Tuesday, December 29, 2015

visiting a parent behind bars

One Day with God, a prison ministry, lets kids spend a day with their incarcerated dad in the prison. The video is moving; please watch it.

Some kids are not able to visit their parent in prison,some can visit regularly. None of them get to visit enough to make up for the time that the parent is gone from the family. As wonderful as programs like One Day with God are, even those programs are not enough.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

follow the money

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

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

Read the whole thing. Shelly knows her stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Missouri family speaks out against registry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

judge tries to mitigate collateral consequences

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

what does this hysteria teach our children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

School personnnel should be better educated about sex offenses. 

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

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

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

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

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

What does the hysteria about registered sex offenders teach children? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

If you can stomach it, read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

ripping the curtain away from the polygraph: nothing there

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

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Sex offenders have the right to free speech.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

employed sex offenders make the community safer

Commerce City CO has a police officer who works fulltime with sex offenders.
Tracking them is one thing -- making sure they stay employed and stay out of trouble is another. 
Because of that, Commerce City is taking a new approach to keeping tabs on sex offenders. 
“The biggest part of these guys not re-offending - is whether or not they're employed,” said Commerce City Police detective Christian Rasmussen. 
The 'felon' label already makes it hard to find employment but the 'sex offender' label makes it doubly hard to find someone willing to offer employment. In states where employers are listed on the registry, it is even harder to land a job because the employer doesn't want his or her establishment listed there. What employer wants to be boycotted or vandalized because they hired someone on a list?
Rasmussen is now the full-time sex offender cop for Commerce City.
“Offering them resources so they can become contributing members of society again,” he said. 
Rather than the routine of knocking on doors, checking to make sure sex offenders are living where they say they live, Rasmussen takes that contact a step further. 
“Helping them so they can get jobs,” he said. “They can get re-acclimated into the community." 
This is such an obviously smart thing to do: work to make sure registered citizens are employed.
The idea is the more Rasmussen gets involved in their lives, the more likely they stay clean. 
"Trying to kick them out of the community, that's not an answer,” Rasmussen said. 
“These people have served their time, they've paid their debt to society."  
The article points out that the lack of employment makes it easier to offend again.

Chances of a registered sex offender commiting another sex offense are still quite small but the need to support himself and perhaps his family can drive him to other kinds of offenses.

You know what else would help? Abolishing the sex offender registry. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

can't afford the $60 fee? guess what the response is

This is the way it works in Lake Charles LA.
Back in August [a] Sex Offender ... completed his registration due to release from incarceration for an arrest of Failure to Register, by the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office. [He] was found to be in compliance and completed the registration. [He] was unable to pay the required Louisiana Sex Offender fee of $60.00 and was given 30 days to pay his fee. After the allowed 30 days, [he] failed to pay his fee and he failed to contact the Lake Charles Police Department’s Sex Offender Registry. Failure to pay the required fee is a violation of the sex offender registration.
His bail is set at $2500. 

That's the setup....in the way "the farmer had a daughter" is the setup for an obscene joke.

Tulsa sex offender not bound by residence restriction laws passed after his crime was committed

Tulsa police are worried.

A man who committed a sex crime in 1999, sixteen years ago, was released from prison in 2012 and now wants to live with his mother, whose home is near a school or daycare center.
A 2003 Oklahoma law prevents sex offenders from living near schools and daycare centers. In January 2015, [the man] asked the courts for an injunction against the Tulsa County District Attorney's office, Tulsa Police and the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, arguing that since the law was passed after he committed his crimes, it didn't apply to him.
The court agreed with that argument and now the man can live where he chooses.
Tulsa police fear this will lead to a similar situation for many more convicted child molesters.
After the 2013 Oklahoma Supreme Court decision in Starkey v. Department of Corrrections, one would think that the Tulsa police were already aware that ex post facto laws could be challenged successfully. Have the Tulsa police been quaking in their boots ever since Starkey?
"The whole premise of the sex offender registry is to protect our children. Safe zones were created for families to at least feel comfortable knowing there were no sex offenders living nearby. The ruling will open the door for sex offenders to file similar lawsuits and be granted the freedom to reside next to an elementary school, if they so choose," said Tulsa Police Sgt. John Adams. [My emphasis.]
No sex offenders living nearby.

Psst! The sex offenders living nearby are likely the ones who have yet to be discovered. 

Let's hear it for filing similar lawsuits!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

criminalizing what young people do

Dahlia Lithwick writes in Salon about what goes on at the intersection of youth and the criminal justice system.
Kids can sometimes see their lives destroyed by the merest brush with the criminal justice system. In one of the most outrageous examples, between 2003 and 2008, two Pennsylvania judges—Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan—sentenced thousands of children to juvenile detention centers, sometimes on trivial charges. These juveniles were sent to private, for-profit detention centers, whose operators paid the judges for filling their beds. [My emphasis.]
I blogged about the kids-for-cash case(s) here.

Lithwick continues:
But as the school year opens, and our eyes turn again to young people and the justice system, it’s worth revisiting the failings of the systems we have created. “Kids for cash” is emblematic of a larger problem: the tendency to criminalize so much of what young people do, the tendency to hit them with draconian punishments that are out of proportion to the crime itself, and the ways the system itself profits financially from those impulses. 
Criminalizing what young people do.

Remember streaking, the foolishness of the seventies? Some states have added that offense to the list of registrable offenses. Forty years ago we could laugh at--or be outraged by--naked kids racing across a football field and let them grow up to become the bank president but are things so different now that a streaker must be added to the sex offender registry that will make it difficult for him to land a job at McDonalds?

Lithwick tells about an 11-year-old boy who was charged with drug possession for bringing a single marijuana leaf to school. He was charged even after the leaf was proven three times to be not marijuana. The school stands by its decision to treat him as if he had brought actual marijuana to school because, you know, zero tolerance protects our children.

