Sunday, July 10, 2016

NCMEC: now 851,870 registered sex offenders in U.S.

We now have 851,870 registered sex offenders in the United States and its territories, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, NCMEC. See this map for state-by-state information.

California has the largest number of registrants at 103,534. That's what happens when all sex offenders in the state must register for life: only the dead drop off the list. That is, if we can believe that the list is up to date and names are cleared near the time of death.

Texas has the next-highest number of registrants at 87,189 and Florida follows at 68,845.

Those three states are the most populous, so maybe those large numbers make sense. However, if those numbers make sense, how can New York, only half a million short of Florida's total population, have less than a third of Florida's registrants?

What's wrong with Florida? Why does the Sunshine State convict its citizens of sex crimes at the rate of 340 per 100,000 Floridians but New York maintains decorum with only 150 per 100,000?

Even California--the land of nuts and flakes and Hollywood where we all expect crazy stuff to happen--convicts at the rate of only 240 per 100,000.

Does it make sense that Arkansas (515/100,000) or Delaware (503/100,000) has that many more people committing sex crimes? Is there something that makes sex crimes much less likely in Connecticut (149/100,000) or in Oklahoma (160/100,000)?

Oregon is shocking. Quiet Oregon--where tree-huggers occur naturally, like rain--convicts for sex offenses at the rate of 713 per 100,000. What the heck are those lumberjacks and fishermen up to out there on the west coast?

People are people. The laws, though, differ far more than human nature does.

If Americans are supposed to be able to use the registry to decide who the dangerous people are, this map may help them understand that they have been sold snake oil. Cures all ailments! Protects children! Except, no, it does not. Sex crimes still happen though they are committed by people not on the registry.

If the registry were necessary because sex offenders reoffend so frequently, at some point its growth would slow down because the new crimes would be committed by someone already on the list. That is not happening.

New first-time offenders all the time but the laws do not recognize this reality.

Watching the registrant across the street means missing the sex offenses committed by someone not on the registry.

Preventing registrants from living near a school does nothing to prevent first-time offenders from committing sexual assaults inside the school.

If we could advertise how many people are on state registries, who would visit Oregon, knowing that the state has the highest rate of sex offense arrests? Perhaps then, state legislatures would begin to look at the kinds of crimes and the number of crimes that require someone to register.

851,870 registrants, unlikely to commit another sex crime, yet likely to be looked at with suspicion.

It is past time to abolish the registry.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

legislating can be easy; legislating wisely requires more thought

Rachel Marshall, a public defender in Oakland CA, talks about how awful sex offender laws are
... many of my clients would choose to take on more jail time, more fees — anything to avoid being labeled a sex offender for life. That's because our current sex offender registration laws apply an unbending and inhumane one-size-fits-all approach that does not prevent future sex crimes and in fact makes us all less safe.
Imagine. Anything to avoid registration. We have so much evidence to show the registry does not prevent sex crimes or increase community safety that it is next to impossible to understand why registration is still required of anyone.

Registration sounds simple enough. All you have to do is to make sure the registry lists your current address. Marshall explains:
Registering itself is a cumbersome process. Oakland Police Department's current voicemail message for sex registration-related inquiries states that in order to register, one must make an appointment at least a month in advance. It is hard to understand how one can be expected to register within five days of changing addresses if an appointment takes a month to set up. 
And even if one secures an appointment, he must often wait many hours at the police station — jeopardizing any job he was lucky enough to find — to be seen for the appointment. And when the appointment begins, there are rarely interpreters around or people to assist with reading the technical language. So even if you are, like many of my clients — homeless, mentally ill, and too poor to own a phone — you are nonetheless expected to either call a police station or show up in person, make an appointment over 30 days in advance, wait for hours at the police station on your appointment day (hardly a comfortable place for most of us, let alone someone with a criminal record), read and understand legal jargon on lengthy documents, and continue to do so every few weeks for the rest of your life. 
The rest of your life can include getting old, which presents added difficulties that the law does not accommodate.
...I've had clients who continue to get arrested regularly for failing to register simply because they cannot remember to do it as frequently as they are required to and end up back in prison, where their health continues to deteriorate.
Our prisons are already overcrowded and overburdened by sick and elderly inmates, yet sex offender laws are set up to increase the number of sick and elderly inmates.

