Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pennsylvania juvenile sex offenders no longer on registry

Good news for juvenile sex offenders in Pennsylania: 
Pennsylvania's highest court ruled on Monday against lifetime registration for juvenile sex offenders, saying the law was unconstitutional because it did not give them the ability to challenge a presumption they would likely reoffend.
Adult offenders are also incorrectly presumed likely to reoffend, of course, but let's celebrate the victory for juveniles!
"We agree with the juveniles that (the law)'s registration requirements improperly brand all juvenile offenders' reputations with an indelible mark of a dangerous recidivist, even though the irrebuttable presumption linking adjudication of specified offenses with a high likelihood of recidivating is not 'universally true,'" Justice Max Baer wrote for the majority. 
Baer reviewed research showing much lower rates of recidivism for juvenile sex offenders, compared to adults, and concluded that "the vast majority of juvenile offenders are unlikely to recidivate."
This is encouraging news because if the court can see that juveniles are unlikely to commit new sex offenses, surely they can see the same about adults if and when a similar case is brought on behalf of adult offenders.

This case was brought on behalf of the juveniles so the court didn't consider adult offenders.
In a lone dissent, Justice Corry Stevens said the Legislature saw the need to require the registration, and the constitution does not require the justices to substitute their judgment for that of lawmakers.
The state Supreme Court is required to substitute their judgment for that of lawmakers if the lawmakers' judgment led to an unconstitutional law.
 "The adjudicated delinquent sex offender's 'right to reputation' under such circumstances should not have precedence over a rape victim's anguish that may well last a lifetime," Stevens wrote.
The decision is not about whose anguish takes precedence. The decision is about whether this particular law is constitutional.

Hurray for the justices who saw clearly the injustice in registration laws!

Monday, December 29, 2014

punishing those who recognize that they need help

It has often been said on this blog that looking at images of child pornography is not the same as molesting a child and that those convicted of child porn possession are sentenced in court as if they have molested someone. Another point made here is that mandatory reporting laws prevent someone from getting the help he needs to stop looking at child porn.

California psychotherapist Leslie Bell agrees.
Beginning next month, however, I will be hampered in my ability to hear the full range of my patients’ desires and to assure them that they can discuss these feelings without fear. Under an amendment to California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, psychotherapists and psychiatrists will be required to report to the authorities any patient who “downloads, streams, or accesses images of any person under the age of 18 engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” In the same way that I am required to break confidentiality to report child abuse, I will be mandated to report consumption of child pornography.
Many other states already require therapists to report to law enforcement those who come to them for help to stop using child porn. Did California look at those other states and find that mandatory reporting reduced the incidence of sexual abuse of children? No, because that is not what those laws do.
On closer inspection, however, the law falls short on three fronts: First, it will not protect children from either the production or distribution of child pornography, which is its intent. Second, it violates therapist-patient confidentiality and decreases the likelihood that people will get the psychological help they need to stop accessing child pornography; if the goal is to undercut production by reducing demand, the law will likely have the opposite effect. 
This is all common sense, something found in short supply when legislators are trying to make a law--any law--to look as if they are doing something important.

Reporting people for looking at illegal images does nothing to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse of children and does nothing to stop someone recording that abuse. If it did, we would have seen a correlation by now.

No matter how many are arrested, the supply of child porn images is not diminished even the tiniest bit. Throw a guy in prison for looking at illegal images and the illegal images remain available.

Throw a guy in prison for looking at illegal images and there is no effect on another person's temptation to molest a child.

You know what could affect that temptation? The help of a good therapist.

Mandatory reporting laws make it much less likely someone will ask for help to control his impulses.

The third front on which mandatory reporting laws falls short? Bell says,
...it conflates desire with action.
As a psychotherapist, I am not required to report any other illegal activity that a patient may report to me, including drug abuse, drinking while driving, stealing, sexual assault, assault or even a murder that has been committed. This has allowed psychotherapists and psychiatrists to help patients discontinue illegal or potentially harmful behaviors. And it has enabled patients to speak freely about their thoughts, feelings and desires without fear of exposure. Thoughts and feelings are not equivalent to actions. One of the desired outcomes of psychotherapy is that patients will understand precisely this distinction. [My emphasis.]
Looking at illegal images is not the same as doing what is recorded in those images. We do not assume that someone looking at legal adult porn will cross the line to sexual assault and yet that assumption is routinely made about someone who looks at child porn.

Mandatory reporting laws are less about helping to prevent crime or about protecting children than they are about punishing people who ask for help.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

woman downloads child porn to frame her estranged husband

A Pennsylvania woman tried to frame her husband for child pornography possession by downloading the porn herself and turning the computer over to law enforcement. Her plan was exposed and now she faces up to two years in prison.
While the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board determined Woods is not a sexually violent predator, she must register her address, workplaces and schools she attends for the next 15 years.
Carrying out a plot to put an innocent man in prison is not predatory?

In a world where simple failure to register is considered a sex offense, deliberately downloading images in order to destroy a man's reputation, if not his very life, could be considered violent.

What this woman did is despicable, of course, but even people who do something despicable do not deserve to have to register for public shaming.

Abolish the sex offender registry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ignoring prison rape

Anyone with a family member or friend in prison grows to hate the inevitable "don't drop the soap" joke. Jokes about prison rape are rife when discussing someone convicted of a sex crime.

The idea seems to be that someone in prison for a sex crime is so evil that it is acceptable for another inmate to commit a sex crime against him.
In this manner, rape is treated as a feature of our justice system when it happens to prisoners, rather than what it is: another grave crime.
Sexual assaults in prison are not only inmate on inmate. No, they too often include assaults by prison staff. In his article in The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty quotes from Colorlines.com
Roughly 200,000 men, women, and children reported being sexually abused in detention facilities in 2011, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has anonymously self-reported data from inmates.
If the jokesters are any indication, this is acceptable. Instead, let's recognize those jokes for what they really mean.
Acceptance of prison rape is a stinking corruption. No conception of justice can include plunging criminals into an anarchic world of sexual terror. And obviously it thwarts any possibility of a rehabilitative justice that aims to restore criminals to lawful society. Inmates are not improved or better integrated into society through physical and psychological torture.
Dougherty reminds us that what the government does to prisoners, it does in our name. In a moral world, that in itself is reason to work toward reducing prison populations. The larger the prison population is, the more we will see stinking corruption.
Prison rape ... vitiates any sense of retributive justice, since rape is not a proper punishment for a crime. Allowing prison rape is just a vindictive horror, and when accepted under the name of punishment makes criminals the victims of justice.
Prison inmates--save for a very few--are released back to society and we ought to want them to come back ready to be part of our society. Do our prisons prepare them for the return? 
Absent major and drastic reform of our prison system, however, the "lesson" our justice system teaches is not that crimes will be punished, but that getting caught may send you to unpredictable horrors; that our society's primary way of dealing with criminality is plunging you into more of it; and that the rod of the law comes in the form of supermax cruelty.
The statistics Dougherty uses show that prison rape is all too common. If it is, that is a problem that can be tackled with more oversight of and accountability for prisons.