Bad behavior at school used to be bad behavior that the school and parents handled. Now, the school leans prissily on zero tolerance rules as if zero tolerance makes any kind of sense and if that's not enough, the school has a police officer wandering the hallways, making the school-to-prison pipeline a reality.
As the school year opens, it’s probably a good idea to remind your youngsters what “zero tolerance” really means: that “it was only a naked photo/fake pot leaf” is not a defense, no matter how clearly the facts are on your side, and that kids are adorable innocents only until the law decides they are vicious predators. There’s a for-profit prison machine out there, and sadly, it eats zero tolerance for breakfast.
Plenty profit from the sex offender registry, as well. Too much of what young people do can land them on the registry. Like putting them into a for-profit prison to be forgotten, it is easy to forget those who are on the registry for all the wrong reasons.

Like the judges who knowingly sent kids to prison when they didn't deserve that punishment, the criminal justice system knowingly puts kids on the registry when they don't deserve that punishment.

Monday, September 14, 2015

prosecutors defend plea agreements

In Oregon, a Clatsop County man was convicted of sexual abuse of a child in the first degree, bribing a witness and tampering with a witness. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 60 of which would be served under alternative sanctions.

His case led to a discussion about plea agreements.

The Daily Astorian published a letter from a friend of the convicted man who pointed out that an innocent man was essentially forced to take the plea, and thereby prevented from defending himself against the charges.
I completely understand the horrendous nature of the accusations that were made against him, and the sensitivity that must be exercised in child abuse cases, but these were accusations that Mitchell was never given a fair chance to defend himself against. Any honest attempt to get at the truth of the matter would have involved interviewing the alleged criminal, investigating his background, and speaking with character witnesses. This never happened.
I have no idea if the defendant was guilty or innocent but guilt and innocence too often have little to do with whether a defendant takes the offered plea agreement or not.

The Daily Astorian followed up by publishing a guest column written by Joshua Marquis, the Clatsop County district attorney, and Dawn Buzzard, the senior assistant district attorney, in response to the letter.

Marquis and Buzzard call the letter from the friend an "angry letter." It isn't. The friend sticks to the facts:
The district attorney’s office inflated the accusations at every opportunity, originally charging him with crimes that could have resulted in over 300 years of prison. Even after the most serious of the charges were dropped, they continued to use the blunt sledgehammer of a “choice” between the possibility of spending 180 years in prison with a trial, or taking a plea for 60 days of alternative sanctions.
Yes. That is the way plea agreements work. The prosecutor holds all the cards. The choice is no choice at all.

For those of you who think that you would never plead to something you did not do, think again. The choice is stark: charges that could result in 180 years in prison or a plea agreement that guarantees you will do only 90 days. In a world where sex offenders only rarely win at trial, going to trial is not the opportunity to tell your side that Perry Mason led you to believe it was.
The fact that the district attorney was willing to settle for a couple months over the original 300 years speaks to the weakness of their case. [My emphasis.]
This is a point beyond intriguing. I would call it telling. If prosecutors believed the original charges, why would they settle for such a light sentence? Oh, I know...they are all about sensitivity to the victim and not wanting to put her through hell. But if this guy is such a bad dude, why not go for, oh, I dunno...HALF of the 180 years, or even half of the 300? Dropping all the way down to 90 days tells us one of two things: 1. The prosecutors, if they believe he is dangerous enough to deserve 300 or 180 years, do not care at all about public safety, or 2. The prosecutors know all along that this guy is not dangerous.

The friend continues:
Not once was Mitchell given an opportunity in court to tell his side of the story.
The district attorneys dispute that in their guest column.
Mr. Mitchell had every opportunity to “tell his side.” They are generally called trials.
Here, the district attorneys could offer up the information about how the trial would have worked but they never had any plans to go to trial. When 97% of federal cases and 95% of state cases end in a plea agreement, why would they worry about a trial? When they can threaten the defendant with multiple charges that would result in a extremely long prison sentence, the defendant is certain to take the plea agreement because there is no other choice.

They continue:
He had a right to remain silent in court, but now some of his supporters are trying his case in the court of public opinion and in that forum he’s chosen never to tell “his side.”
This cannot be the only case where supporters try to throw light into the darkness but this is the one that the prosecutors decided to defend in the court of public opinion.

The prosecutors blather on about the defendant taking an Alford plea, trying to convince readers that the Alford plea is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill guilty plea.
The “Alford plea” comes from a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case where a murder defendant claimed he only entered the guilty plea because of fear he might be convicted of something worse or receive a harsher sentence. The Supreme Court held that claiming you were “really innocent but still pleading guilty” meant … you were pleading guilty … period. More recently, in 2006 a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge held that an Alford guilty plea is a “variation of an ordinary guilty plea.” The only difference is that the defendant, who often has vehemently denied his guilt to friends and family can claim, “I didn’t do it, but they’ll convict me anyway.”
When pleading guilty is the only way to get the 90 days instead of a sentence of half a dozen lifetimes, you plead guilty. Using an Alford plea is a way to grab the 90 days without admitting guilt. The prosecutors know this but they choose not to explain that. In some cases, using an Alford plea leaves some opportunity for appeal, where a plain old guilty plea may not. Plea agreements often explicitly exclude the possiblity of an appeal.

A defendant who vehemently denies his guilt to friends and family because he is innocent can still be railroaded into accepting a plea agreement because the threat of 300 or 180 years is a real threat when it is a sex offense case.

The existence of the sex offender registry has helped to expand the myth of dangerous sex offenders. If these criminals are so dangerous that they need to register, then they must be frightful indeed. With news media that loves a sensational story about sex offenders, the public from which a jury is drawn has been primed to convict.

The prosecutors know that. They have known all along that they can convict with very little work on their part. Point a finger at the defendant, call him a sex offender and, wow, you'd be surprised how dirty an ordinary man will look.

Almost as dirty as some prosecutors but then, we don't have a dirty prosecutor registry, do we?

