Attorney General Greg Abbott expressed support Friday for a federal bill that would increase penalties for viewing child pornography and give law enforcement more latitude in investigating "internet crimes against children."
The Child Protection Act of 2012 (S. 3456) increases the maximum prison term to 20 years for the possession of child pornography depicting minors younger than 13. One of the bill's authors is U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who joined Abbott on Friday at an Austin news conference on the bill.
The bill, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, also authorizes courts to issue protective orders for child victims, increases funding for law enforcement investigations of internet crimes and makes it easier for investigators to obtain subpoenas. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law later in the day.
"We've added more tools to the law enforcement toolbox," Abbott said. "We are seeing a stunning and disturbing trend of child pornography where the victims of these predators are under 13."
"I believe in deterrence, and I think tougher penalties make people think twice before they cross that line," Cornyn added. "This is not controversial unless you're a child pornographer."
In the past two years, some federal judges have said that punishments for viewing child pornography are already too harsh and sometimes even extend beyond the punishment for physically abusing a child.
"We're destroying lives unnecessarily," U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein told The New York Times last year. "At the most, they should be receiving treatment and supervision." In a 2010 survey of federal judges by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, about 70 percent said the proposed ranges of sentences for possession and receipt of child pornography were too high. Federal judges issued child pornography sentences below the proposed guidelines 45 percent of the time in 2010.
Mary Sue Molnar, director of Texas Voice for Reason and Justice, which advocates for reforming sex offender laws, said by email that she believes there are better ways to spend the resources that are poised to go toward longer periods of incarceration.
"On the surface, it seems to me that tax dollars should be spent on shutting down these porn sites, locating and shutting down the people who run them, educating the public about how to keep children safe on the internet, etc.," she wrote. "Extending the punishment range (which is already steep) will do nothing to prevent victimization."