Thursday, April 25, 2013

truth and lies...and wild-eyed guesses

I'm not sure what it says about me when someone working for the rights of sex offenders makes me mad. I'm glad Janice Bellucci is working on behalf of the registrants in our lives. Any improvement in their circumstances is welcome. But did she really say that sex offenders should go to prison, when it is abundantly clear that so many of them do NOT belong in prison?  First-time offenders? First-time non-violent offenders? Non-contact offenders?

Of course the anger I have for that attitude is nothing compared to the anger I have toward Gale Holland, the reporter who soaks nearly every paragraph in an oozing, sticky, putrid disgust for registrants.

When Bellucci compares social marginalizaion of sex offenders to the marginalization of European Jews before and during WWII, the reporter condescends:
No doubt this preposterous characterization is objectionable. Sex offenders are shunned for their conduct, not their status. And their conduct is often unspeakable.
"Often unspeakable." Why unspeakable? I'm afraid this reporter found it unspeakable because she herself has no idea what the conduct was that landed these people in prison and on the registry. Nor did she bother to do the research to find out. She blithely labels the idea that registrants are marginalized as preposterous, even though her article clearly describes that marginalization:
But even a state advisory board acknowledges that post-release restrictions on sex offenders have gone too far. In an August 2011 report, the California Sex Offender Management Board said that one-third of the state's registered sex offenders are homeless, partly because of the housing limits.
When Bellucci points out that registrants are "like everybody else," the reporter knows better.
Really? I don't think so. Some undoubtedly made mistakes, but others are hardened offenders whom law enforcement would do well to track and monitor. 
Again, how many on the registry made mistakes and how many are hardened offenders? Evidently those numbers mean nothing because this reporter doesn't bother trying to answer those questions.

Holland's example of the hardened offender law enforcement would do well to track and monitor?

Just this week, Jerome Anthony Rogers, 58, a registered sex offender, was arrested on suspicion of the home-invasion killing of an elderly San Bernardino woman. Rogers' previous conviction was for sodomizing a child under age 14.
This was a man who was on the registry! Tracked. Monitored. And yet he may have committed an even more terrible crime than his original sex offense. Murder--not a sex crime. Why did the registry not prevent this?

Holland wraps up her skeptical take on Bellucci's cause:
But we've all heard of the priests, Boy Scout leaders and teachers who molested multiple children before finally getting caught. 
Yep. We've all heard about the priests, Boy Scout leaders and teachers. We've heard about them so frequently that some people don't even question whether these categories of people are more or less likely to be sex offenders than other categories. Holland is so certain her perception is correct that she doesn't hesitate to smear all three categories in a single sentence.
The state corrections department acknowledges it can say with only 75% accuracy who is likely to commit a sex offense again, although it hopes to increase the odds with better assessments.
Seventy-five percent accuracy? I flat-out don't  believe that. Neither should you.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"stigmatic injury"

A year ago, a federal judge said Texas cannot put people on the sex offender registry unless they are actual sex offenders. You read that right: it took a federal judge to make that point.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin, in an order issued late Friday, blasted the state's continuing refusal to provide due process hearings before imposing restrictive sex-offender conditions on felons never convicted of a sex crime. (My emphasis.)
Even better:
Yeakel for the first time ruled that the seven-member state Board of Pardons and Paroles, 12 parole commissioners, state parole director Stuart Jenkins and other parole officials can face monetary damages for their actions....

The order was the latest setback for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and state corrections officials, who have insisted for years that, to ensure public safety, they could impose the stringent conditions on parolees without a due process hearing.
Background: A man was indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child but convicted and sentenced to 25 year for drug charges, not the sexual assault charge. The state tried to put this man on the registry but was blocked by the judge because he had not been convicted of a sex crime. In the decision that this man could sue for damages, the judge said, 
"Any stigmatic injury suffered by [this man] due to the imposition and continued enforcement of Special Condition X [the sex offender registry and restrictions] may entitle [this man] to compensatory damages."
"Stigmatic injury." Think about that for a moment. The judge acknowledges that the sex offender registry and the restrictions that come with it inflict "stigmatic injury."
It is good to see that possibility recognized, though it comes as no surprise to those who have to live with the registry. The stigma falls on the sex offender's family, as well, so for all who think the registry is there to protect children, how do you square this?

