Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Omaha registrant murdered

Edited May 23. After a conversation in which I was critical of people jumping to conclusions when, really, very little is known in the Condoluci case, I went back to check my own earlier assumptions. In this blog post, I wrote as if I knew for sure that Fairbanks had written the email even though I don't know that for a fact.

Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those of us who have seen the criminal justice system in action understand clearly that mistakes are made too frequently for comfort. We must demand a scrupulous adherence to due process in this case because that is what we would demand for ourselves.

I left the blog post as originally written, with this note to explain my error. I did change the title from Omaha man murdered because he was on the registry to Omaha registrant murdered.


This is a big story, not just because reporters must love having something other than the coronavirus to talk about, but because it illuminates the truth about the sex offense registry: It puts registrants and their families in danger and protects no one. It didn't protect Matt Condoluci's 5-year-old victim because Condoluci was not on the registry when he committed that 1994 crime. It didn't protect another victim when Condoluci was on the registry in 2007.

You know who else it didn't protect? Matt Condoluci. From everything we think we know now, he was murdered because he was listed on the registry.

I'm going to recap (with links!) for people who were listening to great music or reading a book instead of following the news over the last couple of days.

Saturday, May 16, 64-year-old Matt Condoluci's body was found at his home at 43rd and Pinkney Street in Omaha NE. Monday, we learned that someone had emailed news outlets claiming to have killed Condoluci because he learned that Condoluci was on the sex offense registry for raping children.

Tuesday, James Fairbanks turned himself in to the police for the murder and stories started flying. Fairbanks' ex-wife said he confessed to her that he had done it; she said he is such a great guy, even the part about him murdering a stranger isn't too bad.

The ex-wife, Kelly Tamayo, a psychologist, explained that in Fairbanks' work as a corrections officer, he...
...may have been driven to kill by working with pedophiles while he was employed by the prison system. ... I think he reflected on his experiences working with them as just bothersome and upsetting because they are repeat offenders, we know them to be people who, you know, who repeatedly act out their intent or they act on their wishes that are to harm children." https://metro.co.uk/2020/05/19/vigilante-shot-child-sex-predator-dead-saw-leering-children-12729140 
To be fair, Tamayo's work is in weight loss and  mental fitness, not in therapy for those who committed sex offenses. She ought to be forgiven for not knowing that repeat offenses are very rare among those on the registry.

Condoluci's daughter was interviewed and she said kids are safer now that her dad is dead.

Reporters did a little work and found that Fairbanks' ex-wife who gave such a glowing report of him had actually taken out two protection orders on him while they were going through a divorce. There is also a report of him threatening to kill a family friend.

Reporters also found Condoluci's son, who said his dad's crimes were a long time ago and his dad had changed since then. He said that Fairbanks didn't know his dad and his dad should not have died the way he did.

In his confession [see my May 23 note above] as represented on the Omaha Scanner webpage, Fairbanks said he "stumbled across" Condoluci's registry information; he agonized about it for days, and came back to kill him. He said he agonized because Condoluci was a child rapist. Never mind that the registry did not report any rape convictions for Condoluci.

Fairbanks goes on to say that he "researched him more" and learned that Condoluci had molested kids in several states. Then he mentions the mother of the 1994 victim and her Facebook group dedicated to letting the world know that Condoluci was a bad, bad man. In a post in the Facebook group, she says, "This preditor preys on single mother's to get his hands on her children. He moves from state to state. He must be stopped." 
The Facebook group was called Matt Condoluci (preditor)

At least, that is what it was called until she renamed it Free James Fairbanks today.

She seems to feel quite strongly about James Fairbanks. On the Free James Fairbanks Facebook page, she says,
I do not believe James was acting as a vigilante. I believe he had seen enough of the wreckage sexual abuse causes and may have felt helpless and "snapped" when he saw what he saw. He is as much a victim as my son and the other children he is not a vigilante. I don't know him but from what I am seening of him he is a good man and may be suffering from PTSD though I'm not a Dr. This man deserves our support. 
This mother endured the death of her son (the 1994 victim) from a drug overdose in 2017 and held Condoluci responsible for that death because of the early molestation. We can certainly sympathize with any parent who endures the death of a child.

Perhaps the fact that both her son and Fairbanks were corrections officers has something to do with her strong support of a man she never met. Perhaps it was just that she wanted Condoluci dead and Fairbanks made that happen. Who knows?

It is surprising that in the area where Fairbanks was looking for an apartment, 96 registrants live within a one mile radius around Condoluci's home, yet Fairbanks picks out the one guy who has a Facebook group dedicated to calling him out as a child molester. 

This story has many twists in it and the news media is making the most of it. News reports love to show the playground equipment in Condoluci's backyard as if it says anything about the man's intentions...as if none of us have rented a home with something in the backyard that is more trouble to move than to leave in place. They like to repeat Fairbanks' fantasy about what Condoluci was thinking while he watched children play. 

