Sunday, February 22, 2015

commenters sweep up after non-story

A story out of Santa Rosa CA tells us about a "sex offender sweep."
A countywide law enforcement check of registered sex offenders Thursday afternoon found that 94 of 119 offenders were in compliance with residential requirements, Santa Rosa police said.
As we would expect, most of the registrants were compliant. Any arrests made were for something other than a sex offense.


The comments, though, are more interesting than the story.

Commenter panem_and_circenses does some math:
I am guessing the employees of the 12 agencies participating in this operation (12 agencies to knock on 119 doors - did you catch that?) were not volunteers and did the door knocking in teams. How many man hours did this take? Figuring in police salary and bennies, how much did this little exercise cost the tax payer? But hey, it is not as if the State and its cities are broke or that violent crime is a problem.... 
Now, if I were a LEO what would I prefer - fighting actual crime and dealing with criminals with guns or knocking on a bunch of doors (of people's homes who most likely have not committed a single crime in decades, many of whom are quite elderly) with a gun on my hip and a buddy by my side?
Shaman707 responds:
True, but it's easy overtime. And there is no value in the "enforcement". This group has an overall recid rate of less than 3%. That's lower than almost all other crime categories. But none of the other categories are "monitored" for life. A murder convict can do his time, complete parole, and move on. But somebody who got a happy ending from his 17 year old girlfriend 30 years ago is a social outcast and a criminal scumbag until he dies. The laws surrounding this group of people had good intentions, but they are horribly flawed, wasteful, and serve virtually no purpose towards public safety. [My emphasis.]
When LoveFor Da Game worried,
25 weren't in compliance, which is approximately 20% I still find that somewhat troubling...
 Panem_and_circenses was sensible:
I would be curious as to why you find this administrative shortcoming somewhat troubling...[My emphasis.]
Administrative shortcoming, indeed. When a data entry error can result in an arrest for failure to register, we are talking about administrative shortcomings.

When failure to register is defined, in an "alternate universe" kind of reasoning, as a sex offense, we are talking about astounding administrative shortcomings.

Good to see commenters pulling back the curtain on sex offender sweeps.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

for those who just landed in this pile of manure

You have a family member in trouble for something that the whole world hates and you cannot stop imagining what people would think when they find out.

Will they think you knew what was going on and that you let it happen? Will they expect you to abandon your family member because what he did is just too awful to deal with? Will your friends leave you? Will your family be angry with you?

When he comes home, your address will be on the registry. That thought makes it hard to breathe.

Will your children be safe? Will strangers target your house? How will your kids deal with the heartbreak of him going to prison? Can they visit him in prison? Do you want them to do that?

This is a frightening time. The justice system will ruthlessly remove any illusion that you can control the outcome and any illusion that the justice system has to do with justice. You are left waiting. Waiting in fear is excruciating.

The good part? You can get through this.

Yes, even years of visiting someone in prison, even stories in the news, even abandonment by someone you thought would stand with you, even your address on that registry.

Good people will help you through, if you let them. Your need is another person's opportunity to be a better person by helping you. Your helplessness is another person's call to be strong for you.

You may not realize that someone is watching and learning from you but you are an example of steadfastness for someone who needs your example. Walk with your head held high.

The world is full of good people. Be patient; you will find them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"redeemed and redeemable"

Good people are ready to help those released from prison. Read this story about Sr. Mary Sean Hodges.
...a story that started seven years ago, when Hodges began offering former inmates – specifically sex offenders – a place to live in an old warehouse near downtown Los Angeles that had once been an adult bookstore. Hodges had been visiting prisons to pray with inmates, and what she learned led her to design a program to deal with their social, practical, and spiritual needs.
"My faith and belief in Christ Jesus teaches me that all persons are redeemed and redeemable," she says.
Read the whole thing and then find a way to do even a tiny part of what she does.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

parking lots, bridges, and lean-to's: no home-sweet-home in Florida

Florida has extremely tough residency restrictions for sex offenders. Do they make the community safer? You tell me.
As a convicted sex offender, [he] was ordered to live in a small parking lot on Channelside Drive. 
[He] had been prosecuted for impregnating his 14-year-old girlfriend when he was 23, was sentenced to community control and probation. 
For refusing to stay for more than a few weeks in the empty lot, [he], 27, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. 
On Friday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal reluctantly upheld [his] punishment. 
“We are troubled by the fact that the terms of [his] community control have rendered him homeless,” the court wrote. “This does not appear to facilitate the goals of sex offender community control which are 'treatment of the offender and the protection of society.' ”
He had a van to sleep in but sleeping in a parking lot comes with its own dangers. How many of you would be willing to sleep in a parking lot for months or years? How secure would you feel?

