Tuesday, November 7, 2017

neighborly behavior, NextDoor

NextDoor, a private social network for neighborhoods, is a popular means of letting neighbors know if you have a washer and dryer to sell or if you want to buy a camper. NextDoor lets people ask for plumber recommendations and post information about crime in the area.

A handy app for the neighborly...unless your address is on the sex offender registry.

No one who lives at a registered address is allowed to join NextDoor. Not the registrant, not the spouse. No one at that address.

The NextDoor member agreement says,
Nextdoor is the private social network for neighborhoods; we hope that neighbors everywhere will use the Nextdoor platform to build stronger and safer neighborhoods around the world....
Stronger, safer neighborhoods are especially important to those whose address is on the registry. After all, registrants and their families are the ones at risk for vandalism (1, 2, 3) attacks (1, 2), and even murder (1, 23).
Convicted sex offenders, including registered sex offenders, and their households are not eligible for Nextdoor accounts; and we may also deny other account registrations we think would harm a Nextdoor neighborhood. [My emphasis.]
Others that would harm a neighborhood? As if the mere presence of people on the registry harm the neighborhood! Law abiding citizens do not harm the neighborhood.
 At Nextdoor, we believe that neighborly behavior is the foundation of healthy communities.
Neighborly behavior would mean recognizing the danger the registry presents to those whose address is on the registry and protecting the neighborhood from vandalism, from physical attacks, and from murder. 

The registry protects no one and it puts registrants and their families at risk. It is hypcritical--and downright unneighborly--for NextDoor to pretend that it is building healthy communities while setting the example of shunning some people in the neighborhood.

It isn't difficult to find the studies that show how little danger registrants pose. Almost as easy as finding names on the registry.

It also is not difficult to understand how wrong it is to exclude neighbors from your efforts to build stronger and safer neighborhoods, how cruel it is to label a home in a way that encourages neighbors to avoid the family in that home.

While NextDoor worries about people who live at a registered address, the next arrest in the community for a sex offense will most likely be of someone not on the registry.

Friday, November 3, 2017

how to make the registry more meaningful

Vincent Carroll argues in The Denver Post that Colorado ought to make its sex offender registry more meaningful to the public by assessing actual risk and removing some names. 

Assessing actual risk and removing some names would be steps in the right direction, of course. So would removing names of juveniles. So would removing all who have been crime-free for 20 years or those who are elderly. So would... oh, let's listen to Carroll:
These thoughts arise because of an ongoing court case that is under appeal by the state. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled in August that Colorado’s sex-offender registry violated the due-process rights of three plaintiffs and amounted to punishment after completion of a sentence. Matsch didn’t actually strike down the law, but he clearly sees it as affront to justice. 
Prosecutors naturally disagree. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, for example, told me she considers the registry an important law enforcement tool, reassuring victims who wish to keep tabs on their assailant once he is free. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman meanwhile has cited “several legal errors which we will now address on appeal.” 
But even if Matsch’s ruling is overturned, his critique should be taken seriously. The law corrals too many people onto the registry, particularly those whose offenses occurred when they were juveniles, and often keeps them on longer than necessary while failing to provide the public with any way to determine actual risk. 
And as Matsch emphasized, the real-world consequences of being on the registry reduce someone’s chances of successful reintegration into society. 
This is a beginner's explanation of why the registry needs to change but he misses opportunities to examine the registry more closely.

When he says that the Denver District Attorney considers the registry an important law enforcement tool, reassuring victims who wish to keep tabs on their assailant once he is free, he doesn't question that statement although there are many interesting questions to ask.

Does the registry aid law enforcement? How many times has the registry been key to solving a sex crime? As far as I know, never.

When people have served the sentences handed down by the courts, it it right to further restrict their ability to rejoin society in order to reassure victims? What good is it to sacrifice people to the registry for mere reassurance when it offers no protection and study after study shows that those on the registry pose little threat to anyone?

