Sunday, November 22, 2015

follow the money

My friend Shelly Stow, at With Justice for All, writes about the industry that has grown up around sex offenses.
... following the money trail reveals what lies at the heart and continues to drive this occasionally well-meaning but more often self-serving complexity of businesses, individuals, and motivations that comprise this billion dollar industry.
Occasionally well-meaning might be a generous assessment of what the sex offender industry is today.

Shelly outlines three branches of the sex offender industry:
The first, and certainly the lynch pin that holds it all together, is the appeal to the public for security and protection, especially for the need to protect our children. 
Generating fear for our children is a lucrative business. Not necessarily an honest one but definitely lucrative.
The second, and even larger, branch of this industry is the management of those on the registry. Many of these are applicable to registered offenders living in the community, especially when they are on parole or probation. The first and most insidious is an industry unto itself, and that is the sex offender treatment industry. The polygraph runs a close second...
Keeping track of 850,000 registered sex offenders is expensive. Pointless and expensive.
The third major branch of the sex offender industry is the role the federal government plays. Under the Adam Walsh Act, the Federal Marshals are empowered to track and capture “absconded” registrants, and they receive large grants each year with which to accomplish their work. Additionally, most investigation of electronic/computer sex crime, such as online solicitation, teen-age “sexting,” and viewing illegal images, falls under federal jurisdiction. Federally financed sting and “bait and switch” operations are infamous. 
 Ah, the government. It is here to help itself.

Read the whole thing. Shelly knows her stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Missouri family speaks out against registry

The registry has an unreasoning reach. Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star writes the story of a Missouri man falsely accused of molesting his son. Twenty-six years later as an adult, the son is working to remove his father's name from the sex offender registry.

The story is compelling and the Midwest Innocence Project is considering whether to take this man's case.

The article provides information about how retroactive laws can affect a registered citizen and his family. This man has lived in his home since 2000 but a new court ruling may force him out. The registry does not recognize his law-abiding life. At all.

It knows only that registered citizens are easy targets.
If sex offender registries are about keeping close tabs on offenders, [Captain Mike Rogers of the Jackson County Sherrif's Department] said, forcing them to move would send the system into chaos.
Yes, if keeping track of sex offenders is important, letting them stay in place seems much simpler...unless we understand that the registry has nothing to do with community safety and everything to do with tormenting those whose offenses we find abhorrent.
“I think sex offender registries are an important part of an overall child-protection strategy,” said Staca Shehan of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Her division at the center helps authorities by collecting information on the whereabouts of “noncompliant” sex offenders, those who have failed to register. No clear number exists, but she estimated there are tens of thousands nationwide.
Note that no clear number exists, but let's assume that her estimate is close. Have those tens of thousands of offenders been out there committing more sex crimes? No.
Certainly national headline-grabbing stories have tended to reinforce the need for vigilance. 
Shehan offered the example of Jaycee Lee Dugard, the 11-year-old California girl who was grabbed off a street as she walked home from school. Dugard remained missing for 18 years until, in 2009, she was recognized and found in the company of convicted sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido, who had kept her captive. 
“There’s others,” Shehan said. “It is anecdotal, for the most part, but we have seen cases where registered and noncompliant sex offenders have re-offended and raped or murdered a child.” 
Case in point, she said, is John Albert Gardner, who in 2010 pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois in 2009 and 17-year-old Chelsea King in 2010, both in California. Gardner was a convicted sex offender who had been imprisoned previously for molesting a 13-year-old girl.
Shehan could look at the research that shows that registered sex offenders are very unlikely to commit another sex crime but, instead, she tells stories of individual cases.

The two cases she mentions, Garrido and Gardner, both illustrate how the registry offers no protection. Both men were on the registry when they committed the crimes she talks about.

