Striking or mistreating a child to the point of permanent damage is an outrageous act of inhumanity that deserves serious punishment, not just a slap on the wrist.
Proposed new state legislation sponsored by Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, and Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, is the appropriate fix to what is now a clear injustice.
The legislation would significantly increase the penalty for repeat child abusers and deserves bipartisan support.
Called Jay J.'s Law after Jay J. Bolvin, a 2-year-old who was beaten badly as an infant by his father, it would nearly double the prison time allowed for a child abuser's second offense. The current maximum of four years in prison would become seven years.
The law would have no effect on a case such as that of 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud, who was beaten to death in his Buffalo home. The boy's stepfather, Ali Mohamed Mohamud, is charged with the much more serious felony of second-degree manslaughter.
For little Jay J., the result of the abuse he suffered amounts to a life sentence of developmental difficulties.
Doctors have told his family that Jay J. suffered 11 separate fractures in his body from the beatings by his father, as News staff reporter Gene Warner recently wrote. The toddler still doesn't speak and has been diagnosed with a serious seizure disorder called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Family members say that developmentally he's somewhere around 12 months old.
The father who beat him, Jeremy Bolvin of North Tonawanda, received a mere 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison. And this was in light of the fact that he previously had been convicted of third-degree assault for breaking the arm of another of his sons in 2006, when that child was 6 months old.
Jay J.'s grandparents, Joseph and Tabitha Retzer, now have custody of the boy.
As incredible as it seems that someone would repeat such a brutal crime and then face such a light sentence, Jay J.'s great-uncle, Kevin Retzer, does not fault Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza. The judge did her part, giving Bolvin the strictest sentence available to her last August.
That shortcoming in state law has created what Kennedy referred to as a "repulsive situation."
The proposed law's four basic provisions would go far toward correcting the current injustice. In addition to stiffening the maximum term for child abusers with previous convictions to up to seven years in prison, the proposed law would expand the window for previous convictions to the prior 10 years, instead of the three now in effect.
It also would stiffen penalties for third-time offenders to up to 25 years in prison, and would allow some severe cases to be prosecuted as first-degree assaults, which also could result in prison terms of up to 25 years.
"We realize it's not going to benefit Jay J., but I don't want anyone's child victimized, a family across the street or a family across the state," said Kevin Retzer. State lawmakers should grab this chance to help children in the state.