How to solve the more insidious problem of people horrified by rape losing that sense of horror when it happens behind the razor wire? 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"my soul wide open"

Oakdale Chronicles delivers a moving Christmas reverie in which an inmate wonders how to celebrate Christmas while in prison, far from family, friends and familiar traditions.

Those of us who have loved ones in prison know that, even with additional treats served up by the prison administration, the holiday season must be bereft of celebration for them. It must be impossible to celebrate the Nativity in such hostile surroundings.

George, the inmate, remembers the Christmases of his childhood.
On Christmas Eve, we would pile into the station wagon and head for church. It was the one time of the year my Mom had no trouble getting the whole family to go to church; mostly because Santa came to our house while we were at the evening service. 
I would sit in the pew imagining what Santa was doing moment by moment. Was he enjoying the milk and cookies we’d left?
Surely our family members locked away from us must have the same moment-by-moment imaginings. Has my family opened gifts yet? Did they decorate the house the way we always did? Are they at church now?
Were the other reindeer jealous of Rudolph because we only left one carrot especially for him, or did he share by letting a different reindeer eat the carrot at each new house? Rudolph was the most popular with all of my neighborhood friends, so I knew no one ever thought of Blitzen or Prancer by leaving more than one carrot. Did Rudolph remember the pain of being left out of the reindeer games, which is why he gave his carrot away as an act of forgiveness?
Forgiveness. How many hours inside prison walls are spent contemplating forgiveness?
My favorite part of the service ... was when Minister Peters asked us all to kneel as he read the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20 (RSV). 
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…,” and as he read, the organist began to quietly play an interlude into the hymn Silent Night. The lights over the congregation were dimmed down and out so only the altar was swathed in bright light. 
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth…,” and the congregation softly joined the organ and sang as underscoring to the minister’s narration. 
When the lyrics started, an acolyte took the center candle of the Advent wreath and lit the handheld candles of the first person seated in the front row on both sides of the center aisle. 
The candlelight is passed from person to person.
I tipped my unlit candle into my Mom’s flame and then turned to offer my light to my sister. And so it moved down the pew...
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men…”
“Christ the Savior is born…

Christ the Savior is born.”
In that candlelight, with tears of joy streaming down my face and my soul wide open, I understood the mystery of God and the truth of Christmas.
Immersed in his memories of  how Christmas used to be and trying to find a way to celebrate, George thinks:
I’m not sure how I’ll recapture those feelings of Christmas while I’m here at Oakdale FCI. Without family, longtime friends, and all the traditions that go with celebrating Christmas, it could become a bleak midwinter’s night. How can the light shine here? 
That star, and all the stars that filled the night sky, reminded me that I am free, even though I am imprisoned. Funny how reminders of comfort and love are often right in front of our eyes, if we only open our souls to see. 
There will be no traveling for me this year, and I definitely don’t have any gifts to bear. I don’t even have a drum on which to play a song; however, my heart does beat the rhythm of life. A life that can once again kneel, see the light, feel the light, and pass that light on to others. With that knowledge in my soul, I am more free inside this prison than many who sit in their homes before a warming fire, or even some who sit in the packed pews on Christmas Eve.
Think of it. It is possible to be more free inside prison than outside because of Christmas.

I pray that inside or outside the prison walls, we can approach the manger with our souls wide open and gently, jubilantly, pass the Light to others.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

too many laws give too much power to police

In Bloomberg View, Yale law prof Stephen Carter says,
On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
Does that sound extreme? He reminds us that Eric Garner was killed by police trying to arrest him for selling individual cigarettes without paying the required tax. Someone thought it made sense to put a tax on the sale of "loosies" and Eric Garner died.
It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand. [My emphasis.]
Anyone paying attention knows that violence at the hands of police gets out of hand far too often. If you think it couldn't happen to you, are you sure you know whether you are following the law?
The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book “Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is -- a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice. 
In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.
New laws often are passed after intensive lobbying in the service of a noble cause. 
Of course, activists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate. 
That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is the same as the advice I give my students on the first day of classes: Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.
Laws that define crimes give the state power to send armed police after us. Once we bestow that power, it will be used

Monday, December 1, 2014

once and always

The sex offender registry is often touted as a way to protect children. Which children? Not the children who end up on the sex offender registry. In 2013, Human Rights Watch published Raised on the Registry, a report about children on the registry.
Throughout the United States, children as young as nine years old who are adjudicated delinquent may be subject to sex offender registration laws. For example, in Delaware in 2011, there were approximately 639 children on the sex offender registry, 55 of whom were under the age of 12. In 2010, Michigan counted a total of 3,563 youth offenders adjudicated delinquent on its registry, a figure that does not include Michigan’s youth offenders convicted in adult court. In 2010, Michigan’s youngest registered sex offenders were nine years old. A 2009 Department of Justice study, which focused only on sex crimes committed by children in which other children were the victims, found that one out of eight youth sex offenders committing crimes against other children was younger than 12.
For a child, the psychological impact of being on the registry can be devastating. Deadly, in fact.
Nearly a fifth of those interviewed (58 people, or 19.6 percent) said they had attempted suicide; three of the registrants whose cases we examined did commit suicide.
Josh Gravens, a young man who was on the registry beginning at age 13, talks about being labeled a sex offender. 
Three and a half years in Texas juvenile prisons and four years after that on parole, intensive and abusive sex offender “treatment.” While none of those things should be done to a child or adolescent, by far the worst penalty I experienced was being placed on the Texas Sex Offender Registry. I would not realize the life-changing consequences of being registered until I grew up and had children of my own. ...
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that once my juvenile record was public, there was no way to restore privacy protections. Even though I was removed from the public registry, my information was still readily available on for-profit websites. In this day and age, once online, always online. 
We warn kids about sexting because once online, always online and yet kids are listed on the registry with little thought about what that label will do to them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

are those chocolate chips or raisins?

