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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Florida sex offenders pushed into homelessness; ACLU pushes back

The Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge was home to nearly 100 sex offenders until public outcry forced a cleanup in 2010. No more sex offenders living under that bridge. Whew.

The Miami-Dade County residency restrictions -- some offenders are prohibited from living within 2500 feet of a school -- that pushed sex offenders to that bridge are still in force, so where do sex offenders live now? Beside the railroad tracks.
Rather than helping people recently released from prison identify housing suitable under the Miami-Dade ordinance, its probation officers instead direct those unable to find housing to the tracks. Many at the tracks tell the same story of this surreal experience. 
After learning they had nowhere to live, their probation officers wrote down a street intersection on a piece of paper. The officers instructed them to either go to the location or go back to prison. Arriving at the intersection, the probationers walked around for hours in disbelief. They expected to find some sort of house or building, but eventually grasped the barren truth: They had been sent to live on an empty lot.
What could possibly justify a government knowingly forcing its citizens into homelessness? If you were a Miami-Dade official, your answer would be "public safety." And you would be wrong.
The article at the link has several links to research showing that residency restrictions do nothing to improve public safety. This is not secret research that only club members can see. This is research freely, easily available to legislators everywhere.
Residency restrictions are not only ineffectual and counterproductive. They are cruel. By depriving people of the fundamental right to personal security and driving them into homelessness, Miami-Dade is violating the Constitution's basic promise of due process. In response, the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida today filed a lawsuit challenging the county's residency restrictions on behalf of three plaintiffs made homeless by this toxic ordinance and the Florida Action Committee, a nonprofit organization that tries to identify housing for those impacted by the ordinance. [My emphasis.]
The time has come for Miami-Dade County to turn away from this failed public policy.
Miami-Dade County is far from the only place where citizens are told residency restrictions will increase public safety. 

It is time for all of them to turn toward decisions backed by research and away from calculated fear-mongering.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

why we shouldn't prosecute the football hazers

In a tweet, Lenore Skenazy calls Judith Levine's piece in CounterPunch the "bravest, best article on Sayresville, NJ football hazers." 

Levine begins:
If it’s true that all seven of the football players arrested for hazing in the Sayreville, New Jersey, War Memorial High School locker room are students of color, that is one more reason not to prosecute them as sexual felons. 
I don’t mean not to prosecute them in adult court. I mean not to prosecute them at all. 
If they’re guilty, they should be disciplined by the school, kicked off the Bombers team, and held accountable to their victims by making amends in words and deeds. 
But the punishment the state will mete out far outweighs the transgression. For kids who are 15 to 17 years old, it will be life crushing. 
Yes, more life-crushing even than being punched, kicked, groped, or subject to an unwanted finger inching into your anus.
Why not prosecute them? Levine says research shows that blacks are over-represented on public sex offender registries. Twenty-two percent of those registrants are black, while blacks make up only 13% of Americans. 
In other words, the corrections agency psychologists and police deciding who is so sexually dangerous that his presence must be announced to the whole neighborhood, tend to think of black men as more dangerous than white. 
The Sayreville high school administrators seem to think the same. The Bombers, who surely did not start hazing new players last month or even last year, are 70 to 80 percent white.
If their race figured into the decision to prosecute these seven for doing what has been done for ages by white football players, the decision must be questioned.