NOTE: When you read the prosecutors' guest column, make sure not to miss the comments. Good stuff there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

neighborhoods with more RSOs report fewer sex offenses

Amid a growing national debate over sex offender registries, researchers who studied years of crime data from Baltimore County have released a new finding: Neighborhoods with more registered sex offenders experienced fewer reported sex offenses. [My emphasis.]
Unexpected. Or is it?
[University of Michigan law professor J.J.] Prescott and co-author Amanda Y. Agan, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton, say they wanted to test the assumption that the risk of victimization is higher in places where convicted offenders live — the basis, they say, for laws that mandate registries. ...
Agan and Prescott found that each sex offender registered in a neighborhood was associated with 7.5 percent fewer reported sex offenses.
The researchers suggest possible explanations for this.
Sex offender laws appear likely to increase the attractiveness of a registrant's offending away from home, they wrote...
Hang on, here. Does this suggest that all those residence restriction laws are pointless? Is it really possible that someone would travel farther than 500 or 1500 or 2500 feet to commit another sex offense? This explanation begins with the assumption that registered citizens are committing undiscovered crimes, hardly a benign assumption.
...and public registries may make residents better able to protect themselves from registered offenders who live nearby.
If looking at the registry improves our ability to protect against sex offenses, that would imply that the dastardly registered sex offenders target the registry watchers in order to give the neighborhood a lower rate of sex offenses. Those who don't watch the registry are, according to this theory, as able or as unable to protect themselves as they were without the registry, having no effect on the neighborhood rate of offense. This theory depends on RSOs knowing who watches the registry and who doesn't. It also depends on the assumption that registered citizens are trying to commit crimes.
Ryan T. Shields, a scientist at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said a growing body of research shows state registries have little effect on sexual victimization rates.
Growing body of research, indeed. It is difficult to find any clear research findings that the registries have any good effect on sex offense rates.
He said he was not surprised by the most recent findings. Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by people who know the victim — such as relatives and family friends. 
"People who are not registered account for the vast majority of sex offenses in a given year," Shields said. [My emphasis.]
If those who are not registered are comitting most sex offenses, that means the registry is a list of people unlikely to commit another sex offense.
But state Sen. Jim Brochin, a staunch supporter of the state's registry, said it has given families an important tool they need to protect their children. 
Whoa, there, Senator. Protect their children against whom? How does the registry protect children against the people who are not registered but who account for the vast majority of sex offenses?
"We're not going stop every sex offender from doing the horrific things they do, but we have an obligation to our neighbors to make sure they have all the information that the courts and the judicial system have about where these offenders are," the Towson Democrat said. "You have a right to know, when your kids are outside playing, if there are predators nearby."
Sex offenders doing horrific things. Kids playing outside with predators nearby. Oh, stop, Senator! You frighten me so!

See where Senator Brochin is going with his wild imaginings? Probably toward the next election.

Occam's Razor says the simplest explanation is likely correct, so let's set aside unproven assumptions that sex offenders are committing or trying to commit more sex offenses and focus on facts to find the simplest explanation.

Even before registries, sex offenders were unlikely to reoffend. A neighborhood with a large number of RSOs is full of people--the RSOs themselves--who are familiar with the signs of sex abuse (or sexual compulsions) and its terrible effects on a family. This is why they tend not to offend again.

Simple enough?

Another simple explanation is that a neighborhood who sees how difficult life is for registered citizens and their families is less likely to report a sex offense.

Researchers should look at the possibility that harsh treatment of sex offenders encourages people to hide sex offenses that happen within the circle of family and friends.

Tucked into the article at the link are some encouraging words.
...a growing national debate over sex offender registries... 
The debate is growing because registered citizens and their families are standing up and speaking out.
...a growing body of research shows state registries have little effect on sexual victimization rates...
Research is proving us right: abolishing the registry makes sense.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

child, adult; victim, perpetrator...it is hard to keep track

Robby Soave writes in Reason about a North Carolina high school couple who sexted each other and the photos were discovered. They were both facing multiple felony charges but she plead to a lesser charge and was given a year of probation.

He, on the other hand,
...is still facing two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation and three counts of third-degree exploitation. As Ricochet’s Tom Meyer points out, the third-degree charges—which constitute a majority of the total charges—actually stem from the pictures [the young man] had of himself. 
In North Carolina, third degree sexual exploitation of a minor means a visual representation of a minor engaging in sexual activity.

He took a picture of himself and had it on his phone. That is what the third degree charges are about.
But consider this: North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other is progressive New York) that considers 16 to be the age of adulthood for criminal purposes. This mean, of course, that [the young man] can be tried as an adult for exploiting a minor—himself.
Tom Meyer, in Ricochet, sums it up.
A few details make the case particularly noteworthy and offensive:
  • There is no indication that the photographs were disseminated beyond the couple until the male student’s phone was seized as part of a separate investigation involving misdemeanor property damage.
  • The two were charged with “exploitation of a minor,” despite each being a minor at the time they made the photographs. More bizarrely yet, most of the charges against the teens were for having pictures of themselves on their own phones; i.e., each was charged for photographing and/or storing images of his or her own nether regions.
  • The laws they are accused of violating are not merely identical to those pertaining to genuine child pornographers, but are in, in fact, the very same laws that make child pornography illegal.
Old enough to have sex; too young to be photographed naked.

Young enough to be called a child when it serves the prosecution; old enough to be charged as an adult.

The kids aren't the ones who are exploiting minors. The courts are.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I'm embarrassed; I should have Googled first

Commenter Valigator chided me for not doing enough research before I posted a library can't be too safe...or can it?

She posted a list of ten news stories about sex offenders and libraries. Ten!

She says:
Want more? There are pages and pages of what you describe as a rare occurrence. Don't you people "google" before you write these long drawn out BS opinion pieces??
As much as it pains me to admit this, she is right. A little more research before clicking the Publish button would have been a good idea.