A young man writes a letter to the girl who falsely accused him of rape when he was 15 and she was 13. He spent three months out on bail before the charges were dropped.
I never saw you after that night. In the six years since, I have done all I can to block out the horror of not just that night but of every month spent on bail. While the police seemed to hold true to innocent until proven guilty, my friends and their families certainly didn’t. Even when I returned to a you-free school, I never quite recovered. My relationships since have been damaged and I still struggle to trust my partners.
Falsely accused and yet he is still bound by the fear the accusation caused.
I tell practically no one now about what happened, for fear of being perceived as a rapist and because I guess they’d say stories like mine make it harder for real victims of rape to be believed.
It is wrong to sacrifice people to the damage of false accusations in the hope that someone else will come forward with an accusation that is true. It is also wrong to sacrifice people to the damage of the sex offender registry in the hope that someone, somewhere can be saved.
Rape is an abhorrent crime and every victim should be able to report it. But false accusations of rape are abhorrent too, and the victims too easily forgotten. Not only do false allegations damage the life of the victim but they also contribute to the trivialisation of the seriousness of genuine sexual violence. [My emphasis.]
If true and false allegations are both acceptable means to the end of helping sexual assault victims, if inappropriate behavior and violent sexual assaults are both labeled "sex offenses", distinctions lose all meaning.

Imagine if chocolate chips, raisins, and rabbit droppings were all labeled "brown things".

Saturday, November 1, 2014

let's hear from an angry wife

She tells us, "I'll care when you care."

Kate Mest, at Living as a Spouse of an Inmate, talks about current controversies about civil rights -- how to protect citizens from Ebola without violating their right to travel freely, and how to prevent gun deaths without infringing on our Second Amendment right to carry guns.
Do I care that the federal government is stripping away civil rights when it may be prohibiting travelers from entering or leaving our country? ... 
Should I care that the government wants to limit the number of firearms we can carry or possess, or put restrictions on the type of gun and ammunition that can be used? ...
Well, to all you out there screaming right now about the government in your lives, I tell you that I will care about what the government is doing with your civil rights when you wake up and care that right now, today, in this country, our government can legally tell people where they can and cannot live. They can tell people they have to move, or that they can not buy or rent a home in certain places. Never mind the freedom to travel between countries in your free time or to own a small armory in your home, lets talk about the basic right to a place to call home.
When the general population starts to care that the government can regulate where those labeled sex offenders can live, then I will start to care about all those other rights that everyone is so outraged over. The basic right to have a home trumps the freedom to travel in my leisure time or stockpile weapons. [We are t]rying to sell our home because the government says my husband cannot live there because he could look out our windows and see the park.

That is what residency restrictions are all about for registered sex offenders: being told where they cannot live. For a family who wants to live under one roof with a registered citizen, this can mean selling their house and moving to a new neighborhood. Not because they want to sell the house or because the new neighborhood has better schools or is closer to Grandma and Target -- but because residency restrictions force them.

In some areas where real estate is very expensive, it makes more sense for the registrant to be homeless and leave the family to live in the home that they own than to commit certain financial folly by selling the house. 

Other families are stuck paying for two residences -- one where the family can live and one for the registrant -- and sometimes on a single income because the registrant has trouble finding employment.

Residency restrictions are not effective and often make things worse, according to the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers:
There is no research to support that adult sex offenders’ proximity to schools or parks leads to recidivism. Researchers from the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that not one of 224 recidivistic adult sex offenses would have been prevented by a residential restriction law. In Florida, researchers found that the distance adult sex offenders lived from schools and daycares was not associated with recidivism; recidivists did not live closer to schools and daycares than nonrecidivists (Zandbergen, Hart, & Levenson, 2010). The bottom line is that adult sex offenders do not molest children because they live near schools. Typically they abuse when they are able to establish relationships with children and their families and misuse positions of familiarity, trust, and authority. According to the Justice Department, 93% of sexually abused children are molested by family members, close friends or acquaintances. Children are most likely to be assaulted by people they know, not strangers lurking in schoolyards. Thus, residence restrictions do little to prevent the most common situations in which children are likely to be harmed. 
No wonder Kate Mest is angry. She is being pushed into selling their home in order to keep the family together...and all due to laws that don't accomplish their purpose. Residency restrictions make no one safer.
Research shows that sex offender residence restrictions increase transience, homelessness, and instability. These laws interfere with effective tracking, monitoring, and close probationary supervision, undermining the very purpose of registries. Research also shows that housing instability increases both absconding and criminal recidivism. Residence restrictions are simply not a feasible strategy for preventing child sexual abuse. In fact, across the nation law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and victim advocacy groups have issued public position statements opposing residence restrictions. Laws that foster instability for offenders are not likely to be in the best interest of public safety. [My emphasis.]
Residency restrictions are violations of our constitutional rights. Yes. Those convicted of sex offenses have the right to live where they choose, just as those convicted of assault with a deadly weapon or those convicted of manslaughter can live where they choose. They have the right to live with their families and families have the right to welcome sex offenders back home.

No wonder she's angry. She'll care when you do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

video warns community...about people unlikely to commit a sex offense

The Bedford IN police department put together a video that shows the faces of all 45 registered sex offenders who live there. Why? So people in the community could familiarize themselves with those faces before sending kids out to trick or treat on Halloween.

Because children are most often molested by someone in their family or by a trusted friend and not a stranger, children are sure to see pictures of their own family members in that video. Does the police department expect children to know how to handle such a brutal outing? Does the police department expect other children to know that they shouldn't use that information to torment classmates?

How does this help children in the families of sex offenders? It doesn't. In fact, it makes the children of sex offenders even more vulnerable than they already are by having their address on the registry. 

Casual cruelty.

Shelly Smith at With Justice for All lays out facts about sex offenders on Halloween. From her blog:
This is from non-academic commentary:
“The intimidation campaign is a silly diversion of manpower and a waste of your tax dollars. Police and the politicians who are in search of tough-on-crime votes will tell you otherwise, but don’t believe the myth that Halloween is the night child sexual predators wait all year for. The facts tell a different story... Over the past several decades, there has not been one reported instance that I can find of a convicted sex offender molesting a child on Halloween night.” [My emphasis.]
Shelly agrees with me about the Bedford video (what compassionate and thinking person who cares for children would not?) and tells how she posted a comment on the Bedford police department Facebook page to get the facts out to that community only to have her comment removed. It seems the Bedford police are not very interested in facts about registered citizens.

Registered sex offenders have an extremely low rate of re-offense.
Most sex offense arrests are of first-time offenders.

That means the registry is a list of people unlikely to commit a sex offense. Even in Bedford, Indiana.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Florida sex offenders pushed into homelessness; ACLU pushes back

The Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge was home to nearly 100 sex offenders until public outcry forced a cleanup in 2010. No more sex offenders living under that bridge. Whew.