The fact that these seven young men, if convicted, will be listed on the sex offender registry is another reason not to prosecute them, Levine says. The punishment will surely be out of proportion to the offense.
Megan’s Laws were supposed to protect children. But two decades of research show they don’t improve anyone’s safety, least of all children’s. In fact, it may be minors themselves who are harmed most by the laws put in place to safeguard them. 
The age of the greatest number of people involved in the criminal justice system for sex offenses is 14. Thank age-of-consent laws for that. Because the laws deem minors categorically incapable of consenting to sex, any sexual contact with a minor is considered an assault. Indeed, if the victim is a minor, sexual assault becomes “aggravated” sexual assault. Aggravated does not mean more sadistic or lengthy. It can just mean the “victim” of a touch or chat room conversation was 13. [My emphasis.]
Fourteen is also the age at which the federal government requires committers of certain sex crimes to be listed on the Internet registries. 
Fourteen. The federal government requires...that there be no room to make judgments specific to circumstances or individuals.
And in a nation already overflowing with prisoners both juvenile and adult, the vast majority of them black and brown, do we need to lock up more black and brown kids? 
The United States would benefit greatly from putting far fewer people of any color in prison. 
In its 2011 report “Raised on the Registry,” Human Rights Watch detailed the severe and lifelong harms of putting youth on sex offender registries, from chronic unemployment and homelessness to depression and suicide. HRW and other human rights advocates have condemned the incarceration and registration of minors as violations of their human rights.
Judith Levine will come under fire for writing this piece. She is brave.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

prosecutor's son facing child porn charges

The son of a county prosecutor is facing charges related to child pornography. Four other men are also charged. The Dayton Daily News says,
“Defendants did knowingly conspire to make, print, publish and cause to be made, printed or published any notice advertisement seeking and offering to retrieve, exchange, buy, produce, display, distribute and reproduce any visual depiction, the production of which visual depiction involved the use of minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” according to the indictment.
Those are serious charges though it sounds as if they are not charged with actually creating child porn or molesting anyone. It sounds as if the men published ads offering to do all of that, which is exactly what law enforcement does when they set up an online sting: they make offers to do something illegal -- provide sex with minors, for example -- and then charge the fools who respond.

If the county sheriff had placed the child porn ads and let fools respond, that prosecutor would now be working late hours on all the resulting cases instead of telling the world about his son's difficult childhood.

In this case, Butler County (OH) Prosecutor Michael Gmoser tries to explain how his son could have come to be involved in such sordid activities.
On Monday, Michael Gmoser told his staff that after years to of trying to conceive, he and his wife, Olga, adopted a “special 7-month-old child.” 
“He was perceived to be highly intelligent,” Gmoser said. “But we knew we would always have to deal with Jason on his own terms.” 
Jason Gmoser developed attachment and development disorders that made it difficult to bond with his parents. 
“To say he was a difficult child was an understatement,” Michael Gmoser said. 
Michael Gmoser said his son did excel at science and computers and attended Miami University, but had to drop out.
“He went downhill with depression, self esteem issues and a horrible weight problem … he became reclusive,” Michael Gmoser said. 
He added there were several diagnosis to explain his son’s condition, including Asperger syndrome and bipolar disorder.
Yes, a very sad case. All of that might (or might not) help explain how the prosecutor's son came to make the choices that led to his arrest.
In 2010, Jason Gmoser was admitted to the psychological ward of a local hospital after he had a psychotic episode, with Jason saying he had inappropriately touched a child. 
An investigation concluded Jason had “touched the leg of this young fellow,” Michael Gmoser said, but Jason believed he had done something terrible. 
The mother of the boy sought and received a protection order against Jason, according to Michael Gmoser. 
Jason Gmoser was then taken to Texas to one of the best facilities money can buy, Michael Gmoser said. 
“But money can’t buy everything,” Michael Gmoser said, pausing and appearing to hold back tears.
Nope. Money can't buy everything.

Now that the county prosecutor has to watch his own son go under the steamroller that is our criminal justice system, one can't help but wonder if he will appear to hold back tears when other sex crime defendants explain how circumstances could have led to their crimes.

I don't wish this on anyone, not even someone who could learn valuable lessons from the experience.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

a defense of John Grisham

Radley Balko steps in to remind us that John Grisham is not a lunatic who cares nothing for justice even though Grisham himself has apologized for his earlier statements about child pornography sentences.