The list as she posted it contains broken links so I found working links and am reposting them here with a brief explanation of each news story:
  1. 2014: The man who molested two little girls in a Cincinnati library was not a registered sex offender.
  2. 2014: A Scottsdale library aide molested children and possessed child porn, though not in the library. He was not a registered sex offender.
  3. 2015: A sex offender was arrested in an Indiana library for failure to register. (Valigator included a link to a YouTube video.)
  4. 2014: A man committed a terrible sexual assault against a three-year-old girl in an Australian library. The article is not clear about whether he was a registered sex offender or not. It refers vaguely to his "20-year history of crimes against children," but it details only one conviction for a non-sexual assault on an adult.
  5. 2013: A  man was accused of watching child porn in a New York library and then arrested on molestation charges, though that crime happened elsewhere. He was not a registered sex offender.
  6. 2014: A man, awaiting trial for child molestation, was seen in an Indiana library. He was not a registered sex offender.
  7. 2013: A man molested a boy in the restroom of a California library. The man was not a registered sex offender.
  8. 2013: A registered sex offender groped a girl in a Washington library restroom.
  9. 2013: A teacher molested six children in a Shanghai school library. As far as I can tell, the teacher was not a registered sex offender.
  10. 2008: A man raped a little boy in a Massachusetts library. The man was not a registered sex offender.
Some of these stories are of terrible , terrible crimes. The families of the children involved must have gone (or be going) through hell, trying to make sense of what happened and trying to help their little ones to get through something so difficult to explain. My heart goes out to those families.

Attacks on children in airports or sports stadiums or department stores can be just as horrifying but it is sickening to think that crimes like this could happen in a library, a place that we want to be a peaceful refuge. A library should be a place for Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears, Nancy Drew and Junie B. Jones, Little House on the Prairie and the Little Engine that Could. Not for terrifying assaults.

The ultimate refuge for children ought to be their homes and, sadly (sometimes tragically), that is where most sexual assaults against children happen. Not in libraries. At home or in the home of someone trusted by the family.

The assaults are most often committed by someone not on the sex offender registry.

The list of articles above include only two examples (3, 8) that are about a registered sex offender, and only one of those two (8) was about a sexual assault in a library.

Six of the articles (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10) are about someone not on the registry.

The remaining two stories (4, 9) are not clear about whether the perpetrator was on a sex offender registry.

Sexual assaults can happen anywhere, registry or not. The sex offender registry did not protect the girl in the Washington library.

The sex offender registry certainly did not protect anyone from the assaults perpetrated by people not on the registry.

It is abundantly clear that if you want to protect your children against violent assaults or even against inappropriate touching, you cannot look to the registry. You must pay attention and learn how to identify signs of abuse.

This article might be all about needlessly frightening the reader (I blogged about the story here) but the graphics that accompany the article offer excellent tips for how to spot signs of abuse and how to prevent it.

Thanks again to Valigator for providing such valuable help. Those ten articles helped to make my case even stronger:

The registry protects no one.

who needs facts when you have sex offenders living near schools?

An industrious tv news reporter counted sex offenders who live near schools in Austin TX.
A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered at least a dozen Austin Independent School District elementary schools with 50 or more registered sex offenders listed within one mile of school grounds. One of the campuses has 89 surrounding the school. 
According to the Center for Child Protection, about one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. In July, Austin police arrested a man they believe sexually assaulted a young girl multiple times near the 3100 block of Parker Lane. According to the arrest warrant, then 22-year-old Jonathan Guzman met the girl at a school bus stop in December 2014.
Registered sex offenders as far as the eye can see. How dangerous are they? The example of a sexual assault provided in the story was by a man who was not on the registry, so why so much attention on the number of registered citizens near schools?

The guy accused of sexual assault...where did he live? Did he live within a mile of the school or did he travel farther than a mile to meet the girl at the bus stop?

Registry restrictions are ridiculous. Preventing a registered offender from living near a school does nothing to prevent the next sex crime because the next sex crime will most likely be committed by someone not on the registry.

The article tells us...
Blackshear Elementary has the most, with 89 offenders within one mile of the school.
...but does not follow up with a litany of crimes committed against school children by any of  those 89 offenders. If there were a long list of those crimes, the reporter would have led the story with that shocking news. But there isn't a long list. Why?
In his 17 years with the district, Austin ISD Police Chief Eric Mendez can't recall one incident involving a sexual offender living near a school. According to the Center for Child Protection, 90 percent of children who visit the center know the person who harmed them.
Ah. Finally, a fact parents can use when they want to protect their children from sexual abuse. Children are far, far more likely to be abused by someone they already know.

The reporter pays no attention, however, and tells us how the schools make it difficult for a registered citizen to participate in school events with his or her child as if that offers any kind of protection.
Each school visitor goes through a screening using electronic identification license readers, which check against the state's sex offender registry. The most frequent registered sexual offenders visiting schools are parents.
That must mean that random sex offenders are not invading schools, looking for opportunities to molest children. The reporter pays no attention to that, either.
"If they need to meet with a teacher, the teacher meets with in a conference room. If they need to see their student, the student is sent to the front office," Mendez said. "Those parents who may be sex offenders aren't given free access to the campus, but they are allowed to conduct the business they need for their children."
Since we are all about protecting the children here, how do these restrictions affect the children of the registered citizens? If the parents are singled out for special treatment, the children are singled out for special treatment.

Something else the reporter missed...the effect the restrictions have on the kids.

 The reporter shows no interest in facts for this story about sex offenders. Facts abound and yet he Texas two-steps around every opportunity to use them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

arrested for attending church

A North Carolina man was arrested for going to church. Why, yes, he is a sex offender. How did you know?
Deputuies said they began investigating registered sex offender Kenneth Lee Cagle, 53, two months ago when they received complaints that he was starting a church. 
Two months of Sundays! One would hope the deputies would have heard something in that time about mercy.
Cagle was convicted of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor almost a decade ago, officials said.
Third-degree sounds bad, doesn't it? Like a burn. Third-degree burns are the worst. And sexual exploitation...gosh. What in God's name did he do to that child?

Third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in North Carolina means he looked at child pornography. He molested no one.