Friday, April 19, 2013

signs on the lawn; signs of...hey!

Mostboringradical talks about the Florida sheriff who is putting red signs in the lawns of sexual predators--not all sex offenders, only the ones he considers to be predators.
This begs the question of why people who don’t fall into those categories are on the list in the first place, and shows how registries are rendered effectively useless when they are filled with non-violent and/or statutory offenders.
Well, yes. Yes, it does. Many of these sex offenders were snared in online stings in which they had no contact with actual children.
Perhaps we should be asking why law enforcement is bothering to run these stings when they themselves acknowledge that the men they are arresting–non-violent, statutory, and nearly all first-time offenders–are not predators? Why, when they arrest a man in one of these stings, or a college student for downloading child porn, do they pat themselves on the back in the press for catching a “predator” when, in fact, those offenses would not classify the offender as a sexual predator? These internet-based stings create sex offenders rather than catching predators.
So: signs of the uselessness of the registry! If the registry worked as advertised, the red signs wouldn't be necessary. If the registry worked as advertised, everyone on the registry would need red signs. 
And we should acknowledge that filling registries with first-time, non-violent, statutory offenders makes it harder, not easier, for parents to get the information the registry purports to provide them with. They aren’t all that worried about whether their 27yo neighbor might say yes if their teen daughter propositions him–most parents realize that a teen daughter who is seeking out sex with older men has problems that need to be addressed within the home, not by the government. They are worried about whether their neighbor is going to kidnap, molest, and maybe kill their 6 year old child. Those are the offenders they want identified, and when those violent and/or repeat offenders are hidden between entries for dozens and dozens of men who, when they were 24, made a stupid choice involving a teen girl looking for sex online, they have trouble finding that information.
The sex offender registry has so little to do with protecting anyone and so much to do with extra punishment for people who have merely offended the sensibilities of legislators. And you know what? I doubt that legislators are even all that offended; surely they remember being stupid themselves. Legislators are simply looking for someone they can use to demonstrate that they are tough on crime and sex offenders have very few defenders.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

the power of mercy

People made such a fuss over Les Misérables but I was in no hurry to follow the crowd...then I saw it.

Perhaps I'm the last to have seen it for the first time; if not, I recommend the 2012 movie. If you aren't a fan of musicals, you will miss something truly special.

It is the story of a a man who learns to love and the story of another man who cannot show mercy and tragically cannot accept mercy.

Sex offenders and their families will find much that is familiar--the shame, the unreasoning hate, the lifelong burden of fear--and yet Les Mis is veritably awash in the idea of the power of mercy. Conferring or receiving mercy bestows freedom. Freedom from hate--your hate for your persecutors and their hate for you--is mercy.

Mercy is bestowed by those humble enough to recognize the truth in this:
Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
My husband and I have have received untold gifts of mercy and while there is joy in it, it is also humbling. Mercy received is breathtaking, sacred. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

coming home safe at night

When I told our attorney that executing search warrants as a home invasion should not be legal, he told me that if I were the wife of a cop, all I would want is for him to come home safe each night. Since then, my response has been that if I were the wife of a cop, I would not want him to put his safety above those he has sworn to serve and protect.

Which brings us to this article by Radley Balko.
The "war on cops" talk heats up every time that one or more high-profile police killings hit the news. But there's just no evidence that it's true. 
I've pointed out a number of times that the job of police officer has been getting progressively safer for a generation. Last year was the safest year for cops since the early 1960s. And it isn't just because the police are carrying bigger guns or have better armor. Assaults on police officers have been dropping over the same period. Which means that not only are fewer cops getting killed on the job, people in general are less inclined to try to hurt them. Yes, working as a police officer is still more dangerous than, say, working as a journalist.
The truth is that farmers, miners, and fishermen are more likely to die in the line of work than law enforcement officers.