The Miami-Dade County residency restrictions -- some offenders are prohibited from living within 2500 feet of a school -- that pushed sex offenders to that bridge are still in force, so where do sex offenders live now? Beside the railroad tracks.
Rather than helping people recently released from prison identify housing suitable under the Miami-Dade ordinance, its probation officers instead direct those unable to find housing to the tracks. Many at the tracks tell the same story of this surreal experience. 
After learning they had nowhere to live, their probation officers wrote down a street intersection on a piece of paper. The officers instructed them to either go to the location or go back to prison. Arriving at the intersection, the probationers walked around for hours in disbelief. They expected to find some sort of house or building, but eventually grasped the barren truth: They had been sent to live on an empty lot.
What could possibly justify a government knowingly forcing its citizens into homelessness? If you were a Miami-Dade official, your answer would be "public safety." And you would be wrong.
The article at the link has several links to research showing that residency restrictions do nothing to improve public safety. This is not secret research that only club members can see. This is research freely, easily available to legislators everywhere.
Residency restrictions are not only ineffectual and counterproductive. They are cruel. By depriving people of the fundamental right to personal security and driving them into homelessness, Miami-Dade is violating the Constitution's basic promise of due process. In response, the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida today filed a lawsuit challenging the county's residency restrictions on behalf of three plaintiffs made homeless by this toxic ordinance and the Florida Action Committee, a nonprofit organization that tries to identify housing for those impacted by the ordinance. [My emphasis.]
The time has come for Miami-Dade County to turn away from this failed public policy.
Miami-Dade County is far from the only place where citizens are told residency restrictions will increase public safety. 

It is time for all of them to turn toward decisions backed by research and away from calculated fear-mongering.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

why we shouldn't prosecute the football hazers

In a tweet, Lenore Skenazy calls Judith Levine's piece in CounterPunch the "bravest, best article on Sayresville, NJ football hazers." 

Levine begins:
If it’s true that all seven of the football players arrested for hazing in the Sayreville, New Jersey, War Memorial High School locker room are students of color, that is one more reason not to prosecute them as sexual felons. 
I don’t mean not to prosecute them in adult court. I mean not to prosecute them at all. 
If they’re guilty, they should be disciplined by the school, kicked off the Bombers team, and held accountable to their victims by making amends in words and deeds. 
But the punishment the state will mete out far outweighs the transgression. For kids who are 15 to 17 years old, it will be life crushing. 
Yes, more life-crushing even than being punched, kicked, groped, or subject to an unwanted finger inching into your anus.
Why not prosecute them? Levine says research shows that blacks are over-represented on public sex offender registries. Twenty-two percent of those registrants are black, while blacks make up only 13% of Americans. 
In other words, the corrections agency psychologists and police deciding who is so sexually dangerous that his presence must be announced to the whole neighborhood, tend to think of black men as more dangerous than white. 
The Sayreville high school administrators seem to think the same. The Bombers, who surely did not start hazing new players last month or even last year, are 70 to 80 percent white.
If their race figured into the decision to prosecute these seven for doing what has been done for ages by white football players, the decision must be questioned.

The fact that these seven young men, if convicted, will be listed on the sex offender registry is another reason not to prosecute them, Levine says. The punishment will surely be out of proportion to the offense.
Megan’s Laws were supposed to protect children. But two decades of research show they don’t improve anyone’s safety, least of all children’s. In fact, it may be minors themselves who are harmed most by the laws put in place to safeguard them. 
The age of the greatest number of people involved in the criminal justice system for sex offenses is 14. Thank age-of-consent laws for that. Because the laws deem minors categorically incapable of consenting to sex, any sexual contact with a minor is considered an assault. Indeed, if the victim is a minor, sexual assault becomes “aggravated” sexual assault. Aggravated does not mean more sadistic or lengthy. It can just mean the “victim” of a touch or chat room conversation was 13. [My emphasis.]
Fourteen is also the age at which the federal government requires committers of certain sex crimes to be listed on the Internet registries. 
Fourteen. The federal government requires...that there be no room to make judgments specific to circumstances or individuals.
And in a nation already overflowing with prisoners both juvenile and adult, the vast majority of them black and brown, do we need to lock up more black and brown kids? 
The United States would benefit greatly from putting far fewer people of any color in prison. 
In its 2011 report “Raised on the Registry,” Human Rights Watch detailed the severe and lifelong harms of putting youth on sex offender registries, from chronic unemployment and homelessness to depression and suicide. HRW and other human rights advocates have condemned the incarceration and registration of minors as violations of their human rights.
Judith Levine will come under fire for writing this piece. She is brave.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

prosecutor's son facing child porn charges

The son of a county prosecutor is facing charges related to child pornography. Four other men are also charged. The Dayton Daily News says,
“Defendants did knowingly conspire to make, print, publish and cause to be made, printed or published any notice advertisement seeking and offering to retrieve, exchange, buy, produce, display, distribute and reproduce any visual depiction, the production of which visual depiction involved the use of minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” according to the indictment.
Those are serious charges though it sounds as if they are not charged with actually creating child porn or molesting anyone. It sounds as if the men published ads offering to do all of that, which is exactly what law enforcement does when they set up an online sting: they make offers to do something illegal -- provide sex with minors, for example -- and then charge the fools who respond.

If the county sheriff had placed the child porn ads and let fools respond, that prosecutor would now be working late hours on all the resulting cases instead of telling the world about his son's difficult childhood.

In this case, Butler County (OH) Prosecutor Michael Gmoser tries to explain how his son could have come to be involved in such sordid activities.
On Monday, Michael Gmoser told his staff that after years to of trying to conceive, he and his wife, Olga, adopted a “special 7-month-old child.” 
“He was perceived to be highly intelligent,” Gmoser said. “But we knew we would always have to deal with Jason on his own terms.” 
Jason Gmoser developed attachment and development disorders that made it difficult to bond with his parents. 
“To say he was a difficult child was an understatement,” Michael Gmoser said. 
Michael Gmoser said his son did excel at science and computers and attended Miami University, but had to drop out.
“He went downhill with depression, self esteem issues and a horrible weight problem … he became reclusive,” Michael Gmoser said. 
He added there were several diagnosis to explain his son’s condition, including Asperger syndrome and bipolar disorder.
Yes, a very sad case. All of that might (or might not) help explain how the prosecutor's son came to make the choices that led to his arrest.
In 2010, Jason Gmoser was admitted to the psychological ward of a local hospital after he had a psychotic episode, with Jason saying he had inappropriately touched a child. 
An investigation concluded Jason had “touched the leg of this young fellow,” Michael Gmoser said, but Jason believed he had done something terrible. 
The mother of the boy sought and received a protection order against Jason, according to Michael Gmoser. 
Jason Gmoser was then taken to Texas to one of the best facilities money can buy, Michael Gmoser said. 
“But money can’t buy everything,” Michael Gmoser said, pausing and appearing to hold back tears.
Nope. Money can't buy everything.