He was wrong to look at illegal images and he certainly ought to avoid doing that again. Turning to God seems like a good idea for someone trying to be a better man.
Deputies found that Cagle had successfully opened a church where he served as a church elder and led part of church services.
Perhaps not just a good idea but an inspired idea. The families at the church knew of the man's crime. Gathering once or twice a week to worship with him in their midst can be a gentle way to remind him--and each other--that there is a better way.
His involvement in the church is a violation of state law, according to deputies.  
Doesn't North Carolina want someone who once looked at illegal images to be a better man? No, North Carolina legislators made it a crime for registered sex offenders to be involved at church.
During a traffic stop after a church service on Sunday, deputies charged Cagle with sex offender employment violation and being a sex offender with a child on the premises. 
It is certainly understandable that North Carolina would not want children to be molested in church but what are they doing to protect children from people not on the registry? The truth is that it is more likely that a child will be molested by someone not on the registry. 

Two month investigation, though. That's still a mystery.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

a library can't be too safe...or can it?

A Maryland librarian wonders if libraries are safe enough for children.
Your local library is in the child-care business. Public laws in Maryland, Virginia and the District allow children as young as 8 years old — 9 in Washington D.C. — to be dropped off at a public library without parents or a guardian. It's a curious arrangement: The children are not signed in at the library, librarians don't take attendance, and the library is not liable if children hurt themselves or walk out the front door and wander off.
Notice that he does not follow up with a string of anecdotes about children who hurt themselves or wander off or of crimes committed against kids in public libraries.

He tells a single story.
Several years ago, I worked in a library that had a regular customer I will refer to as Mr. Frank. Mr. Frank visited the library every day and knew most of the staff by name. Sometimes he would stand next to the security guard, as if he were part of our security team. When the branch manager made his rounds, Mr. Frank would join him. If teenagers in the library became noisy, Mr. Frank would accompany the librarians who spoke to them: "You kids better be quiet!" he would say.

Eventually, Mr. Frank and I had a falling out. He started asking me to refer library customers to his business, and when I refused, he became nasty. I decided to check him out online and found him on Maryland's sex offender registry where he is listed as a violent sex offender. Mr. Frank had insinuated himself into our daily activities to such a degree that library users often thought he was staff. 
If the library had been a school or day care center, Mr. Frank would have had to identify himself to staff as a registered sex offender. There is no such law for public libraries, even though libraries function as informal day care centers and children dropped off at the library receive much less supervision then they would at a school or a day care. 
From that story about an annoying though harmless library regular, the librarian goes on to suggest some changes to make libraries "safer".
First, convicted sex offenders should have to identify themselves when they enter a public library, just as they are required to do at schools and day care centers. Medium and large public libraries are simply too hard to police; long rows of shelves, bulky furniture, hallways, stairwells and restrooms offer too many nooks and crannies to monitor effectively, even with security guards and cameras.
Mr. Frank had a falling out with the writer. The librarian doesn't accuse him of any illegal behavior, only of being an odd character who eventually got on his nerves enough for the librarian to check him out online.

Knowing that Mr. Frank is on the sex offender registry is enough to make this librarian want to change everything about the library for kids.
Second, libraries should offer structured after-school programs similar to those run at schools and community centers, where responsible, trained adults offer meaningful activities for children. Too many children dropped off at the library spend hours playing mindless shoot-em up computer games where they learn nothing and don't interact with kids around them. Structured programs would allow children to benefit from all the resources available at the library and keep them safe at the same time. 
He wants responsible, trained adults and meaningful activities to keep kids safe.

How many kids have been molested or worse by coaches or teachers during structured after-school programs? Far more than have been molested by strangers in libraries and yet the librarian wants to put kids in the charge of those trusted adults.

A library full of children must be providing something meaningful for the kids--books, a place to study while waiting for a ride, or Internet access and video games the kid's family cannot afford at home, perhaps? One wonders if this librarian disapproves of the kids' book choices the way he disapproves of their taste in video games.

Could a stranger molest a kid in a library? Absolutely, and when it does, the story makes the news because it is so unusual. Could a stranger molest a kid at the grocery store or at a ball game or the laundromat? Sure. That, too, would be very rare. It is far, FAR more likely that a child would be molested by a family member or someone trusted by the family. Far more likely for kids to be molested by responsible, trained adults at a day care center or school, the very places the librarian wants the library to resemble.

This is what happens when we keep a list of people and tell the world that everyone on that list is dangerous: people act on unreasonable fears.

Mr. Frank--and the other registered citizens who visited this library--had committed no sex offenses in the library but when the librarian found Mr. Frank on the list (along with 850,000 other Americans), he begins suggesting safeguards to protect kids against sex offenses. The kids seem to be doing fine without those safeguards.

When the community reads the suggestions and sees how unnecessary and expensive it would be to protect against an extremely rare event, I hope they tell the librarian, "Shhh."

Check out books and video games. Not the registry.

Friday, August 21, 2015

for those who are afraid of sex offenders

A picture worth a thousand shares.

For those who look at the chart and still think sex offenders are more frightening because they put children in danger:

Not every sex offense involves children. Adults can be sexually assaulted as well.

Not every sex offense involves sex. A charge for failure to register is considered a sex offense. Some jurisdictions include non-sexual acts like streaking, mooning or urinating in public on the list of sex offenses.

Other crimes--car theft, burglary, non-sexual assault, fraud and the rest of the list--can affect children and adults as much as or more than sex offenses do. Sometimes sex offenses are horrific; sometimes a car-jacking is.

Comparing injuries is a foolish exercise because we all react differently. Treating sex offenders as if their crimes are always beyond the pale is to say that other crimes are always more acceptable.

When we focus on sex offenses as if that is the worst thing that could ever happen, we diminish the experience of those who were violated in other ways.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

apologies and podiums

The data dump from the Ashley Madison hackers is stirring up muck from the bottom.

AshleyMadison.com--tagline: "Life is Short. Have an Affair."--is a site for those seeking a partner for an affair. Want to cheat? This may have been the site for you but now that hackers have posted 9.7 gigabites of data stolen from the site, those who decided not to go that route can heave a sigh of relief. Not so with those who had accounts there.

