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.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

what happens when a state loses track of registrants?

Missouri has lost track of 1,259 people listed on its sex offender registry. Poor Missouri. 

Nicole Galloway, state Auditor discovered the problem. 
Galloway said the findings are “disturbing and alarming.” 
Well, I'd say so! Think of all the additional sex crimes that must be happening in Missouri.
“As it stands the sex offender registry really provides a false sense of security,” Galloway said at a news conference in St. Louis. 
Definitely a false sense of security. Who can depend on a list that isn't even accurate?
Galloway said the audit did not compare compliance rates in Missouri with other states, nor did it examine if non-compliant sex offenders committed additional crimes. [My emphasis.]
Hold on, here. They didn't check to see if the missing registrants were committing crimes? If they are worried about public safety, that would have been the first question to answer.

It is almost as if the purpose of the registry has nothing to do with keeping people safe from sex crimes.

Galloway said almost 800 of the missing people are registered under Tier III, the most dangerous category.

Tiers are determined by the crime for which someone was convicted, an automatic "you committed this crime so you belong on this tier." Individual risk assessments are not part of the process at all.

Over time, there is no way for a registrant to show that they pose less risk now that they are employed or now that they have completed therapy or now that they are older or now that they have been law-abiding citizens for decades--none of the factors that can help determine risk are considered. Not when someone is initially placed on the registry and not years later.

Missouri is not the only state losing track of registrants. Wisconsin lost 2,735; Massachusetts lost about 1800.

South Dakota has a list that is almost completely accurate because they lost only 45. You might expect happy news articles about sex offenses being a thing of the past in South Dakota because they know where 98.8 of their registrants are but no, sex offenses still happen there.

Sex offenses still happen, no matter if the people on the registry are compliant or not--and 95% of them are committed by someone not on the registry.
...Galloway said law enforcement officials often cite a lack of resources. She acknowledged that understaffed police agencies face an uphill battle in maintaining the registry.
Taxpayers ought to consider if it is worth throwing more money at sex offender registries that have no effect on the incidence of  sex offenses. Surely there are better ways to spend tax dollars.
“But this is critically important,” [Galloway] said.
Is it, Ms. Galloway? Show me. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

social media and fear-mongering

The fear-mongering never stops.

Here's a headline that will send chills down parental spines everywhere: Predators are using Fortnite to lure kids. Cops say parents need to worry

Fortnite is a very popular video game, with an estimated 45 million players which means millions of parents to frighten. The article is about more than video games; it refers to various social media platforms that should frighten parents. Fortnite and other video games get lumped into the "social media" category because players can talk to each other.
Earlier this week, in announcing the arrests of 24 alleged predators, [New Jersey] state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal warned the public that people looking to take advantage of young teens and children have more options to do so than ever due to the ever-developing landscape of internet communication.
Yes. People play video games on an increasing number of platforms. Players can communicate with strangers who are also playing the game.
"It is a frightening reality that sexual predators are lurking on social media, ready to strike if they find a child who is vulnerable," Grewal said in describing how the 24 suspects were attempting to lure and elicit sex with teenagers. 
Some of them -- a police sergeant, included -- posed as teenagers, themselves.
See, that does sound scary. Creepy men trying to hook up with underage kids.

While it is possible that someone might use video games and social media to find an underage partner, is it really a frightening reality that should worry parents?
The men thought they were chatting with 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls, but were instead talking with detectives with the New Jersey State Police's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Instead of predators looking for kids, it turns out that this is a case of predators looking for adult men to arrest. No kids involved.
The task force trains its detectives to maintain online profiles on apps known for hooking up like Tinder and Grindr.
Law enforcement likes to run sting operations to find "predators" online but are they finding men looking for underage excitement or are they finding men online and then plying them with sexy come-ons, waiting for the victim to express interest before revealing "I'm really only 14"?

An Atlanta case in February 2018 offers some answers. A man arrested in a sting operation called Operation Hidden Guardian, went to trial and was acquitted.
During Operation Hidden Guardian, which launched Nov. 9, investigators posing as children had more than 600 exchanges with people on various online platforms, including social media and chat rooms. In more than 400 of those exchanges, the suspect initiated contact with the “child” and directed the conversation toward sex.
Clearly, law enforcement officers were pulling sting targets into sex-talk, not the other way around.

In 2015, I wrote about a bestiality case in which law enforcement communicated with their target for nearly a year before the target finally gave them what they needed to make an arrest.

It is true that dangers lurk online but perhaps more for unwary adults than for children. Law enforcement runs a sting to create situations that result in an arrest, not to catch people who are already trying to lure children.

The fear-mongering is a by-product of those stings.

Friday, August 31, 2018

dangers of easy community notifications

Computer technology has improved much of our lives. Who wants to return to days of encyclopedias and the library card catalog? As much as we appreciate the easy access to a wealth of information, let's not lose track of the dangers of easy access to data.

Offender Watch is a company that provides a service for law enforcement agencies, contracting with governments to manage sex offender registries. Seventeen states use the Offender Watch network.
Every sheriff's office and registering police department, as well as state corrections and public safety officials, will use the technology to share records on sex offenders and communicate with agencies in Maryland and other states. 
"We transfer those records across the network so that all the information collected on that person in Baltimore, Maryland is now transferred to Prince George's County when he moves," OffenderWatch President Mike Cormaci told Stacy Lyn.
Without Offender Watch, maybe the data transfer is manual. Perhaps the new state enters all information from scratch and the originating state deletes the data when they get around to it. To be honest, I am not certain how all of that happens.

What I do know is that when something becomes easy, it is easy to treat the data carelessly.
"My agency saw the need very early to adopt a program that not only allowed our Sex Offender Registry Unit to communicate with our neighboring counties and police departments, but also can communicate in real time with agencies outside of Maryland when potentially dangerous offenders moved into Wicomico County," Lewis said in a statement. "My citizens deserve the most accurate and timely notifications to protect their families." 
But do citizens deserve to spend money on accurate and timely notifications that do not protect their families?

Because over 95% of people on the registry do not commit another sex offense, it is clear that most new offenses are committed by those not on the registry. Lists of people convicted of specific crimes protect no one.

Offender Watch either knows that and chooses to make money by generating fear or they don't know that and should not be in this line of business.
Agencies can share as much or as little information about offenders as they like, so proprietary investigative notes can be kept close to the vest, Cormaci said.
When it is easy to share data across jurisdictions, it is more likely that the data will be shared.
One purpose of their program is to let citizens know with alerts and updates when an offender registers or moves within a specified radius of their address, be it the citizen's home, school, work or anywhere else they or their children spend time.
Not all states require community notification, the practice of sending notices to anyone who lives within a certain distance of a registrant new to the neighborhood.

When it is easy to send out notifications, it is more likely that legislators will think notifications are needed. Companies like Offender Watch benefit from a change that would require those notifications and may actually lobby for that change.

Watch your state legislature so that you can be ready to testify against the need for notifications.