Now that the county prosecutor has to watch his own son go under the steamroller that is our criminal justice system, one can't help but wonder if he will appear to hold back tears when other sex crime defendants explain how circumstances could have led to their crimes.

I don't wish this on anyone, not even someone who could learn valuable lessons from the experience.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

a defense of John Grisham

Radley Balko steps in to remind us that John Grisham is not a lunatic who cares nothing for justice even though Grisham himself has apologized for his earlier statements about child pornography sentences.

Grisham's apology:
"Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography -- online or otherwise -- should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all."
Balko's defense of Grisham, which is a longer and much more thoughtful piece than my blog post
Grisham certainly could have chosen his words better. But he isn’t wrong, and the invective he’s receiving right now is both misinformed and wildly over the top. There are Twitter users calling him a pervert, or for his hometo be raided by the FBI. It isn’t all that different than suggesting that people who criticize the drug laws must be doing or selling drugs. [My emphasis.]
Take this quote out of context, and one could make Grisham look like he thinks the biggest problem with the criminal justice system is that old white guys are getting locked up for looking at child porn. But context is important. Grisham has spent a great deal of time, money, and influence advocating for criminal justice reform. He helped found the Mississippi Innocence Project, and sits on the board of directors for the Innocence Project in New York. He wrote a nonfiction book about a wrongful conviction, and helped another get published. He testified before Congress about the need for reforming the forensics system, addressing the problems he’s seen firsthand in Mississippi.
Balko's piece is heavy on the links because the information he presents about Grisham is important. Grisham has a history of being on the side of justice. 
The reality is that John Grisham has done far, far more to actually address racial bias in the criminal justice system than the self-righteous pundits mocking him have done or will likely ever do. But because he had the temerity to stick up for a friend — and a middle-aged white male friend at that — the rush is on to disregard all of Grisham’s prior work, exaggerate the indignation, and reduce the man to a caricature....
This dressing down of Grisham by Jessica Goldstein at ThinkProgress pieceis pretty typical. There’s no mention of Grisham’s criminal justice activism. Just a lot of scolding, belittling, and berating. Worse, much of it is factually inaccurate.
Balko goes on to point out several inaccuaracies and then takes issue with the usual arguments about child porn.

I don’t disagree that children depicted in child porn videos continue to experience harm as those videos are distributed. I’m also certain that viewing the ISIS beheadings causes trauma to the families of the victims. Yet I’m not ready to start putting people in prison who, for whatever reason, decided to watch those videos. I’m skeptical of the supply and demand argument, particularly when the suspect hasn’t bought or traded any porn. But even if it’s true that merely viewing child porn provides a market for more child porn, it’s also far from clear that harsh sentencing laws are the answer. We’ve been tossing people in prison for viewing child porn for decades now, yet both the United Nations and the Justice Department say that the online supply of child pornography is only growing. [My emphasis.]
Read all of the Balko piece; I covered only part of it. It will be worth your time. 

If only John Grisham had been better-prepared to argue what his good sense--and his sense of justice--knows to be true: Sentences for child porn offenses are too harsh.

john grisham questions child porn laws

This article and video are teasers for the full interview to be published on the weekend.
The best-selling author and lawyer - who penned novels like The Rainmaker, The Firm and The Pelican Brief - has given an astonishing interview to The Telegraph defending some child sex offenders, saying they have become victims of a legal system that has 'gone crazy'. 
Astonishing interview? Noticing and saying aloud that people go to prison for years for looking at pictures is not astonishing at all. A legal system 'gone crazy' is astonishing. 
The 59-year-old then called for lighter sentences for those caught downloading images and videos of children being sexually abused. 
The Telegraph [...] also noted a major increase in the sentences of people charged with possession of child pornography over the last 10 years. 
Between 2004 and 2010, sentences doubled from 54 months to 95 months.  
That is an astonishing increase. What is the payoff? The images that sent people to prison are still available online. Incarceration has no affect on the supply of child porn images. None. It seems law enforcement and the judicial system have little interest in diminishing the supply.
Grisham was sure to say that he has 'no sympathy for real pedophiles' and believes anyone caught committing such a crime should face harsh penalties.
Odd that a man who earns a hefty living with words, writing suspense thrillers about crime, would fail to understand that pedophilia is not a crime. 

It is heartening to hear others speak out about the harsh sentencing laws.

Update: Radley Balko defends John Grisham.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

child porn voodoo logic

State and federal courts hand down very different sentences for child pornography crimes. While state courts will hand down a sentence of probation, federal courts will send the defendant to prison for years for the very same crime.
Federal laws are tougher than state laws, but federal authorities say their limited resources allow them to go after only the worst of the worst.
My family and many other families waiting for someone to come home from federal prison would dispute that the feds go after only the worst of the worst. A man in possession of four images or twelve images or eight videos simply cannot be the worst of the worst. The feds go after the easy cases and child porn possession cases are easy.

An interesting research project would be to compare recidivism rates of child porn defendants sentenced by the state with those sentenced in federal court. If there is little difference (a safe bet), that should further the cause for reduced sentences.
...many cases end up in state court where sentences are lighter — which some prosecutors say can be appropriate for offenders who mostly need therapy.
 Makes sense. Why spend $25-30,000 to incarcerate someone for a year when lesser measures can have the same effect?
Others say the lack of mandatory sentences creates a system where the punishment does not fit the crime.
 Nope. Without mandatory sentences, the judge can hand down stringent sentences when necessary but mandatory sentences prevent the judge from giving a lesser sentence when appropriate. Mandatory sentencing laws get in the way of proportionate sentencing.

The article ends with a quote from someone who said,
"Child porn is not a victimless crime — and we need sentencing laws that recognize not only the severity of these crimes, but the suffering the victims endured,"
In the comments, Tiglath Philizar talks about "Child Porn Voodoo logic"--the idea that looking at child porn images can hurt the person represented in the image in the same way that sticking pins in a voodoo doll can cause damage to a real person nowhere nearby.
Think logically for just one minute. If front of me I have a voodoo doll I stick that voodoo doll with a pin and the person I curse is injured. Child Porn Voodoo logic; Someone possesses a photo of a child, in the form of 0′s and 1′s in a computer file. When s/he looks at the medium, the individual depicted in the photo, video or both gets victimized and hurt. While I can appreciate that actual creating CP victimizes children, I cannot agree that looking for, viewing, or collecting CP actually victimizes anyone. If you were to apply the same reasoning to any other crime, then looking at a photo of any crime would be re-victimizing someone.
If the argument is correct that the child in a pornographic image is victimized again when someone looks at the image, we should be able to extend that argument to other victims and other situations and yet no one suggests that possession of a photo of someone cruelly beaten with fists should be illegal because looking at the image will victimize that person again. No one seriously suggests we incarcerate those who downloaded the recently hacked naked photos of celebrities. Making the argument for anything other than child porn exposes the silliness of the argument.