Whether the data is accurate or not is up in the air. We are talking about data entered by people who want to cheat, after all. Right or wrong, names will be dragged through the mud and those who need to salvage their reputation will be hitting the talk shows to tell us they have reformed.

Already, the public apologies have begun. Josh Duggar, skin-of-his-teeth survivor of one scandal has been thrown into another because his name showed up in the data dump.

He says,
“I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him,” he continued.
Have some dignity, man, and stop groveling. The rest of us are no better than you.

What, exactly, does Josh Duggar owe any of us in the way of an apology for cheating on his wife? Nothing.

If an apology isn't personal, it means nothing. Apologizing to "all those who profess faith" in Jesus is bizarre. Duggar's offense was not against strangers who happen to share a religious faith with him.

Christian or not, we all sin. Christians profess to know that.

Matthew 6:5 says,
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
And yet, Duggar will not be alone in confessing his sin and apologizing publicly in the most pious and prayerful ways. He probably received advice from well-meaning experts who told him to "get out in front" of the scandal. That worked for Tylenol but Tylenol's ugency was about public safety and the survival of a company. Duggar's problem, as revealed by the hackers, is marital.

If you commit a sin against someone, apologize to that person. If you sin against God, apologize to Him. Leave the rest of us out of it and knock off trying to impress us with your heartfelt apologies.

It is not our concern. Our concern is our own sinfulness.

You think that your double life offended your congregation or your fan club? It probably did. Was it a sin against them? Maybe, maybe not. Even if you are sure that it was, consult the rule book before you start composing an emotional apology to be delivered in a press conference because somewhere there is--or ought to be--a rule that apologies delivered in a press conference automatically do not count.

Again, our concern is our own sinfulness. 

If we know that, those tearful public apologies will mean nothing to us. Why? Our concern is our own sinfulness. We are not surprised to learn that others--truly I tell you, even reality TV stars--are also sinful.

Those of us whose sins are made public, through sensational hacking events as in the lurid Ashley Madison story or through a public registry for sex offenders, must consider carefully before apologizing for our misdeeds.

Who did you sin against? Will your apology help or hurt that person? If it will not cause more pain, apologize to that person privately. This is between the two of you.

Talk to God privately. This is between you and Him.

Only egregious sins are committed against the world, so there is no need to apologize to the world. Your sin may indeed cause you a heavy burden of guilt; that heavy burden does not mean you owe the world an apology.

If someone tells you that you must apologize to your community, remind them that you are not the example of sinlessness that your community needs to heed.

"kids for cash" judge sentenced to 28 years

Four thousand convictions in Pennsylvania have been overturned because of a couple of corrupt judges.
An American judge known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom manner was jailed for 28 years for conspiring with private prisons to hand young offenders maximum sentences in return for kickbacks amounting to millions of dollars.
Kickbacks in the millions but his restitution is only $1.2 million.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned some 4,000 convictions issued by the former Luzerne County judge between 2003 and 2008, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.
He would have been just as wrong if he had been violating the rights of adults.
Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella Jnr and a second judge, Michael Conahan, of taking more than $2m in bribes from the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centres and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the facilities’ co-owner. Ciavarella Jnr filled the beds of the private prisons with children as young as 10, many of them first-time offenders convicted minor crimes. 
...as young as 10. 

When society ignores what happens in the courts, guys like this take advantage.

When society ignores what happens in the prisons, the prisons take advantage.

Ignoring what goes on gives them power. Power corrupts.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

recovering from heartbreak

How do we survive heartbreak? Look around and you'll see survivors everywhere. Divorce, betrayal, illness, injury, incarceration, abandonment, broken families, death...the causes are endless. Most of us survive.

This little boy is surviving heartbreak. Both of his parents dead, he has every reason to be a mess. Instead, he took action, handing out smiles to people who need one. Watch the video. This little guy is a heartwarmer.

Does he solve problems by handing out little toys and making people smile? Probably not. He helps people momentarily by eliciting smiles but those smiles cannot solve the problems facing them.

However, handing out toys helps the little boy handle his own heartbreak. By looking out for others who are feeling down, he shifted his focus away from his own sadness.

Smart kid.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

law piled on law piled on law keep inmates from leaving prison

This is an illustration of what happens when bad legislation meets bad legislation meets bad legislation.

Kentucky releases sex offenders from prisons "conditionally": they can only be released to an approved residence and, for five years, can be returned to prison for violating sex offender restrictions. The residence must be approved 180 days--six months--before the inmate's release date. For some, the biggest hurdle is the restriction that limits where they are allowed to live.
[He] served out every bit of his eight-year sentence for sexual abuse and should have been released from prison more than a year ago. 
But he is still behind bars and could be for up to four more years, with state taxpayers footing the bill for his medical expenses and incarceration
The reason: He was charged with violating the terms of his conditional release from prison before he even got out, because he couldn’t find a legal place to live as a sex offender. 
One law keeps him in prison if he cannot find housing, another law eliminates huge swaths of the city from the list of residence possibilities, and yet another law puts him on the registry and makes sure that he can be rejected for no other reason than being on that list.

He has been set up.
Wolfe is one of five inmates in Kentucky who have been “violated at the gate” — that is, found to have violated the conditions of their release before they even left the prison gates. One of them died in custody three months later. 
The article does not talk about whether these inmates have family or friends but we cannot assume they are alone in the world. Imagine being willing to take in the guy when he is released from prison but the law prevents you from doing so because your home is too close to a school.

When he is serving his up-to-five additional years in prison, he isn't simply getting housing and care unavailable on the outside. Housing and care are available on the outside. The law prevents him from getting to that housing and care.

