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.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Microsoft PhotoDNA now free

For years, companies like Facebook and Twitter have been using Microsoft PhotoDNA to weed out illegal images from files uploaded to their websites. Now Microsoft is making PhotoDNA available for free to the little guys because small companies, like the big companies, want to make sure they aren't inadvertently hosting illegal images.
With an exponential increase in social media sharing, weeding out child pornography from billions of uploads is challenging. About 720,000 of the 1.8 billion pictures uploaded across the Internet each day are illegal child sexual abuse photos, Microsoft wrote in a blog post.
That's .04% of images uploaded, for anyone who wonders.
“The tool has amazing accuracy, and it has enabled us to find problematic content faster than ever before,” Facebook said in a blog post from 2011, when the company started using PhotoDNA. “And, because PhotoDNA has been so effective for us, we encourage other sites that allow photo uploads to use it as well.”
PhotoDNA identifies photos already known and tagged by organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as child porn. When someone uploads a child porn image to Facebook, PhotoDNA recognizes the photo as a match for a known image and the image will not be made available through that website.

Users can still upload an image that has not been identified and tagged as child pornography.

I blogged about Google's efforts to "eradicate" child porn here and here.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, large and small, do not want to be known as suppliers of child porn. Employing PhotoDNA to protect their sites and reputations makes sense.

What PhotoDNA doesn't do is get rid of child porn images, though it will stop some people from looking at some images of crimes that were committed in the past, sometimes decades in the past.

More important--and can we all agree that this is more important?--it doesn't stop the next instance of child sexual abuse.

The war against child porn has focused on those who download illegal images instead of focusing on protecting children who are at risk now.

Focusing attention on those who download makes it look as if something is happening--all those headlines! the harsh sentences! the registry!--in the effort to stop child porn but it doesn't. Old images are still available; new images are still uploaded.

The fight against child porn is not the fight against child sexual abuse. Not even close.

Our priorities need attention.

Thursday, July 16, 2015 other news, nothing happened

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news is that nothing much is happening in Nueces County TX. So much nothing is happening, in fact, that a news reporter did a story about nothing.

The reporter was shocked to learn that someone can be a sex offender and "not have to voluntarily surrender their teaching certificate". [Parlor game! Find the word that doesn't belong there.]

According to this reporter, the Texas Education Agency's top investigator said, "It happens all the time.".

It does, does it?

The reporter says:
There are about 4,000 certified educators in Nueces County and a little more than a thousand registered sex offenders. So, we compared the two lists.
No crossover.

That's not good enough for the reporter, though. A story about sex offenders must, MUST include something scary.
...the good news is that though other counties may have registered sex offenders that hold valid teaching certificates, Nueces County is not one of them.
Yep. There it is. The scare.

The bad news? Even among all the good news--registered citizens rarely commit another sex offense--this reporter tells us the bad news that has not happened.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

phone companies overcharge inmate families

It will not come as a surprise to many inmate families to learn that prison phone service providers have been overcharging them.
Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is asking that millions of dollars in telephone charges illegally collected from families of Louisiana’s 40,000 jail inmates be refunded. 
“The Public Service Commission regularly orders refunds when utilities overcharge customers,” Campbell said. “Companies that operate inmate telephone systems in Louisiana jails and prisons must be treated no differently.” 
Campbell’s request is on the PSC’s agenda for its July 22 meeting in Baton Rouge. Jails and prisons hire specialized firms to run telephone systems used by inmates. Family members on the outside pay for the calls.
Families cannot shop around for a better deal.
A PSC investigation in 2011-12 concluded that the rates for inmate calls were an average of 30 times higher than calls on the outside. 
Thirty times higher. Can you hear me now?
The investigation also found that telephone companies routinely ignore commission orders and tack on a variety of illegal fees. Examples include $10 to buy a $50 block of time, $2.50 to add a telephone to the account, and $5 to obtain a refund. 
Inmate families often have greatly reduced income when a family member goes to prison and anyone who would take advantage of their vulnerability is a scoundrel, through and through.
“These practices are dishonest and immoral. Jail telephone companies prey on inmate families, who have no choice in the provider of service and little to no ability to fight back.”
It is hard to imagine the discussions in the board rooms of Securus and City Tele-Coin, the two unscrupulous phone companies servicing Lousiana prisons, when this thievery was approved.

Speaking of thievery, there's more:
“Some of these companies also confiscate any money left in consumer accounts after a period of time,” Campbell said.
All but a small minority of inmates will be released from prison at some point. To reduce their ability to maintain contact with those they left at home is to make their homecomings more difficult.

