Wednesday, February 26, 2014

the mystery of the missing sex offenders

A fear-mongering news report from Omaha's KETV talks about sex offenders who go missing.
According to Nebraska’s sex offender registry, there are more than 900 convicted offenders living in Douglas County alone. 
Chris White, a deputy U.S. marshal with the Metro Area Fugitive Task Force, said about 90 of those convicted offenders are hiding. 
“There are more people absconding every day. That number compiles [sic] unless we get after it,” White said.
A multi-agency task force tracks down the missing sex offenders.
“I assume that they're reoffending, that they're dropping off the radar because they don't want law enforcement to know what they're doing,” White said.
Is that the only reason a sex offender might choose not to register? If the deputy U.S. marshal were paying attention, he might notice that there are one, two, three, and more reasons.

Ninety out of nine hundred sex offenders are presumed reoffending, according to White. But are they? Of all the sex offenders who have dropped off the radar, how many have been rearrested for sex crimes?

Because the recidivism rate for registered sex offenders is about 5%, we can estimate that about 45 of the 900 commit another sex offense. But wait: Failure to register is considered a sex offense even though there IS no sex offense committed--so of the 45, how many of them go back to prison for failure to register? The reporter doesn't even touch on that question.

If deputy marshal White had his way, all ninety of the missing would be back in prison, even without them having committed another sex offense.

The sex offender registry is touted as a way to protect our communities. The Nebraska registry says:

Nebraska State Statute 29-4002 declares that sex offenders present a high risk to commit repeat offenses and that efforts of law enforcement agencies to protect their communities, conduct investigations, and quickly apprehend sex offenders are impaired by the lack of available information about individuals who have pleaded guilty to or have been found guilty of sex offenses and who live in their jurisdiction. Because of that, the legislature determined that state policy should assist efforts of local law enforcement agencies to protect their communities by requiring sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies as provided by the Sex Offender Registration Act. 
Five percent is a high risk for repeat offenses? That seems a bit hysterical when other recidivism rates are 70.2% for robbers, 74% for burglars, and nearly 79% for car thieves. Nebraskans should be concerned that their state statutes are based on information not even close to accurate.

The Nebraska registry explains how it is to be used:

This information is to be used to provide public notice and information about a registrant so a community can develop constructive plans to prepare themselves and their family. Sex Offenders have "always" been in our communities. The notification process will remove their ability to act secretly.
The community would do better to prepare themselves and their families for the sex offenders who have yet to be apprehended because most sex offenses are first-time offenses. The next sex offense in your town will in all likelihood be committed by someone not on the registry.

The sex offender registries protecst no one, though it is possible it protects jobs for members of the task force busy tracking down 90 people--ninety people for whom the task force has no reason to believe have committed another sex crime. 

Imagining someone is out there committing crimes is not the same as reasonable suspicion. Statistics say it isn't reasonable at all.

Another perspective on the same KETV news report: 
The research shows that former offenders in Nebraska have a year-to-year reoffense rate of less than 1 percent. It shows that Nebraska's public shaming website drives people from their homes. The City of Omaha has a residency restriction ordinance that illegally created a new classification of "predator" -- some harmless people with misdemeanors fall under the classification. Why not assume someone's been evicted because of the ordinance? That's just as likely or more likely than the reoffending. 
Nebraskans Unafraid has documented cases where a former offender has reported the correct address to a local sheriff, but the address still ends up listed incorrectly on the registry because of a clerical error. An offender might go to prison because of a clerical error. It is as easy to assume someone in a short-staffed law enforcement office is messing things up as it is to assume that a former offender is reoffending.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"ruining the life of the offenders in the name of justice is not working"

A woman who grew up in a family that suffered incest talks about healing. She talks about the abuse her father experienced as a child and the effect that abuse had on him as a parent himself. She says the current approach--yanking the offender from the home and isolating him with incarceration and then with the sex offender registry--does little to help the family heal.
We have it all wrong. Shunning the offenders is not working. Locking them up is not working. Settling in court for massive sums of money is not working. Ruining the life of the offenders in the name of justice is not working. Leaving victims to pick up the pieces of their life alone is not working. The sexual abuse of our boys and girls is still going on, generation after generation.
Kim Cottrell watched her sister suffer through incest and considers herself an incest survivor because everyone in the family felt the effects of it. Years later, when her father had a stroke, she brought him to her home to care for him, something we do not expect to happen in families like this.