But public safety! Surely keeping an eye on convicted sex offenders makes our neighborhoods safer! Sadly, no. Emphatically, no.
Supporters of sex registration laws claim they promote public safety by ensuring that police can track offenders' whereabouts and keep them away from children. But no evidence supports the premise that public safety is thereby enhanced in any way; to the contrary, registration laws frequently lead to homelessness, instability, and more time in prison, all of which lead to a greater risk of future crimes. [My emphasis.]
If tracking these particular offenders is important, why write laws that lead so many to homelessness, a circumstance that makes tracking even more difficult?

Some jurisdictions have additional laws in place to prevent RSOs from living too near places that lawmakers imagine would lead them to re-offend. Such fevered imaginings crowd out any logic.
In Miami, Florida, local residency restrictions are so harsh — prohibiting sex offenders from living with 2,500 feet of any place children are likely to gather — they have rendered sex offenders homeless; because of the requirements, offenders have nowhere to live, other than remote, isolated places, like under a bridge or on train tracks. This doesn't exactly provide the support and stability research shows they need to avoid future sex offenses.
Again and again, we see that the registry gets in the way of employment, of housing, of a decent recovery from breaking the law.
Being deemed a sex offender for life carries with it other unwritten penalties. Not only is it infinitely more difficult to get a job or a place to live once one has been labeled a sex offender, but many mental health programs and drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs have policies banning sex offenders. Again, this lack of support and services only furthers the chances that these individuals will end up committing future crimes.
'Future crimes' rarely means sex crimes. Even faced with the difficulties caused by registration, registered sex offenders are still unlikely to commit another sex crime. When the registry shows a registrant who has more than one offense, remember that 'failure to register' can be categorized as a sex crime.

A registrant listed as having been convicted of three offenses on three different dates will certainly look like a dangerous neighbor (he just won't stop!) unless you know that the first offense was actually consensual sex with his younger girlfriend and the second and third offenses were failure to register.

Reading the whole thing will help you see why Marshall's clients would rather be incarcerated than to be on the registry.

To tempt you to read it all, I will tell you that Marshall discusses the Brock Turner case. You know the one. She says:
... the fury over the Brock Turner case has created a risk that we shift toward harsher penalties for sex offenses, without looking closely at what kinds of crimes are included in that category. We must avoid "one-size-fits-all" labels for those convicted of a broad range of offenses.
At a time when we are seeing the beginnings of bipartisan progress toward sentence reform that will reduce our incarceration rate and break up fewer families, do not let your legislators glom onto the emotional appeal of community safety or protecting the children in order to pass sex offender laws. Demand that they use evidence or data to back up proposed legislation.

As complicated and difficult as the registry is now, there is always the possibility that legislators can make it worse.

Do you know how to contact your state legislator?

Monday, July 4, 2016

complicated grief and ambiguous loss

A friend sent me a link to the June 23 episode of the NPR program, On Being. Krista Tippett interviewed Pauline Boss, who wrote Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief.

Boss uses "ambiguous loss" to refer to the loss of people we lose without being able to say "They are gone." Families of Alzheimer's patients, for example, or families of soldiers missing in action mourn the loss of someone before the person is gone or without knowing if that person is gone.

Because of a natural disaster like a tsunami or because of an event like 9/11, people mourn the loss of someone who is dead--but without a body to identify.

Krista Tippett called it that trauma of people not being able to say goodbye, not being able to bury their dead.

