TOWARD THE bottom of the list of "most wanted" fugitives put out by the Mobile County Sheriff's Office last week was an item that was truly scary: A child rapist, previously imprisoned for five short years, is at large and authorities don't know where he is.
Authorities have lost track of Michael Ray Peavy, 51, who once lived in Theodore but moved about three years ago without telling the sheriff's department where he was going.
Right-thinking Mobilians can appropriately ask why he was let out of prison after only five years, when some property crimes in Alabama can put a thief away for decades. Moreover, why weren't Mr. Peavy's movements monitored better?
Mr. Peavy raped an 8-year-old girl. Sent to prison in 1995, he was released in 2000. He moved to Theodore, duly reporting his address to the Mobile County sheriff, as required by law. But within three years, he had disappeared from law enforcement's radar.
That's unacceptable, and frightening.
Mental health professionals have concluded that no amount of therapy and no amount of punishment can erase a pedophile's perverted obsession. Driven by a sick compulsion to prey on young children, pedophiles will strike again and again if they are not confined.
Mr. Peavy isn't the first pedophile in Mobile to slip underground. Earlier this year, authorities announced they were searching for another, Jessie Michael Brooks II, 38, who disappeared from his Lipscomb Street address where he had lived since being released from prison in 2007. He had been imprisoned in 2003 for sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl.
The histories of Mr. Peavy and Mr. Brooks should alert Alabama officials that pedophiles are getting off too easy. Sentences of four or five years for raping young children don't cut it for such a heinous crime that leaves life-long mental scars on its helpless victims.
Indeed, a person can get 10 to 30 years in federal prison for possessing sexual videos or photos of children. It stands to reason, then, that the penalty for actually assaulting a child deserves a sentence that's at least as long as the sentence for receiving and possessing child pornography. And the chance for parole should be eliminated.
Moreover, the propensity for pedophiles to slip out of sight once released from prison underscores the need not only for longer sentences, but also the need to consider committing particularly heinous pedophiles to indefinite confinement in a mental health facility after their prison sentence is served.
Meanwhile, all sexual offenders deserve scrutiny after being released from prison. That's why restrictions on housing and employment make sense.
In Alabama, convicted sexual offenders can't live or work within 2,000 feet of elementary and high schools. Now state Rep. Jamie Ison, a Republican from Mobile, is trying to broaden this restriction to include college campuses.
The House Judiciary Committee has approved Rep. Ison's bill. Lawmakers would be right to join her in making the bill a law.
Restricting where a sexual offender lives or works doesn't remove the risk posed by offenders such as Mr. Peavy, but it can help protect children and college students.
The likes of Mr. Peavy, though, require even tougher laws. Authorities need to find him and return him to prison.
In the meantime, legislators can toughen the penalties against pedophilia, locking up the worst offenders for the rest of their sorry lives.