Carroll says,
And as Matsch emphasized, the real-world consequences of being on the registry reduce someone’s chances of successful reintegration into society. That’s a worthwhile tradeoff for those who pose a genuine threat, but it’s punitive and counterproductive for the rest.
Again he says it and--again--without thinking:
If being on the registry makes rehabilitation more difficult — and it does — then it ought to be reserved for those most likely to re-offend.
Why is it a worthwhile tradeoff to make rehabilitation more difficult for someone deemed more likely to reoffend? Are not those the ones Colorado ought to be working most diligently to rehabilitate? Instead, Carroll promotes the idea of identifying someone as dangerous, and then making it hard for that person--especially that dangerous person--to reintegrate into society.

Carroll seems to believe that risk assessment tools can correctly predict which registrant will commit new sex offenses. Can they? No, they cannot, so why the push to trust risk assessment tools?

Back to Carroll:
The committee recommended a number of sensible reforms for juveniles, including expanding the list of crimes for which a judge could waive registration. 
But lawmakers shouldn’t stop there. They should mandate risk-based assessments, perhaps by the Sex Offender Management Board, to establish duration of time on the registry. They should narrow the scope of lifetime registration and provide for additional judicial discretion. And getting off the registry after 20 years with a clean record shouldn’t be the ordeal it is today.
Has he not been paying attention? The Colorado Sex Offender Management Board included a member who owned a polygraph firm, a member whose company benefited from all of his recommendations for polygraph exams. The other board members were aware of the conflict of interest, and yet Carroll still wants the SOMB to be responsible for risk assessments.

Carroll presents suggestions that would surely remove people from the registry and that is fine. However, he cannot be considered a serious thinker about the registry if he refuses to see that the registry is wrong for all sex offenders, not just the easy cases.

The registry is not about safety and it never has been. It makes no one safer because the next sex offense is almost certainly going to be committed by someone not on the registry.

Abolishing the registry makes it easier for all registrants to find jobs and housing, two elements necessary for a successful reintegration into society but Carroll makes it clear that he is not looking for successful reintegration for the registrants he thinks are dangerous.

Take down the registry entirely. Stop pretending it has anything to do with safety.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

pretend science and the power of the government

The power of government matched with the authority of unethical experts can do unimaginable damage.

The Motherisk Drug Testing Lab at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto was used for over twenty years to do hair analysis on people suspected of illegal drug use.
For more than two decades, Motherisk performed flawed drug and alcohol testing on thousands of vulnerable families across Canada, influencing decisions in child protection cases that separated parents from their children and sometimes children from their siblings. 
Decades.
Child welfare agencies in five provinces across Canada had paid for Motherisk's hair-strand tests, believing they were scientific proof of substance abuse. The tests were often used in custody and child protection cases in part to decide whether a parent was fit to care for a child.

Motherisk scientists were operating without any forensic training or oversight. Its test results, it has now been discovered, were faulty opinions. 
The science had seemed straightforward. Simple strands of hair are a warehouse of information, storing biomarkers that can reveal proof of drug and alcohol use. They hold that information longer than blood or urine.
This is similar to polygraph exams. Someone believes they are scientific but they are actually only faulty opinions.

Like the unscientific hair strand tests--and ballistics and bite-mark and all kinds of forensic tests--the polygraph is used to deprive people of their freedom and to break up families.

Over two years ago, Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic about the practice of using unscientific tests and the tragic miscarriage of justice that often results. Friedersdorf writes:
...as the Washington Post made clear Saturday in an article that begins with a punch to the gut: "Nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000," the newspaper reported, adding that "the cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death." 
The article notes that the admissions from the FBI and Department of Justice "confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques—like hair and bite-mark comparisons—that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989."
When you hear prosecutors talk about forensic proof of guilt, keep your skepticism handy. Those forensic tests, pretend science, will be used against you and it will be used to damage your family.

Junk science paired with the force of government should frighten us all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

of polygraphs, registries, minors...and everyone else

Let's talk about Zach Anderson again. He's the unfortunate and unwise young man who, at 19, had sex with a 14-year-old girl who said she was 17.