His sentence for leaving the parking lot for the home of a family member--a safer location--was ten years; his original sentence for statutory rape didn't even include prison time. Insane that probation violations can draw a more severe sentence than the original crime did.

Richard Sanders, this man's public defender said this case is...
“not as unusual as you might think.” 
“These people that get these sex offender charges have very severe restrictions on where they can live, particularly if they're poor, as a large number of them are,” he said. “You only have a limited number of places where you can live. And if you can't afford to live there, what are you going to do?” 
Sanders previously represented another Hillsborough County sex offender, [ ] a house painter with an amputated arm and trouble finding a home and a job. [He] was forced to live in a lean-to next to a trash bin behind the probation office. 
The building owner didn't want [him]to live there, and he was told to find somewhere else to live.
Leaving sex offenders only parking lots, bridges, and lean-to's as living space certainly does nothing for community safety.

If the residence restrictions are not about safety, then it is clear that they are about marginalization and punishment. Sex offenders are easy targets because defending them is not generally well-received, even when facts show that registered sex offenders rarely commit another sex offense, that residency restrictions would not prevent anyone from committing another crime if he were so inclined and even when the facts show that stability--a home, a job, friends and family--is the best predictor of success for former offenders.

Marginalization is not about safety; it is about being allowed to be cruel to those on the registry.

Sanders, the public defender, said,
“Who wants to be the one to introduce a bill in the Legislature that relaxes some of these requirements? Soft on child molesters — who wants that? I think we're kind of stuck with this situation that's going to keep going and getting worse and worse and worse.”
Craven cowardice in the Legislature or deliberate evil?

You tell me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

why so many behind bars in the U.S.?

Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour interviews Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, and Margo Schlanger from the University of Michigan, about the high rates of incarceration in the United States.

The interview makes the same point I make here, that we need to find ways to stop putting people behind bars.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report finds that more Americans than ever are spending time in jail. The Vera Institute of Justice showed that, in the past two decades, despite a drop in the crime rate, the number of people going to jail has increased dramatically. 
In addition, those behind bars are staying longer. Some 62 percent of them have not yet been convicted of a crime, and three-quarters of those jailed now are brought in for nonviolent offenses. The report also finds that a disproportionate number of those in jail suffer from mental illness.
This surprised me. Sixty-two percent of those in jail have not even been convicted yet. Why so many stuck in jail while waiting for trial?
NICHOLAS TURNER: ...about 60 percent of them are still locked up without having been convicted yet, so they’re presumed innocent — a large percent of them are locked up or are unable to get released because they can’t post bail.

So take New York City, for example, where in 2013 half of everyone who was at Rikers or some of the other detention facilities were there because they couldn’t post low rates of bail, $2,500 or less.
Our jails are overcrowded because poor people arrested for non-violent crimes can't afford bail, not because the world is full of so many dangerous criminals. Remember that most of these are people arrested for misdemeanors.

Those convicted of felonies end up in prison. How to reduce the prison population?
MARGO SCHLANGER: Solving the prison problem, the problem for people who have been convicted of felonies, that will take a more varied kind of set interventions. But I think it’s really — right now is a great moment for us to try to make those interventions. 
... We could — we need to do parole and probation reform. We need to do the reform of the system that allows prisoners good-time credit off their sentences if they are behaving themselves in prison. We need to do community corrections kinds of reform, so that prosecutors have some place to send people when they — so that they don’t just send them to prison because it’s the only option.
Schlanger and Turner also talk about why so many mentally ill people end up in jail or prison.

