual prisoner, living with a 24-hour electronic monitor and avoiding neighbors. A few have left anonymous messages, saying they will kill him if they get the chance.

Meza was jailed for the rape and murder in 1981 of an 8-year-old girl in Austin, Texas.

Public outrage over the release of murderers and rapists such as Meza has led to a new twist to an old maxim: If you do the crime, can you ever serve the time?

Meza said in an interview: "I accepted my guilt. I accepted my crime. I did my time. I feel like I'm being made a scapegoat."

Texas and other states have increased penalties for violent crimes. But some hard-core criminals serve their terms and must be freed. When that happens, public reaction can be intense. In response, some states have imposed additional restrictions on ex-convicts - restrictions that face constitutional challenges.

Texas state Rep. Allen Place says he has heard all kinds of suggestions on how to deal with ex-convicts that society doesn't want.

"I've even heard one person suggest that Texas buy an island or a remote part of New Mexico or something and put them all together out there," said Place, who is chairman of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. "It's bizarre."

Meza said that he wanted therapy and other help in prison but that the fledgling sexual offender program was scorned by inmates and correctional officers. "The institution itself is not equipped to handle cases such as mine. It was very inadequate."

Once paroled, he said, he was primed to start receiving counseling. But the protests kept him moving, unable to get help. "They don't have the facilities or the background for people coming out of the penitentiary," he said.

Reactions like the one Meza got are not unusual. Across the country, ex-convicts have been chased from town to town. In July, in suburban Seattle, the home of a soon-to-be-released child rapist was burned.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics sourcebook, a 1991 poll shows that 39 percent of those surveyed thought that vigilantism had increased in the previous decade and 33 percent thought that it was justified at times.

Within the law, communities are imposing increasingly intense supervision on ex-convicts, particularly sex offenders. Twenty-three states now require sex offenders to register, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. …