Grisham's apology:
"Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography -- online or otherwise -- should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all."
Balko's defense of Grisham, which is a longer and much more thoughtful piece than my blog post
Grisham certainly could have chosen his words better. But he isn’t wrong, and the invective he’s receiving right now is both misinformed and wildly over the top. There are Twitter users calling him a pervert, or for his hometo be raided by the FBI. It isn’t all that different than suggesting that people who criticize the drug laws must be doing or selling drugs. [My emphasis.]
Take this quote out of context, and one could make Grisham look like he thinks the biggest problem with the criminal justice system is that old white guys are getting locked up for looking at child porn. But context is important. Grisham has spent a great deal of time, money, and influence advocating for criminal justice reform. He helped found the Mississippi Innocence Project, and sits on the board of directors for the Innocence Project in New York. He wrote a nonfiction book about a wrongful conviction, and helped another get published. He testified before Congress about the need for reforming the forensics system, addressing the problems he’s seen firsthand in Mississippi.
Balko's piece is heavy on the links because the information he presents about Grisham is important. Grisham has a history of being on the side of justice. 
The reality is that John Grisham has done far, far more to actually address racial bias in the criminal justice system than the self-righteous pundits mocking him have done or will likely ever do. But because he had the temerity to stick up for a friend — and a middle-aged white male friend at that — the rush is on to disregard all of Grisham’s prior work, exaggerate the indignation, and reduce the man to a caricature....
This dressing down of Grisham by Jessica Goldstein at ThinkProgress pieceis pretty typical. There’s no mention of Grisham’s criminal justice activism. Just a lot of scolding, belittling, and berating. Worse, much of it is factually inaccurate.
Balko goes on to point out several inaccuaracies and then takes issue with the usual arguments about child porn.

I don’t disagree that children depicted in child porn videos continue to experience harm as those videos are distributed. I’m also certain that viewing the ISIS beheadings causes trauma to the families of the victims. Yet I’m not ready to start putting people in prison who, for whatever reason, decided to watch those videos. I’m skeptical of the supply and demand argument, particularly when the suspect hasn’t bought or traded any porn. But even if it’s true that merely viewing child porn provides a market for more child porn, it’s also far from clear that harsh sentencing laws are the answer. We’ve been tossing people in prison for viewing child porn for decades now, yet both the United Nations and the Justice Department say that the online supply of child pornography is only growing. [My emphasis.]
Read all of the Balko piece; I covered only part of it. It will be worth your time. 

If only John Grisham had been better-prepared to argue what his good sense--and his sense of justice--knows to be true: Sentences for child porn offenses are too harsh.

john grisham questions child porn laws

This article and video are teasers for the full interview to be published on the weekend.
The best-selling author and lawyer - who penned novels like The Rainmaker, The Firm and The Pelican Brief - has given an astonishing interview to The Telegraph defending some child sex offenders, saying they have become victims of a legal system that has 'gone crazy'. 
Astonishing interview? Noticing and saying aloud that people go to prison for years for looking at pictures is not astonishing at all. A legal system 'gone crazy' is astonishing. 
The 59-year-old then called for lighter sentences for those caught downloading images and videos of children being sexually abused. 
The Telegraph [...] also noted a major increase in the sentences of people charged with possession of child pornography over the last 10 years. 
Between 2004 and 2010, sentences doubled from 54 months to 95 months.  
That is an astonishing increase. What is the payoff? The images that sent people to prison are still available online. Incarceration has no affect on the supply of child porn images. None. It seems law enforcement and the judicial system have little interest in diminishing the supply.
Grisham was sure to say that he has 'no sympathy for real pedophiles' and believes anyone caught committing such a crime should face harsh penalties.
Odd that a man who earns a hefty living with words, writing suspense thrillers about crime, would fail to understand that pedophilia is not a crime. 

It is heartening to hear others speak out about the harsh sentencing laws.

Update: Radley Balko defends John Grisham.