Reducing the number of people behind bars in the United States will require legislators to stand up and do the right thing, even when it is unpopular.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

steep price for overcrowded prisons

Horrifying news from California prisons.
California state prisoners are killed at a rate that is double the national average -- and sex offenders ... account for a disproportionate number of victims, according to an Associated Press analysis of corrections records.
Readers will expect me to rail against the murder of sex offenders--and of course I do--but we should all rail against the fact that any prison inmates are murdered.
Male sex offenders made up about 15 percent of the prison population but accounted for nearly 30 percent of homicide victims, the AP found in cataloging all 78 killings that corrections officials reported since 2007, when they started releasing slain inmates' identities and crimes.
As we all know, sex offenders are at the bottom of the prison hierarchy; they are generally not welcome in gangs; they are generally not hardened criminals. They can be easy targets, mostly because they are accepted as targets.

Categorizing a broad range of crimes as sex offenses instead of treating each crime as a distinct event--streaking, rape, public urination, possession of illegal images--encourages a public perception that all sex offenses are as bad as the worst of them.

Prison officials know that sex offenders are often targeted.
The deaths -- 23 out of 78 -- come despite the state's creation more than a decade ago of special housing units designed to protect the most vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, often marked men behind bars because of the nature of their crimes. 
In some cases, they have been killed among the general prison population and, in others, within the special units by violence-prone cellmates. Officials acknowledge that those units, which also house inmates trying to quit gangs, have spawned their own gangs.
The special housing units do not--cannot--protect.
Corrections officials blamed a rise in the prison homicide rate on an overhaul meant to reduce crowding. As part of the effort, the state in 2011 began keeping lower-level offenders in county lockups, leaving prisons with a higher percentage of sex offenders and violent gang members. [My emphasis.]
That's a bad mix, something else that prison officials know.

When prisons are so crowded that neither inmates nor corrections officers are safe, it is time to think about why we put so many in prison. It is not because of a high crime rate

Over-criminalization can be blamed. A larger number of laws that we can break--and a larger number of laws that don't require criminal intent for there to have been a crime--means that more laws are broken. 

Increasing sentence length can be blamed.

All of us pay the price for crazy laws and for legislators who pretend they are not crazy laws.

Taxpayers pay around $40 billion annually for incarceration in the United States. We pay tens of thousands of dollars annually to incarcerate non-violent criminals who are housed with violent criminals.

Families pay needlessly when a family member goes to prison for a non-violent crime.

Corrections officers pay when they have to work in dangerously overcrowded prisons.

We all pay. Maybe not as much as sex offenders pay, though.

We should put as few people in prisons as possible. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

USA Today interviews child porn collector

Kevin Johnson, a USA Today reporter, interviews a man serving time for child pornography offenses.

The man's arrest uncovered
...the single-largest cache of child pornography — up to 1 million images — recovered in Florida history and one of the largest recent seizures in the nation.
This is a lot of child porn, by any measure. There was a time when collecting child porn was hard work because collectors needed to make contact with those who could provide the images. Now, however, the Internet and peer-to-peer software make collecting astoundingly fast and easy. So fast and easy that the reporter's wide-eyed astonishment at the size of the collection seems naive. The article does not report how many distinct images were found and how many repeats were in the collection.
State and federal authorities said such vast repositories of images are becoming increasingly common in exploitation cases across the U.S. Once celebrated as important law enforcement victories, the large seizures and the labor-intensive analysis required of each photograph and video are now complicating the search for victims pictured in the images and others who may have been physically abused by suspects.
Law enforcement will continue to find enormous stashes of illegal images, not because the collectors are that much more evil than pre-Internet collectors were, but because it can be done so easily. A collector who keeps everything is going to have a large collection.
In an estimated 75% of child pornography cases, actual physical abuse by the suspects is likely going undetected, said Michael Bourke, chief psychologist in the U.S. Marshals Service's Behavioral Analysis Unit. In a 2014 study of 127 child-pornography suspects with no known history of "hands-on'' sexual abuse, 5% admitted during traditional questioning to the sexual abuse of at least one child. Yet when investigators introduced tactical polygraph examinations to assist interrogations, another 53% of suspects admitted that they engaged in physical sexual abuse of children, according to the study co-authored by Bourke.
Relying on polygraphs as a tool to expose truth is odd when polygraphs are not allowed to be used as evidence in court...because polygraphs are unreliable, even when they are called tactical polygraph examinations. Using polygraphs as an investigative aid is nothing new.
Although the offender in the Florida case has denied any involvement in physical abuse, Bourke, who has spent years researching child pornography cases and interviewing offenders, said traditional interrogation methods and the enormously time-consuming review of large seizures are not proving effective enough in identifying those suspects who have crossed into physical abuse.
The Florida offender, contrary to Bourke's facile assumption that he has committed hands-on crimes, continues to deny any such activity. That doesn't stop the reporter from dropping fat hints that the man is hiding a history of hands-on offenses.