The reporter talked to the mother about how her son came to tell her that his father had molested him.
[She] said that it was in that moment that the notion he might have been sexually abused crossed her mind. She had been following the news, and in the 1980s, child sexual abuse was making national headlines. The McMartin preschool case — in which it was later determined that preschool workers were falsely accused of abusing some 360 children in their care — was still working its way through the courts. 
“All of sudden something hit me,” she recalled. “If you remember, that was about the time everything started coming out, saying, ‘Ask your kids if someone has touched them.’ ”
The 1980s were rife with stories of child sex abuse in day cares and preschools. Each story generated more fear, more false accusations. See here for information about several.

Here we are in the next century and the sex offender registry is generating the same kind of unreasoning fear.

I commend the Missouri family for coming forward with their story. The more people understand what it is like to live under registry rules, the better.

Monday, October 19, 2015

judge tries to mitigate collateral consequences

A New York Times editorial tells the story of a courageous judge who is trying to make up for the failings of the justice system.
In May, a federal judge in Brooklyn took the extraordinary step of expunging the conviction of a woman he had sentenced to five years of probation more than a decade earlier for her involvement in an insurance fraud scheme that netted her $2,500. 
Calling her “a minor participant in a nonviolent crime,” a Federal District Court judge, John Gleeson, decried the “dramatic adverse impact” the woman’s conviction has had on her ability to get a job to support her four children. “There is no justification for continuing to impose this disability on her,” Judge Gleeson wrote. “I sentenced her to five years of probation supervision, not to a lifetime of unemployment.” [My emphasis.]
The move was significant because there is no federal law that allows for expungement — the permanent sealing of a criminal record to the general public. In fact it appears to be the first time that a federal judge has expunged a conviction for this reason. It should not be the last.
Judges must certainly get wind of what happens after being convicted of crimes in their courts. This one did. Surely they can recognize that their pronouncements cause pain far out of proportion to the crimes.

The editorial tells the awful truth:
Some 70 million to 100 million people in the United States — more than a quarter of all adults — have a criminal record, and as a result they are subject to tens of thousands of federal and state laws and rules that restrict or prohibit their access to the most basic rights and privileges — from voting, employment and housing to business licensing and parental rights.
 A quarter of the U.S. population is prohibited from access to the most basic rights and privileges. 

The editorial makes clear that expungement won't solve the whole problem. For too many, sex offenders in particular, their records have been loosed on the Internet, with no way to control what happens to the information.

This judge may not be the only brave judge out there but we need more who are willing to do the right thing even when their positions are on the line.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

what does this hysteria teach our children?

A 74-year-old grandfather was denied entrance to a school where he had been invited to have lunch. His step-grandson had invited him to celebrate Grandparents' Day.

The hangup? The school uses Raptor, a system used to check identification; it alerts the school when it identifies a sex offender. The grandfather's crime was 16 years ago and he has committed no further crimes since then.

Listen to the hysterical tone of the article:
A Rutherford County elementary school was put to the test two weeks ago when a registered sex offender attempted to get inside Brown’s Chapel Elementary School during lunch. 
...attempted to get inside... 

Was he trying to break in through a window or picking a lock?

No, he was entering the school just like all the other grandparents were.
The man never made it past the front office on Sept. 11, thanks to a computer software system designed to keep sex offenders out. 
...never made it past the front office...

This old Hertz commercial comes to mind. The grandfather wasn't trying to get away with anything. He just came for lunch.
The incident occurred on Grandparents Day at the school. 
He was invited by his step-grandson. The grandson had not been told that sex offender grandparents were not welcome and there is a very real possibility that the boy did not even know about the crime that occurred years before he was born.
“An elderly person not really the standard that you would think you have to be concerned about,” said Principal Kellye Goostree.
Consider this: The person who made that unbelievably stupid statement is the principal of a school.

School personnnel should be better educated about sex offenses. 

Does the principal not know that a third of sexual assaults against children are perpetrated by children...whom her school welcomes with open arms? Does she not know that it is more likely that her students will be molested by someone on her staff--someone who has daily contact with students--than by a one-time visitor who stopped by for some chicken nuggets?

Schools accept those risks without blinking an eye and yet the risk of someone on a list--a list with an extremely low rate of reoffense--is seen as so great that it requires large investments in hardware and software.

