Thursday, November 8, 2018

when incremental change is not incremental

After Tuesday's elections, ACLU Deputy National Political Director Udi Ofer tweeted,
When I saw that, I was happy. I understood that people convicted of murder and sex offenses were not included but I was happy that so many others with felony convictions would be able to vote in Florida. After all, of the over 6 million Americans disenfranchised because of felony voting restrictions, almost a quarter are in Florida. 

Then I read the multi-part Twitter thread from Joshua Hoe, host of the Decarceration Nation podcast.

He begins:
1. Look @johnlegend @VanJones68 @UdiACLU @ClintSmithIII @JFormanJr I am not trying to be the Grinch here...It is AMAZING that 1.4 MILLION of my brothers and sisters in incarceration can vote again. I understand the racial legacy & it is a Great day! 
Imagine the joy of those who have been prevented from voting! Now they can vote against candidates who would work against their interests. Now they can vote for those who will work for them.

Now they have a voice.
2. However, the WAY this was done is extremely problematic, it turned Triage into throwing people under the bus and then driving the bus over them until they were [erased]. Don't believe me, listen to the people saying ALL formerly incarcerated folks were re-enfranchised today
The celebration of re-enfranchisement made no mention of those left behind. Those who still do not have the right to vote in Florida are not seen as worthy of notice. 
3. I suspect, the people in Florida sentenced to murder and sex offense charges are wondering if they even get to be considered to have carceral citizenship now (to quote @reubenjmiller)
Udi Ofer trumpeted the end of "150 years of a Jim Crow law that deprived the vote" but it is not ended at all.

Joshua Hoe continues:
4. This objection isn't an attack on incrementalism, it is about HOW we create models FOR incrementalism. 
Explain to me a pathway back to the franchise for people convicted of murder or any sex offense after Amendment 4? An amendment just for these folks? No way that happens
Those convicted of certain felonies would not be included. As usual. Except not as usual.
5. Many of you oppose the #FirstStepAct but at least I can tell you the pathway to expanding it after it is passed.  
After Amendment 4 there is no path to expansion that makes political sense.
How many in your community would sign petitions demanding that rapists and murderers be allowed to vote...because that is the way those petitions would be represented by the opposition and the press would be unable to resist those juicy headlines.
Fewer allies, indeed. We have all seen that Those People are easy to ignore, easy to use as the pawn in criminal justice reform efforts.

A politician can work toward reform more effectively if she can demonstrate that she is still tough on crime. That demonstration is made much simpler when laws provide easy categories to separate the acceptable from the unacceptable: violent vs. nonviolent, murderers and sex offenders vs. everyone else.

As long as the reformers have a pawn to sacrifice, reformers can claim incremental successes. As long as those convicted of murders and sex offenses are kept occupied with problems finding housing and employment, they are vulnerable to criminal justice reformers willing to sacrifice them and their families.

As long as they cannot vote, they have no voice.

Florida's Amendment 4 is not a legislative bill that can be easily changed later when the political environment will allow it. This is not something that can be fixed by sliding a wording change into a maintenance bill when constituents are distracted by more urgent headlines.
7. So, moving forward, I am only suggesting  
a) Triage can make sense but ritual sacrifice is a dangerous model
b) We need to remember that these folks need help, & have NO  allies to unite with to gain rights back now
c) We should call on all the new voters to come back & help
8. I will now shut up and go back to talking about other more positive things.  
I am not trying to rain on the parade, I am trying to suggest the job is not finished and that there were dangers in this approach. [My emphasis.]
The dangers in this approach stem directly from the existence of the sex offender registry. The registry does the sorting for legislators and reformers who need to prove they are tough on crime. Need a dog to kick? Look to the registry.

The registry provides a list of people to fear.

As long as the registry exists, no amount of data will convince the general public that registrants are not to be feared. After all, if there is a list, there must be a reason, right? Why would there be a list if those people are not dangerous?

As long as the registry exists, legislators will find more crimes to add to that category. Do not underestimate the need for legislators to prove that they hate a despised category of criminal.

Abolishing the registry removes the easy categorization it provides, the easy demonization it encourages.

