Monday, March 2, 2015

the registry does no good but we must have it anyway, says MA state rep

Paul Heroux, a Massachusetts State Representative, asks the question, do sex offender registries reduce recidivism?

He answers the question immediately.

No. Or at least that is what the empirical evidence and research on this issue shows. 
Seems clear enough but Heroux is a lawmaker with a constituency that could turn on him so he tries to hedge his bets. 
But that doesn't mean we should not have them. The fact is that the registries don't really do anything to improve public safety. They just make people feel safer and in control; unfortunately this is a false sense of security.
To restate his first paragraph: sex offender registries don't improve public safety; they offer only a false sense of security.

Can he balance those facts against "but that doesn't mean we should not have them"? He tries.

His arguments against the registry are a bit murky but the basics are there.

  1. Sex offenders are not all the same and we should not treat them as if they are.
  2. Because sex offender recidivism is very low, we can't use past behavior of a sex offender to predict his future behavior.
His arguments for keeping the registry?
There is more to policy than just evidence-based practices. In politics and government administration, there is ever present concerns with effective policy and the optics of policy. 
Ohhh. Optics of policy. That sounds so...important. Notice, though, that he separates the optics of policy from effective policy.

That separation earns him points for honesty. 

His arguments for keeping the registry continue:

Now, while I already discussed that registries are a false sense of security, that they take time away from what does work, and that there is no evidence that they reduce recidivism, there is reason to keep them. Parents and the public want to know who have committed sex offenses. And since all criminal records are public information, this information should not be suppressed. However, the public needs to start to understand that sex offender registries don't keep people safe. And the public also needs to realize that not all sex offenders are pedophiles. Most are people who will never re-offend ever again. The statistics are very clear about this. [My emphasis.]
His pro-registry arguments...
  1. People want to know who committed sex offenses.
  2. That information is already public information and shouldn't be suppressed.
...are neatly sandwiched between two restatements of his arguments against the registry.

Heroux knows the truth: registries do no good. I'm glad he sees that.

He continues with a handy list of ways to guard against sex offenses, which does not include consulting the registry.

Then comes this muddled paragraph:

In addition to the person, the individual and the guardian being the first and best line of defense against sex offenders, we need to include who is a pedophile in our classification of the Sex Offender Level. In some states, pedophilia as a DSM diagnosis, is not included as a variable when determining who is a level 1, 2 or 3 sex offender. We need to make sure that we empirically evaluate the effectiveness of correctional treatment programs aimed at reducing sex offending. There is a lot that can and should be done. The point of this article is not to get into all of that; that point of this article is to highlight that sex offender registries don't reduce sex offender recidivism.
He mentions two specific measures he thinks should be taken--we need to keep track of the pedophiles on the registry and we need to figure out if treatment programs are effective--right before saying he doesn't want to get into all of that.

Researching existing sex offender treatment programs is an excellent idea. We ought to get into all of that.

According to Heroux himself, registered sex offenders--including any who might be pedophiles--are very unlikely to commit another sex offense, so why the special attention to pedophiles? Probably because there is no easier target than the fearsome pedophile and the suggestion that pedophiles get extra-special treatment on the registry is a sop to his pro-registry constituents.

That constituency must make him wary about flat-out stating the obvious: 

We could abolish the registry with no effect on public safety.

Seeing Heroux write that the registry has no effect on recidivism is gratifying. Imagine how gratifying it would be if he could say that without adding to the restrictions imposed by the registry, that same registry that he says "[doesn't] really do anything to improve public safety."

Either it helps prevent further crimes or it doesn't. It doesn't.
Either it protects the community or it doesn't. It doesn't.

If only Heroux had gone a step further and talked about what the registry does.

It is used to keep registrants from finding employment.
It is used to keep registrants from finding housing.
It is used to encourage fear of people who are very unlikely to commit a sex offense.
It is used to keep parents from attending school events with their children.
It puts families in danger. Real, physical danger from vigilantes.

Sex offenders and their families are routinely affected in those ways by the registry and none of that helps to keep our communities safer.

Perhaps if State Representative Heroux hears from those who appreciate him saying as much as he did, he might find the moral courage to stand up for sex offenders and their families.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

two stories of witnesses protecting the bad guy

Two interesting stories about witnesses to a crime.

In the first story, a young man was murdered and no witnesses are coming forward with information.
“Detectives are not receiving much, if any, cooperation or true and accurate information from neighbors and subjects they believe, through their investigation, to be witnesses,” Sgt. Chris Snyder wrote in a news release Thursday, Jan. 8.
Snyder urges anyone with information to come forward. 
It must be frustrating to know there are witnesses who could help to solve a murder but that none of them are willing to help find the killer.