The United States, as everyone should know by now, has around 2.2 million in jail or prison. If you went to prison tomorrow, how many people would miss you? How many people would you like to call from prison? Multiply that number by 2.2 million.

That's the number of people who are at the mercy of companies like Securus and City Tele-Coin.

Kudos to Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell for taking up this fight for Louisiana families.

UPDATE: Added a link. (July 15, 2015)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

animal attraction

In October 2014, a man from Pennsylvania advertised on Craig's List that he wanted a horse as a sex partner. Investigators in the Animal Crimes Investigations Unit in Arizona saw the ad and offered a horse for the man.

The investigators carried on a correspondence with the man with emails and phone calls until he flew to Arizona this month to carry out his fantasy.

Now, the idea of sex with a horse is unusual, to say the least, and the practice not recommended. Someone could get hurt, someone could be seen, someone could be arrested, someone could be outed as a pervert. Risky behavior, to be sure.

Riskier, to be sure, for the man than the horse.

The deputies met the man at the airport, took him to meet a couple of horses, and arrested him. Now he is fodder for all kinds of gross jokes when what he really needed was some help to deal with his odd sexual desires.

Law enforcement officers corresponded with this man for nine or ten months.

I have not seen the correspondence but it seems clear that the cops didn't try to dissuade the man from trying something so risky. No, they worked for nearly a year to get the man to Arizona so they could net themselves an arrest for...a misdemeanor.

It is a Class 6 felony in Arizona to have sex with an animal. This man did not have sex with the horse so they arrested him for conspiracy to have sex with the horse which is only a misdemeanor. (Other sources report that he was arrested on suspicion of bestiality.)

The linked article contains a link to the story of another bestiality arrest made by the same Arizona department. In that one, three people wanted a dog. Law enforcement responded and offered up a dog. None of the people had sex with the dog and they were arrested for conspiracy.

Other bestiality arrests in Arizona came in 2010 and 2011, again because law enforcement responded to ads looking for animals.

One wonders how much bestiality--or conspiracy to commit--happens without law enforcement encouraging the idea.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

FBI, distributor of child pornography: #2

Last February, the FBI seized a website that distributed child porn and continued operating the site for another two weeks.
The search warrant, unsealed on Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, showed that the FBI seized the website's North Carolina server on Feb. 20 but allowed it to remain operating for about two weeks while authorities investigated its users.
Allowed it to remain operating? We have heard that before. In June 2013, I wrote about another time when the FBI ran a child porn website:
Operating a child porn website is illegal. Distributing child porn is illegal. Possessing child porn is illegal. The FBI did all of this themselves in order to catch those who do the same. [My emphasis.]
Here we are again, with the FBI distributing child pornography. This time, the website they operated had 215,000 users. How many images were downloaded from that site and subsequently uploaded to other sites in those two weeks?

It is possible that links to child porn images on the FBI-run site were rigged so the images would not download successfully. Sorting out the illegal images and re-coding the links on an unfamiliar website is not something that can happen overnight, so the illegal images were definitely available for download for at least part of those two weeks, if not all. The article doesn't say.

The FBI clearly is not focused on stopping the production of child pornography or of stopping child abuse. The FBI wants to put people in prison for looking at child abuse images distributed by the FBI.

Some will point out that putting the 215,000 users into prison will surely slow down the child porn industry. Will it? How many of those users downloaded child pornography?

The Reuters article says there are "thousands of postings and messages featuring child pornography images." Thousands, not hundreds of thousands. 

If all 215,000 users were posting and messaging child porn images, believe me: the article would have said so. If the reporter didn't think to ask how many of the 215,000 were child porn users and if all 215,000 were, believe me: the FBI would have said so.

From the Reuters article:
The probe follows an earlier FBI investigation based out of Nebraska that resulted in the seizure of three child pornography online websites in 2012, two of which listed 5,600 and 8,100 members, respectively. 
How many of those 13,700 users were charged? Twenty-eight. Today's Reuters headline implies a horde of child porn users--FBI seized child porn website with 215,000 users--but 28 of 13,700 is no horde and probably no horde among the 215,000, either.

No matter how many images were distributed during those two weeks, some of them may have been evidence of child abuse. The FBI, though, allowed those images to be distributed for entertainment.

Those images will not--cannot---be obliterated. The FBI distributed them and cannot call them back. In those two weeks, who knows where those images scattered?