She has her own ideas about how to help families heal.
I wonder if we could agree, the first goal is to stop the molestation and abuse of children. I used to think it was as simple as finding evidence, separating kids from their parents or abuser, and locking them up. Case closed. But when I was a speech pathologist in a large trauma hospital where I worked with babies and young children who’d been hit or shaken by adults, enough to cause brain damage, I saw a different side of the story. In many situations, removing the child from the parents caused further trauma. That’s when I realized it’s not so simple.
Not so simple. Families who have been separated from the offender do not magically turn into happy families when the offender is gone. The offender was always more than what he did to harm the family. He may have been the breadwinner, the funny guy at breakfast, the one who taught the kids how to ride a bike, the one who took the kids fishing. When the offender is removed from the family, the man who plays Scrabble and teaches shoe-tying goes with him.

The current system--law enforcement, child protective services, the courts--behaves as if the child will be relieved that the offender is gone. Instead, in many cases, the child victim would be more relieved if the offending behavior stopped and the no-longer-offending family member were still in the home.
Second, and I don’t expect agreement but I believe this is crucial, we need to stop pursuing vengeance. We must lay down the judgment and shame game. 
Our capacity for forgiveness should be given more room.
For there to be any systemic, generational healing, we need to bring secrets out in the open. We need to stop banishing people, offenders or victims. We need to slow down enough to let the healing process take place. We need to support the healing process and let it be a normal part of life. There is clearly no evidence blaming, shaming, and shunning have anything to do with finding our way out of this crisis and the crisis our children are facing today.
She is clear about responsibility but she is also clear about forgiveness and shame.
...the fact I’m caring for my father does not excuse his behavior. Nor is it my place to absolve him of responsibility for those he has hurt. What is true is that, together, he and I worked on our relationship and I no longer need his penance. Knowing he wakes up every single morning with the shame of destroying his family has taken away any taste I had for restitution.
Caring for him when he still feels such shame about his life, that's mercy.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

the "super" in Super Bowl isn't where the hyperbole is

Derek Logue at OnceFallen thoroughly fisks an article about sex trafficking at the Super Bowl.
One of the newest prevailing myths is that the Super Bowl is now a yearly magnet for roughly 100,000 "sex traffickers," or what we used to like to refer to as "prostitution." You see, we no longer refer to prostitutes as prostitutes, but "sex trafficking victims." Now granted, a small number of Americans are forced into doing really bad things, like forced prostitution. Many more do so for reasons such as supporting a habit or because it is fast and easy money. That 100,000 number is ridiculous, by the way, since the biggest Super Bowl in history had about 105,000 or so official attendees. That would be about one prostitute for damn near every Super Bowl attendee. But I digress.
The FBI partnered with over 50 law enforcement agencies to fight sex trafficking at the Super Bowl, even fighting it in states through which the traffickers might have traveled to reach their destination. A hundred thousand sex traffickers, descending on a football game that isn't particularly known as an event where guys go to get laid.

The FBI plus 50 (FIFTY!) law enforcement agencies were able to rescue 16 teenagers. Sixteen teenagers out of 100,000 sex traffickers.

Before you fire the confetti cannons, read the whole thing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

surrounded by goodness

A fat, lacy, glittery Valentine to~

...the therapist who said, "It's good that you are surrounding your husband with love and support." and friends who send letters and cards to inmates. who understand why we might need a long lunch on tough days.

...friends who wave the lonely mom over to sit with them at school events.

...prison corrections officers whose eyes soften a little when they see children greet an incarcerated family member.

...those who slip an arm around our shoulders when our anxiety is noticeable.

...our kids' school friends who know the story and don't spread it around.

...those who ask what prison is like.