Joshua Hoe is correct. Criminal justice reformers must choose their methods more carefully.

It isn't incremental if no increments remain. 

Abolish the registry.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Valor Village

Valor Village provides a wonderful service:
Valor Village Foundation, Inc. is a non profit organization that has been established to provide a network of safe, comfortable homes (Staytions) where families of incarcerated military veterans can stay free of charge. There is nothing more important than consistent support during confinement. Valor Village ensures that you can be there for visits, court proceedings, and legal meetings without the crippling housing costs. 
If you know families with a family member who is an incarcerated veteran, pass this information along to them.

Updated November 3:
As Two States East said, this is a growing program. I contacted Valor Village myself and Angela Johnson, executive director said,
...we provide advocacy information and support to family members, regardless of their location. Our Support Service number is (202) 476-9058.  
Support is critical to empowering family members to effectively care for themselves throughout the crisis of their loved one's incarceration, so that they can learn about and leverage all available resources, veterans benefits, and legal options pertaining to justice-involved veterans. 
We will be updating the website soon, but do not want to discourage any family member from calling before we do so.  
Please do include the phone number. Isolation impedes action. We are available 24-7 to take calls. [My emphasis.]
This is a powerful service for families of incarcerated veterans. Many thanks to Valor Village for seeing a need and stepping up to do something about it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

what happens when a state loses track of registrants?

Missouri has lost track of 1,259 people listed on its sex offender registry. Poor Missouri. 

Nicole Galloway, state Auditor discovered the problem. 
Galloway said the findings are “disturbing and alarming.” 
Well, I'd say so! Think of all the additional sex crimes that must be happening in Missouri.
“As it stands the sex offender registry really provides a false sense of security,” Galloway said at a news conference in St. Louis. 
Definitely a false sense of security. Who can depend on a list that isn't even accurate?
Galloway said the audit did not compare compliance rates in Missouri with other states, nor did it examine if non-compliant sex offenders committed additional crimes. [My emphasis.]
Hold on, here. They didn't check to see if the missing registrants were committing crimes? If they are worried about public safety, that would have been the first question to answer.

It is almost as if the purpose of the registry has nothing to do with keeping people safe from sex crimes.

Galloway said almost 800 of the missing people are registered under Tier III, the most dangerous category.

Tiers are determined by the crime for which someone was convicted, an automatic "you committed this crime so you belong on this tier." Individual risk assessments are not part of the process at all.

Over time, there is no way for a registrant to show that they pose less risk now that they are employed or now that they have completed therapy or now that they are older or now that they have been law-abiding citizens for decades--none of the factors that can help determine risk are considered. Not when someone is initially placed on the registry and not years later.

Missouri is not the only state losing track of registrants. Wisconsin lost 2,735; Massachusetts lost about 1800.

South Dakota has a list that is almost completely accurate because they lost only 45. You might expect happy news articles about sex offenses being a thing of the past in South Dakota because they know where 98.8 of their registrants are but no, sex offenses still happen there.

Sex offenses still happen, no matter if the people on the registry are compliant or not--and 95% of them are committed by someone not on the registry.
...Galloway said law enforcement officials often cite a lack of resources. She acknowledged that understaffed police agencies face an uphill battle in maintaining the registry.
Taxpayers ought to consider if it is worth throwing more money at sex offender registries that have no effect on the incidence of  sex offenses. Surely there are better ways to spend tax dollars.
“But this is critically important,” [Galloway] said.
Is it, Ms. Galloway? Show me. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

social media and fear-mongering

The fear-mongering never stops.

Here's a headline that will send chills down parental spines everywhere: Predators are using Fortnite to lure kids. Cops say parents need to worry

Fortnite is a very popular video game, with an estimated 45 million players which means millions of parents to frighten. The article is about more than video games; it refers to various social media platforms that should frighten parents. Fortnite and other video games get lumped into the "social media" category because players can talk to each other.
Earlier this week, in announcing the arrests of 24 alleged predators, [New Jersey] state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal warned the public that people looking to take advantage of young teens and children have more options to do so than ever due to the ever-developing landscape of internet communication.
Yes. People play video games on an increasing number of platforms. Players can communicate with strangers who are also playing the game.
"It is a frightening reality that sexual predators are lurking on social media, ready to strike if they find a child who is vulnerable," Grewal said in describing how the 24 suspects were attempting to lure and elicit sex with teenagers. 
Some of them -- a police sergeant, included -- posed as teenagers, themselves.
See, that does sound scary. Creepy men trying to hook up with underage kids.