From the interview:
MS. TIPPETT: One thing that you say is that the kind of grief that's involved in ambiguous loss is distinct from traditional grief. So how is it different? 
DR. BOSS: Yes. Well, with ambiguous loss, there's really no possibility of closure. ...
Not even, in fact, resolution, whichever word you prefer to use. And therefore, it ends up looking like what the psychiatrists now call “complicated grief.” 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. 
DR. BOSS: And that is, in fact, a diagnosis, complicated grief. And it's believed that it requires some kind of psychiatric intervention. My point is very different, that ambiguous loss is a complicated loss, which causes, therefore, complicated grief, but it is not pathological. Individually, that is. It's not a pathological psyche; it's a pathological situation. And as clients frequently say back to me, “Oh, you mean the situation is crazy, not me,” that's what exactly what I mean. 
It's an illogical, chaotic, unbelievably painful situation that these people go through who have missing loved ones, either physically or psychologically. And if they have some symptoms of grief that carry on, let's say even for five or ten years, if it's a caregiver of an Alzheimer's patient or the parent of a missing child, there is nothing wrong with them. That is typical. That is to be expected, that they would grieve along the way for the various things that they are missing. For example, if a child is kidnapped, they may have an extra grief when this child's friends are graduating. 
Complicated grief. Families of inmates will recognize this. How to mourn the  absence of someone when people around you will not talk about him?

If you know someone who has a family member in prison, recognize that what you see in them could be complicated grief.
DR. BOSS: And in order to understand this, though, we have to make a difference between depression and sadness. 
MS. TIPPETT: Right, right. To say that sadness is not depression. 
DR. BOSS: And so far, that hasn't been made. [laughs] 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. 
DR. BOSS: Yes. Depression is an illness that requires a medical intervention. It's the minority of people who have depression. And yet, with the ambiguous loss of let's say Alzheimer's disease and 50-some other dementias, caregivers are said to be depressed. Most of the caregivers I have met and studied and treated are not depressed; they're sad. They're grieving. And this should be normalized. And sadness is treated with human connection. 
MS. TIPPETT: Mm. So, one of the things that you say — and this makes so much sense, but it's the kind of thing that makes sense — we have to say it — that people can't cope with the problem until they know what the problem is. 
DR. BOSS: Yes. 
MS. TIPPETT: You've said with ambiguous loss that once people have a name for it, just that... 
DR. BOSS: That helps. 
MS. TIPPETT: ...that the stress level goes down a bit.
Like those who lose loved ones to  illness, accident, or age, those who lose someone to prison will appreciate a friend who recognizes that their lives have been turned upside down, that they are experiencing a complicated grief.

Let them grieve. Keep them company.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

open letter season on Brock Turner

The story of the sexual assault at Stanford has generated one news story after another and innumerable Facebook rants. The story, with a perpetrator who was an athlete almost certainly headed to the Olympics and a victim who wrote a heartwrenching letter to her attacker, easily draws an audience.

We have seen not only the statement the victim addressed to Brock Turner and the letter from his dad to the judge and the letter from an old friend to the judge but we have seen open letters to Brock's dad from another dad, to Brock's dad from a pastor, to the victim from the Vice President, to Brock's mom from a blogger, to Brock's dad from list goes on and on.

The open-letter-writers, all vying for the title of Most Meaningful, are much the same: Brock committed a terrible crime, the parents either raised him wrong or need to teach him better lessons now, how dare he blame his crime on booze, and the victim is terribly, terribly brave. The number of people who feel compelled to tell the world how they feel about this particular assault is truly astonishing.

The attack on her is unfathomable...but aren't they all? Do any sexual assaults seem rational to you?

This is not the only--and certainly not the worst--sexual assault that has happened nor is it the only unjust sentence handed down. What happens in less publicized cases?

What happens to a victim who does not receive the outpouring of support this woman has received? What happens to a victim who feels worse when the press and Facebook insist on detailing and rehashing her particular trauma? What happens when a victim hears again and again that she will never recover from sexual assault?

What happens to defendants whose dads don't care enough to write to the judge, whose family cannot afford to pay for a good attorney or who are assigned an already-overloaded public defender?

The emotional shouters and open letter-writers have convinced the world that Brock Turner is the worst kind of rapist even though he was not convicted of rape.