...bloggers and journalists who acknowledge the unfair sentences and the cruel sex offender registry.

...teachers who recognize that our family is dealing with something difficult.

...those who listen and listen again. friends' parents who treat our kids like all the others.

...those who can see that the sex offender registry encourages an unreasoning fear of all sex offenders.

...women who hold each other up in their similar struggles. who support women sex offenders; they must feel more lonely than we women do.

...friends who ask how to get permission for a prison visit.

...those who don't say anything but pray hard for us.

So many wonderful people out there supporting sex offenders and our families. May your examples teach others.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jacob Sullum on misguided child porn laws

In the Washington Post, Jacob Sullum talks about child porn laws.
The legal treatment of people caught with child pornography is so harsh that they can end up serving longer sentences than people who actually abuse children. In a 2009 analysis, federal public defender Troy Stabenow shows that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than four years.
True. One need not look far or long to find cases in which actual molesters are given much less prison time than those convicted of child porn offenses.
Under federal law, receiving child pornography, which could mean downloading a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years — the same as the penalty for distributing it. Merely looking at a picture can qualify someone for the same charge, assuming he does so deliberately and is aware that Web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. In practice, since the Internet nowadays is almost always the source of child pornography, this means that viewing and possession can be treated the same as trafficking.
Hmm. People in prison for receiving images downloaded without their knowledge through peer-to-peer file sharing may want to quibble with Sullum when he implies that the download must be deliberate in order to qualify for the charge of receiving. I would also be willing to bet that many, many inmates doing time for possession or receipt had no idea that Web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. Most people do not understand the caching of temporary internet files.

Sullum discusses the probable reason for increasingly severe sentences for child porn offenses.
While the original justification for criminalizing possession of child pornography was that demand creates supply (an argument that has been weakened by the shift to free online distribution), the escalation of penalties seems to be driven largely by the assumption that people who look at these images are all undiscovered or would-be child molesters. ...
Even allowing for the fact that many cases of sexual abuse go unreported (as indicated by victim surveys), it seems clear that some consumers of child pornography never abuse children. “There does exist a distinct group of offenders who are Internet-only and do not present a significant risk for hands-on sex offending,” says Karl Hanson, a senior research officer at Public Safety Canada who has co-authored several recidivism studies.
It is clear that those convicted of child porn offenses are doing time for what the courts and legislators fear. Courts fear the defendants molested children but were never caught and courts fear the defendants want to molest children if they haven't already.

Here's the thing: All the research about whether child porn consumers did or didn't molest children--as interesting and reassuring as it can be--should have nothing to do with the sentences handed down for non-production child porn offenses. If the defendant molested children, the prosecution should find the evidence to prove that. Until then, his offense is downloading or possessing illegal images and nothing more.
In fact, it is not clear why mere possession of child pornography should ever be grounds for locking people in cages. The Supreme Court’s main rationale for upholding the ban on possession was that demand for this material encourages its production, which necessarily involves the abuse of children. But this argument has little relevance now that people who look at child pornography typically get it online for free. Furthermore, people who possess “sexually obscene images of children” — production of which need not entail abuse of any actual children — face the same heavy penalties. “They are not protecting a single child,” Boland says. “They are throwing people in prison for having dirty thoughts and looking at dirty pictures.”
Our prisons are already overcrowded; now is a good time to reconsider child porn sentences because the number of people doing time in prison for thoughts and pictures is growing.  We do not put people in prison for imagining violent robberies or for owning a photo of a violent robbery. The parallel is obvious.

So is the insanity of punishing people for crimes for which they have not been charged.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

questioning child pornography laws

It isn't enough to sit back and assume that those making the decisions about law and punishment are doing it effectively. Thinking citizens must question and they do. Arguments about effective laws and proper consequences are a permanent fixture in our national discourse.

There is a robust debate about the laws governing copyrights. The death penalty continues to generate controversy because people have such strong opinions about it. Immigration law inflames opinions on both sides of the issue. Nearly everyone has a firm idea about whether abortion should be legal or not. People feel strongly about whether red light cameras are a good way to stop people from running red lights.