While it is possible that someone might use video games and social media to find an underage partner, is it really a frightening reality that should worry parents?
The men thought they were chatting with 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls, but were instead talking with detectives with the New Jersey State Police's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Instead of predators looking for kids, it turns out that this is a case of predators looking for adult men to arrest. No kids involved.
The task force trains its detectives to maintain online profiles on apps known for hooking up like Tinder and Grindr.
Law enforcement likes to run sting operations to find "predators" online but are they finding men looking for underage excitement or are they finding men online and then plying them with sexy come-ons, waiting for the victim to express interest before revealing "I'm really only 14"?

An Atlanta case in February 2018 offers some answers. A man arrested in a sting operation called Operation Hidden Guardian, went to trial and was acquitted.
During Operation Hidden Guardian, which launched Nov. 9, investigators posing as children had more than 600 exchanges with people on various online platforms, including social media and chat rooms. In more than 400 of those exchanges, the suspect initiated contact with the “child” and directed the conversation toward sex.
Clearly, law enforcement officers were pulling sting targets into sex-talk, not the other way around.

In 2015, I wrote about a bestiality case in which law enforcement communicated with their target for nearly a year before the target finally gave them what they needed to make an arrest.

It is true that dangers lurk online but perhaps more for unwary adults than for children. Law enforcement runs a sting to create situations that result in an arrest, not to catch people who are already trying to lure children.

The fear-mongering is a by-product of those stings.

Friday, August 31, 2018

dangers of easy community notifications

Computer technology has improved much of our lives. Who wants to return to days of encyclopedias and the library card catalog? As much as we appreciate the easy access to a wealth of information, let's not lose track of the dangers of easy access to data.

Offender Watch is a company that provides a service for law enforcement agencies, contracting with governments to manage sex offender registries. Seventeen states use the Offender Watch network.
Every sheriff's office and registering police department, as well as state corrections and public safety officials, will use the technology to share records on sex offenders and communicate with agencies in Maryland and other states. 
"We transfer those records across the network so that all the information collected on that person in Baltimore, Maryland is now transferred to Prince George's County when he moves," OffenderWatch President Mike Cormaci told Stacy Lyn.
Without Offender Watch, maybe the data transfer is manual. Perhaps the new state enters all information from scratch and the originating state deletes the data when they get around to it. To be honest, I am not certain how all of that happens.

What I do know is that when something becomes easy, it is easy to treat the data carelessly.
"My agency saw the need very early to adopt a program that not only allowed our Sex Offender Registry Unit to communicate with our neighboring counties and police departments, but also can communicate in real time with agencies outside of Maryland when potentially dangerous offenders moved into Wicomico County," Lewis said in a statement. "My citizens deserve the most accurate and timely notifications to protect their families." 
But do citizens deserve to spend money on accurate and timely notifications that do not protect their families?

Because over 95% of people on the registry do not commit another sex offense, it is clear that most new offenses are committed by those not on the registry. Lists of people convicted of specific crimes protect no one.

Offender Watch either knows that and chooses to make money by generating fear or they don't know that and should not be in this line of business.
Agencies can share as much or as little information about offenders as they like, so proprietary investigative notes can be kept close to the vest, Cormaci said.
When it is easy to share data across jurisdictions, it is more likely that the data will be shared.
One purpose of their program is to let citizens know with alerts and updates when an offender registers or moves within a specified radius of their address, be it the citizen's home, school, work or anywhere else they or their children spend time.
Not all states require community notification, the practice of sending notices to anyone who lives within a certain distance of a registrant new to the neighborhood.

When it is easy to send out notifications, it is more likely that legislators will think notifications are needed. Companies like Offender Watch benefit from a change that would require those notifications and may actually lobby for that change.

