Sunday, February 19, 2017

scared and in danger of bad legislation

A state representative in Missouri wants a new law, one that will bar registered sex offenders from zoos and museums.
Registered sex offenders would be prohibited from being within 500 feet of any museum, zoo or “other location with the primary purpose of entertaining or educating children” younger than 18 years of age under legislation introduced by [state representative] Swan. 
The Cape Girardeau Republican’s bill would expand restrictions in existing state law that bars any convicted sex offender from entering or being within 500 feet of any public park that has playground equipment or a swimming pool, or within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility. 
Violators could face prison sentences.
Note that the prison sentence could be imposed on people who did nothing wrong except to be present in an area restricted by arbitrary laws, laws devoid of evidence that they make any one safer.
Swan said she also wants to bar sex offenders from hanging out near children’s sections of public libraries and children’s play areas in shopping malls.
What prompted this hysteria?
...a “known, registered sexual offender came to the Discovery Playhouse unattended. Museum employees called the Cape Girardeau Police Department as the offender “roamed the facility,” [Isaac Venable, president of the museum’s board of directors] wrote.
Roamed the facility.
But police could not remove the person because “children’s museums are not protected” under state law, Venable said. 
“We felt confused and vulnerable,” he wrote. 
Oh, that poor, poor man. Imagine his confusion and vulnerability at the grocery store, a place that welcomes everyone.
“The safety of children visiting our facility is our greatest priority. A child can’t learn and explore the exhibits we provide if they are scared and/or in danger,” Venable said in backing the legislation.
Scared and in danger.

This man leads a museum meant to educate children and he has no idea what children can do when they are scared and/or in real danger. In some areas of the world, communities fight to keep schools open in the midst of war. In those areas, the education of their children is their greatest priority, not their safety.

This man seems to think much less of Missouri children and their abilities to deal with fear.

What fear is he talking about, though? The fear he himself generates by not knowing facts about the sex offender registry. That fear.

The registrant roaming the museum did nothing frightening. There are no reports of frightened children, only the report from a man frightened by his own ignorance.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

living on Mars: the 'pro' column

Scientists prepare for the rigors of space travel. (Warning: turn off your speakers; the website uses annoying autoplay ads. Really annoying.)
Six carefully selected scientists have entered a man-made dome on a remote Hawaii volcano as part of a human-behavior study that could help NASA as it draws up plans for sending astronauts on long missions to Mars. ...
They will have no physical contact with people in the outside world and will work with a 20-minute delay in communications with their support crew, or the time it would take for an email to reach Earth from Mars.
An email can travel from Mars to Earth in 20 minutes.

It took at least a couple of hours for an email sent to or from a federal inmate to reach its destination here on Earth, no matter how innocuous the contents.

Monday, January 16, 2017

why do so many Customs and Border Protection applicants fail polygraphs?

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is having a little trouble hiring enough agents.
Two out of three applicants to CBP fail its polygraph test, according to the agency. That’s more than double the average rate of eight law enforcement agencies that provided data to the Associated Press under open-records requests. 
It's a big reason approximately 2,000 jobs at the nation's largest law enforcement agency are empty, with the Border Patrol, a part of CBP, recently slipping below 20,000 agents for the first time since 2009. And it has raised questions of whether the lie detector tests are being properly administered.
Here's a good question: What is the proper way to administer a famously inaccurate test?
CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the failure rate is too high, but that is largely because the agency hasn't attracted the applicants it wants.
Not the fault of the test, then. Perhaps the Craig's List item wasn't clear that the Border Patrol wants honest applicants and so they have been flooded with dishonest, even criminal applicants. An honesty mistake, one might say.
But others, including lawmakers, union leaders and polygraph experts, contend that the use of lie detectors has gone awry and that many applicants are being subjected to unusually long and hostile interrogations, which some say can make people look deceptive even when they are telling the truth. 
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he suspects CBP examiners fail applicants to justify their own jobs. He said he worries applicants are being wrongly branded with a "scarlet letter" in the eyes of other potential government employers.
While the idea that polygraph examiners are failing two-thirds of CBP applicants in order to keep their own jobs is intriguing, I am more interested in Senator Flake's recognition that a polygraph falsely labeling the applicant as a liar will make it nearly impossible for that person to be hired by other government agencies.
Kerlikowske explained that CBP isn't getting the applicants it wants because the relatively new agency, created in 2003, "doesn't have a brand" and is unfamiliar to some. 
Sure, that must be it. The fault lies with the applicants who are unaware that a nearly 14-year-old federal agency charged with enforcing federal laws is looking for honest applicants.
Among other possible reasons offered by some experts for the agency's failure rate: CBP may have higher standards than local departments, and it gets less-experienced applicants who have never taken a lie detector before.
Does that mean that taking a previous lie detector test makes a person more likely to pass? How is that possible if the test does what we are told it does?