Balko says the false belief that cops constantly risk their lives in their work leads to poor policy and poor budget decisions.
For example, one effect of false perceptions about the dangers of policing that I've noted before is that they can sway public debate on issues like police budgets, police use of force, police militarization and what sort of accountability cops should face when they're accused of violating someone's civil rights. Exaggerating the threat that cops face can make policymakers and public officials more reluctant to hold bad cops accountable or more willing to outfit police departments with weapons and equipment better suited for warfare.
I interviewed lots of police officers, police administrators, criminologists and others connected to the field of law enforcement. There was a consensus among these people that constantly telling cops how dangerous their jobs are is affecting their mindset. It reinforces the soldier mentality already relentlessly drummed into cops' heads by politicians' habit of declaring "war" on things.
Read the whole thing. The next time law enforcement talks about how dangerous their job is, you'll know better.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

good cops wouldn't?

Commenter Our Family is His makes an astonishing assumption, so astonishing that I wondered if I misread her attempt at humor.
Thankfully good cops wouldn't shoot an innocent person doing nothing, so while you were emotionally hurt so much that day and your husband decided to rip your family apart, you were safe that day.
Good cops would have investigated to see if any of us have a history of violence. 
Good cops would have questioned the need to come into my home with their weapons drawn.
Good cops would have waited until the children were out of the house.

Good cops wouldn't shoot an innocent person doing nothing

Sometimes the resulting damage, injuries, and deaths have less to do with whether the cops are good or bad than to do with the dangers inherent in drawing weapons in a chaotic situation. Too much chance for unexpected movements or sounds, too much chance for misunderstandings, too much chance for adrenalin to lead to mistakes.

Good cops understand that and avoid creating that chaos.

Friday, April 5, 2013

rand paul wants to give judges a way to ignore mandatory minimum sentences

Exciting to see Rand Paul doing something to lessen the impact of mandatory minimum sentences. Heck, it's exciting to see someone in the Senate acknowledging that there is a problem.

Judges will tell you that current federal sentencing laws — known as mandatory minimums — don’t actually do anything to keep us safer. In fact, judges will tell you that mandatory minimums do much harm to taxpayers and to individuals, who may have their lives ruined for a simple mistake or minor lapse of judgment. 
Mandatory minimums reflect two of the biggest problems in Washington: The first problem is the idea that there should be a Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all approach to all problems, be they social, educational or criminal. This approach leads to our second problem: Washington’s habit of undermining the system our Founding Fathers created. Their system left as much power as possible in the hands of local and state officials, and sought to treat people as individuals, not as groups or classes of people.
He focuses on how mandatory minimums affect drug offenses because so many people in prison are there on for that reason.

Our Founding Fathers went to great lengths to prevent the executive and prosecutors from obtaining too much power. The Fourth Amendment was written to stop overzealous searches, and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments were written to establish full due process as an inalienable right. 
Ignoring these rights comes with several tangible costs. In the last 30 years, the number of federal inmates has increased from 25,000 to nearly 219,000. That is nearly a 10-fold increase in federal prisoners, each of whom cost the taxpayers $29,027 a year to incarcerate. The federal prison budget has doubled in 10 years to more than $6 billion. 
Half of the people sentenced to federal prison are drug offenders. Some are simply drug addicts, who would be better served in a treatment facility. Most are nonviolent and should be punished in ways that do not require spending decades in a federal prison, with meals and health care provided by the taxpayers.
For these reasons and others, last week I joined my colleague Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, in introducing a bill that would authorize judges to disregard federal mandatory-minimum sentencing on a case-by-case basis.
Prosecutors use mandatory minimums to force a defendant to accept a plea agreement. The plea agreement means the case avoids trial and the prosecutor avoids having to prove the case in court.

It would be best to abolish mandatory minimum sentences and this bill wouldn't do that, though it is an encouraging start.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

registries affect more than former sex offenders

What happens when a sex offender registry is not kept up to date?

At the link is the story of a family who moved into a home previously occupied by a registered sex offender. The registrant moved but the database continues to list the address. When the new homeowners asked to have the address removed, they were told the address would be removed if they paid $200.

This was a privately operated registry. I do not assume that registries operated by law enforcement agencies are any less likely to put people in danger.