When we let a victim statement or public outrage on behalf of the victim influence a sentence or lead to recalling a judge, we do an injustice to victims who are less articulate or whose attacks fail to draw public notice. We do not arrive at justice when punishment is meted out according to the amount of public outrage generated by the press.

But, you cry, this six-month sentence was egregious! Surely the world can see that, in this particular case, something must be done!

Here is a question for you: Is your yearning for justice confined to cases with sympathetic victims? Are you just as outraged when false allegations of sexual assault are made? When the accused says, "I didn't do it," do you assume he (or she) is lying? Do you assume that accusations mean certain guilt?

Brock Turner's six-month sentence got a lot of people riled up. Who gets riled up when someone is wrongly convicted and sentenced to years or decades in prison?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nevada about to blunder forward with a wrong-headed law

To comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, Nevada will be adding hundreds of names to the sex offender registry, starting July 1.

Not only will hundreds of names be added but the method of categorizing offenders will change. Currently, each offender is assessed to determine the risk of reoffense and categorized accordingly. Those in Tier 1 have been assessed as low risk and do not appear on the online registry.

Now, all sex offenders will be on the website.
Under the new law, tier levels are based on a conviction and age of the victim.
There will be no attempt to look at each offender to determine how likely it is that he will reoffend.
Because the law is retroactive to 1956, many offenders already deemed by a judge to be no threat to the community will have to register and have their names, photos and addresses available for public scrutiny.
Retroactive to 1956! Sixty years ago. Long enough to prove risk of reoffense by not reoffending. How much clearer can it be?

People who have lived law-abiding lives for decades will now be exposed on the registry. Families will need to explain crimes committed ages ago, long before children and grandchildren were born.

Registered sex offenders will lose jobs, lose housing, and almost certainly lose relationships because of the changes to the registry.

The interest of public safety is better served by making it  more possible for RSOs to have a place to live, a job, and community support--not by passing laws that make it less possible.
Under the old system, 1,923 were considered Tier 1, or low-risk offenders. That number declines to 1,646 under the new assessment. Tier 1 offenders are required to register for 15 years and appear annually in person at a local law enforcement agency to update and verify their information. 
The number of Tier 2 offenders goes from 2,648 to 1,790. They must report every six months for 25 years. 
Tier 3 offenders jump to 3,014 from 239 under the old classification system, and are required to report in person every 90 days.
Nevada will go from having 239 on the high risk tier to over twelve times as many on the highest tier. Not because the 2775 people added to the highest tier are more dangerous than they used to be, remember, but because categorization no longer takes into account anything about them except their crimes.
Critics argue the law does not take into consideration the age of the offender or circumstances. A bill to try to fix some of the problems was passed by the 2015 Legislature but vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval because it also eliminated a requirement that certain offenders stay at least 500 feet away from schools, parks and other places frequented by children.
When a legislature starts down the path toward bad law, it seems they can only make it worse.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dear Amy: rethink your advice to sad grandma

A recent Dear Amy advice column was a heartbreaker. A sad grandmother wrote:
My son and daughter-in-law are separated. My son is in county jail awaiting sentencing. 
His wife has moved on and is in a relationship with someone else. She is currently living a great distance from us. There is a child. I love this child dearly, but now cannot see her due to the distance (and other considerations) 
The mom has served my son with papers for full custody. I am so sad. How do I deal with my profound disappointment at not having this child in my life? 
Amy's advice was good, though incomplete.
Dear Sad: Given that your son is in jail, the mother should have full custody of the child, and as the child’s grandparents, you should embrace whatever living situation is best for the girl.  
I do not know enough about the situation to know if the mother should have full custody or not. Being in prison is no reason to assume that the dad should lose legal custody, though. Plenty of people in prison were good parents before they went to prison, will be good parents when they are released, and will try their best to be good parents while in prison.
You don’t mention having any relationship with the child’s mother, but you should make a heroic effort to stay in touch with her. Tell the mother that you respect her choice and that you all want whatever is best for your grandchild. Ask her to email photos and videos from time to time and do your best to be supportive, long-distance grandparents to this child.
This is excellent. The mother, even if she has "moved on", surely needs loving support. Having a spouse in prison is incredibly stressful, even after choosing to leave the marriage. Leaving the marriage is one thing, leaving the father of your child is quite another. He will always be her father.
The child’s mother has an ethical obligation to try to honor your relationship with her child, but she has no legal obligation to do so. Given the extreme circumstances, she may blame you for some of your son’s choices. If your son’s crime is a violent one, then divorcing him and moving away might be best. You need to own and understand this, and always hold this child in your heart — even if she isn’t in your daily life.
Ah...extreme circumstances. Yes, families have a difficult time when someone goes to prison. The muck of blame and shame is stirred up and it takes time before love and forgiveness rises to the top.