Research shows that using child porn can reduce the incidence of child sex abuse but the reporter ignores those studies.

Likewise, he ignores the fact that Michael Bourke was co-author of the firmly debunked Butner Study which tried to sell the idea that those who look at child porn have a long list of hands-on victims.

Perhaps instead of examining the million images for evidence of child sex abuse of which they imagine the collector to be guilty, the investigators should investigate the clear evidence of child sex abuse contained in some of those million images.

It is important to know that putting people in prison for possessing, receiving, or distributing illegal images does nothing to reduce the availability of child porn.

Those million images? Still freely available on the Internet.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

elderly sex offenders to be turned away from nursing homes?

Iowa State Representative Helen Miller introduced a bill that would create a separate facility for elderly sex offenders who are turned away from private nursing homes and assisted living facilities because of their sex offender status.
“I don’t care how old they are,” Miller said. “You cannot turn them onto a population that cannot protect themselves in any shape or form.”
The idea of a loved one in a nursing home being abused sexually is heart-wrenching. Nursing home residents are vulnerable for many reasons--illness, weakness, dementia, unlocked doors to residents' rooms, inadequate staffing, poor management, among others.

Before we make generalizations based on the one case mentioned in the Omaha World-Herald article of an elderly resident being abused by another resident who was a sex offender, perhaps we should find out how often this happens. It goes without saying that even a single incident is unacceptable so we must protect residents from those who would abuse the elderly.

The first question ought to be, who does perpetrate sex abuse against elderly nursing home and assisted living residents? Are elderly sex offenders the biggest risk?

It seems not.
Very little research exists regarding perpetrator risk factors because commentators cannot agree on who are the most common perpetrators. One study found that the majority of perpetrators were nursing home employees, and that other residents abused only three in twenty victims. This finding reinforces the widely-held perception that most elder sexual abuse is committed by the people charged with the elder's care. In contrast, another study found that the most frequent perpetrators of sexual abuse in the institutional setting are other residents, rather than staff members.Perpetrators frequently suffer from untreated psychiatric conditions or abuse drugs or alcohol Ten to fifteen percent of nursing home employees abuse drugs or alcohol, which increases the likelihood of sexual abuse in nursing homes.
Nurse aides, who comprise the largest proportion of nursing home employees, not surprisingly are the most frequent perpetrators of abuse. However, these employees are not the only employees with access to residents. Laundry aides, security guards, and maintenance workers also have been accused of abuse.
While dementia and mental illness may make some elderly sex offenders dangerous, dementia and mental illness can make other elderly residents just as dangerous.

Turning away sex offenders who need care at a nursing home or an assisted living facility simply because of a conviction committed years if not decades earlier is cruel.

The first line of defense should be within the nursing home: better training for staff, locked doors to keep intruders out of residents' rooms, cameras in the hallways, improved caregiver-to-resident ratios, better pay for staff...all of these measures could help to reduce the incidence of abuse.

Until it is proven that sex offenders pose more risk than other nursing home residents, we should not write legislation as if they do.

Once again, imagining something does not make it real.

Once again, hysteria about sex offenders gets in the way of measures that would definitely improve community safety.

Legislators need to ask themselves what they are trying to do: Demonstrate their disgust for sex offenders or actually reduce sexual assaults in nursing homes?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"...we don't ever see Jesus rejecting. Ever."

Here's an interesting little piece that includes a story about a pastor who learns a hard lesson about excluding gays from his church. I like the story well enough to quote most of it.

