Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ignoring prison rape

Anyone with a family member or friend in prison grows to hate the inevitable "don't drop the soap" joke. Jokes about prison rape are rife when discussing someone convicted of a sex crime.

The idea seems to be that someone in prison for a sex crime is so evil that it is acceptable for another inmate to commit a sex crime against him.
In this manner, rape is treated as a feature of our justice system when it happens to prisoners, rather than what it is: another grave crime.
Sexual assaults in prison are not only inmate on inmate. No, they too often include assaults by prison staff. In his article in The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty quotes from Colorlines.com
Roughly 200,000 men, women, and children reported being sexually abused in detention facilities in 2011, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has anonymously self-reported data from inmates.
If the jokesters are any indication, this is acceptable. Instead, let's recognize those jokes for what they really mean.
Acceptance of prison rape is a stinking corruption. No conception of justice can include plunging criminals into an anarchic world of sexual terror. And obviously it thwarts any possibility of a rehabilitative justice that aims to restore criminals to lawful society. Inmates are not improved or better integrated into society through physical and psychological torture.

Dougherty reminds us that what the government does to prisoners, it does in our name. In a moral world, that in itself is reason to work toward reducing prison populations. The larger the prison population is, the more we will see stinking corruption.
Prison rape ... vitiates any sense of retributive justice, since rape is not a proper punishment for a crime. Allowing prison rape is just a vindictive horror, and when accepted under the name of punishment makes criminals the victims of justice.
Prison inmates--save for a very few--are released back to society and we ought to want them to come back ready to be part of our society. Do our prisons prepare them for the return? 
Absent major and drastic reform of our prison system, however, the "lesson" our justice system teaches is not that crimes will be punished, but that getting caught may send you to unpredictable horrors; that our society's primary way of dealing with criminality is plunging you into more of it; and that the rod of the law comes in the form of supermax cruelty.
The statistics Dougherty uses show that prison rape is all too common. If it is, that is a problem that can be tackled with more oversight of and accountability for prisons.

How to solve the more insidious problem of people horrified by rape losing that sense of horror when it happens behind the razor wire? 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"my soul wide open"

Oakdale Chronicles delivers a moving Christmas reverie in which an inmate wonders how to celebrate Christmas while in prison, far from family, friends and familiar traditions.

Those of us who have loved ones in prison know that, even with additional treats served up by the prison administration, the holiday season must be bereft of celebration for them. It must be impossible to celebrate the Nativity in such hostile surroundings.

George, the inmate, remembers the Christmases of his childhood.
On Christmas Eve, we would pile into the station wagon and head for church. It was the one time of the year my Mom had no trouble getting the whole family to go to church; mostly because Santa came to our house while we were at the evening service. 
I would sit in the pew imagining what Santa was doing moment by moment. Was he enjoying the milk and cookies we’d left?
Surely our family members locked away from us must have the same moment-by-moment imaginings. Has my family opened gifts yet? Did they decorate the house the way we always did? Are they at church now?
Were the other reindeer jealous of Rudolph because we only left one carrot especially for him, or did he share by letting a different reindeer eat the carrot at each new house? Rudolph was the most popular with all of my neighborhood friends, so I knew no one ever thought of Blitzen or Prancer by leaving more than one carrot. Did Rudolph remember the pain of being left out of the reindeer games, which is why he gave his carrot away as an act of forgiveness?
Forgiveness. How many hours inside prison walls are spent contemplating forgiveness?
My favorite part of the service ... was when Minister Peters asked us all to kneel as he read the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20 (RSV). 
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…,” and as he read, the organist began to quietly play an interlude into the hymn Silent Night. The lights over the congregation were dimmed down and out so only the altar was swathed in bright light. 
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth…,” and the congregation softly joined the organ and sang as underscoring to the minister’s narration. 
When the lyrics started, an acolyte took the center candle of the Advent wreath and lit the handheld candles of the first person seated in the front row on both sides of the center aisle. 
The candlelight is passed from person to person.
I tipped my unlit candle into my Mom’s flame and then turned to offer my light to my sister. And so it moved down the pew...
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men…”
“Christ the Savior is born…

Christ the Savior is born.”
In that candlelight, with tears of joy streaming down my face and my soul wide open, I understood the mystery of God and the truth of Christmas.
Immersed in his memories of  how Christmas used to be and trying to find a way to celebrate, George thinks:
I’m not sure how I’ll recapture those feelings of Christmas while I’m here at Oakdale FCI. Without family, longtime friends, and all the traditions that go with celebrating Christmas, it could become a bleak midwinter’s night. How can the light shine here? 
That star, and all the stars that filled the night sky, reminded me that I am free, even though I am imprisoned. Funny how reminders of comfort and love are often right in front of our eyes, if we only open our souls to see. 
There will be no traveling for me this year, and I definitely don’t have any gifts to bear. I don’t even have a drum on which to play a song; however, my heart does beat the rhythm of life. A life that can once again kneel, see the light, feel the light, and pass that light on to others. With that knowledge in my soul, I am more free inside this prison than many who sit in their homes before a warming fire, or even some who sit in the packed pews on Christmas Eve.
Think of it. It is possible to be more free inside prison than outside because of Christmas.