Watch your state legislature so that you can be ready to testify against the need for notifications. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

economy gains from hiring second-chancers

Jeffrey Korzenik, chief investment strategist of Fifth Third Bank, advocates for the employment of those with felony records. In the July 2, 2018 Barron's, he looks at today's economy, and wonders how to maintain growth with a shrinking pool of workers from which to draw. He writes
Until recently, employers had a ready supply of unemployed individuals to fill open positions, but with the jobless rate at 3.8% and the number of openings exceeding the total of job seekers, that avenue is no longer available. Where can we find the additional one million to two million workers we need to keep our expansion on track? 
Our best opportunity is for businesses to make better use of our most underappreciated labor resource: “second-chancers.” This population—those who have paid for mistakes through incarceration or other forms of supervision—offers a path to expand and extend our economic expansion. 
Second-chancers: a wonderful, hopeful way to refer to those who have a criminal record.
Excluding those now in prison, there are over 16 million Americans with a felony record. Many of the crimes occurred decades earlier or would not have been classified as “felonies” in years past. While some of these ex-offenders are already in the workforce, many are not, and even among those who are employed, second-chancers often do not have the job mobility to reach their economic potential. Increasingly, employers are considering this population for hire. [My emphasis.]
He says employers who partner with a re-entry organization have more success in hiring second-chancers.
Identifying which ex-offenders are ready for employment is critical. Nonprofits that support the re-entry of ex-offenders not only provide pre-employment training, counseling, housing, and other services, they also can fill the critical role of helping to identify for employers which of their clients are actually job-ready.
Ongoing support during employment is important, too. Employers who hire second-chancers recognize that this is a cohort that initially lives with financial instability. Employer models of sustaining workers in such straits can range from flexible work hours (e.g., to accommodate meetings with parole officers), to microloans for such needs as car repairs, to providing a “life coach” for employees. Second-chance employers usually have robust relationships with outside organizations that can provide other benefits, including faith-based counseling, after-hours food-pantry access, and transportation. 
All of this may sound like a lot of extra effort for employers. Is it worth it? The companies we’ve studied all talk about their investment in second-chancers as being handsomely repaid with employee engagement, loyalty, and turnover rates that are far lower than industry averages. Two larger-scale studies, one by the U.S. military and another by the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, both provide evidence that, when hired selectively and appropriately supported, second-chancers are superior workers. [My emphasis.]
Those with a sex offense in their history have added difficulties, of course. Some states include places of employment in registry listings, so employers are reluctant to hire someone that would put the employer's address on the registry, too.

Even when places of employment are not on the registry, the common image of sex offenders--dangerous predators plotting their next child molestation sprees--help explain why some employers refuse to consider hiring people who are listed on the registry. The image is wrong, of course. The long-term rearrest rate exceeding 76%  used by Korzenik applies to felons in general, not to those on the registry, who, at around five percent, have the second-lowest recidivism rate.

Hiring second-chancers has an obvious benefit for the second-chancers and their families but Korzenik shows us a larger picture and a larger benefit by talking about the effect on the economy.

