Sunday, September 29, 2019

University of Nevada researchers want to hear from partners/spouses of registrants

I received an email from researchers in Nevada, asking me to recruit partners and spouses of people on the sex offender registry to complete a survey for them. This is the email I received:
We are conducting a research project entitled Stigma and Consequences for Partners of Registered Sex Offenders at the University of Nevada, Reno. This project is being completed in collaboration with university faculty as part of the SORNA Policy Project. 

Our intention is to distribute a survey link to partners and spouses of registered sex offenders to assess how they feel registration and notification policies impact their lives. We hope to gather information about the unintended consequences of these policies.

...We expect that the results from this study will be substantially informative for both treatment providers and advocacy groups. The better we understand the collateral consequences these policies have on innocent spouses and partners, the better able we are to provide services for these individuals and argue for policy reform.

The survey should take less than 30 minutes to complete. The surveys are completely anonymous, and the data is protected to ensure the highest level of confidentiality.

I verified that this survey is legitimate before taking it myself. Some questions are good; some are inscrutable, as survey questions can be. It took me more than 30 minutes to complete it. 

This is the text I was asked to use: 
Have you ever been in a relationship with an individual who was required to register on a sex offender registry?  If so, we are interested in hearing from you. We know that individuals who have been or are currently in relationships with individuals who are/were required to publicly register as a sex offender may experience a unique set of challenges and experiences. We want to learn more about your own personal experiences, how this has affected you, and how you feel about current sex offender policies.
This is the first ever national-level survey to gather data solely from spouses and partners of individuals required to register. This is your chance to share your voice and address the issues that are affecting you! 
If interested, please click the link below to learn more. The first 300 participants will be entered into a raffle for (2) $100 and (6) $50 Amazon gift cards.  
Tip for researchers who want to talk to people affected by the registry: Many of us are already familiar with other studies and other scholars working in this field so, when recruiting, your first job is to make sure we know who you are and what your intentions are. That is why I included that information instead of just using your provided text.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

be more visible in other reform efforts

It is past time for registry activists to become visible in the larger criminal justice and prison reform efforts. We will not end the registry until we are part of the larger fight.

At least four national organizations fight against the sex offender registry and the harm it causes: Women Against Registry (WAR), National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL), Sex Offender Solutions & Education Network (SOSEN), and Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws (ACSOL).

Excellent organizations, they educate people affected by the registry, they stand up for registrants, they hearten those of us in the fight. Walking into a room full of these warriors can be life-changing.

We have scholars who have taken up the fight against the registry because their research shows that the registry offers no protection to the community and that it harms families. The data is on our side.

If passion, righteous anger, facts, and our own efforts were enough, the whole idea of registries would already be gone. Instead, we see states adding crimes to the list of registerable offenses, states proposing whole new registries, news media still trying to gin up fear against those labeled "sex offender," and reform organizations using the sex offender category as leverage to pass reforms.

We need to do something different. We need to join forces with other criminal justice and prison reform organizations.

Maybe we don't always agree with those other organizations but we can still learn from them and--here's the beauty part--they can learn from us. The more we speak up about registry issues in those organizations, the more those organizations learn. We can learn from them about how they built their advocacy organization, how they approach legislators, how they change hearts and minds.

We can find common ground with others.

For example, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) doesn't talk a lot about sex crime sentences but they are firmly opposed to mandatory minimum sentences for any crime. Would they be more active in eliminating mandatory minimums for sex crimes if we were visible in their organization? Yes, they would, and we would be pushing harder for sentencing reform in general because of what we learned from FAMM. Both causes win.

Criminal justice reform in the United States is having its moment. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, all have reason to want to reduce mass incarceration, to shorten prison sentences, to offer something other than prison sentences, to improve prison conditions, to reduce corruption in departments of correction, to increase the success rate for those who come back to our communities after prison.

We do not need to agree on all points to attend meetings, to listen and learn, to make connections with other good people. After all, disagreeing with our own registry reform organizations on some issues doesn't stop us from using them as resources.

An internet search for "criminal justice reform organization [your state or city]," or "prison reform" or "sentencing reform" will show you which organizations are active near you. Follow the larger organizations on Facebook or Twitter so you can see where their focus is. Go to their meetings, if possible. For states that have no registry organizations, this could be a good way to meet others like you.

If you find local organizations working with reentry efforts, go to those meetings and listen. That is where you can make connections with others who have answers you may need. You will have stories and information they will need.

Remember that asking for an end to registries is the right thing to do, even if other reformers tell  you it will never happen. It certainly will not if we are not clear that abolition is our goal.

Abolish the registry.

Below is a list (an inadequate list!) of some national organizations that might be used as a starting point:

Black and Pink
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Innocence Project
The Marshall Project
Prison Policy Initiative
Right on Crime
The Sentencing Project
Vera Institute of Justice

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Indiana considering a registry of all felons

Indiana is looking at a bill that will put all felons on a registry. This is obviously a bad idea. A terrible idea.