I pray that inside or outside the prison walls, we can approach the manger with our souls wide open and gently, jubilantly, pass the Light to others.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

too many laws give too much power to police

In Bloomberg View, Yale law prof Stephen Carter says,
On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
Does that sound extreme? He reminds us that Eric Garner was killed by police trying to arrest him for selling individual cigarettes without paying the required tax. Someone thought it made sense to put a tax on the sale of "loosies" and Eric Garner died.
It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand. [My emphasis.]
Anyone paying attention knows that violence at the hands of police gets out of hand far too often. If you think it couldn't happen to you, are you sure you know whether you are following the law?
The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book “Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is -- a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice. 
In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.
New laws often are passed after intensive lobbying in the service of a noble cause. 
Of course, activists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate. 
That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is the same as the advice I give my students on the first day of classes: Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.
Laws that define crimes give the state power to send armed police after us. Once we bestow that power, it will be used

Monday, December 1, 2014

once and always

The sex offender registry is often touted as a way to protect children. Which children? Not the children who end up on the sex offender registry. In 2013, Human Rights Watch published Raised on the Registry, a report about children on the registry.
Throughout the United States, children as young as nine years old who are adjudicated delinquent may be subject to sex offender registration laws. For example, in Delaware in 2011, there were approximately 639 children on the sex offender registry, 55 of whom were under the age of 12. In 2010, Michigan counted a total of 3,563 youth offenders adjudicated delinquent on its registry, a figure that does not include Michigan’s youth offenders convicted in adult court. In 2010, Michigan’s youngest registered sex offenders were nine years old. A 2009 Department of Justice study, which focused only on sex crimes committed by children in which other children were the victims, found that one out of eight youth sex offenders committing crimes against other children was younger than 12.
For a child, the psychological impact of being on the registry can be devastating. Deadly, in fact.
Nearly a fifth of those interviewed (58 people, or 19.6 percent) said they had attempted suicide; three of the registrants whose cases we examined did commit suicide.
Josh Gravens, a young man who was on the registry beginning at age 13, talks about being labeled a sex offender. 
Three and a half years in Texas juvenile prisons and four years after that on parole, intensive and abusive sex offender “treatment.” While none of those things should be done to a child or adolescent, by far the worst penalty I experienced was being placed on the Texas Sex Offender Registry. I would not realize the life-changing consequences of being registered until I grew up and had children of my own. ...
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that once my juvenile record was public, there was no way to restore privacy protections. Even though I was removed from the public registry, my information was still readily available on for-profit websites. In this day and age, once online, always online. 
We warn kids about sexting because once online, always online and yet kids are listed on the registry with little thought about what that label will do to them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

are those chocolate chips or raisins?

A young man writes a letter to the girl who falsely accused him of rape when he was 15 and she was 13. He spent three months out on bail before the charges were dropped.
I never saw you after that night. In the six years since, I have done all I can to block out the horror of not just that night but of every month spent on bail. While the police seemed to hold true to innocent until proven guilty, my friends and their families certainly didn’t. Even when I returned to a you-free school, I never quite recovered. My relationships since have been damaged and I still struggle to trust my partners.
Falsely accused and yet he is still bound by the fear the accusation caused.
I tell practically no one now about what happened, for fear of being perceived as a rapist and because I guess they’d say stories like mine make it harder for real victims of rape to be believed.
It is wrong to sacrifice people to the damage of false accusations in the hope that someone else will come forward with an accusation that is true. It is also wrong to sacrifice people to the damage of the sex offender registry in the hope that someone, somewhere can be saved.
Rape is an abhorrent crime and every victim should be able to report it. But false accusations of rape are abhorrent too, and the victims too easily forgotten. Not only do false allegations damage the life of the victim but they also contribute to the trivialisation of the seriousness of genuine sexual violence. [My emphasis.]
If true and false allegations are both acceptable means to the end of helping sexual assault victims, if inappropriate behavior and violent sexual assaults are both labeled "sex offenses", distinctions lose all meaning.

Imagine if chocolate chips, raisins, and rabbit droppings were all labeled "brown things".

Saturday, November 1, 2014

let's hear from an angry wife

She tells us, "I'll care when you care."