In a January 2018 Entrepreneur article, Carol Roth interviews Korzenik about hiring second-chancers. She asked him why it is important to bring people back into the workforce. His answer:
Our biggest fear for the economy is that we essentially run out of labor. To gauge the importance, look at the numbers: over 2 million incarcerated, 4.8 million currently on parole or probation, 19 million with a felony conviction on their record, 70 million with some kind of past interaction with the law. Put those numbers against the reality that, above and beyond natural demographic growth and immigration, to sustain our expansion we need an additional 1.25 million workers each year, you have to recognize that the number of people who are likely out of the workforce, unemployed or underemployed because of this taint is enormous and economically consequential
We are wasting enormous resources, either through the opportunity loss of full labor market participation or through direct costs like the $80 billion spent each year on incarceration.  [My emphasis.]
In Barron's, Korzenik makes his recommendations for employers. He urges those who have successfully hired second-chancers to "spread the word." He says, is important to articulate not just the goal of re-entry, but the method, particularly for the small and medium-size businesses that create the vast bulk of new jobs. Successful private-sector, for-profit models for hiring second-chancers exist and are worth sharing and replicating.
He recommends removing barriers to employment such as licensing or certification requirements. He also recognizes that when federal regulations forbid a business (a financial institution, for example) from hiring someone with a felony record, those businesses can still play a role in the success of second-chancers.
At Fifth Third, we provide funding to many of the workforce development organizations that focus on the formerly incarcerated, support initiatives to create the affordable housing often cited as an obstacle to re-entry, partner with nonprofits to provide financial education and banking services, and fund our research into the business models that actually succeed in employing second-chancers. The bank also worked with our partner NextJob to expand our job-coaching and assistance program to address the unique needs of citizens returning to the workforce from prison.
Offering financial advantages to companies who hire second-chancers is another recommendation.
Existing tax credits for the employers of ex-offenders are beneficial, but short-lived. More ongoing support could be provided through the federal government’s vendor process, which has long sought to redress past barriers by providing set-asides from female- and minority-owned businesses. Businesses that invest in second-chancers could be offered similar advantages.
His last recommendation is hard to argue with:
Recognize success. Business owners who risk their capital and livelihood to provide paths of re-entry for second-chancers are worthy of national recognition, as are their businesses.
Without the registry, it would be far easier for those listed there to re-enter the workforce but Korzenik's point is clear: the economy will suffer without hiring second-chancers. Economic growth is an opportunity for those who need employment. Working with a re-entry or job-training organization can be the key to finding work.

With over 900,000 people on the registry, that means nearly a million people with vastly reduced employment opportunities. Nearly a million that could be contributing--or contributing more--to the continued growth of the American economy.

American businesses need to see that they would benefit from the abolishment of the sex offender registry.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

court-mandated treatment for "bad men" comes with problems

In a Time article titled Can Bad Men Change?, Eliana Dockterman writes about sex offender group treatment. For those who think these are bad people, Dockterman does not disappoint:
They sit in the circle, the man who exposed himself to at least 100 women, next to the man who molested his stepdaughter, across from the man who sexually assaulted his neighbor. The group includes Matt, whose online chats led to prison; Rob, who was arrested for statutory rape; and Kevin, who spent decades masturbating next to women in movie theaters.
Bad people do bad things. The simplistic view. Dockterman's view.

The pattern in the article is consistent: Dockterman brings up something positive about registrants...and then she follows that up with an emotional appeal to our horror of bad men.

Here is an example:
The more than 800,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. may feel that their parole restrictions are onerous, but the mere presence of a known offender in almost any community precipitates clashes of competing interests and legal battles that have only intensified in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In at least 10 recent lawsuits filed in states from Pennsylvania to Colorado, civil rights proponents argue that sex offenders face unconstitutional punishments that other criminals do not, and they note that there are no government registries for murderers or other violent felons in most states. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case challenging the limits of the registry in its October term.
Yes! Those who know someone on the registry see those lawsuits as a move toward the restoration of civil rights for registrants.

Don't get too excited, though. Dockterman's splash of cold water:
But advocates for the millions of women, men and children who have experienced sexual violence are pushing back on any reforms, and 12 states have passed or proposed further restrictions on offenders in the past year. “What most of my clients want is their attacker gone,” says Lisa Anderson, a lawyer who represents survivors of rape. “If I could brand them with a scarlet letter on their forehead I would, because I don’t want any woman hurt like that again.”
Dockterman is willing to quote someone saying that she would like to brand them with a scarlet letter on their forehead without calling out the violence in that particular fantasy, and without pointing out that some of those offenders did prison time because of their fantasies.
Most people find it difficult to reconcile the hope that rehabilitation is possible with the impulse to push these men to the periphery of society forever.
These men. Dockterman will not let go of her disgust for those who committed sex offenses.

Again she quotes Anderson, a victims' advocate who is also a rape victim:
“It’s hard for me to believe that someone could violently ignore the will of another and then be taught not to cross that line,” says Anderson. “But if it’s possible to teach them empathy, then that should be mandatory.”
In three group sessions with registrants, a counselor, and a social worker, has Dockterman seriously not learned that not all registrants ignored the will of another? The writer does not challenge the wildly inaccurate statement from Anderson.