The South Bend Tribune reports:
The young man, Zachery Anderson, was sentenced harshly by a Berrien County judge who preached about the immorality of meeting partners online. The sentence included jail time and 25 years on Michigan's sex offender registry, attracted national publicity and was overturned several months later by a different judge.
Zach was days away from completing probation when he was arrested October 11 for violating his probation restrictions.
It was during a recent polygraph that Zach truthfully answered the question that led to his recent troubles: Have you had any contact with anyone younger than 18? Yes, Zach said.
Bam. His honest answer during a polygraph resulted in the arrest.

Courts are not allowed to use results of a polygraph exam because polygraphs are not scientifically reliable. If probation officers were required to treat polygraphs the way courts use them--which is to say, not at all--Zach would likely be off probation.

Instead, probation officers are allowed to mandate polygraph testing.
Elkhart County's probation department has required regular polygraph tests, at $300 apiece, and Zach has taken at least five. 
Zach wasn't arrested for violating parole because he failed the exam; he was arrested because the polygraph was an opportunity for the probation officer and the polygraph examiner to push him to incriminate himself.

Probation officers can use polygraphs to take away the freedom of a probationer. Veracity has nothing to do with it.

Zach's parents have raised holy hell to protect their son from the perils of the sex offender registry. What parent wouldn't do the same? Through their efforts, their son's story has been told far and wide.

It is easy to sympathize with Zach's situation and recognize that his punishment for unwise behavior has been far out of proportion to the crime he committed. It is also easy to wonder if a 19-year-old having consensual sex ought to even be a crime.

Nevertheless, their son is still mired in the criminal justice system.
Les [Zach's dad] has written a letter to President Trump that he intends to also send to Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. senators, asking for "Zach's Law," which would protect young people from sex laws that have such unintended consequences. 
It is worth remembering Radley Balko's suggestion that laws named after victims are usually an emotional response, not one based on reason.

Young people do need protection from draconian laws. The Tribune continues:
Tough laws on sex offenders don't take into account their calamitous effects on young people unwary of the electronic age and its consequences, said Amanda Anderson, Zach's mother. 
Absolutely. Inarguable.
"Has there been life lessons learned? You bet there has," Amanda said of her family's experiences. But "we will continue to pursue the rescue of minors under the draconian image of the sex offender registry law."
The one lesson the Anderson family seems yet to learn is that the registry is bad for everyone. 

Bad for families on the registry, bad for communities funding a registry quickly growing unwieldy, bad for law enforcement agencies who  squander resources enforcing registry laws that protect no one.

Leaving people on the registry because they committed crimes worse than teenage sex means that children of registrants are still at risk.

Every family living on the registry worries that their kids will suffer because of it. Too many kids do suffer.

Some families are torn apart by probation restrictions that prevent the registrant from contact with his own children, even when the children were not victims of the crime. Some families struggle financially because of the cost of probation. See above where Zach paid at least $1500 for junk science polygraphs.

Financial struggles continue after probation and parole are completed because employers are often reluctant to hire registrants.

Childhood friendships can be difficult when parents won't allow kids to visit the home of a registrant or when kids learn to taunt children who live on the registry. Schools can be willing to humiliate the children of registrants by refusing to treat their family as all the other families are treated. Places of worship are too willing to restrict the ability of a registrant to attend services with his family.

The registry inhibits a family that wants to overcome the trauma of a family member committing a crime.

After serving the sentence handed down by the court, a person deserves to return to be welcomed back into society. The registry prevents that.

Families in which someone committed a violent, non-sexual assault are better able to return to life as it was before that crime because information about that crime is not easily available. Families of those on the registry deserve the same dignity and respect.

The  Andersons would do much more good by advocating for the abolition of the sex offender registry.

Rescuing minors is shortsighted.