Tiglath Philizar has his own example:
If the simple act of viewing an image of someone is harmful perhaps an appropriate punishment would be to simply take a photo of the perpetrator in jail, then set them free, but have some look at the photo that was taken while they were in jail; same logic.
That would be a change in sentencing policy I could get behind. 

The idea that someone looked at or possessed images of child pornography should concern us far less than the very real actions of someone who abuses a child sexually and records the abuse. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

sex and power, a volatile combination

A Texas cop took advantage of people accused of sex offenses, making them pose naked for photos for his personal collection.
[The police officer] allegedly told suspects that a new law required him to photograph them in the nude.  According to one suspect, officer [the police officer] insisted on having a photo of the mans erect penis, which he said was a new requirement for the state’s sex offender registry. ...
According to the complaint, [the police officer] told the man that a new state law required him to take nude photographs of all accused sex offenders, as evidence, and for records in the state’s sex offender registry. 
The sex offender registry gave this cop the power to do what he did. Laws did not explicitly give him that power to abuse people in custody but fear of the public humiliation imposed by the registry made people suspected of sex crimes vulnerable to his perverted demands.
During the investigation it was discovered that he had a large collection of naked photos from accused sex offenders, and that this activity had likely taken place over a long period of time. It is also highly possible that a number of these suspects were innocent or wrongly accused, because in many circumstances these photos were taken after the initial arrests, before any formal court dates had taken place.
Like people in general, some cops are going to have weird ideas about sex and some of them are going to commit crimes because of those ideas. Knowing that society has been encouraged to revile sex offenders gives bad law enforcement officers the freedom to indulge their own desires to humiliate.

Give a badge and a gun to the wrong person and bad things will happen. 

It will be interesting to see if this cop loses his job over these allegations. Too often, a cop accused of brutality will keep his (or her) job.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"shock waves at city hall"

This story, about a city attorney getting caught for possession of child pornography, has been making the rounds. When I saw it on Facebook, it was heralded with, "Shock waves at city hall..."

Really? Shock waves??

We have been watching first-time offender after first-time offender get hauled off to prison for years because of child porn and now you are shocked? If anything, seeing it happen again and again and again--and rarely a repeat offender--should tell you it can happen to anyone.

How can anyone profess to be shocked when someone who looks at child porn as part of his job...looks at child porn? It has happened so frequently that we simply should not be shocked anymore.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

how a congregation should respond to sex offenders among them

Yesterday, I congratulated The Lutheran for publishing Same Table, an article that talked about sex offenders in church. Its loving attitude and efforts to dispel myths about sex offenders were like the smell of bread fresh from the oven. Comforting. Promising something wonderful at the table.

The article linked to some suggested resources for churches trying to decide what to do about registered sex offenders. Heaven help the sex offenders!

Perhaps now that The Lutheran has made it known that...

1. "public perception of the risk of repeat sexual offenses [is] much higher than it is"


2. "offender registries and notification systems have little to no effect on recidivism rates and may, in some cases, increase the risk they will commit future sex crimes"

...the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) can rethink the "help" they offer congregations.

Numerous studies in recent years point to an extremely low likelihood that pedophiles can or will change. Without extensive professional treatment, virtually all child sexual offenders will re-offend. Repentance, prayer and pastoral support can be crucial elements when combined with life-long treatment, but, in themselves, they offer little hope of changing the behavior of perpetrators.
Let's begin with the casual use of that frightful word, pedophiles. Most sex offenders are not pedophiles, not even those who offend against children. Most pedophiles are not sex offenders. Pedophile is a word meant to frighten you.

As for that hopelessly grim statement, virtually all child sexual offenders will re-offend, see #1 above. The recidivism rate of sex offenders is extremely low.

The ELCA document continues:
A convicted sex offender who wishes to be part of a church community, whether one he or she has attended for some time or a new one, should expect to have conditions placed upon his or her participation. This can best be done through the development of a written covenant, signed by the offender and by church officials, preferably by both the pastor and the chairperson of the Church Council (or other administrative body of the church).
The covenant should begin with a clear statement of the role of the church as "sanctuary," with appropriate Biblical reference(s).
There's more but this is the point where I started laughing. The role of the church as sanctuary? Not for sex offenders! Sex offenders should expect to have conditions placed upon his or her participation. Forgiveness? Pfft.

The appropriate Biblical references in this case are meant to warn the sex offender that the need for sanctuary for people who are uncomfortable with former sex offenders trumps the need for sanctuary for the sex offender who wants spiritual nourishment.

Surely there must be some appropriate Biblical references about forgiveness and mercy that could guide a congregation in welcoming a sex offender. Maybe something like this:
Ephesians 4:32 - And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Back to the covenant that sex offenders must sign:
As part of your growth and penitence, you shall prepare and deliver written acknowledgments and apologies for the pain caused directly or indirectly by your actions. At the very least, you shall address these statements to your victims, their families, your own family and the members and supporters of this church. (Requests for forgiveness shall not be included). This will become part of an open letter to the congregation, informing them of your presence and of the conditions of your participation.
My, that's quite stern. I am trying to imagine the effect on children in the congregation. I am trying to imagine the effect on the family of the sex offender in the congregation.

Another condition for the covenant:
You may not use restroom facilities in the church buildings.
Welcome to church; stay away from the coffee.

Yesterday, I stood on my well-worn soapbox and was gently pulled down by someone reminding me that other people do have stories that make them fearful -- someone betrayed by a financial advisor, someone whose family suffered a murder, for example. Some fear they could be victims of another crime.

Members of the congregation who have been convicted of non-sexual crimes such as assault or fraud -- possibly leaving someone critically injured or leaving a family in dire financial straits -- those convicts can come to church with no covenant demands. They can even use the restroom.

Crimes and the effects of those crimes fall in a wide range. Some sex offenders perpetrated a violent rape; some touched no one. Some assaults don't do serious injury; some leave the victim in a vegetative state.

After serving their sentences, some criminals are allowed to continue with their lives without public self flagellation; some are seen as needing only a quick stop at the restroom to return to wicked ways.