Relying on an unreliable test to determine the accuracy of one's answers seems a little nuts.

Defending the polygraph by blaming the applicants seems even nuttier.






Sunday, January 1, 2017

look at these strange women who stay with sex offenders!

Inside Edition ran a story by Maya Chung about women who stay in relationships with sex offenders.

My first thought is that I cannot remember seeing the same kind of curiosity about those mysterious people who stay in relationships with someone who stole cars or committed fraud or beat the convenience store clerk. The assumption in those cases seems to be that spouses will stay or go based on individual choices. Some people stay with car thief spouses and some leave.

Chung details a couple of relationships between sex offenders and their wives.

Josh and Susan:
"My husband came home early one day after having a big fight over the weekend and he caught Josh and me in the shower,” Susan said. “I did try to end our relationship a few times but the chemistry was just so strong that it was hard to let each other go. I didn’t mean for it to happen."
Jerry and Melissa:
She met Jerry at a charity event in 2006 – 17 years after his second offense. She said they became friends before becoming romantically involved. When he told her his status on the registry soon after they began dating, and she made a conscious decision to stay with him.
As with love stories told by other couples, some stories are boring, some are mildly interesting, some are sweet and some are a little shocking. 
While it may seem surprising to many, some women are willing to go through being outwardly shunned by family and their communities in the defense of the men because to them, love trumps all. 
Women--and men--have always been willing to go through hell for people they love. How is this surprising?
Their experiences being in a relationship with a sex offender may be different, but these women have another thing in common: An undeniable faith in their men.
Yes, being in a relationship with a registered citizen offers a different experience. A parent can lose custody of his or her children; neighbors will make terrible assumptions and gossip about them; family members cut ties.

All because a name is on a list.

Because a name is on a list, there is a real risk of prison time for missing a paperwork deadline. Most families of former lawbreakers do not have to live with that hanging over their heads.

Sex offenders are not fearsome monsters. They are people who committed crimes, made terrible choices, or got caught up in surprising circumstances. Spouses and partners can continue to love or dislike them, trust or mistrust as they choose, based on whether they are good parents, good cooks, good lovers, or based on any criteria that mean something to a specific couple.

There is no default 'Abandon Ship' setting on relationships with registered sex offenders, just as there is no default setting on relationships with adulterers or with people who cheat on taxes or with people who are boring or snore too much or are overweight.

We all see relationships that don't make sense to us. Why does he stay with her? Has he not seen what a tyrant she can be at the PTA meetings? Why does she stay with him? Does she not know that he has never in his life had a generous moment?

The reason we look at spouses and partners of sex offenders as something exotic is because the registry encourages the false idea that registered citizens are dangerous.

Abolish the registry.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

pulling misused images of a child off the Internet

How would you react if you learned that pictures of your kids were available on child porn websites? Most of us would be desperate to stop the abuse, desperate to find out who the abuser is, and desperate to pull those photos from the Internet.