In the meantime, Kentucky taxpayers are on the hook for this man's incarceration. Aging and sick inmates cost taxpayers a great deal more than the average young person in prison.
Finding legal places to live for sex offenders, especially those who require medical treatment, is a growing problem nationally, experts say. Illinois keeps 1,250 parolees behind bars because of a shortage of housing, and most are sex offenders, the Chicago Tribune reported in January. 
Remember: the shortage of housing is imposed by law.
[Public defender Melanie] Lowe says that it is unjust to hold inmates after they’ve done their time solely because they can’t find nursing care at a legal address. Sex offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center or publicly owned playground.
Finding a home for a registered citizen when all that's needed is a place to live can be difficult. Add in medical care requirements and the search becomes even more difficult.
...nursing homes are reluctant to admit sex offenders because of the potential liability and because it would place the home’s address on the sex offender registry. 
The registry was supposed to be a protective measure, not a punitive measure. How did it come to cause so much expensive trouble?
State Sen. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, sponsored a bill creating the conditional release for sex offenders — originally for three years and later amended to five — in 1998. ...
Yonts said in an interview that his primary goal was to keep something over the heads of offenders who disputed their crimes and didn’t complete sex offender counseling in prison. He said he also wanted to ensure all sex offenders registered at a legal address.

Keeping infirm inmates in prison because they can’t find places in nursing homes “is not what I originally contemplated,” Yonts said. 
The law of unintended consequences is always in effect, isn't it, Senator Yonts?

Yonts is not the one paying the price, however, reducing any urgency he might feel to correct the law. Inmates spending additional time in prison after their release date are paying the price.

Monday, August 3, 2015

bogus number drives sex offender legislation

Where do legislators get the idea that sex offenders are so dangerous that they must be tracked via the sex offender registry?

Ira Ellman, an Arizona State University law professor, lays it all out for us.
McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 33 (2002) rejected, 5-4, Robert Lile’s claim that Kansas violated his 5th Amendment rights by punishing him for refusing to complete a form detailing prior sexual activities that might constitute an uncharged  criminal offense for which he could then be prosecuted. The form was required for participants in a prison therapy program; refusing to join the program meant permanent transfer to a higher security unit where he would live among the most dangerous inmates and lose significant privileges, including the right to earn the minimum wage for his prison work and send his earnings to his family.
A treatment program held over the heads of inmates is a threat, not a treatment, and yet the Supreme Court said the prison could continue that program.
Justice Kennedy explained the treatment program helped identify the traits that caused “such a frightening and high risk of recidivism” among sex offenders—a rate he said “has been estimated to be as high as 80%.”   The following year in Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003) the Court upheld Alaska’s application, to those convicted before its enactment, of a law identifying all sex offenders on a public registry. It reasoned that the ex post facto clause was not violated because registration is not punishment, but merely a civil measure justified because the “risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders” is “frightening and high”, 536 U. S. at 34. 
The idea that sex offenders repeat their crimes at high rates has fed legislation imposing increasingly harsh post-release burdens on them, nearly all triggered by being on a sex offender registry.  [My emphasis.]
 Where did Justice Kennedy get that 80% figure?
McKune provides just one citation for its much-quoted statement: a 1988 Justice Department “Practitioner’s Manual”. That reference likely came from the amicus brief supporting Kansas filed by the Solicitor General, then Ted Olson, which also cites it. This Practitioner’s Guide itself provides but one source for the claim, but it’s no scientific study. It’s a 1986 article from Psychology Today, a mass market magazine aimed at a lay audience, which had this sentence: “Most untreated sex offenders released from prison go on to commit more offenses–indeed, as many as 80% do.” Freeman-Longo, R., & Wall, R, Changing a lifetime of sexual crime, Psychology Today (1986). That sentence is a bare assertion with no supporting reference. Nor did its author have the scientific credentials needed to qualify at trial as an expert on recidivism.  He was a counselor, not a scholar, and the article containing the sentence isn’t about recidivism statistics. It’s about a counseling program for sex offenders he then ran in an Oregon prison. His unsupported assertion about the recidivism rate for untreated sex offenders was offered to contrast with his equally unsupported assertion about the lower recidivism rate for those who complete his program. [Again, my emphasis.]
Ah. The number came from an unqualified source trying to sell his own program by fabricating numbers to make his program look effective. Snake oil salesman.

Professor Ellman goes on to explain numbers that come from legitimate research, numbers that tell us what my readers already know: sex offenders have an extremely low rate of reoffense. It is worth reading the whole thing.
The label “sex offender” triggers fear, and disgust as well. Both responses breed beliefs that do not yield easily to facts. That’s why even those politicians now urging criminal justice reforms conspicuously omit mentioning sex offenses when they argue for less punitive policies that would facilitate the offenders’ reintegration into civil society. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has fed the fear. It’s become the “go to” source that courts and politicians rely upon for “facts” about sex offender recidivism rates that aren’t true. Its endorsement has transformed random opinions by self-interested non-experts into definitive studies offered to justify law and policy, while real studies by real scientists go unnoticed. The Court’s casual approach to the facts of sex offender re-offense rates is far more frightening than the rates themselves, and it’s high time for correction. Perhaps there’s now hope it may soon happen. 
Using fake numbers to gin up fear and disgust has real effects on real people, real families. Families are destroyed by those fake numbers.

Once again, we see the danger of a simplistic label applied by legislation to a very broad range of offenders. That label--and the fear and disgust that accompany it--encourage legislators to ignore offenders who could benefit from criminal justice reform with only a tiny risk to society.

The fear and disgust driving sex offender laws and regulation come from a phony number.

Ellman's article is a good introduction to reliable numbers derived from methodical research.

Educate your legislators.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

doing what's best for the students...if only

A Virginia Beach school got wind that a parent is on the sex offender registry and banned him from school property. He petitioned for permission to attend events that parents usually attend--parent-teacher conferences, athletic events. The school gave him permission, though it restricted him from chaperoning field trips and having lunch with his child.
"Ultimately, we're looking to do what's best for the students," said Shirann Lewis, director of elementary schools, one of three division officials who review appeals.
However, the next Virginia sex offender who fights to be able to enter school property will have a different kind of fight.
As of July 1, state law requires that offenders trying to gain access to schools buy an advertisement in a local newspaper alerting the public that they plan to petition the court. Also, members of the public now may submit testimony.
An advertisement!
"How many parents are going to be willing to humiliate their children by publicizing their situation in the newspaper?" asked Mary Devoy, a volunteer advocate for data-driven reform of Virginia’s sex offender registry and laws.
How is that best for the students? Legislators seriously didn't think about the child of the sex offender when they came up with this boneheaded idea?