The clueless principal blathers on:
“How amazing that we were able to prevent a convicted sex offender from having lunch with people’s children,” Goostree said.
Not "with people's children". With his grandson.
So far, Raptor has been a proven success.
How so?
“We’ve had four hits in the seven years,” Goostree said.  “It’s a huge safety feature for our students.”
If Raptor costs $6,000 per year (an estimate drawn from this), the school has paid $10,500 to catch each registered sex offender. Not to detect a sex offense, mind you; to identify someone on a list.

Was it worth $10,500 to single out this boy and make him known as the kid whose dangerous grandpa is not allowed in the school?

In all the years the school managed without the wonders of Raptor, how many times did a visitor to the school sexually assault a student or a staff member? 

What does the hysteria about registered sex offenders teach children? 

It teaches children that people on a list are the ones to fear. When over ninety percent of sex offense arrests are of people not on the list, we are directing children to be wary of the wrong people.

It teaches children that they are wrong to love and admire a grandparent who has come through a difficult time and has lived a law-abiding life since.

It teaches the community that it is acceptable to single out and embarrass children who love sex offenders.

Raptor stopped a man from having lunch with his grandson and the principal crows about the great success, without a single thought about the effect on the grandson.

Not a single thought that the boy might be hurt or confused by this turn of events. Not a single thought that exposing the grandfather as a registered sex offender may also expose the child to details of a crime he is too young to understand.

Instead of encouraging pointless hysteria, we ought to be upset about school boards deciding to throw away taxpayer funds on wrongheaded nonsense.

We ought to be upset about thoughtless principals who think it is acceptable to treat the children and grandchildren of registered citizens as if they do not matter.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

prison should be our last resort and this is one reason why

Prison offers an opportunity for some to practice their sadistic tendencies on the defenseless, as we see in this story from The Marshall Project about the New York prison system.
... the guard escorted him past a set of double doors out of view of other inmates and the prison’s electronic surveillance cameras. Fabian said the officer, Michael Bukowski, a seven-year veteran, had then ordered him to face the wall and brace himself in the “pat-frisk” position, arms outstretched and legs spread. As he did so, Fabian recalled, he looked down and saw the toe of a boot swinging up between his legs. 
He saw a flash of light, felt a piercing pain and collapsed. “He told me to get up, but all I could do was crawl back to my cube,” Fabian, who is now 21, told investigators later. He lay on the floor in his cubicle in the prison’s dormitory, groaning and crying, for almost an hour before hobbling to lunch. In the mess hall, a sergeant sent him to the prison’s medical unit. He was soon loaded into a van and driven 80 miles north to a hospital in Albany. Doctors there performed emergency surgery, removing part of his right testicle.
 If you are thinking that surely that guard was fired, you are wrong.
More than a year later, however, Bukowski is still a state employee. His disciplinary case remains unresolved, although he faces a criminal charge of assault. His case, described in court documents and interviews, offers a stark example of the intricate protections that shield New York’s 20,000 corrections officers, even when there is compelling evidence of abuse. 
Since 2010, the state has sought to fire 30 prison guards accused of abusing inmates through a convoluted arbitration process that is required under the union contract. Officials have prevailed only eight times, according to records of disciplinary cases released under state Freedom of Information Law requests. Those records show that most abuse allegations never reach the arbitration level: Another 80 cases brought against corrections officers, sergeants and lieutenants since 2010 were settled directly with their unions for penalties other than dismissal, such as suspension.
Power in the hands of the unfit should be taken away as quickly as possible but that is not what happens when prison guards misuse power over inmates. The system is set up to keep the unfit employed in the very position for which they are least suited, a position that lets them do real damage to real people.

This is why we ought to use prisons only as a last resort.

Building more prisons and incarcerating more people means we have more corrections officers in a position where they can abuse other human beings. In a system where those who abuse their authority are rarely fired, we cannot be surprised when COs go bad.