Here is the story of a mother chasing down photos of her daughter, photos that were not pornographic. The little girl was photographed with Hillary Clinton and Clinton opponents turned the photo into a meme that included statements the mother didn't want associated with her daughter. The mother fought back against what she saw as offensive use of her daughter's image.
...more than a year later — the day after Clinton lost the election and as Jones was processing her own grief over the loss — their treasured photo was turned into something sinister. Someone had taken the photo, originally uploaded to the Clinton campaign Flickr page, and turned it into a meme that was then shared thousands of times across social media. 
Bold white type across the top of the image read, “I AM FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS!” Then halfway down, text covering the lower half of Sullivan’s body accused Clinton of accepting money and refugees from countries “that would mutilate this girl’s genitals, marry her to a Muslim pedophile, and stone her to death if she doesn’t wear a bedsheet.”
The message turned the little girl's picture into something ugly and by the time her mother realized how it had been used, much time had passed.
...she searched for the photo online and found thousands of blogs and feeds on Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook that shared the image. She believed what she’d always been told: Once something is on the Internet, it’s there forever.
“I felt like I failed her,” Jones said. “As a mother, your job is to protect and fix things, and I wasn’t able to fix it. I’ve never felt so low in my life with this image being out there that I had no control over.”
Parents who learn that a pornographic image of their child is available on the Internet surely feel a similar helplessness.
She traced one photo to a Facebook page, “Men for Donald Trump,” which has more than 200,000 followers. She implored them to take it down. At first they resisted, but after dozens of her friends bombarded them with messages, they obliged. It was a victory, but a small one. That was only one site. There were countless more. Was it even possible to go to each one and make the same request?
If a parent tried to search out pornographic images of his or her child, the parent would be committing the crime of downloading child pornography.
Several days later, she posted about it on Pantsuit Nation, the Facebook group of more than 3 million that started as a secret pro-Clinton page and has morphed into a massive online community where people share stories and seek support. Jones asked if they could help her report the image one-by-one. 
Imagine asking millions of people to help you find images of your child on child porn websites. How quickly do you think law enforcement would be at your door?
Soon messages poured into her inbox offering help. This person knew someone at Pinterest who could help; another had a contact at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Then she got a message from Shaun Kozolchyk, the San Francisco director of development for the Anti-Defamation League. 
“I am a mother of my own two daughters. I was so horrified and deeply affected by that post and knew the work we do at ADL could be a space that could be helpful,” Kozolchyk said. 
She contacted a colleague who works on cyber-hate response issues, who immediately verified that the Clinton campaign held the copyright to that photo. Any unauthorized use of it was against the law. The ADL sent a take-down notice to the originating sites and, soon after, it disappeared from the Internet.
What a relief that must be--a relief that parents of children in child porn images will not feel. After a child porn user is arrested, the child porn images are still available. When child porn sites are discovered, law enforcement may not shut it down immediately, allowing users to continue downloading images.
“When I got all this response from all these people from all over the country, it’s going to sound cheesy, but it felt like this giant blue blanket of love wrapped over me, and I didn’t feel alone anymore,” Jones said. “There were so many people, who said, ‘we got you.’” 
But what happened next gives Jones reason to believe her fight had a wider cause. When she shared again on Pantsuit Nation what the ADL had been able to do, others started coming forward saying their child’s image had been used in a meme. They just didn’t think there was anything they could do about it.
This mom is spreading hope to other parents who want to fight back against those who misuse images of their children. Parents who want to do the same with pornographic images of their child are out of luck. No hope for them.

Child porn laws prevent parents from stopping the dissemination of images of their children. The images, which may be the only evidence of child sex abuse crimes, are driven underground, making it harder to find them and harder to identify who created the images. Children who are abused for porn production are left with no protection, no giant blue blanket of love, no one who says we got you.

The laws concentrate on punishing those who would use child porn; the lawmakers ignore the dangerous consequences of driving the images underground.

Which is more offensive? The knowledge that someone is using the images for sexual gratification or the knowledge that someone is abusing a child?

What awful helplessness is caused by well-meaning laws.


Related, a post from October 2013: when embarrassing pictures go viral

Friday, November 25, 2016

what's the harm in a background check?

A church runs background checks on all volunteers who have anything to do with children in an effort to protect the kids. Everyone does it. Liability issues, you know.

Seems reasonable, you say.

Is it?

Children are in no greater danger at church than any other place. Going to church in a car is the most dangerous part of going to church and we accept that danger without blinking.

But, you say, by keeping sex offenders away from children, a background check will prevent sexual abuse.

Does it?

Arrests for sexual abuse of a child are nearly always a first-time arrest, not of someone on the sex offender registry and not of someone who would be caught in a background check. Background checks do not identify those who are abusing children; background checks identify those who stopped abusing children.

There are good reasons to use background checks but eliminating sex offenders from the volunteer pool is not one of them. The assumption that registered sex offenders are a clear and present danger to children is not correct.

But, you say, background checks are harmless.

Are they?

When you use background checks to eliminate registered sex offenders from your world for reasons that do not stand up to scrutiny, you are perpetuating untruths about sex offenders.