The second story, from Radley Balko, tells of a cell phone video serving as a witness, saving a man from a conviction.
In order to help out his family and earn a quick $50, [Douglas] Dendinger agreed to act as a process server, giving a brutality lawsuit filed by his nephew to Chad Cassard as the former Bogalusa police officer exited the Washington Parish Courthouse. 
The handoff went smoothly, but Dendinger said the reaction from Cassard, and a group of officers and attorneys clustered around him, turned his life upside down.
That group of officers and attorneys did not react well to Dendinger serving the papers. Balko says:
He was not only arrested, he was also charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor. A prior drug charge on his record meant he was potentially looking at decades in prison. Seven witnesses backed up the police account that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard.
Seven witnesses to the crime of false reporting. 

A cell phone video of Dendinger handing the papers to Cassard proved that all seven witnesses lied.

But here’s my question: Why aren’t the seven witnesses to Dendinger’s nonexistent assault on Cassard already facing felony charges? Why are all but one of the cops who filed false reports still wearing badges and collecting paychecks? Why aren’t the attorneys who filed false reports facing disbarment? Dendinger’s prosecutors both filed false reports, then prosecuted Dendinger based on the reports they knew were false. They should be looking for new careers — after they get out of jail.
The connection between the two stories? In both, the bad guy is protected by his community.

When cops protect bad cops, and often with no consequences for doing so, why are we surprised when the broader community does the same?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

commenters sweep up after non-story

A story out of Santa Rosa CA tells us about a "sex offender sweep."
A countywide law enforcement check of registered sex offenders Thursday afternoon found that 94 of 119 offenders were in compliance with residential requirements, Santa Rosa police said.
As we would expect, most of the registrants were compliant. Any arrests made were for something other than a sex offense.


The comments, though, are more interesting than the story.

Commenter panem_and_circenses does some math:
I am guessing the employees of the 12 agencies participating in this operation (12 agencies to knock on 119 doors - did you catch that?) were not volunteers and did the door knocking in teams. How many man hours did this take? Figuring in police salary and bennies, how much did this little exercise cost the tax payer? But hey, it is not as if the State and its cities are broke or that violent crime is a problem.... 
Now, if I were a LEO what would I prefer - fighting actual crime and dealing with criminals with guns or knocking on a bunch of doors (of people's homes who most likely have not committed a single crime in decades, many of whom are quite elderly) with a gun on my hip and a buddy by my side?
Shaman707 responds:
True, but it's easy overtime. And there is no value in the "enforcement". This group has an overall recid rate of less than 3%. That's lower than almost all other crime categories. But none of the other categories are "monitored" for life. A murder convict can do his time, complete parole, and move on. But somebody who got a happy ending from his 17 year old girlfriend 30 years ago is a social outcast and a criminal scumbag until he dies. The laws surrounding this group of people had good intentions, but they are horribly flawed, wasteful, and serve virtually no purpose towards public safety. [My emphasis.]
When LoveFor Da Game worried,
25 weren't in compliance, which is approximately 20% I still find that somewhat troubling...
 Panem_and_circenses was sensible:
I would be curious as to why you find this administrative shortcoming somewhat troubling...[My emphasis.]
Administrative shortcoming, indeed. When a data entry error can result in an arrest for failure to register, we are talking about administrative shortcomings.

When failure to register is defined, in an "alternate universe" kind of reasoning, as a sex offense, we are talking about astounding administrative shortcomings.

Good to see commenters pulling back the curtain on sex offender sweeps.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

for those who just landed in this pile of manure

You have a family member in trouble for something that the whole world hates and you cannot stop imagining what people would think when they find out.

Will they think you knew what was going on and that you let it happen? Will they expect you to abandon your family member because what he did is just too awful to deal with? Will your friends leave you? Will your family be angry with you?

When he comes home, your address will be on the registry. That thought makes it hard to breathe.

Will your children be safe? Will strangers target your house? How will your kids deal with the heartbreak of him going to prison? Can they visit him in prison? Do you want them to do that?

This is a frightening time. The justice system will ruthlessly remove any illusion that you can control the outcome and any illusion that the justice system has to do with justice. You are left waiting. Waiting in fear is excruciating.

The good part? You can get through this.

Yes, even years of visiting someone in prison, even stories in the news, even abandonment by someone you thought would stand with you, even your address on that registry.

Good people will help you through, if you let them. Your need is another person's opportunity to be a better person by helping you. Your helplessness is another person's call to be strong for you.

You may not realize that someone is watching and learning from you but you are an example of steadfastness for someone who needs your example. Walk with your head held high.