Previous posts about Zach Anderson:

bad for kids, bad for all; abolish the registry!
The sex offender registry is a bad idea for anyone. No matter how guilty or how unsympathetic, no offender deserves extra-judicial punishment long after serving the sentence handed down by the court.
Families torn apart are all too common when sex offenses are involved, even when the offense used to be something for which parents grounded the kids and law enforcement was only rarely involved.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Elizabeth Letourneau talks about non-offending pedophiles

In her TEDMED talk, Elizabeth Letourneau talks about a humbling experience: while developing a program to prevent adolescent pedophiles from offending, she was surprised to learn that adolescent pedophiles were already not offending, even without benefit of a program like hers.

Letourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Professor at the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said:
The peak age for engaging a pre-pubescent child in harmful or illegal sexual behavior is fourteen. Fourteen years old. So that's the first important fact, that about half of all sexual offenses committed against pre-pubescent children are committed by other children.
If we think back to our own childhoods, many of us can remember times when something happened that, today, would be labeled child sexual abuse and many of those instances involved child perpetrators. The same is true today.
Second. How likely do you think it is that a child who has one conviction for a sexual offense will get a conviction for a second sexual offense? In reality, 97 to 98% of children convicted of a sexual offense are never re-convicted of another one. Ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent do not reoffend with a new sexual offense.
With rare exceptions, the childhood perpetrators we can remember did not go on to a lifetime of sexual offenses.
My research shows that sex offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way. Instead, these policies cause harm. We surveyed 265 therapists who treat children who have sexually offended. Almost all of them linked registration and public notification to serious harmful outcomes.
Even children who are not on the registry themselves are harmed by the registry. When a parent or a sibling is on the registry, other children in the home are left to deal with the all the difficulties imposed by the registry. The family may need to relocate to a home that meets residence requirements, others in the neighborhood may shun the family. Imagine growing up and either not being allowed to invite friends over or not being able to live with the sibling on the registry. Imagine a parent who is not allowed to be alone with you or not allowed to attend your school events.

The registry and its rules damage families. Is it worth doing that to families in our community when everything points to the likelihood that the registrant will never re-offend? If we are trying to prevent child sexual abuse, the registry isn't doing that.

Letourneau develops programs to prevent sexual abuse of children.
Decades of research shows that we can prevent every other kind of child victimization--child physical abuse, child neglect, bullying, peer-on-peer physical violence. We can prevent these forms of abuse because we know why people offend in these ways. We've designed policies and programs to address those risk factors.
Well, we know why children engage in harmful and illegal sexual behaviors.... Risk factors include sheer ignorance, impulsivity, inadequate adult supervision, risk-taking, delinquency, and sometimes--rarely, but sometimes--sexual interest in young children. These are just some of the risk factors associated with adolescent sexual offending.
If it can be prevented, we need to learn how. Educating people on who is at risk is a start.

If pedophiles--those who have a genuine sexual attraction to children--can avoid offending, so can those who aren't pedophiles.

Letourneau says,
We rightly stigmatize and punish adult sexual violence but children are not adults. It is appropriate and it is just to treat them differently.
She is right that children who offend need to be treated differently from adults. Punishing adults for sexual violence is proper. Stigmatizing sexual violence is proper.

Stigmatizing those who have served their sentence by putting them on the registry, though, is wrong. As Letourneau said,
...sex offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

polygraphs: liberty interests and the rule of law

The Pueblo (CO) Chieftain published a bold, important statement about the use of polygraphs:
All uses of polygraphs in the legal system should be abolished.

Earlier, the Denver  Post reported that the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board includes the owner of a polygraph company and when the use of polygraphs are discussed, that man recommends the use of polygraphs. The Denver Post said the use of polygraphs "borders on a scam."

It is good to see polygraphs exposed as the junk science they are. I blogged about the Post stories here.