You encourage others to think sex offenders are acceptable targets:
According to a recent bail memorandum, Jason Vukovich, a self-styled "avenging angel" according to one of the victims, carried a notebook with a list of names, including Charles Albee, Andres Barbosa and Wesley Demarest. Over five days in June, he entered the homes of the three men, uninvited, and hit them, sometimes with his fists and sometimes with a hammer. He also stole from them, said the bail memorandum signed by assistant district attorney Patrick McKay. 
Vukovich told police that he targeted his victims based on their listings on Alaska's sex-offender registry, the memo says. The online registry includes their home addresses, employer addresses and convictions.
You encourage prosecutors to use the registry to force an outcome:
An Iowa prosecutor is threatening to bring a sexual exploitation charge against a teenage girl who sent two photos of herself to a high school classmate, even though the pictures contain no nudity, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday. 
Marion County Attorney Ed Bull has said the teenager could have to register as a sex offender if a juvenile court judge found her delinquent for sending the Snapchat photos, according to the lawsuit.... 
As recently as Sept. 20, Bull has threatened through a lawyer to prosecute the teenager in juvenile court unless she participates in a diversion program that was completed by other students who were caught in the investigation. The program includes a class about the dangers of sexting, community service, restrictions on the teenager's cellphone and computer use, and a written admission of guilt, according to the lawsuit.
 You encourage people to think that sex offenders are forever dangerous:
A Palm Beach County court petition filed Aug. 31 claims Jack Ehrhart, a hospice patient with end-stage Alzheimer's disease, has been threatened with arrest if he does not move out of Heartland of Boynton Beach, a nursing home near a local preschool. 
The City of Boynton Beach purportedly issued a notice to Ehrhart and the hospice accusing them of violating an ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, daycare center or playground.
When you act as if a registered sex offender is a monster, people around you may think you are right, even if you are not. That is how someone thinks it is acceptable to indulge in vigilante actions against registrants and that is how three men in Alaska came to be attacked.

When you act as if registration is a fine way to separate good people from the bad, people around you may think you are right, even if you are not. That is how prosecutors get the power to use the registry as a lever against people seen as immoral, and that is how an Iowa teen ends up fighting criminal charges when she did nothing criminal.

When you act as if registered citizens are dangerous no matter how long they have been living a law-abiding life, people around you may think you are right, even if you are not. That is how the 2500 foot residence restrictions and presence restrictions came about, and that is why an elderly Florida man is being kicked out of hospice care.

Yes, when you say you will protect children in your care by taking measures that will not protect children, there is a connection between you and those who misuse the registry.

Friday, November 18, 2016

private prisons vs. government-run prisons

Writing at the California Political Review, Katie Modisitt shows us that a focus on private prison problems is too narrow.
In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would start phasing out its contracts with companies that run private prisons in light of disturbing reports of poor medical care, overcrowding and other abuses in their facilities. Although the issue has taken center stage in the debate over mass incarceration, it overshadows and distracts from the actual problem: the prison-industrial complex, which affects government-run prisons in a much more troubling way, and for many more inmates.
Government-run prisons are not inherently better than private prisons. 
Government-run, public prisons operate off the same perverse and monetary incentives to lock up human beings, but do so for more inmates and with much more at stake. ...
We don’t even have to leave California to get a glimpse of the perverse incentives at work in filling government prisons. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) represents approximately 30,000 California prison guards and parole officers. The union wields tremendous power over criminal justice policy, much more than private prison companies, and for nearly 20 times the inmates. While we are worried about private companies’ profit incentive to increase prison populations, shouldn’t we be infuriated about an organization that has job security, salaries and political influence hanging in the balance?
 Political influence.
Over the last 20 years, the CCPOA has contributed over $24 million to lobbying efforts and candidates. For comparison, GEO Group, a leading private prison company criticized for their role in increasing prison populations, spent only $5 million over the same time period. 
And, the activities of the CCPOA are aimed squarely on tougher sentencing laws, therefore preserving the prison-industrial complex that allows them to exist. The union, for example, spent over $100,000 to implement the original Three Strikes Law. More recently, it spent $1 million to defeat Proposition 5, which would have reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, shifting the focus to rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.
Rehabilitation for inmates who have to be there is one thing. Keeping them incarcerated for longer than necessary is another and yet that is what the correctional officers' union wanted.

Yes, private prisons can be bad. Not because they are private but because they are prisons.