Friday, February 23, 2018

without opposing testimony

The South Dakota Senate has been hard at work:
Bills to toughen the punishment for attempted human trafficking of minors and repeatedly failing to register as a sex offender continue to make their way through the legislature. 
Senate Bill 61 would increase the penalty for sex offenders who fail more than once to register after moving to a new address. Currently law penalizes second offenses the same as first offenses, a class 6 felony. Under the bill, a second offense and any subsequent offense would be a class 5 felony.  
South Dakota has about 4,600 people on its sex offender registry, said Attorney General Marty Jackley. The state has about a 98.5 percent compliance rate, where offenders re-register and follow the restrictions that come with being a sex offender. This bill is for the 1.5 percent who don't comply, he said. 
Why more punishment for something that the South Dakota Attorney General admits rarely happens...and for something that is not even another sex offense?

Because a lazy, unthinking Senator wants to propose a bill that will pass.

Because no one stands up for those on the registry.
Both bills passed unanimously and without opposing testimony. They will move to the house floor. [My emphasis.]
Because they can.

Follow what is happening in your state legislature and also at the national level and if you find a lazy legislator writing bills on the backs of registrants and their families, speak up. Protest.

Talk to your legislators and remind them that people on the registry are also their constituents.

Ask why they are willing to make life more difficult for their constituents.

Ask why they aren't protecting their constituents, their neighbors, their community.

It is hard to stand up the first time, to walk into a Senator's office and say that you are a registrant or a family member of a registrant. Do it once, though, and you might be surprised. With over 861,000 people listed on sex offender registries, it only follows that millions of people, some of whom work in legislative offices, know a registrant.

Make an appointment to speak to your legislator and tell stories about how the registry affects you and your family. That is the best way for legislators to see people and not imagine monsters.

Send letters to your legislator and remind him that you and your family are out there. Remind him or her that your family votes. If you are able to vote, make sure to say so. That is the best way for legislators to see votes.

Stand up, speak up.

Is it scary to do that? You bet it is. Do it once, though, and you might be surprised at the people who hear you and respond with their own stories about someone they know on the registry.

Find out how to testify in front of the legislature or a legislative committee. Google and Bing and Duck Duck Go and your community librarian are excellent tools. There are no stupid questions when you want to know badly enough.

You will not need to start from scratch because organizations all over the country are dedicated to changing sex offender laws--if not dedicated to abolishing the registry. Contact those organizations and ask how to prepare and deliver testimony.
Their very purpose is to work with you and help you make a difference in your state. Perhaps your state has its own organization and you will be able to meet other registry-affected families near you.

The registry is so obviously wrong that it is possible to change the stance of good people. Arm yourself with data showing that the registry protects no one.

Show them a scrapbook with all the news stories about sex offenses committed by someone not on the registry...and the stories about new sex offenses committed by registrants, if you can find any.

Be seen, be heard.

Do everything you can to make sure the next article about legislation to increase difficulties for those on the registry does not conclude with the sad, infuriating words, without opposing testimony.

Monday, February 5, 2018

will Nebraska legislature upend justice?

The Omaha World-Herald reports that the Nebraska Legislature is looking at policies and procedures for sexual assault reports from within the legislature and its staff. The #metoo movement has all kinds of people and institutions wondering if they will be the next in the sexual harassment/assault spotlight.

The World-Herald tells the story of a state senator who crossed the line:
The female legislative staffer said it started with sexual innuendo and remarks like “Do you want a back rub?” and progressed to suggestions from her boss, a male state senator, that she accompany him, alone, to social events. 
Then one night, at midnight, came a telephone call: “Can I come over to your house?” 
That’s when the staffer, now retired from the Nebraska Legislature, put her foot down. 
“There were things that you kind of toss off, but when he did that, I said ‘This has to stop,’ ” said the staffer, who spoke on the condition that she not be named. 
These kinds of stories, relayed in more than two dozen interviews with current and past legislative staffers, state senators and lobbyists, suggest the State Legislature is not immune to the type of sexual harassment that has spawned the #metoo movement across the country.
The Legislature almost certainly has people among its history who have done things they shouldn't have, who have committed crimes that weren't reported or were reported and ignored.