In the Chieftain, an opinion piece by Dennis Maes, a retired chief Pueblo district court judge, calls out...
...the involvement and participation of the judiciary, probation and the Department of Corrections in perpetuating the use of polygraphs. Why is this revelation significant? Because the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals have both condemned and prohibited the use of polygraphs in court proceedings. 
Good point. If courts have prohibited polygraph results, why are they still mandating their use for sex offenders? It is hard to explain any better than Maes does:
According to existing Colorado law, the results of polygraph examinations are per se inadmissible for any purpose in criminal and civil proceedings in Colorado courts because they are scientifically unreliable. Simply put, they are worthless because they have zero evidentiary value and are, therefore, irrelevant. [My emphasis throughout.]
If they cannot be used, they obviously should not be ordered by the court. To order a useless report paid for by taxpayers is not only fiscally irresponsible but unconscionable. 
Despite established law, the judiciary, probation and DOC continue to require polygraphs. This practice is a clear assault on the Rule of Law which embodies the belief that the law applies equally to all individuals and institutions, including the judiciary, with no exceptions. The Rule of Law is a cornerstone of a free democratic society.
The supervision of a sex offender on probation requires the sex offender to sign terms and conditions of probation. which can only be ordered and changed by the court. A stock condition is the requirement to submit to polygraph examinations. Failure to comply with the terms and conditions subjects the sex offender to punitive sanctions, including the loss of liberty interests.
The argument will be advanced by probation and others that probation will not be revoked based solely on the results of a polygraph examination. There are those who would disagree. Nevertheless, current probation standards, approved by the court, provide that a sex offender may be regressed in treatment if the offender produces a deceptive polygraph. The regression may obviously be based solely on the results of a polygraph.
Regression? The practice of making someone back up to a previous point in his treatment. More time in treatment can affect how much freedom the parole or probation officer allows the offender.

Liberty interests.
A further dilemma faced by an offender occurs when a provider ignores an objection registered by the offender or offender's attorney to submit to a polygraph based on existing state law. Many, if not all, providers and probation officers treat the proper objection as obstruction and a violation of probation either threatening to or filing revocation proceedings. Said behavior is a violation of due process.
Many, if not all, providers will refuse to treat an offender who refuses a polygraph. To exacerbate the problem, many providers treat the refusal as a violation, which subjects the offender to punitive action even in the case when the court might not require the treatment.
Read that again. Treatment providers can impose punitive actions on an offender for refusing to submit--or objecting!--to a polygraph, even when the treatment is not required by the courts.

When a treatment provider can punish a client for questioning treatment requirements, the treatment provider is clearly not a part of the therapeutic world.
In the interest of full disclosure, concerns about the current polygraph practice and public funding for polygraphs have been shared by way of protest with Chief Justice Nancy Rice, Rick Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and the chief judges of each judicial district. The responses submitted by the Supreme Court and DOC appear to carve out exceptions to the law where none exist and certainly not recognized by state law.
Maes is impatient:
It is perplexing why the judiciary has been so resistant to ridding the courts of a practice condemned by its own appellate courts.
He says that if the courts will not follow established law, the Legislature should tackle the subject. One suggestion from Maes:
First, the Legislature immediately could suspend any state funding for polygraph examinations. Said action would not only be a firm confirmation of the significance of the Rule of Law but the fiscally responsible thing to do as stewards of the taxpayer's money. To continue a practice that has been debunked by the courts simply defies logic.
This is truly a breath of fresh mountain air.

Maes does not question the utility of polygraphs because that question was settled long ago when courts called the tests scientifically unreliable. He is angry that courts ignore those findings.

He lays the blame for the continued use of junk science at the feet of the judiciary, probation, and the Department of Corrections.

He recognizes what families of sex offenders already know:
To be certain, there will be many who have little or no concern whether sex offenders are treated fairly.
...and delivers a final blow at those who continue to treat sex offenders as less than worthy of treatment that follows the law:
What is important, however, is that society ensures that the sanctity of the Constitution be safeguarded by protecting the rights and protections it guarantees to all without exception.

Readers: Make sure that probation and parole offices and treatment providers read Maes' fiery blast. If you are still awaiting sentencing, make sure your attorney sees this and raises a protest to any polygraph requirement.