Kate Mest, at Living as a Spouse of an Inmate, talks about current controversies about civil rights -- how to protect citizens from Ebola without violating their right to travel freely, and how to prevent gun deaths without infringing on our Second Amendment right to carry guns.
Do I care that the federal government is stripping away civil rights when it may be prohibiting travelers from entering or leaving our country? ... 
Should I care that the government wants to limit the number of firearms we can carry or possess, or put restrictions on the type of gun and ammunition that can be used? ...
Well, to all you out there screaming right now about the government in your lives, I tell you that I will care about what the government is doing with your civil rights when you wake up and care that right now, today, in this country, our government can legally tell people where they can and cannot live. They can tell people they have to move, or that they can not buy or rent a home in certain places. Never mind the freedom to travel between countries in your free time or to own a small armory in your home, lets talk about the basic right to a place to call home.
When the general population starts to care that the government can regulate where those labeled sex offenders can live, then I will start to care about all those other rights that everyone is so outraged over. The basic right to have a home trumps the freedom to travel in my leisure time or stockpile weapons. [We are t]rying to sell our home because the government says my husband cannot live there because he could look out our windows and see the park.

That is what residency restrictions are all about for registered sex offenders: being told where they cannot live. For a family who wants to live under one roof with a registered citizen, this can mean selling their house and moving to a new neighborhood. Not because they want to sell the house or because the new neighborhood has better schools or is closer to Grandma and Target -- but because residency restrictions force them.

In some areas where real estate is very expensive, it makes more sense for the registrant to be homeless and leave the family to live in the home that they own than to commit certain financial folly by selling the house. 

Other families are stuck paying for two residences -- one where the family can live and one for the registrant -- and sometimes on a single income because the registrant has trouble finding employment.

Residency restrictions are not effective and often make things worse, according to the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers:
There is no research to support that adult sex offenders’ proximity to schools or parks leads to recidivism. Researchers from the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that not one of 224 recidivistic adult sex offenses would have been prevented by a residential restriction law. In Florida, researchers found that the distance adult sex offenders lived from schools and daycares was not associated with recidivism; recidivists did not live closer to schools and daycares than nonrecidivists (Zandbergen, Hart, & Levenson, 2010). The bottom line is that adult sex offenders do not molest children because they live near schools. Typically they abuse when they are able to establish relationships with children and their families and misuse positions of familiarity, trust, and authority. According to the Justice Department, 93% of sexually abused children are molested by family members, close friends or acquaintances. Children are most likely to be assaulted by people they know, not strangers lurking in schoolyards. Thus, residence restrictions do little to prevent the most common situations in which children are likely to be harmed. 
No wonder Kate Mest is angry. She is being pushed into selling their home in order to keep the family together...and all due to laws that don't accomplish their purpose. Residency restrictions make no one safer.
Research shows that sex offender residence restrictions increase transience, homelessness, and instability. These laws interfere with effective tracking, monitoring, and close probationary supervision, undermining the very purpose of registries. Research also shows that housing instability increases both absconding and criminal recidivism. Residence restrictions are simply not a feasible strategy for preventing child sexual abuse. In fact, across the nation law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and victim advocacy groups have issued public position statements opposing residence restrictions. Laws that foster instability for offenders are not likely to be in the best interest of public safety. [My emphasis.]
Residency restrictions are violations of our constitutional rights. Yes. Those convicted of sex offenses have the right to live where they choose, just as those convicted of assault with a deadly weapon or those convicted of manslaughter can live where they choose. They have the right to live with their families and families have the right to welcome sex offenders back home.

No wonder she's angry. She'll care when you do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

video warns community...about people unlikely to commit a sex offense

The Bedford IN police department put together a video that shows the faces of all 45 registered sex offenders who live there. Why? So people in the community could familiarize themselves with those faces before sending kids out to trick or treat on Halloween.

Because children are most often molested by someone in their family or by a trusted friend and not a stranger, children are sure to see pictures of their own family members in that video. Does the police department expect children to know how to handle such a brutal outing? Does the police department expect other children to know that they shouldn't use that information to torment classmates?

How does this help children in the families of sex offenders? It doesn't. In fact, it makes the children of sex offenders even more vulnerable than they already are by having their address on the registry. 

Casual cruelty.

Shelly Smith at With Justice for All lays out facts about sex offenders on Halloween. From her blog:
This is from non-academic commentary:
“The intimidation campaign is a silly diversion of manpower and a waste of your tax dollars. Police and the politicians who are in search of tough-on-crime votes will tell you otherwise, but don’t believe the myth that Halloween is the night child sexual predators wait all year for. The facts tell a different story... Over the past several decades, there has not been one reported instance that I can find of a convicted sex offender molesting a child on Halloween night.” [My emphasis.]
Shelly agrees with me about the Bedford video (what compassionate and thinking person who cares for children would not?) and tells how she posted a comment on the Bedford police department Facebook page to get the facts out to that community only to have her comment removed. It seems the Bedford police are not very interested in facts about registered citizens.

Registered sex offenders have an extremely low rate of re-offense.
Most sex offense arrests are of first-time offenders.

That means the registry is a list of people unlikely to commit a sex offense. Even in Bedford, Indiana.