Also, its history almost certainly includes people who look at past experiences with clear eyes and recognize unacknowledged truths of harassment and assault, and people who look at past experiences and wonder uncertainly if they could say #metoo.

If the #metoo movement makes it easier for victims to report assaults, it will have accomplished a great deal.

At the same time the senators are learning to recognize and acknowledge, they are considering LB 988, a bill that would make affirmative consent, also known as "yes means yes", the law in Nebraska.

Sex without consent is already considered a crime and that is not changing but this bill would change where the burden of proof lies.

Currently, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, requiring that the prosecution must prove--beyond a reasonable doubt--the truth of the accusation. The defendant isn't required to prove anything.

The beauty and good sense of this? When a person's freedom is at stake, we must be certain he is guilty. Blackstone's formulation is at the base:  “For the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”

American law has always been formulated that way: innocent until proven guilty. Even when it seems the whole world is sure the defendant is guilty, the law must presume he is innocent and treat him that way until he is proven guilty. 

A good example is the OJ Simpson: The jury did not find OJ innocent; they found him not guilty. The jury decided that the prosecution failed to prove guilt. 

Could the jury have been wrong? Of course, but the slightest possibility that the jury could send an innocent man to prison is so abhorrent that it is worth letting a guilty man go free.

If passed, LB 988 would mean that the accused would have the burden of proof. This turns justice on its head.

The defendant would have to prove that he deserves his freedom and the prosecution would have simply to make the accusation.

When we remember that an estimated 97% of federal and 94% of state criminal cases are resolved with a plea agreement instead of a trial, we can see that justice has already been knocked askew. A plea agreement means the prosecution no longer has to prove guilt to a jury.

It has only to convince the defendant that it is better to take the plea than to risk more severe charges and a harsher sentence if found guilty in a trial.

The prosecution can already convict defendants without the need to prove guilt to a jury. Why pass legislation that would remove the burden of proof from the prosecution altogether?

Freedom is too important to risk convicting the innocent.

Perhaps the possibility that legislators someday might need to defend themselves against accusations--false or not-- will make them move more cautiously.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Iowa legislator wants to move the goal posts

Iowa state representative Dean Fisher wants to solve an imaginary problem.
Tier IV Sex Offender Registry – House File 163. This is a bill that I introduced during the 2017 session which I am continuing to work on. This bill addresses the problem of sex offenders that “time out” of the registry after a set number of years (usually 10 years) and then move to a new area of the state or move into Iowa from another state.
Is it a problem when someone successfully serves the sentence handed down by the court? Is it a problem when legislated timelines run out with no further sex offenses?
If a sex offender has timed out, law enforcement has no way of knowing this person is in their community.
What does law enforcement need to know about any law-abiding person?
This bill establishes a new requirement for any person that has ever had to register as a sex offender in Iowa or any other jurisdiction to register with the county sheriff when they move into or around the state. This classification of sex offenders would not be required to re-register quarterly or annually like other classes of sex offenders. [My emphasis.]
New requirement! The bill makes no provision for educating people of the new requirement when their previously-mandated registry time expires. How would a new resident of the state know about the requirement that he or she must register again, after celebrating the end of previous registry time, perhaps years ago?

Laws like this set up citizens for failure.

This bill is nothing more than an attempt to punish those on the registry for ten more years.
Previous Iowa Supreme Court cases (such as Iowa vs. Pickens, 1997) have determined that such registry requirements are constitutional because they do not constitute ex post facto punishment, they are merely regulation. This requirement will give law enforcement greater insight into who is living in our communities. This bill passed subcommittee on Thursday of this week and now goes to the full committee.
As anyone listed on the registry can attest, legislators like Fisher can pretend the registry is not punishment only because they are not listed there.

Fisher has no evidence showing that people on the registry need to be watched by law enforcement. The number of cases where law enforcement used the registry to solve a sex crime must be exceedingly small because the vast majority of sex offenses are committed by first-time offenders.