If you can stomach it, read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

ripping the curtain away from the polygraph: nothing there

Doug Williams taught people how to pass a polygraph test. The government wanted him to stop because the government uses polygraph tests as part of their hiring process. What he was doing--teaching--was not illegal, so they had to find another way to stop him.
According to Williams's indictment, two undercover agents asked Williams to teach them how to pass a polygraph test in order to pass a federal background check. 
During the lead up to the classes (and during the classes themselves), both undercover agents repeatedly confessed specifics of imaginary past crimes that they wished to lie about. Because Williams was told about one of the would-be employee's (imaginary) drug smuggling, he was technically assisting a person to defraud the government, according to the indictment.
In 2013, Williams was charged with two counts of mail fraud (he received the undercover agents' payments in the mail) and three counts of witness tampering. Each carried a sentence of 20 years. 
Faced with huge fines and a possible hundred years in prison, he took a plea agreement and will serve two years in federal prison.
[Williams] wants to bring attention to a flawed technology he says has been systematically used to incarcerate and disqualify people from federal jobs. 
"I have no interest in helping criminals escape prosecution or in helping people who are not qualified for a job get it. The more people who understand what the polygraph is capable of doing and is not capable of doing, the more likely it's put into the scrap heap of history," Williams said. "It's worthless technology. It cannot withstand scrutiny." 
In a landmark, 417-page report published in 2002, the National Research Council more or less agreed, suggesting that polygraph testing "rests on weak scientific underpinnings despite nearly a century of study." 
If polygraphs do identify liars based on biometrics, no one would be able to beat the test. Why would the government care if someone were teaching a method that could not work?
"The criminalization of speech advocating for unlawful behavior has been a pretext for suppressing unpopular ideas. It's not a stretch to think that's what's going on here," [Lee Rowland, a First Amendment specialist and senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union] said. "It's clear the government believes the stakes are high here—if [Williams and people like him] are successful, it exposes the fact that these things can be beat, that it's pseudoscience. It's all the more troubling they used undercover agents to create a crime that amounts to nothing more than words alone."
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He has a polygraph to run.

I blogged about the use of polygraphs in interrogation theater here and I blogged about how therapists, parole and probation officers team up to use polygraphs here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

struck down: Wisconsin law violated free speech rights of registered sex offenders

Sex offenders, cameras, children. The combination has been harmful when the resulting photos are pornographic. When the photos are not pornographic?
A Wisconsin law prohibiting registered sex offenders from photographing children in public violates their right to free speech, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday. 
The decision by the Wausau-based District 3 court reversed the conviction of a 44-year-old Green Bay man who had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for the non-pornographic photos. It also found the law unconstitutional on its face, not salvageable by a narrowed interpretation or severing part of the statute.
The guy took pictures of kids playing outside.
[] of children outside his residence doing things like riding skateboards, jumping rope and dropping stones in a soda bottle. None involved nudity or obscenity.
In case you missed it, the guy got twelve years in prison for that.
In an opinion written by Reserve Judge Thomas Cane, and joined by judges Lisa Stark and Thomas Hruz, the court found that even sex offenders have free speech rights to take non-obscene, non-pornographic photographs of children in public places.
...even sex offenders have free speech rights...
While protecting children is such an interest, the court said, the law doesn't accomplish that. In fact, it could actually encourage offenders to make personal contact with children, in order to ask who their parents are so the offender might ask permission to take the photos. 
"Further, children are not harmed by non-obscene, non-pornographic photographs taken in public places," the court said.
Common sense truth-telling.
The court said it does not like the idea that some people might gain sexual gratification from ordinary photos of children, but that laws can't ban protected speech just because it might lead to crime.
If gaining sexual gratification from photos were a crime, Victoria's Secret and Pink catalogs have surely led many astray.

Prohibiting registered citizens from photographing children means no photos of homeruns, dance solos, and no photos of baby's first (or hundredth) time down the playground slide.

As usual, legislators were not thinking of families or the importance of normal family activities to someone returning from prison. Family connection is one of the factors that help registered citizens avoid new offenses of any kind.

I do not know how many other states prohibit RSOs from taking photos of children. This Wisconsin victory gives hope.

Sex offenders have the right to free speech.