The world is full of good people. Be patient; you will find them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"redeemed and redeemable"

Good people are ready to help those released from prison. Read this story about Sr. Mary Sean Hodges.
...a story that started seven years ago, when Hodges began offering former inmates – specifically sex offenders – a place to live in an old warehouse near downtown Los Angeles that had once been an adult bookstore. Hodges had been visiting prisons to pray with inmates, and what she learned led her to design a program to deal with their social, practical, and spiritual needs.
"My faith and belief in Christ Jesus teaches me that all persons are redeemed and redeemable," she says.
Read the whole thing and then find a way to do even a tiny part of what she does.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

parking lots, bridges, and lean-to's: no home-sweet-home in Florida

Florida has extremely tough residency restrictions for sex offenders. Do they make the community safer? You tell me.
As a convicted sex offender, [he] was ordered to live in a small parking lot on Channelside Drive. 
[He] had been prosecuted for impregnating his 14-year-old girlfriend when he was 23, was sentenced to community control and probation. 
For refusing to stay for more than a few weeks in the empty lot, [he], 27, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. 
On Friday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal reluctantly upheld [his] punishment. 
“We are troubled by the fact that the terms of [his] community control have rendered him homeless,” the court wrote. “This does not appear to facilitate the goals of sex offender community control which are 'treatment of the offender and the protection of society.' ”
He had a van to sleep in but sleeping in a parking lot comes with its own dangers. How many of you would be willing to sleep in a parking lot for months or years? How secure would you feel?

His sentence for leaving the parking lot for the home of a family member--a safer location--was ten years; his original sentence for statutory rape didn't even include prison time. Insane that probation violations can draw a more severe sentence than the original crime did.

Richard Sanders, this man's public defender said this case is...
“not as unusual as you might think.” 
“These people that get these sex offender charges have very severe restrictions on where they can live, particularly if they're poor, as a large number of them are,” he said. “You only have a limited number of places where you can live. And if you can't afford to live there, what are you going to do?” 
Sanders previously represented another Hillsborough County sex offender, [ ] a house painter with an amputated arm and trouble finding a home and a job. [He] was forced to live in a lean-to next to a trash bin behind the probation office. 
The building owner didn't want [him]to live there, and he was told to find somewhere else to live.
Leaving sex offenders only parking lots, bridges, and lean-to's as living space certainly does nothing for community safety.

If the residence restrictions are not about safety, then it is clear that they are about marginalization and punishment. Sex offenders are easy targets because defending them is not generally well-received, even when facts show that registered sex offenders rarely commit another sex offense, that residency restrictions would not prevent anyone from committing another crime if he were so inclined and even when the facts show that stability--a home, a job, friends and family--is the best predictor of success for former offenders.

Marginalization is not about safety; it is about being allowed to be cruel to those on the registry.

Sanders, the public defender, said,
“Who wants to be the one to introduce a bill in the Legislature that relaxes some of these requirements? Soft on child molesters — who wants that? I think we're kind of stuck with this situation that's going to keep going and getting worse and worse and worse.”
Craven cowardice in the Legislature or deliberate evil?

You tell me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

why so many behind bars in the U.S.?

Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour interviews Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, and Margo Schlanger from the University of Michigan, about the high rates of incarceration in the United States.

The interview makes the same point I make here, that we need to find ways to stop putting people behind bars.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report finds that more Americans than ever are spending time in jail. The Vera Institute of Justice showed that, in the past two decades, despite a drop in the crime rate, the number of people going to jail has increased dramatically. 
In addition, those behind bars are staying longer. Some 62 percent of them have not yet been convicted of a crime, and three-quarters of those jailed now are brought in for nonviolent offenses. The report also finds that a disproportionate number of those in jail suffer from mental illness.
This surprised me. Sixty-two percent of those in jail have not even been convicted yet. Why so many stuck in jail while waiting for trial?
NICHOLAS TURNER: ...about 60 percent of them are still locked up without having been convicted yet, so they’re presumed innocent — a large percent of them are locked up or are unable to get released because they can’t post bail.

So take New York City, for example, where in 2013 half of everyone who was at Rikers or some of the other detention facilities were there because they couldn’t post low rates of bail, $2,500 or less.
Our jails are overcrowded because poor people arrested for non-violent crimes can't afford bail, not because the world is full of so many dangerous criminals. Remember that most of these are people arrested for misdemeanors.

Those convicted of felonies end up in prison. How to reduce the prison population?
MARGO SCHLANGER: Solving the prison problem, the problem for people who have been convicted of felonies, that will take a more varied kind of set interventions. But I think it’s really — right now is a great moment for us to try to make those interventions. 
... We could — we need to do parole and probation reform. We need to do the reform of the system that allows prisoners good-time credit off their sentences if they are behaving themselves in prison. We need to do community corrections kinds of reform, so that prosecutors have some place to send people when they — so that they don’t just send them to prison because it’s the only option.
Schlanger and Turner also talk about why so many mentally ill people end up in jail or prison.

Reducing the number of people behind bars in the United States will require legislators to stand up and do the right thing, even when it is unpopular.