Polygraphs are not just a waste of money and time. They may not be allowed in court but they are currently being used to revoke parole or probation.

Liberty interests. Rule of law.

what happens when a molester moves in next door to his victim?

A man molested his niece when she was a little girl and 12 years later when he was released from prison, he moved in with his mother next door to the victim.
“I was pretty outraged, but I have channeled that rage into a more positive outlet, which, for me, is sharing my story and empowering other victims of sexual assault,” [the victim] says, adding her parents researched state laws in the hopes of blocking the move, only to learn they had no legal recourse.
I am no psychologist but this sounds healthy. This young woman's story can help other families to recognize what may be happening in their own homes. Some former victims may not be comfortable telling their story and we must respect that.

We must also respect the discomfort caused when her uncle moved in next door. When we remember that child sexual abuse most frequently happens within a trusted family circle, we can see that a great number of victims must have to deal with encountering their former abuser.

A family--and any counselors--would do well to help the victims learn to deal with those encounters and to help the former abuser understand how to respect the victim's boundaries.
“I was coming back from class and he was out mowing in my grandmother’s backyard, and it made me uneasy just being home,” Dyer tells PEOPLE. “I go to school in Edmond so I’m only home half the time, and I think twice before going home now. I have a very close family, so it’s hard for me to not constantly be with them.”
Her unease is easy to understand.

It is also easy for legislators to jump on board the outrage train.
[...the victim] and her family have been meeting with State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, who tells PEOPLE he is committed to introducing fresh legislation to bar offenders from living within a certain distance of their victims.
Hilbert's legislation will not be engineered narrowly to this particular victim and offender. It will apply across the board to all offenders and victims, even those who want to find a way to reconcile, and even those who simply want the offender to have a place to live.

Again, most child sexual abuse happens inside families, or inside the circle of trusted friends. There are many families who see the value in keeping the family whole and not burdening the victim with a trail of broken family relationships.
Dyer says she no longer wants anything to do with her grandmother because of her decisions; when she was in high school, her uncle was released and lived with her grandmother until he violated probation and “went right back” to prison.
“She is supposed to protect me, she is supposed to take care of me,” Dyer says, “so for her to turn on me like this, she obviously doesn’t care about me.”
This victim has already (understandably) lost a relationship with her uncle and now her grandmother.

The criminal justice system should try to disrupt families as little as possible and yet Hilbert's legislation will cause more disruption for families and victims who have made choices different from Dyer's family.

Child victims will go through several phases of understanding what happened to them, depending on their ages. A small child with no understanding of sex may know only that the molester did something wrong and has to go away.

As the child approaches adolescence and begins to experience his or her own sexuality, understanding of the crime will shift. The new understanding will answer some questions for the child and will almost certainly bring up new questions.

When the victim has children, the understanding of the crime may change again...and yet again when her children get into trouble and need her protection. At that point, the victim may understand her grandmother's actions much differently.

Legislators need to see that what a victim feels today will change over time. The legislation will almost certainly not account for those changes.

Each family will deal with victims and offenders in its own way. Some family members will let their own outrage frighten the child; some will make every effort to let the child deal with events at her own level of understanding. Protecting the child from the adult understanding of what happens is essential to some, though some are unable to accomplish that.

Legislation that tries to solve a complicated situation like this will almost surely make things worse for some families. When a family wants the offender to come back home and live a law-abiding life, finding a residence for the offender is the first priority. In some cities, it is nearly impossible for an offender to find a place to live. If his mother's house is where he can live, why should legislation get in the way of that?

Legislators are the ones who create residence restrictions. Without those restrictions, the offender has a better chance of living away from family that doesn't want him around.

That problem cannot be solved by creating even more residence restrictions. Complicating the lives of offenders and their families makes it more likely that former offenders will break laws and be returned to prison, even if the law broken is not another sex offense.

Legislators need to back off and let families make their own way.