Fisher especially has no evidence that the registry would help law enforcement after a registrant has completed 10, 15, or 25 years on the registry. Study after study show that criminals in general age out of crime and more studies show that those convicted of sex offenses are unlikely to reoffend at any stage after conviction.

Fisher's bill piles additional requirements on the registrants who are most unlikely to commit further crimes.

State representative Fisher is not alone in this. HF 163 passed out of subcommittee, which means other state reps voted to do that.

The people that Fisher and his colleagues would punish further with no reason, those people are tax-paying citizens of Iowa. Fisher and his colleagues are doing this to their friends and neighbors, their fellow Iowans. Instead of protecting their constituents, instead of encouraging those who left criminal activities behind, they are making life more difficult for those families.

These are not legislators to trust or to vote for. These are legislators who need to be defeated at the earliest opportunity.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Raptor Systems boasts about protecting students from school visitors

Ah. Another school district wasting money to protect students from people on the sex offender registry.
When a visitor tries to gain access to a school, they are now prompted to utilize the computer check-in system, which requires you to scan your photo ID. Within seconds, that scan searches sex offender databases to ensure the person isn’t on there. 
“This system allows us to have those identities identified and therefore we know when those people are on our campuses,” said Jeff Hudson, Pitt County School’s security specialist.
These people. 

How many school employees have committed sex offenses against students? These people might come from within the school.

How many people on the registry have committed sex crimes against students while visiting the school? If it has happened, let's stack up those few stories against the multitude of stories about school staff members who offend against students.

Stopping registrants at the school door protects no one. What it does do is humiliate parents and students, and for no reason.

As I wrote in an October 2015 post:
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.
Raptor Systems claims 18,000 campuses use its services. It boasts that it has screened 11.4 million visitors, had 41,754 alerts, and protected 57 million children.

How much money has Raptor pulled in from this game?

When Raptor can predict which school employee will be the next addition to the sex offender registry, they might be worth a look.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

what comes after porn is declared a public health crisis?

Utah started it. More and more states are following suit. A Florida legislator is the latest to propose that his state declare pornography a public health crisis.
Rep. Ross Spano, who represents House District 59, introduced a resolution acknowledging “pornography is creating a public health crisis and contributing to the hypersexualization of children and teens.” 
The Florida resolution, HR 157, concludes,
Be It Resolved by the House of Representatives of the State of Florida:

That the State of Florida recognizes the public health crisis created by pornography and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change to protect the citizens of this state. [My emphasis.]
Utah passed a similar resolution in 2016. The Utah resolution, SCR 9, concludes,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the
Governor concurring therein, recognizes that pornography is a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor recognize the
need for education, prevention, research, and policy change
at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation. [My emphasis.]
Tennessee, South Dakota, Arkansas, Virginia have also declared porn to be a public health crisis. Other states, Georgia and Pennsylvania among them, have proposed the same declaration.

What does this flood of similarly worded resolutions and declarations mean? Does this presage a war on porn?

What kind of policy changes are needed when porn is seen as a public health crisis? How do we prevent pornography?

What kind of regulations might be implemented to control pornography? Porn is easily created and distributed by individuals; how would any regulations be policed and enforced?

When recreational drug use was acknowledged to be a problem, a veritable war ensued.

We have seen what happens when a government declares war on a vice. Millions and millions of people imprisoned. The recreational drug industry driven underground. Business disputes resolved through violence. Less expensive and more powerful drugs more widely available. No noticeable reduction in rates of recreational drug use. A trillion dollars down the drain.

The resolutions sound innocuous but they open the door to laws that will put families at risk. Families who have been broken by incarceration will understand the dangers hiding in well-intentioned laws.

Think about a law meant to prevent minors from seeing porn, different from current laws that prohibit showing porn to minors. Almost anyone can see that preventing children from watching hardcore porn before they can understand is a good idea but if it becomes a law, then what does enforcement mean? What kind of penalties? Who pays the penalties? Will parents be held responsible for kids looking at porn? Will schools search backpacks and lockers for porn the way they search for drugs?

Will these offenses land people on the sex offender registry?

