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August 14, 2008

Sex offender reformation ... for a politician

This new AP story, headlined "Crusading ex-Pa. lawmaker takes in sex offenders," has many interesting elements.  Here is an excerpt:

A former tough-on-crime Pennsylvania lawmaker has adopted a new and unpopular cause, taking into his home three sex offenders who couldn't find a place to live — a stand that has angered neighbors, drawn pickets and touched off a zoning dispute.

As cities across the nation pass ever-tighter laws to keep out people convicted of sex crimes, Tom Armstrong said he is drawing on his religious belief in forgiveness and sheltering the three men until he can open a halfway house for sex offenders. "I think that our system is trying to treat everybody under a particular brand and it doesn't work," he said. "And because of that we're creating housing problems, we're creating employment problems, we're creating community problems, and it's needless and it's not warranted."...

A Republican, Armstrong served 12 years in the Legislature before he was defeated in a primary in 2002.  He was known for taking conservative positions on abortion, taxes and crime but also for his role in later years supporting prisoner rights.  Over the past two decades, he also took in homeless veterans, and more recently he has been a mentor to ex-cons.

The 49-year-old insurance agent said his compassion for people he says are being treated as modern-day lepers stems in part from personal experience: Eleven years ago, he said, his brother was convicted of exposing himself to girls and was jailed.  "My evolution in this whole process, if it's meant to create positive change, then great, I'm all for that," he said.

It is common for politicians to become compassionate about these issues only after their own families or friends have been impacted by the severity of the modern criminal justice system.  Too bad that so many people in power need to have personal bad experiences before becoming compassionate (and sensible) about the need and importance of having society playing a productive role helping former offenders get their lives back in order once released from custody.

August 14, 2008 at 05:08 PM | Permalink

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