Monday, November 27, 2017

Raptor Systems boasts about protecting students from school visitors

Ah. Another school district wasting money to protect students from people on the sex offender registry.
When a visitor tries to gain access to a school, they are now prompted to utilize the computer check-in system, which requires you to scan your photo ID. Within seconds, that scan searches sex offender databases to ensure the person isn’t on there. 
“This system allows us to have those identities identified and therefore we know when those people are on our campuses,” said Jeff Hudson, Pitt County School’s security specialist.
These people. 

How many school employees have committed sex offenses against students? These people might come from within the school.

How many people on the registry have committed sex crimes against students while visiting the school? If it has happened, let's stack up those few stories against the multitude of stories about school staff members who offend against students.

Stopping registrants at the school door protects no one. What it does do is humiliate parents and students, and for no reason.

As I wrote in an October 2015 post:
What does the hysteria about registered sex offenders teach children?  
It teaches children that people on a list are the ones to fear. When over ninety percent of sex offense arrests are of people not on the list, we are directing children to be wary of the wrong people. 
It teaches children that they are wrong to love and admire a grandparent who has come through a difficult time and has lived a law-abiding life since. 
It teaches the community that it is acceptable to single out and embarrass children who love sex offenders. 
Raptor stopped a man from having lunch with his grandson and the principal crows about the great success, without a single thought about the effect on the grandson. 
Not a single thought that the boy might be hurt or confused by this turn of events. Not a single thought that exposing the grandfather as a registered sex offender may also expose the child to details of a crime he is too young to understand. 
Instead of encouraging pointless hysteria, we ought to be upset about school boards deciding to throw away taxpayer funds on wrongheaded nonsense. 
We ought to be upset about thoughtless principals who think it is acceptable to treat the children and grandchildren of registered citizens as if they do not matter.
Raptor Systems claims 18,000 campuses use its services. It boasts that it has screened 11.4 million visitors, had 41,754 alerts, and protected 57 million children.

How much money has Raptor pulled in from this game?

When Raptor can predict which school employee will be the next addition to the sex offender registry, they might be worth a look.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

what comes after porn is declared a public health crisis?

Utah started it. More and more states are following suit. A Florida legislator is the latest to propose that his state declare pornography a public health crisis.
Rep. Ross Spano, who represents House District 59, introduced a resolution acknowledging “pornography is creating a public health crisis and contributing to the hypersexualization of children and teens.” 
The Florida resolution, HR 157, concludes,
Be It Resolved by the House of Representatives of the State of Florida:

That the State of Florida recognizes the public health crisis created by pornography and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change to protect the citizens of this state. [My emphasis.]
Utah passed a similar resolution in 2016. The Utah resolution, SCR 9, concludes,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the
Governor concurring therein, recognizes that pornography is a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor recognize the
need for education, prevention, research, and policy change
at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation. [My emphasis.]
Tennessee, South Dakota, Arkansas, Virginia have also declared porn to be a public health crisis. Other states, Georgia and Pennsylvania among them, have proposed the same declaration.

What does this flood of similarly worded resolutions and declarations mean? Does this presage a war on porn?

What kind of policy changes are needed when porn is seen as a public health crisis? How do we prevent pornography?

What kind of regulations might be implemented to control pornography? Porn is easily created and distributed by individuals; how would any regulations be policed and enforced?

When recreational drug use was acknowledged to be a problem, a veritable war ensued.

We have seen what happens when a government declares war on a vice. Millions and millions of people imprisoned. The recreational drug industry driven underground. Business disputes resolved through violence. Less expensive and more powerful drugs more widely available. No noticeable reduction in rates of recreational drug use. A trillion dollars down the drain.

The resolutions sound innocuous but they open the door to laws that will put families at risk. Families who have been broken by incarceration will understand the dangers hiding in well-intentioned laws.

Think about a law meant to prevent minors from seeing porn, different from current laws that prohibit showing porn to minors. Almost anyone can see that preventing children from watching hardcore porn before they can understand is a good idea but if it becomes a law, then what does enforcement mean? What kind of penalties? Who pays the penalties? Will parents be held responsible for kids looking at porn? Will schools search backpacks and lockers for porn the way they search for drugs?

Will these offenses land people on the sex offender registry?

The resolutions and declarations include lists of harmful effects of pornography as justifications for calling porn a public health crisis. The Utah resolution includes,
WHEREAS, potential detrimental effects on pornography's users can impact brain
development and functioning, contribute to emotional and medical illnesses, shape deviant sexual arousal, and lead to difficulty in forming or maintaining intimate relationships, as well as problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction; 
The Florida resolution refers to "...deviant, problematic, or dangerous sexual behaviors."

Who defines deviant sexual behaviors or deviant sexual arousal? Do we want the government anywhere near those definitions? Do we want to risk returning to the days of incarcerating people for sodomy?

Driving legal porn underground means that porn performers will have less protection from mistreatment than they have now. It is worth noting that neither Florida nor Utah show any concern for porn performers in their resolutions.

Concerned about violence, Utah says:
WHEREAS, pornography equates violence towards women and children with sex and
pain with pleasure, which increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography... [My emphasis.]
Florida also says pornography leads to "...increasing the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography". [My emphasis.]

Does it? In a 2016 Psychology Today article, Michael Castleman writes,
Before the late-1990s when the Internet revolutionized access to information, porn was available in books, skin magazines, rented videocassettes, and at the limited number of seedy theaters that screened X-rated movies. But with the arrival of the Internet, millions of porn images and videos were suddenly just a few clicks away for free. As a result, porn quickly became one of men’s top online destinations and porn consumption soared. 
If the anti-porn activists are correct, if porn actually contributes to rape, then starting around 1999 as the Internet made it much more easily available, the rate of sexual assault should have increased. So what happened? According to the Justice Department’s authoritative National Crime Victimization Survey, since 1995, the U.S. sexual assault rate has FALLEN 44 percent. ... 
Clearly, the anti-porn activists are wrong. Porn doesn’t incite men to sexual violence. It looks more like a safety valve that gives men an alternative outlet for potentially assaultive energy. Instead of attacking women, men who might commit that crime can masturbate to unlimited amounts of Internet porn.
Parents who worry about their kids finding porn on the internet have legitimate concerns. Declaring porn a public health crisis seems to line up with those concerns but if that declaration is followed by laws that put families at risk, the public health goals could become personal threats to those families.

Keep an eye on your state legislature. If it has not already declared porn a public health crisis, the proposal is almost certainly coming.

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. 
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: 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, offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way.