The granddaughter has lost her dad, though, and Amy's advice misses a big opportunity to suggest a way to help the little girl. She will need to know that she has not been forgotten by those she loved before her life was turned inside out and that includes her dad.
The grandparents and the mother should be encouraged to make every effort to take the little girl to visit her dad. It may be an especially difficult task for the mother, since she is now in another relationship, but good mothers will recognize that the child needs her father. The whole family needs to remember this. The child needs her father. Perhaps the grandparents can take the granddaughter to visit him. I hope the grandparents will visit their son as often as their circumstances will allow.

It is easy to think that it is best for the child to move on as the mother did but it isn't that easy. Kids interpret events differently from adults. Adults can use logic and experience to understand. Children don't have the experience that helps to make sense of what happened, though that does not mean they stop trying to find an explanation. If they are not given one that makes sense, they will create their own. It can take years for kids to finally understand what happened and what role they played, if any.

Kids might blame themselves for what happened. They might understand the crime incorrectly and think it was worse than what really happened. Having heard all their short lives that they are just like their dad, they might think they will end up in prison, too. There is no way to predict their understanding; cutting off the relationship with the father cuts short the child's chance to work things out.

No matter what the father did, he is still the child's father. No matter what the father did, he can still be a good father--or a better father--when he is released.

The dad in prison, barring an exceptionally long sentence, will be released at some point. He will benefit from family relationships that have been nurtured while he was away. Support from family and friends, along with employment and a place to live, are essential for a former inmate who wants to be successful on the outside.

Acting as if it is acceptable to separate children from parents in prison can do great damage to the child we think we are protecting.

Monday, May 2, 2016

must an inmate confess to a casual correspondent?

Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle responded to a letter from a woman he used to know and she released his letter to the press. The press, in turn, asked a sex therapist to comment on it.
Indianapolis sex therapist Carol Juergensen Sheets says the letter shows Jared still has a long road to go. 
“He hasn’t figured out what he needs to do to get healthy,” said Sheets.“From that letter, he’s minimizing, and sex addicts or people that have sexual compulsivity tend to minimize, justify, and defend themselves, and that’s what I see in the letter. He’s obviously a man who hasn’t had enough recovery yet to be 100 percent responsible for his behavior.”
Perhaps the therapy community exchanges stories about their famous clients; I don't know. Without that kind of professional gossip,though, Sheets has no way to know anything about Fogle's story except for what the press told the rest of us. If she has ever evaluated him professionally, commenting on his state of mind is an ethical breach.

Her analysis of his letter means nothing. Fogle wrote a letter to a casual acquaintance who took the trouble of figuring out how to correspond with him. Who could blame him for wanting to leave a good impression with her?

Is Sheets under the impression that Fogle is receiving sex offender treatment in prison? While his facility offers an SOTP, (sex offender treatment program) inmates generally don't begin that program until they are near their release date. It would be extremely unusual for someone to be in SOTP after only nine months.

As for Fogle's "recovery time" prison is no place for recovery. Prison is a place to recover from.

Most important, Fogel does not owe his casual acquaintances a confession, let alone the rest of us.

Remember that name, Indianapolis: Carol Juergensen Sheets.

Might be wise to avoid a therapist who advertises her services by getting her name in articles about famous people.