From an article by Dan Carden at
Every person convicted of a felony in Indiana since at least 2012, and going forward, soon may find their name publicly listed on a state website and forever associated with their crime on internet search engines. 
Indiana already has a statewide case management system, Odyssey, where records are available for free. The sponsoring senator, Randy Head, is trying to sell the idea that this is simply a more complete listing than currently found on the Odyssey system. What he doesn't mention is that Odyssey cannot be searched through Internet search engines like Google.

The registry that his bill would create would be Internet searchable, like the sex offender registry.
The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate last week voted 40-9 to establish a statewide felony registry featuring the name, photograph, age, last known address, description of the crime and any other identifying information, other than Social Security number, that the Office of Judicial Administration wishes to post. 
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Randy Head is the only senator in Indiana willing to inflict this on his constituents. The vote in the Senate was 40-9 in favor.
Hoosiers with prior felony convictions would not be required to register with the state. Rather, under Senate Bill 36, the state court system simply would publish a searchable list of felons on its website that must be updated at least every 30 days.
People with felony convictions wouldn't even have to be told they were on the list, that their faces were out there for anyone in the world to find, that their crimes would be forever public.
However, [Senator Head] said since not all courts are yet on Odyssey, a felony registry is needed to fill in the gaps and help Hoosiers know who in their family, workplace, school, church or community has been convicted of a felony. [My emphasis.]

His felony registry would be helpful. 

As if Hoosiers today struggle with not knowing.

But look:
The legislation sunsets the felony registry on June 30, 2023, when all courts are expected to be using Odyssey.
Readers who are listed on the sex offender registry are having a wry laugh at that plan. They know how easily legislative intentions can change, how easily ten years on the registry can become a lifetime. They know how easily a legislature can create new restrictions, how last year it was okay to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters but this year doing so is a new felony.

They know how easily a registry can encourage fear, and result in job and housing discrimination, vandalism, vigilantism, even murder.

They know how easily public shaming can result in suicide.

It is both fascinating and nauseating to see next to the article a link to a story with the headline, Indiana lawmakers to consider plan for reducing youth suicide. If Indiana legislators were at all concerned about suicide, this bill would have died a quick and easy death.
The nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency has not estimated how many Hoosiers might be listed on the felony registry if it becomes law.
 Good question. How many families will be put at risk?
Prior to 2014, Indiana charged numerous crimes as felonies that currently are treated as misdemeanors. For example, theft of any amount, even a pack of gum, previously was a felony, while today felony theft requires at least $750 in stolen property.
Laws change. It is good that Hoosiers are no longer charged with felonies for small thefts.

Laws change. Today, only those convicted of sex offenses are listed on the Internet. Tomorrow, all Indiana felons.

What happens when people realize their neighbors have felony records? What emotional demands will be made of legislators? Residence restrictions for those with convictions for violent crimes?

How long until people on the felon registry will be required to report their travel plans? How long until drivers licenses and passports carry a felon identifier?

This is why registries must be abolished. Once legislators find something that is easy and satisfies their need to look as if they are doing something for public safety or for the children, they will do it.

The existence of the registry is what makes residence restrictions and presence restrictions possible.

It is horrifying that legislators have discovered how easily records can be vomited onto the Internet and yet not considered the damage they will do to their constituents.

Abolish all registries.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Israel: no more name-changing; public shaming remains

News about irrational laws in Israel, via Haaretz:
The Knesset on Monday passed into law a bill that prohibits people convicted of sex crimes from changing their name. 
“The law came about as a response to complaints by women who were shocked to learn they had been in a relationship with convicted sex offenders in the past,” said Meretz MK Michal Rozin, who drafted the law. 
Seems to me that if those women had discovered that their partners were committing new sex crimes, Haaretz would have mentioned it, if not put it in the headline. Dozens of women shocked to learn their romantic partners have been molesting preschoolers! No reporter would fail to mention that. No publisher would have missed the chance to use that salacious headline.
“This had been hidden from them since the men had changed their names. We’re now letting the public and the victims protect themselves from people convicted of sex crimes.” 
Protect themselves from what? From being exposed as enjoying the company of a man who has changed his ways?

It would be much more useful to talk about how to prevent sexual abuse instead of ginning up fear of those who no longer commit sex crimes.
In explanatory notes to the law it says that every citizen is allowed to change his or her name or surname, but that convicted sex offenders could abuse this right in order to continue endangering the public under another name. The notes go on to say there is no dispute that a convict can open a new page in life, but that limits need to be in place. 
It is possible a name change could aid someone in criminal endeavors. Is that what has happened in Israel? Almost certainly not.
Habayit Hayehudi MK Moti Yogev, who helped draft the law, noted, “Coming right after 1,000 criminals, including sex offenders, were released from prison (due to overcrowding), this law is even more important. Systems don’t always work".  
Systems don't always work, true, and yet legislators cling desperately to one system that has been shown again and again to be an inarguable failure: sex offender registries.