The resolutions and declarations include lists of harmful effects of pornography as justifications for calling porn a public health crisis. The Utah resolution includes,
WHEREAS, potential detrimental effects on pornography's users can impact brain
development and functioning, contribute to emotional and medical illnesses, shape deviant sexual arousal, and lead to difficulty in forming or maintaining intimate relationships, as well as problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction; 
The Florida resolution refers to "...deviant, problematic, or dangerous sexual behaviors."

Who defines deviant sexual behaviors or deviant sexual arousal? Do we want the government anywhere near those definitions? Do we want to risk returning to the days of incarcerating people for sodomy?

Driving legal porn underground means that porn performers will have less protection from mistreatment than they have now. It is worth noting that neither Florida nor Utah show any concern for porn performers in their resolutions.

Concerned about violence, Utah says:
WHEREAS, pornography equates violence towards women and children with sex and
pain with pleasure, which increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography... [My emphasis.]
Florida also says pornography leads to "...increasing the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography". [My emphasis.]

Does it? In a 2016 Psychology Today article, Michael Castleman writes,
Before the late-1990s when the Internet revolutionized access to information, porn was available in books, skin magazines, rented videocassettes, and at the limited number of seedy theaters that screened X-rated movies. But with the arrival of the Internet, millions of porn images and videos were suddenly just a few clicks away for free. As a result, porn quickly became one of men’s top online destinations and porn consumption soared. 
If the anti-porn activists are correct, if porn actually contributes to rape, then starting around 1999 as the Internet made it much more easily available, the rate of sexual assault should have increased. So what happened? According to the Justice Department’s authoritative National Crime Victimization Survey, since 1995, the U.S. sexual assault rate has FALLEN 44 percent. ... 
Clearly, the anti-porn activists are wrong. Porn doesn’t incite men to sexual violence. It looks more like a safety valve that gives men an alternative outlet for potentially assaultive energy. Instead of attacking women, men who might commit that crime can masturbate to unlimited amounts of Internet porn.
Parents who worry about their kids finding porn on the internet have legitimate concerns. Declaring porn a public health crisis seems to line up with those concerns but if that declaration is followed by laws that put families at risk, the public health goals could become personal threats to those families.

Keep an eye on your state legislature. If it has not already declared porn a public health crisis, the proposal is almost certainly coming.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

neighborly behavior, NextDoor

NextDoor, a private social network for neighborhoods, is a popular means of letting neighbors know if you have a washer and dryer to sell or if you want to buy a camper. NextDoor lets people ask for plumber recommendations and post information about crime in the area.

A handy app for the neighborly...unless your address is on the sex offender registry.

No one who lives at a registered address is allowed to join NextDoor. Not the registrant, not the spouse. No one at that address.

The NextDoor member agreement says,
Nextdoor is the private social network for neighborhoods; we hope that neighbors everywhere will use the Nextdoor platform to build stronger and safer neighborhoods around the world....
Stronger, safer neighborhoods are especially important to those whose address is on the registry. After all, registrants and their families are the ones at risk for vandalism (1, 2, 3) attacks (1, 2), and even murder (1, 23).
Convicted sex offenders, including registered sex offenders, and their households are not eligible for Nextdoor accounts; and we may also deny other account registrations we think would harm a Nextdoor neighborhood. [My emphasis.]
Others that would harm a neighborhood? As if the mere presence of people on the registry harm the neighborhood! Law abiding citizens do not harm the neighborhood.
 At Nextdoor, we believe that neighborly behavior is the foundation of healthy communities.
Neighborly behavior would mean recognizing the danger the registry presents to those whose address is on the registry and protecting the neighborhood from vandalism, from physical attacks, and from murder. 

The registry protects no one and it puts registrants and their families at risk. It is hypcritical--and downright unneighborly--for NextDoor to pretend that it is building healthy communities while setting the example of shunning some people in the neighborhood.

It isn't difficult to find the studies that show how little danger registrants pose. Almost as easy as finding names on the registry.

It also is not difficult to understand how wrong it is to exclude neighbors from your efforts to build stronger and safer neighborhoods, how cruel it is to label a home in a way that encourages neighbors to avoid the family in that home.