The reason so much attention is on sex offenders is that there is a list of them. Once there is a list, the fear seems justified. They must be dangerous if the law requires them to register!

How to square this cold, demanding document with the compassionate Same Table article? At first, I assumed the document was very old but no, it was last modified November 2013. Better information was easily available at that time. I hope the ELCA realizes the disconnect between the myth-based covenant and the recent fact-based article and moves to update the document with better information and with more attention to the role of the Church in the world.

When I found Ephesians 4:32, I also ran across this:
John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
God gave his Son and the ELCA is putting conditions on space at the table?

This helpful document suggests that some in the congregation can partake of the Bread.
Some are allowed only to smell it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

a church welcomes registered sex offenders

In its July 2014 issue, Lutheran magazine published an excellent article by Ryan P. Cumming about a church that welcomes sex offenders.
After months of preparation and prayer, Redeemer held its first adults-only worship service at 4 p.m. Easter Sunday, welcoming 20 visitors, all registered sex offenders.

Paul (last name withheld upon request) was one of them. He hadn’t been to church for eight years and didn’t expect to go for another eight, when his parole would end. But a friend who attended Redeemer handed him a flier for the adults-only service.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to go back again until I got done with probation,” Paul said. “This church doesn’t judge. They accepted the fact that some of us had gotten into trouble and were learning from our bad decisions. A young man told his story and it struck home with me. … We had communion, which was awesome. I actually felt a sense of peace come over me. This makes me feel much better about life.”
Former offenders in church! A good thing, but why adults-only?
Ministry among registered offenders is particularly difficult. Many offenders can’t be in places where children gather.
Some former offenders are not allowed to attend worship services even with their own families. This article makes only glancing reference to families of sex offenders, profiling an offender who seems not to have one. Offenders do have families -- children, spouses, parents, in-laws, siblings, grandchildren -- families who welcome the offender back into their lives. It seems particularly cruel to withhold the experience of worshipping with family from someone who has paid his debt to society.
In addition, the stigma following [sex offenders] can be turned against congregations that would welcome all—including offenders. A primary concern for Hayden is that Redeemer could “be targeted” for backlash from its community.
Rightfully so, say many. Churches are supposed to be welcoming but also safe places where members can trust one another and where adults and children are protected from harm. In a 2010 survey, Christianity Today found that nearly half of respondents would oppose allowing a registered offender to serve in a ministry in their congregation. For many in the church, the risk of re-offending is too high.
But researchers have found public perception of the risk of repeat sexual offenses to be much higher than it is, especially when the specific characteristics of a crime are taken into account. In a 2010 study for the Justice Department, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, found that offender registries and notification systems have little to no effect on recidivism rates and may, in some cases, increase the risk they will commit future sex crimes. [My emphasis.]
The registries isolate former offenders at a time when a strong social network is a way for them to stay on a good course. Places of worship have traditionally been a particularly fine way to build that support network. Hard to do when attendance is prohibited by probation and parole officers, and harder when the congregation fears repeat sex offenses that research shows are unlikely.

If more places of worship follow the example set by this church, the rewards will be much greater than the perceived risks.
The transformation hasn’t been limited to former offenders. As plans for the service developed, a woman approached Hayden and said: “I hear you’re having this alternative service. I’m a victim of a sex offender. But I’m going to come, because I feel like I can be healed there, because we’re all going to be at the same table together.”
Kudos to The Lutheran for daring to publish a piece promoting the inclusion of sex offenders in church services. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Disney World, running amok with perverts; or, reading between the lines

Theme park employees from Disney, Universal Studios and SeaWorld caught in sex stings, the headline says.

Thirty-five Disney employees arrested in sex stings since 2006, that is. Thirty-five arrested over a period of nine years. Thirty-five out of 300,000 employees during those nine years.

Thirty-two of the 35 have been convicted. Well, of course they have! The other three cases will almost certainly end with a conviction, too. The article does not tell us how many of these people went to trial though I imagine the number is close to zero. Most prosecutions--not only for sex offenses--end with plea agreements.

A justice system where the prosecution never has to prove its case is no justice system at all.

The article provides details about some cases. In one case, a man was found in possession of illegal images that included "multiple scenes of nude prepubescent children engaging in sexual activity with adults and other children". For other cases, the illegal images are described only as "child porn."

Why the difference? I have a sneaking suspicion that some cases have more interesting, more shocking details than others. It simply isn't shocking to hear that someone was in possession of video that a teenager made of himself and uploaded himself. News media doesn't like to explain that the legal definition of child porn also includes images of teenagers, made by teenagers. When people hear about child porn, they assume it means images of small children being raped. What news outlet, hungry for advertising dollars, wants to get in the way of audience imaginings that will bring them back for followup articles?

Some of the arrests were of men who met a kid online and eventually tried to meet in person for sex. Where do you suppose these men were hanging out online that they met kids eager for sex? Nickelodeon? PBS Kids?

Let's think. If the men had been trolling websites meant for children, what reporter would fail to lead with that detail? Look at the headline above: It doesn't leave it at theme park employees; it says Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World. If the websites had been those intended for children, the headline would have included that juicy tidbit. But it doesn't and that tidbit doesn't show up in the article, either. We are probably safe in assuming that the men were using adult websites.

But what children hang out on adult websites looking for sex? As it turns out, it seems there weren't any children looking for sex. There were only law enforcement officers pretending to be children. Is it possible that some cases did involve real children? Let's go back to the question about what news outlets would like to include in their stories. If an actual child isn't mentioned in the story, it is safe to say there were no actual children involved.

So: we have men spending time on websites meant for adults, in conversation with adults pretending to be children. Who starts those conversations? Who brings up the possibility of sex? If the pretend child introduces the idea of sex, that is very different from an adult approaching children in a chat room for children and asking for sex. The reporter does not tell us who introduced the idea of sex with the minors.

Now that Disney has been named in a headline as an employer of sex offenders, what does Disney have to say about it?
In a statement to CNN, Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said, “Providing a safe environment for children and families is a responsibility we take very seriously. We have extensive measures in place, including pre-employment and ongoing criminal background checks and computer monitoring and firewalls. 
Background checks, hey? If that means the kind of background check that would have exposed a job applicant as a registered sex offender...that must mean that none of these 35 were registered sex offenders. Once again, we see that arrests for sex offenses most often are of those who are not on the registry. Once again, we see that the registry protects no one.
“The numbers reported by CNN represent one one-hundredth of one percent of the 300,000 people we have employed during this time period. We continue to work closely with law enforcement and organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as we constantly strengthen our efforts.”
Huh. Now that Disney has been named in a headline as an employer of sex offenders, they have no choice but to cooperate with law enforcement. Imagine the headlines if they did anything else.