Shelly Stow, in a comment on the article, points out the obvious.
Aside from the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever supporting the efficacy of proximity restrictions keeping registrants away from schools, etc., this is just cruel. Giving a registrant who is a parent the choice between participating in this ridiculous and humiliating charade and being a part of his child's school life is a scheme that had to have been concocted at midnight around a cauldron. Someone please do some checking as to the last time a registrant entered a school and abducted or molested a random child. And then do the same looking for instances where a child at school was victimized by a member of the faculty or staff. Please report back what your investigation yields.
If only state legislators would think this clearly.

Once we have a sex offender registry, we have a list of people it is acceptable to torment. As this story shows, children of sex offenders are acceptable to torment. Anyone with a brain--or a heart!--should be able to see that no child deserves public humiliation, no matter what crime his parent committed.

Abolish the sex offender registry.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Reason #472 why prison should be last resort

An article in The Guardian talks about how feminine hygiene products are doled out to female inmates.
...each cell, which houses two female inmates, receives five pads per week to split. I’m not sure what they expect us to do with the fifth but this comes out to 10 total for each woman, allowing for only one change a day in an average five-day monthly cycle.
Women, and men who pay attention, will see the problem in this.
Inmates in Michigan filed suit last December alleging that pads and tampons are so scarce that their civil rights have been violated.
Why so scarce?
The reasons for keeping supplies for women in prison limited are not purely financial. Even though keeping inmates clean would seem to be in the prison’s self-interest, prisons control their wards by keeping sanitation just out of reach. Stains on clothes seep into self-esteem and serve as an indelible reminder of one’s powerlessness in prison. Asking for something you need crystallizes the power differential between inmates and guards; the officer can either meet your need or he can refuse you, and there’s little you can do to influence his choice. 
Prison puts inmates at the mercy of correctional officers.
To ask a macho guard for a tampon is humiliating. But it’s more than that: it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that, ultimately, the prison controls your cleanliness, your health and your feelings of self-esteem. The request is even more difficult to make when a guard complains that his tax dollars shouldn’t have to pay for your supplies. You want to explain to him that he wouldn’t have a paycheck to shed those taxes in the first place if prison staff weren’t needed to do things like feeding inmates and handing out sanitary supplies – but you say nothing because you want that maxi pad. 
In the United States, there are 2.2 million people in prisons, under the thumb of correctional officers. People who become correctional officers are not inherently bad but giving them such intimate power over others leads to broad opportunities for abuse of power.

The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment showed us how easily and quickly that abuse of power can develop. The experiment tried to answer a couple of questions.
What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?
Briefly, the experiment assigned some students the role of  prison guard and some the role of prisoner, put them all in an improvised prison setting. Over the time of the experiment, it became clear that bad things were happening.
We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation -- a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the "good" guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. 
The experiment, planned to run for two weeks, was called off on the sixth day.
I ended the study prematurely for two reasons. First, we had learned through videotapes that the guards were escalating their abuse of prisoners in the middle of the night when they thought no researchers were watching and the experiment was "off." Their boredom had driven them to ever more pornographic and degrading abuse of the prisoners.
Six days.

What happens to people incarcerated for years or decades?

What happens to people who work as prison guards for years or decades?

As I said before:
We have a moral imperative to consider--and thoughtfully reject--a long list of alternatives before we put someone in prison.
That goes for prisoners and correctional officers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lenore Skenazy says sex offender laws are "Taliban-esque"

Well, aren't they? Lenore tells the story of two young men who had sex with underage girls, faced the same judge, and ended up on the registry for life. Zach Anderson's story was given front page coverage by the New York Times. That gets noticed. (I blogged about Zach Anderson's story here.)
At last America is realizing how Taliban-esque our sex offender laws can be.   
Ordinary teen behavior, sex!, has become a crime punished harshly.
Judge Dennis Wiley, the same judge who sneeringly told Anderson, "That seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior,” presided over Yoder’s trial and sentenced him to the same draconian fate. 
Is he sentencing the guy for having sex or for hooking up online?
Yoder, like Anderson, is now officially a sex offender, for life. As such, he cannot be around anyone under the age 18, as if he were some insatiable child molester. That includes his younger brother and sister, whom he has not seen since he was sentenced. His devastated family has been torn apart. 
Families torn apart are all too common when sex offenses are involved, even when the offense used to be something for which parents grounded the kids and law enforcement was only rarely involved.
According to Fox28: "I know I'm not a sex offender," said Yoder. "Had I known her age, I never would have even talked to her." 
Notice the young man's words: "I'm not a sex offender."

Before the advent of the sex offender registry, he would have been a guy with poor judgment. With the registry, he needs to defend himself against not only the tsk-tsking about his poor judgment but against the charge of being a sex offender.

There is no crime of sex offense. That is not what he is charged with but that label has been given such Psycho-music accompaniment that being labeled a sex offender is worse than being known for the crime--having sex with a willing partner--that got him there.
Yoder was a teen who had sex with another teen—one he thought was his own age. If there’s a predator in this story, it’s the judge who keeps ruining the lives of these young men. 
The registry keeps us focused on imaginary predators while the real danger lies in a criminal justice system wearing the sheep's clothing of protecting children.
That is the power we give judges and prosecutors with our all-encompassing definition of what constitutes a sex offender. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the sex offender registry who bear no resemblance to the monsters we fear. Of the 800,000 registered sex offenders, roughly a quarter of them were added as minors, because young people have sex with other young people. 
That is 200,00 young people, "roughly." Pretty damned rough, if you ask me.
The sex offender list is a dungeon we can throw people in on the slightest pretext. Politicians and grandstanders exhort us to fear those on it. But it’s a lot scarier to think about how easy it is for our sons to end up on that list themselves.
That is my emphasis added all over the place. I'm sure Lenore won't mind.