Examine the state of the justice system to see if it does more harm than good. Should X be against the law? Should Y be the punishment for breaking the law? These are fair questions.

These are the questions I ask about child pornography laws. Questioning child pornography laws does not say child porn is acceptable any more than questioning drug laws says it is acceptable for someone to use cocaine.

When Congress questioned the disparity between sentences for powder cocaine offenses and crack cocaine offenses and then took action to lessen the disparity, they were not approving the use of cocaine in any form.

It makes sense to look at drug laws and consider carefully whether those laws and those consequences are doing anything to diminish the use of illegal drugs. Our prisons are full of people convicted of drug charges and each inmate costs us around $26,000 a year to house. Families and whole neighborhoods are torn apart because so many people are doing time or have done time because of drug charges. Gang violence flourishes because gangs rule the underworld where the drug industry operates. After spending $51 billion annually to combat illegal drug use, illegal drugs remain readily available.

The United States is headed toward the same wild spending to prevent something equally impossible to control with laws: availability of child pornography.

Why is child porn illegal? If it is illegal because we think the laws will stop people from looking at child porn, we would see decreasing numbers of child porn convicts instead of increasing.

If it is illegal because the person looking at a photo harms the person in the photo, photos of other crimes would cause distress worthy of prison, too.

If it is illegal because the idea of someone using child porn is so appalling that we want to punish that person for doing something abhorrent, we are formulating laws based on emotion instead of reason.

It is hard not to react emotionally to the thought of images that involve very small children or images of violent crimes. Images that a 17-year-old might send to a 19-year-old boyfriend or girlfriend, however, rarely enrage people. People generally think the teen was foolish and would agree a prison sentence is not warranted and yet those images are considered child pornography, too.

In the movie Crazy, Stupid Love, a high school girl takes naked pictures of herself to send to a an older man. The photos are intercepted by the the girl's mother and much hilarity ensues. The audience finds it funny to think of the girl doing such a foolish thing and they find the parents' horrified reactions funny.

In real life, the parents could go to prison for possessing those photos of their daughter. In real life, the daughter could end up on the sex offender registry for producing child pornography.

Is that really what we want the laws to do? This is a question worth discussing.

If someone goes to a counselor and asks for help to stay away from child porn, the counselor is mandated to report that person to law enforcement. Is this what we want the laws to do? Wouldn't it be better to encourage child porn users to avoid using child porn and let them get help to do that? It would certainly save taxpayer money to keep them out of prison.

If the goal is to diminish the availability of child pornography, laws prohibiting child porn don't work. That much is clear. No matter how many people are incarcerated for possessing, receiving, or distributing child porn images, the images are still there. Again: Why are the images illegal? What good does the prohibition do?

Prohibiting the images does not prevent child sexual abuse.

Some say that punishment is reason enough to prohibit the images but many--including federal judges who are bound by the mandatory minimum sentences--think the sentences are too long.
On one side of the debate, many federal judges and public defenders say repeated moves by Congress to toughen the penalties over the past 25 years have badly skewed the guidelines, to the point where offenders who possess and distribute child pornography can go to prison for longer than those who actually rape or sexually abuse a child. In a 2010 survey of federal judges by the Sentencing Commission, about 70 percent said the proposed ranges of sentences for possession and receipt of child pornography were too high. Demonstrating their displeasure, federal judges issued child porn sentences below the guidelines 45 percent of the time in 2010, more than double the rate for all other crimes. [My emphasis.]
If we incarcerate people for doing something society abhors--looking at child porn--are we making it easier or harder for those people to rejoin society and its norms? Incarceration isolates. The sex offender registry isolates. Homeless, unemployed offenders are not safer than offenders who have homes and jobs. Do we want offenders to accept societal norms or do we want to encourage them to reject those norms?

Child pornography laws do not diminish the supply of child pornography, do not reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse, do not reduce the number of viewers but only satisfy an emotional need to convey strong disapproval...that approach to lawmaking will not be limited only to child pornography.

What will be the next activity that needs strong disapproval? Will those laws do any good or will they simply fill our prisons as the child porn laws do?