Dockterman acknowledges that people disagree about those who have committed sex crimes:
Sex-offender therapists and victim advocates are often on opposite sides on questions of crime, punishment and rehabilitation, though both ultimately hope to reduce sexual violence. The data on treatment is limited, but what there is points toward the value of therapy. While there are no recent, official statistics on national sex-offender recidivism, an overview of studies looking at the numbers in Connecticut, Alaska, Delaware, Iowa and South Carolina found that the rate is about 3.5% for sex offenders. That figure takes into account all crimes, including parole violations, not just sex crimes.
The reader might see that 3.5% as good news but Dockterman quotes a judge to ensure that readers see things her way:
“Parents of young children should ask themselves whether they should worry that there are people in their community who have ‘only’ a 16% or an 8% probability of molesting young children.”
Dockterman misses every single way that hyperbolic quote is ridiculously dishonest. Children and adults can be victims of sex offenses and there is no way to calculate the risk of an individual registrant. The judge meant only to frighten us with the specter of bad men.

Good people can do bad things and bad men can change--with and without therapy.

Some people who commit sex offenses can benefit from counseling. Granted.

However: Court-mandated therapy and therapy inside a prison are inherently problematic. Therapists, social workers, and probation/parole officers get to decide the goal of the therapy and when therapy is finished.

When a private citizen chooses his therapist and decides what he wants from the therapy, therapy can be beneficial. A registrant ought to be able to choose a therapist who has more empathy for her clients than this:
People have been sharing their problems with Cheryl all her life, even before she was a therapist. [Dockterman earlier identifies Cheryl as a clinical social worker.] During a session, she lets every emotion show, frowning in sympathy and rolling her eyes when patients try to fool her. She began her career working with children who had been abused. When first offered a chance to work with sex offenders, she refused. But she decided to go to a session out of curiosity. “I was like, ‘Oh, God, I’m walking into this group of disgusting, dirty, icky men,” Cheryl says. But when she arrived, the men looked like her neighbors and friends, and some genuinely wanted to change. She decided to take on the challenge, and later she and Jennifer started up a practice. 
They both still work with survivors and know that the damage these men have wrought on their victims cannot be undone. But they have come to believe counseling can curtail most offenders’ impulses and allow them to function safely in society. “I hear the awfulest stories and even have to excuse myself to throw up,” Cheryl says. “Sometimes these guys come in here complaining about having to drive a little further to get groceries because they’re on the registry, and I’m like, ‘To hell with you. Think of how your victim feels.'” [My emphasis.]
Is that the way therapy ought to work? Instead of recognizing the difficulties of being on the registry and how that affects her clients, Cheryl measures their complaints about real-life difficulties against how she imagines their victims feel.

The article discusses how cognitive distortions can keep people from seeing that their own actions and thinking hurt others. How I wish Dockterman had noticed that Cheryl's story is a perfect illustration of cognitive distortion.

Making life more difficult for those on the registry does not help victims, nor does it prevent future sex crimes by those not on the registry. A willingness to make life more difficult comes of a desire for vengeance. Is that how a therapist ought to think?

Cheryl forgets who the client is...or does she? Who is the client here? Is it the registrant who needs to get his life back in order or is it the government entity sending her more clients? If Cheryl and Jennifer fail to please the courts, their practice dries up.

When a therapist is allowed to keep a client until the client thinks the way the therapist wants him to think, that is a problem. When a registrant, required by his PO or a judge to attend therapy, cannot escape unhelpful or damaging therapy without running the risk of going back to prison for a probation/parole violation, that is a problem.

These are not bad men. They are, with rare exceptions, men, women, and children who committed a crime, completed their sentence and now might need some help from a therapist to get back into society.

Dockterman closes her article bleakly:
After those meetings end and the men leave the house for good, Cheryl and Jennifer may never know what becomes of them. Mostly, they hope they won’t read about them in the news.
If that is the best that Cheryl and Jennifer can do, their therapy isn't worth much. That 3.5% figure should let them rest easy.

Of course people can change.

Those who have committed sex offenses are not animals to be trained nor are they contagions to be contained.