The supply of images is unchanged. They remain freely available through the Internet to the curious. The FBI is not trying to stop people from looking at the images at all. If they wanted to stop people from looking, they would have shut down the site and actually stopped people from looking at images the FBI controlled.

Two years ago, I said:
What is likely, is that if the FBI faces no consequences for distributing child pornography, the agency will continue on that course.  
Which laws will they break next?
Now we know. The FBI faces no consequences and will continue to distribute child pornography.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

ninety days plus life

Julie Bosman, in today's New York Times, tells the story of a 19-year-old who meets another teen online; the teens meet and have sex. Not the recommended way to conduct relationships but common behavior now. It turns out that the partner who said she was older than the age of consent was not. 
[The 19-year-old] was arrested and charged and, after pleading guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and probation.
Ninety days. That slap on the wrist, however, is accompanied with lifetime on the sex offender registry.

Lifetime punishment for a single sexual encounter. How did we ever come to this?
...his story is a parable of the digital age: the collision of the temporary relationships that young people develop on the Internet and the increasing criminalization of sexual activity through the expansion of online sex offender registries. 
“The whole registry is a horrible mistake,” said William Buhl, a former judge in Michigan who has publicly argued that laws governing registries ought to be relaxed. “I think it’s utterly ridiculous to take teenage sex and make it a felony. This guy is obviously not a pedophile.”
That's the opinion of one retired judge, of course. The judge in this case thought differently.
“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women, to meet and have sex with,” he said. “That seems to be part of our culture now. Meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”
Harumph. Totally inappropriate behavior.

Totally appropriate, though, to make sure young people are punished with life sentences for hooking up with a willing partner.
For some reason, [the prosecutor] told the judge in court, this generation seems to think it is “O.K. to go online to find somebody and then to quickly hook up for sexual gratification.” 
“That’s not a good message to send into the community,” he said.
 Tsk tsk. Not a good message to send into the community.

So much better to send the message that if you have consensual sex even once, you can pay for it for the rest of your life.

Times change and, wouldn't you know it, young people still like to have sex. The online hookup might very well be a bad way to use the Internet, though there is a worse way to use the Internet: The sex offender registry.

Using the Internet to prevent people from moving on with their lives after they have learned hard lessons about bad judgments is totally inappropriate behavior, a milktoast description of the unbelievable cruelty imposed on those who have paid their debt to society.

Ninety days in jail? Done.

Punishment and public shaming? Never ending.

Abolish the registry.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

love and hope redeem

Something we must remember: We have no reason to be ashamed of the sex offenders in our families.

Some of them have done things they ought to be and probably are ashamed of doing. Repentance and atonement can alleviate that shame but harsh sentences that include a lifetime on the public shaming registry make it difficult for offenders ever to feel that relief.

Other offenders have done nothing that should result in cruel public shaming. I'm thinking of a young man who had sex with a fifteen-year-old girl when he was seventeen. When a mandated reporter heard that the young woman had had sex with a young man, he called law enforcement. The young man is awaiting sentencing on multiple felony charges, one of which is rape. His unwise but natural choice about sex--a choice made by countless others--should not leave him shadowed by shame for years to come.

Families of sex offenders have nothing to be ashamed of. Carrying love and hope in our hearts for troubled friends and family members is good. Could we be wrong in thinking that the offender deserves all the love and hope we offer? Of course; just as we can be wrong offering our love to those who aren't sex offenders.

When family members carry the burden of shame for someone else's crimes and misdeeds, it is difficult for them to reach out for the help they may need desperately. When family members are treated as if they are supposed to carry that shame, the family suffers in cruel isolation.

I urge families and friends to stand tall and remember they did nothing to deserve the public shaming that comes with sex offenses. Do not let the imposed shame stop you from asking for the help you need. Tell your story and ask for help.

Shake off those who want you to feel shame for what someone else did. Shake off their certainty that you deserve what you are getting. Tell your story and ask for support.

Give someone the chance to do the right thing. Give them the information they need to understand what is the right thing. Remind them that they can do good by loving and hoping. Tell your story and ask them to stand with you.

Your story is different from the offender's story. Your story doesn't include wrongdoing. I hope it doesn't include the painful remorse and self-loathing so often part of the offender's struggle to return to society.

You have chosen to love someone who is or has been in terrible trouble.

Tell your story.

Registered citizens reoffend only rarely, even when love and hope are withheld. Even when housing is difficult to find, even when employment is elusive, even when families have abandoned them...yes, even then the rate of reoffense remains low. Sex offenders can be redeemed.
Love and hope redeem. Pile it on.