After releasing 1,000 people from overcrowded prisons, legislators--again!--find that a new registry law makes them look tough on crime.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

sheriff's deputies and their sex crimes

It cannot be a surprise that law enforcement officers sometimes break the law but some stories still raise our eyebrows. The Omaha World-Herald reports, in a subscriber-only story:
A federal judge has refused to dismiss a young woman’s lawsuit against Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning and his office over a 2013 assault in which an on-duty deputy made her perform a sex act on him at Zorinsky Lake.
In doing so, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon cited 15 sexual misconduct cases involving deputies or Sheriff’s Office employees from 1998 on. Unlike former Deputy Cory Cooper’s 2013 crime against the young woman, none were prosecuted, and several did not seem to rise to the level of a crime. 
Of fifteen, only one case was prosecuted--the 2013 assault at Zorinsky Lake.
However, Bataillon ruled that the woman has the right, at this point, to have jurors decide whether the incidents indicate that Dunning was indifferent to sexual misconduct in his office — and whether such indifference and little training led to a culture where Cooper feared no consequence for boorish behavior. 
Boorish behavior? This deputy is accused of sexual assault, not boorish behavior.

He is accused of forcing a young woman to perform oral sex on him in return for letting her boyfriend go free and it seems he feared no consequences for that sexual assault.
“The court finds that the 15 instances of sexual misconduct at the (Sheriff’s Office) create genuine issues of material fact concerning the municipality’s ... failure to train or supervise its employees on sexual misconduct,” Bataillon wrote. “The DCSO was on notice of these sexual misconduct incidents through the office’s complaint and investigation process. Yet, similar sexual misconduct incidents continued to recur over a nearly twenty-year period. 
“The court agrees with the plaintiff that there is sufficient evidence as a matter of law that would enable a jury to find deliberate indifference on the part of Sheriff Dunning.”
In an interview late this month, Dunning denied being callous toward the misconduct, saying that suspensions or terminations followed any case that could be corroborated. 
Suspensions or terminations but only one prosecution. The article does not include details of any suspensions and terminations.
He also noted that none of those prior cases involved Cooper. And he said he had no warning signs that Cooper — a former military member — would act out.  
“Cooper did what he did because he’s a sex offender and a criminal,” Dunning said.
Because he's a sex offender and a criminal or because the sheriff's office doesn't pay much attention to deputies who use their authority to commit sex crimes?
“Before we hired him, he had a psychological screen. He was polygraphed. As far as we could tell, he was going to be a sterling employee.” 
C'mon, Dunning. We all know that polygraphs are junk science, akin to phrenology. You know it, too. You made a bad hire...or you failed to train your deputies on how not to commit sex offenses, how to keep one's hands to oneself and how to keep one's pants zipped, the way the most people manage to do without special training.

Dunning's deputies need training on how not to abuse one's authority.
Cooper was convicted of misdemeanor assault in a plea deal and served six months in jail. Prosecutors reduced the charges from first-degree sexual assault after consulting with the woman, who wasn’t eager to relive the ordeal at trial. 
Under the plea bargain, Cooper did not have to register as a sex offender and is not a convicted felon.
That's a heck of a plea bargain. Crazy that a law enforcement officer was able to get such a good deal, isn't it?

While it is infuriating to read a story that sounds as if a deputy was able to avoid being listed on the sex offender registry because he is a law enforcement officer, there is a piece of the story that deserves even more attention.

Sheriff Dunning's office administers the sex offender registry for Douglas County. 

This is the office where people listed on the registry report two or four times each year, to report an address change, to report that they have a new vehicle, to be photographed when they have grown a beard or shaved one off, to notify the sheriff that they are leaving town for more than three business days.

They report to deputies who are not held accountable for their own sex offenses.

This is the office where people who have lived law-abiding lives for years have to report that they have nothing to report. If they do not report that they have nothing to report, they will be charged with a felony.

If they fail to report again, even after more law-abiding years, they can be charged with a more serious felony.

Sheriff's deputies, on the other hand, can seemingly commit more than one sex crime and not be prosecuted at all.

A sidebar story in the Omaha World Herald details each of the fifteen cases in which a deputy or staff member was accused of sex offenses. More than one deputy was accused more than once. An example:
2002: A deputy repeatedly licked his juvenile's stepdaughter's nipple while horse playing. He also admitted to getting in the shower with her while she was naked.  
2002: Same deputy (as the previous 2002 case) took a juvenile detainee to his apartment, repeatedly told her how pretty she was and touched her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. He threatened to shoot her if she told anyone. (Dunning said he did not recall that a threat was made.)
2011: Someone complained about a Douglas County sheriff's lieutenant's romantic relationships, including texting pictures of his genitals to women and sending sexually explicit emails to women. He also was accused of having sex at the office and abusing his work hours to conduct personal business.
The registry protects no one and it certainly protects no one from law enforcement officers who have little worry about being prosecuted for a sex offense.

Update: This is a link to an AP article derived from the OW-H story. No paywall, no subscription required.

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.