They like to explore Condoluci's criminal background as if it has any bearing on why he was murdered by a stranger.

Under all the twists and the lurid imaginings, though, is the truth:
The registry was used to target a law-abiding man for murder.

It is beyond time to acknowledge what the registry does--put people in danger--and abolish the registry.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

County Attorney has a chance to slow the spread of the coronavirus

Nebraska's Douglas County Prosecutor's office is faced with the opportunity to model good public health practices.

From a March 30 KETV story:
A prosecutor in the Douglas County Attorney's Office has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine....
Friday, the prosecutor got a call ... saying someone he was working closely with had tested positive. [The prosecutor] been at work for more than a week. Kleine said the prosecutor had contact with at least 25 people in the office. He'd also been in courtrooms on nearly every floor of the courthouse. 
"Defense attorneys, bailiffs, judges, even defendants that might have been in the courtroom while he was there are all being notified,” Kleine said.
Even defendants. Um...thanks for noticing?

March 12, the Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice announced  that courts will continue to operate as usual and even though Governor Ricketts limited gatherings to ten or fewer, courts were excluded from the 10-person limit.

From an Omaha World-Herald article:
Courthouse crowds became more sparse as presiding judges of a few counties, including Douglas, imposed more restrictions than the chief justice had, delaying jury trials and encouraging attorneys and litigants to either delay hearings or appear by video or teleconference. 
Even so, the Douglas County Courthouse, while quiet by normal standards, has been brimming with dozens of attorneys, litigants, clerks, sheriff’s deputies and security personnel who have to check all courthouse-goers. 
Sounds like a great way to spread the coronavirus.

Crowds, small or large, at a courthouse are not a static group. People come in and out of the courthouse all day. Some leave to go home, others are taken to prison or jail. The comings and goings are excellent vectors for the virus.

An assisted living facility in nearby Blair NE closed for a deep cleaning after ten residents tested positive for the virus, reminding us how easily the virus spreads in environments where people are close together.

Like the courthouse. Like jails and prisons.

The World-Herald continues,
“When it starts hitting close to home, it really makes a difference,” Kleine said. “We’re obviously thinking of him. And we’re going to work with the Health Department to track every place that he’s been in the courthouse as we try to make sure everyone’s fears are allayed.”
But will he delay prosecutions to make sure everyone's fears are allayed? Or will he continue to require people to appear at the courthouse?

Will he continue to send people to prison? Remember how quickly the virus spread among the residents at the Blair assisted living facility and think how much more quickly it would spread in Nebraska's overcrowded prisons.

That's the big question. Did Douglas County Attorney Kleine learn enough when it started hitting close to home?

Is his home confined to the prosecutor's office or is his home the community?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sex Offense Litigation and Policy Resource Center statement on COVID-19

The Offense Litigation and Policy Resource Center (SOLPRC) at Mitchell Hamline School of Law issued a statement March 28 about sex offense registries at a time when social distancing is essential to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The information in this statement can be used to craft your own letter to your governor, attorney general, legislators, law enforcement agencies--anyone who needs to understand the issues here.

From the statement:

Suspend in-person registration requirements. Registration requires frequent in-person visits to police stations or jails, where dozens of people commonly congregate in waiting rooms or bullpens, multiplying the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Following the lead of Oregon and other jurisdictions, this process should be modified. 
People on the registry are not immune to this virus. If they contract the virus because of registry laws, they will carry the virus everywhere they go, no matter how clear the need is to employ social distancing, no matter how badly registrants themselves want to avoid contracting or carrying the virus.
Waive or suspend housing banishment laws and other housing restrictions. People experiencing homelessness need emergency housing in order to comply with stay-at-home orders or self-quarantine. But many people listed on “homeless registries” have places they could otherwise reside: housing restrictions alone caused their homelessness. Likewise, prisons have backlogs of people incarcerated past their release dates, or who would be released on parole or probation supervision, if so much housing were not barred. Suspending these restrictions will allow cities to house people more efficiently, conserve emergency beds, and give prison officials the flexibility to place people in homes they already have available. This will protect their populations from the heightened risk of contagion created by needless incarceration and homeless encampments when there are safe available homes for people on the registries. 
Using the imagined danger of registrants living too close to children, legislators passed laws forbidding registrants from living in some areas. Those laws create a disadvantage for the whole community, keeping shelters full when there is a need to put more people in homeless shelters--during bitter winter storms, blazing summer heat, or when it is necessary to slow the spread of a virus. Legislators created this problem.
Waive or suspend arrests and prosecutions for failure-to-comply offenses. “Failure to comply” charges are the result of a missed deadline to reregister or update registration. Akin to technical parole violations, these are often hyper-technicalities that stem from the difficulty of following so many onerous reporting requirements, and have no reported correlation to public safety. Despite this, they contribute to jail and prison churn, risking increased transmission of the virus.
When over-incarceration is clearly something that burdens the United States, incarcerating people because they did not report to law enforcement that their address and employment and vehicles have not changed is ridiculous. At a time when the world is trying to slow the spread of a new virus, is is dangerous to add to overcrowded prisons.
Suspend fees for registration. Economists are projecting 14%-20% GDP contraction for this quarter and unemployment in double-digit rates. Many people have already lost their incomes as a result of the shutdowns. People with past convictions are far more likely to be poor, with reduced job prospects. Non-payment of these fees can result in failure-to-comply charges; during this crisis registration fees should be suspended.
Siphoning money from the pockets of the poor is outrageous. When the response to that statement is that those people committed sex crimes so they deserve it, it becomes abundantly clear--again--that the registry is commonly considered to be punishment, no matter how often courts deny that fact.
Suspend in-person address verifications. Routine police visits to the addresses of people listed on registries, for the sole purpose of an address check, should be suspended. These visits are widespread, and number in the tens of thousands. At a time when even 911 calls are under stress, law enforcement should be able to redirect their resources as needed. 
Sending cops door-to-door to make sure registrants live where they claim to live is a bizarre choice even when there is no threat of carrying a new virus door-to-door. When these compliance checks make headlines in the evening news broadcast, look around to see if there is a reason law enforcement agencies are trying to look pro-active. Using law-abiding people as props in an attempt to buff up the image of law enforcement or the tough-on-crime image of and elected official is despicable.
Suspend Internet access restrictions. Some people who are on probation or parole are forbidden from accessing wide swaths of the Internet, and some states have laws limiting Internet access for people listed on a conviction registry. During this crisis, access to the Internet has become even more critical: nearly everyone must rely on Internet access for work, news, homeschooling, services, and family connections. Individual safety, as well as public health compliance, requires timely online access to crucial information about social and health services, as well as access to medical services that are moving online. 
Because news about the virus and public health recommendations can change so quickly, no one should be forbidden to stay current with news and health guidance.
“Step down” people in civil commitment. More than 6,000 people are locked post-sentence in prison-like state civil commitment facilities, that pose the same coronavirus dangers to staff and detainees as jails and prisons. States should speed up “step-down” procedures and move people into supervised community settings.
People in civil commitment facilities have lost their liberty without due process. To leave them where they are essentially defenseless against a fast-spreading illness is cruel.

The registry does not protect anyone and it puts registrants and their families at risk of public humiliation, increased contact with law enforcement, and now, COVID-19. Write to anyone who can influence how registry laws are implemented and let them know the many reasons they should make changes during emergencies.

If you quote from the SOLPRC statement, make sure to include a link to the statement itself (https://mitchellhamline.edu/sex-offense-litigation-policy/wp-content/uploads/sites/61/2020/03/SOLPRC-COVID-19-Guidance-March-28-1.pdf).

Friday, March 27, 2020

reducing the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons

Attorney General William Barr in a press conference and an interview with ABC News, talked about the fears of COVID-19 spreading inside federal prisons. The fears are warranted. We have already seen the virus moving quickly through other closely-housed populations such as nursing homes.
"You want to make sure that our institutions don't become petri dishes and it spreads rapidly through a particular institution," Barr said on Thursday. "But we have the protocols that are designed to stop it and we are using all the tools we have to protect the inmates."
Having "all the protocols" is meant to reassure us that the Bureau of Prisons is on top of this threat to community health. Are prison staff and their families are reassured by that? The unions for correctional officers are worried.

ABC News continues:
He added that "one of the those tools will be identifying vulnerable prisoners who would make more sense to allow to go home to finish their confinement."
Home confinement for vulnerable prisoners does make sense. The BOP already has a way to release those who are elderly or have a terminal illness: compassionate release. Why not release inmates to their families and reduce the prison population, slowing the spread of the virus?
Barr said that of the 146,000 inmates currently serving time in federal prison facilities, one third are believed to have pre-existing medical conditions and roughly 10,000 are over the age of 60 years old.
Would the BOP actually release 10,000 inmates? Until the 2018 First Step Act increased the number to around 100, an average of a dozen inmates were granted compassionate release each year, so it doesn't seem likely.

ABC News:
...Barr stressed that there would be significant limits on what would make prisoners eligible for release to home confinement, noting that they could not be convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses -- which makes up roughly 40% of the over-60 population.
What is he doing here? Is he talking about reducing the spread of the virus or not? The virus spreads as easily to those convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses, and just as easily from those people to the prison staff and back out to the community.
In response to some local and state prisons across the U.S. who have opted to release inmates in prisons and jails in large numbers, Barr said he was concerned about those using the coronavirus simply as a vehicle to de-populate prisons around the U.S.
He isn't talking about the virus here. He responds to questions about the virus by talking about protecting the prison system.

In the meantime, we continue paying to incarcerate 146,000 people in federal prison, including the increasing costs of health care for elderly inmates.

Only time will tell.

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.  
URL: http://unrcfr.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_b1oK7ZdF53PbGbX
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 nwi.com:
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.