While NextDoor worries about people who live at a registered address, the next arrest in the community for a sex offense will most likely be of someone not on the registry.

Friday, November 3, 2017

how to make the registry more meaningful

Vincent Carroll argues in The Denver Post that Colorado ought to make its sex offender registry more meaningful to the public by assessing actual risk and removing some names. 

Assessing actual risk and removing some names would be steps in the right direction, of course. So would removing names of juveniles. So would removing all who have been crime-free for 20 years or those who are elderly. So would... oh, let's listen to Carroll:
These thoughts arise because of an ongoing court case that is under appeal by the state. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled in August that Colorado’s sex-offender registry violated the due-process rights of three plaintiffs and amounted to punishment after completion of a sentence. Matsch didn’t actually strike down the law, but he clearly sees it as affront to justice. 
Prosecutors naturally disagree. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, for example, told me she considers the registry an important law enforcement tool, reassuring victims who wish to keep tabs on their assailant once he is free. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman meanwhile has cited “several legal errors which we will now address on appeal.” 
But even if Matsch’s ruling is overturned, his critique should be taken seriously. The law corrals too many people onto the registry, particularly those whose offenses occurred when they were juveniles, and often keeps them on longer than necessary while failing to provide the public with any way to determine actual risk. 
And as Matsch emphasized, the real-world consequences of being on the registry reduce someone’s chances of successful reintegration into society. 
This is a beginner's explanation of why the registry needs to change but he misses opportunities to examine the registry more closely.

When he says that the Denver District Attorney considers the registry an important law enforcement tool, reassuring victims who wish to keep tabs on their assailant once he is free, he doesn't question that statement although there are many interesting questions to ask.

Does the registry aid law enforcement? How many times has the registry been key to solving a sex crime? As far as I know, never.

When people have served the sentences handed down by the courts, it it right to further restrict their ability to rejoin society in order to reassure victims? What good is it to sacrifice people to the registry for mere reassurance when it offers no protection and study after study shows that those on the registry pose little threat to anyone?

Carroll says,
And as Matsch emphasized, the real-world consequences of being on the registry reduce someone’s chances of successful reintegration into society. That’s a worthwhile tradeoff for those who pose a genuine threat, but it’s punitive and counterproductive for the rest.
Again he says it and--again--without thinking:
If being on the registry makes rehabilitation more difficult — and it does — then it ought to be reserved for those most likely to re-offend.
Why is it a worthwhile tradeoff to make rehabilitation more difficult for someone deemed more likely to reoffend? Are not those the ones Colorado ought to be working most diligently to rehabilitate? Instead, Carroll promotes the idea of identifying someone as dangerous, and then making it hard for that person--especially that dangerous person--to reintegrate into society.

Carroll seems to believe that risk assessment tools can correctly predict which registrant will commit new sex offenses. Can they? No, they cannot, so why the push to trust risk assessment tools?

Back to Carroll:
The committee recommended a number of sensible reforms for juveniles, including expanding the list of crimes for which a judge could waive registration. 
But lawmakers shouldn’t stop there. They should mandate risk-based assessments, perhaps by the Sex Offender Management Board, to establish duration of time on the registry. They should narrow the scope of lifetime registration and provide for additional judicial discretion. And getting off the registry after 20 years with a clean record shouldn’t be the ordeal it is today.
Has he not been paying attention? The Colorado Sex Offender Management Board included a member who owned a polygraph firm, a member whose company benefited from all of his recommendations for polygraph exams. The other board members were aware of the conflict of interest, and yet Carroll still wants the SOMB to be responsible for risk assessments.

Carroll presents suggestions that would surely remove people from the registry and that is fine. However, he cannot be considered a serious thinker about the registry if he refuses to see that the registry is wrong for all sex offenders, not just the easy cases.

The registry is not about safety and it never has been. It makes no one safer because the next sex offense is almost certainly going to be committed by someone not on the registry.

Abolishing the registry makes it easier for all registrants to find jobs and housing, two elements necessary for a successful reintegration into society but Carroll makes it clear that he is not looking for successful reintegration for the registrants he thinks are dangerous.

Take down the registry entirely. Stop pretending it has anything to do with safety.