At least 62 convicted but accidentally released sex offenders walked free on Michigan streets for days between May 22 and 24. Due to misclassifications during their release evaluations, the prisoners were released without enrollment in a parole program. Some of the prisoners may have been ready for release, but others may have been recommended for further observation before their release. Though it’s being portrayed as an innocent mistake, the accidental release of these prisoners illustrates the danger of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposed early release program.

To cut down inmate population, Granholm initiated a plan to release prisoners once their minimum sentence had been completed. While saving money is a laudable goal, if the actual result is the repeated bungling of prisoner releases, this plan becomes a serious danger to the state’s residents. When the Department of Corrections’s incompetence allows a security breach like this, the safety of innocent, unknowing residents is at stake.

The releases in question were the result of two psychologists misclassifying these sexual predators in a fourth category, instead of one of the three expected categories — parole, outpatient or inpatient. And while the sex offenders were returned to prison within a few days after their accidental release, it was clear that in the days between the events, no one in the Department of Corrections knew what was going on. When asked, officials gave varying numbers for how many prisoners had been released.

These sexual predators were free for days. Though they were wearing electronic tethers that were being monitored, they were not enrolled in any sort of parole program. And as far as I know, a tether that alerts officials when a child molester approaches a child hasn’t been invented yet.

The released sex offenders weren’t people convicted of some controversial statutory rape charges. They ranged from child molesters to rapists. And they walked freely down the streets for days.

According to the Department of Corrections, these rapists and molesters didn’t commit any additional crimes while released. But it’s unclear on what grounds this conclusion was reached. Less than 40 percent of all rapes were reported in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and this number is even lower for attempted rapes. Less than 20 percent of molested adolescents tell an adult, according to the 1995 National Survey of Adolescents. If any of these scumbags tried to force themselves on someone else, chances are good the assault remains unreported.

Victims of sexual assault are afraid of their attackers. And those brave enough to fight to have their attackers put in prison deserve the satisfaction of some sense of safety. There’s even a website that allows victims in Michigan to track the status of their assailant. The distress that the victims of the 62 released predators must have felt is unimaginable. Knowing there was nothing but an electronic tether between them and their worst nightmare could have had horrible psychological effects on them. And that’s not taking into account the possibility of new victims.

In 1995, a study from the National Survey of Adolescents found that 13 percent of girls and 3.4 percent of boys had been molested. And about 17.6 percent of women have been sexually assaulted, with the percentage hovering between 20 and 25 for college co-eds, according to a 2006 Department of Justice survey. These numbers are staggering. The last thing this country needs is to see those numbers rise. And if “innocent mistakes” like this prison release start happening frequently, that is easily what could happen.

Surprisingly, Republicans in the state House of Representatives seem to be the only ones making noise over this incident. They are calling for the elimination of the program. But surely there should be more outrage over the release of at least 62 depraved men. If the released prisoners had been murderers, wouldn’t there be more anger?

People place their trust in the Department of Corrections to keep perverts behind bars. Thanks to the carelessness of two psychiatrists and the disorganization of the Michigan prison system, the department has failed. Until failures like this one are eliminated, Granholm’s early release program has to be tabled. It’s not worth the risk.

Erika Mayer is the summer assistant editorial page editor.

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