What is said in a news article can be interesting. What is not said can be even more interesting.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

police want to force a 17-year-old boy's erection so they can photograph it

For the last week, the Internet has been chewing up a story about child pornography. Radley Balko sums it up:
...the efforts of officials in Northern Virginia to forcibly induce an erection in a teenage boy in order to pursue “sexting” charges against him has deservedly provoked national outrage. ... Manassas police have since backed down and now say that they won’t execute the warrant. Of course, there remains the problem of why the warrant was issued in the first place. No one in the Manassas Police Department, the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert or the judge who signed off on the warrant was able to see what the rest of the country saw, here: an outrageous abuse of power and an unfathomable violation of this kid’s privacy. The Commonwealth of Virginia was prepared to create child porn in order to prosecute a 17-year-old kid for sending videos of himself to his then-girlfriend, who was 15 years old.
Seems clear: an outrageous abuse of power and an unfathomable violation of this kid's privacy.

Also clear: in the prosecution of a child pornography case, they were going to produce child pornography. 

As usual, it is a good idea to read all of Balko's piece. He talks about several other crazy cases in which teens landed in huge trouble for playing doctor while texting.

The trend is toward dragging more minors into the justice system.  

In an effort to register their contempt for child exploitation and sex crimes, lawmakers have defined sex offenses so broadly that a teen sending an explicit photo to a boyfriend or girlfriend can qualify. Typically, when critics point out that a new law could be used in ways lawmakers never intended, supporters point to prosecutorial discretion. They argue that it’s ridiculous, even insulting, to suggest that a prosecutor would twist a law to bring charges against someone in ways the law clearly never intended — or that a judge would allow it. That police, a prosecutor’s office and a judge all saw nothing wrong with forcibly inducing an erection in order to pursue charges against a 17-year-old kid puts the lie to that argument.
Sex isn’t the only context in which we’re ruining kids under the pretense of saving them. We’re protecting kids from drugs by arresting and jailing them for marijuana possession. We’re protecting them from the (mostly nonexistent) problem of school violence by assigning law enforcement to patrol middle and high school campuses. The presence of law enforcement means that kids who were once reprimanded, assigned detention or possibly suspended for infractions such as fighting, throwing food or truancy are now fed into the criminal justice system.
I have written about how casually cruelty is directed at the children of sex offenders, here, here, and here. As demonstrated in the cases Balko discusses and in a 2010 prosecution of sexting minors, the cruelty can be even more astounding when minors are the offenders.

More on the Virginia case from Robby Soave at Reason, from Shelly Stowe at Justice For All, and from Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids here and here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

how long is long enough?

Nebraska has a math problem.
Nebraska’s prison screw-up is much bigger than originally estimated: 873 inmates erroneously received reduced sentences over the past 20 years, state officials revealed Friday.
The fix will cost the state dearly: an estimated $50 million or more to house current prisoners for the 2,050 years just added to their collective sentences.
In a state already trying to solve the problem of overcrowding because the prisons are 58% over capacity, now this.

When the Omaha World-Herald discovered that Nebraska Corrections had been miscalculating release dates for twenty years or so, the governor's first response was that those released too early would be "rounded up."

His plans have changed. Now the State Patrol is bringing in a couple dozen people who were released too early and would still be serving time if not for the calculation errors. 

Those who were released long enough ago that their correct release date has already passed are not being "rounded up" to complete their sentences. The word is that they will be investigated to see if they committed further crimes after their early release and before their correctly-calculated release date. If they did commit more crimes, it's back to the hoosegow for them.

It's a mess. The Omaha World-Herald is doing a fine job of investigative journalism.

Another area ripe for investigation: When they discover that most of those released too early have not committed more crimes, will someone suggest that the miscalculated prison sentences appear to be quite long enough?

Monday, June 23, 2014

flash-bang grenade...the cops just couldn't help themselves

When we complain about the chaos and dangers of SWAT-served search warrants or home invasion-style served warrants, we often hear that the person who broke the law is the one to blame for a family's pain, not the cops who invade homes. A Georgia family would love to hear those people make sense of what happened to their 19-month-old boy.

Jacob Sullum writes about a 3 a.m. drug raid when a flash-bang grenade was thrown into a child's playpen, critically injuring the toddler. The police said they had no idea there were children in the home or they would not have used the grenade.
"If there's children involved in a house, we do not use any kind of distraction devices in those houses," [Sheriff]Terrell told AccessNorthGa.com. "We just don't take the chance on it....According to the confidential informant, there were no children. When they made the buy, they didn't see any children or any evidence of children there, so we proceeded with our standard operation."
Standard operation? It is standard to throw flash-bangs where the landing place is not clearly seen?

The lawyer for the family said,
"This is a stay-at-home dad who was out in front of the home, playing with the children on a daily basis. Any surveillance that was done would have revealed there was a father with four children who played in that driveway."
...the SWAT team was relying on the report of a confidential informant who briefly visited the home on Tuesday night, just a few hours before the raid...
Despite an avowed policy of not using flash-bang grenades when children are present, it seems that neither Terrell's office nor the Cornelia Police Department did anything to investigate that possibility aside from asking the informant, who according to Terrell did not even enter the home. 
So, no surveillance.
Beyond the lack of due diligence on that point, there is the question of whether tossing an exploding, potentially incendiary device into a home that may be full of innocent people in the middle of the night is A-OK as long as you are reasonably sure all those people are 18 or older.
Think about this. Laws are often described in terms of protecting the innocent and yet police take no precautions to protect the innocent or even to ascertain if there are innocents present. 

Remember those people who blame the law-breaker for the chaos? The sheriff is one of them.
Terrell continues to blame [drug]transactions for the horrible injuries police inflicted on a sleeping baby. "The information we had from our confidential informant was there was no children in the home," he told WXIA, the NBC station in Atlanta. "We always ask; that determines how we enter the house and the things we do.... Did we go by our training, did we go by the intelligence? Given the same set of circumstances, with the same information dealing with a subject who has known gun charges on him, who is selling meth, they would go through the same procedures...Nothing would change....Had no way of knowing the child was in the house. The little baby [who] was in there didn't deserve this. These drug dealers don't care."
The little baby didn't deserve this? If the grenade had landed on the bed of the baby's mother instead, the mother would have deserved it?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

fathers' day

Let's hear it for the dads who screwed up in a big way and are now showing their children how to own up to their mistakes, how to atone, and how to persevere through times of great difficulty.