The pastor, after kicking gays out of his church because of his understanding of their sins, dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates. God talks to the pastor about his work:
“... So, I’m looking over your life here… seems like you threw people out of your church, let’s see, because they were gay. Is that right?” 
Pastor smiles proudly and nods. 
“And it says you did this in my name… let’s see here… and you threw their families out too…” Looks up from notes. “Why in heaven’s name did you do all that?” 
Pastor stops nodding and smiling. “Um… because I was doing what you wanted!” 
“What I wanted?? Where did you get that idea? I never threw anyone out.” 
Pastor looking down now. “Well, uh, I thought…” 
“No, you didn’t. You didn’t think about what this would [mean] to them.”  Waits. “I never once told anyone to throw anyone out. 
Pastor shuffles his feet. “But… that was how we’d show them tough love and get them to change.” 
“Did any of them change?” 
Pastor is silent. Then quietly. “I don’t know.” 
“You don’t know?? You’re the pastor in charge of leading these people. How would you lose track of them and not know what happened? Do you remember the story I told you about leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one because each one matters?” 
Pastor looks puzzled. 
“Yeah, that’s what I was talking about. And you not only didn’t go get them, you shut and locked the gate behind them. You told them they were condemned to hell!”  Another pause.  “Do you want to know what happened to those people you and your church sent away?” 
Pastor speaks quietly. “…yes.” 
“Three of them committed suicide. They believed you when you told them they were wicked evil sinners, abominations. They’re here now… in case you wondered.  Most of the others wanted nothing more to do with God. They also believed you that God hated them and had no use for them. I sent some of my beloved faithful people to talk to them, to tell them the truth, to draw them back into God’s unconditional love.” 
Pastor looks up. “I thought my job was to stop people’s sin.” 
“No. In fact, I told you the opposite. I said for you to love them – just love them – and point them to me. I told you to serve them… even if you didn’t feel like it.”

Substitute sex offenders for gays in the story and the story is still beautiful. I left a comment suggesting just that and the author, Susan Cottrell responded:

I assume you're being sarcastic. Sex offenders -- broadly meaning those who molest children or rape anyone -- are not the same as two adult men or women in a relationship. If you don't see the difference, there is much more to talk about.
The author is very involved in LGBT issues so I understand that she has paid little attention to the facts about sex offenders; she can't know everything.

After I explained my position a little more clearly--that I was not comparing homosexuality with a crime but that I was comparing sinners with sinners, Susan Cottrell acknowledged my point:
Marie, I am sorry. I misunderstood part of your other comment. I agree with you. : )
Whew. I feel much better. Ms. Cottrell wrote so clearly about how the role of the church and the pastor is not to stop sin but to love sinners, I hated to think that she had a knee-jerk rejection of sex offenders without even asking what the offense was or if the offender was repentant.
Every day, people from the pews and the pulpits are realizing the deadly result of their attitudes. 
Every day, people are becoming welcoming, loving, and affirming. 
Every day, people are choosing the heart and truth of God.
The deadly result of their attitudes are as deadly for sex offenders as they are for gays.

Churches need a reminder that when sex offenders are rejected, the family of the offender feels the rejection, too. Families who want to worship together, to be involved in church life together, should be able to do so even when the sins of one family member are made public through the registry.

Redemption. Isn't it still a thing in the church?

Do you remember the story I told you about leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one because each one matters?
Most definitely.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

will victims of child sexual abuse become abusers?

It is impossible to predict with certainty which convicted sex offender will reoffend after completing his or her sentence. Predicting which childhood circumstance or trauma will lead someone to commit a sex crime in adulthood is just as impossible.

From the abstract of a study published on the JAMA(Journal of the American Medical Assciation) Network:
The widespread belief that sexually abused children are uniquely at risk to become sex offenders was not supported by prospective empirical evidence. These new findings suggest that early intervention programs should target children with histories of physical abuse and neglect. They also indicate that existing policies and practices specifically directed at future risk for sex offending for sexually abused children may warrant reevaluation.
That widespread belief can be dangerous.

Not only do children of sex offenders have to endure knowing that a family member is listed on the registry, if those children are victims of the offender, the registry can expose them to the world as victims of sexual abuse. In some jurisdictions, the victim can be identified on the registry as "granddaughter" or "nephew", often enough information to identify the child. 

Imagine growing up having been sexually abused and living in a world that has a widespread belief that you will abuse a child yourself. 

Children who have been sexually abused deserve better than to live under suspicion and fear that they will be abusers themselves.

Via Families Affirming Community Safety (FACTS).

This is exactly the kind of cruelty that children of registered citizens must endure.

The right of children to be free of the imaginary threat posed by a registered sex offender does not trump the right of other children--children of sex offenders--to have their parents freely take part in school activities with them.