Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Editorial: "Law on sex offenders a threat to rights of all"

Law on sex offenders a threat to rights of all
Target resources at those posing greatest risk.


November 30, 2005

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the residency restriction for convicted sex offenders has spun out of control. Not to Iowa legislative leaders, however. They apparently believe an ineffective law that makes them look tough on crime is preferable to one that actually protects children.

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday declined to hear an appeal from a group of Iowans challenging the state's 2,000-foot residency law. But surely at some point the courts will rule these laws unconstitutional. It's better that the Legislature begin now to fix the problem. A good place to begin is by eliminating its one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, focus law-enforcement resources on closely monitoring those few certifiably dangerous sexual predators who pose the greatest threat to children. Evicting almost every offender who once committed a crime involving a minor is making it even harder for law enforcement to track the whereabouts of the truly dangerous.

No one expects most elected legislators and judges to care about the civil rights of child molesters, but here is something they ought to care about: the idea that government would have the power to banish any person from living anywhere in the state — except perhaps under a bridge or in a cornfield — on the presumption they might at some future point commit a crime.

Our system of criminal justice is supposed to operate from the principle that once convicted criminals have served their time and paid their debt to society, they are free to return to it. The sex-offender restrictions violate that principle. Even after prison sentences and paroles, the state marks these individuals as potential criminals for the remainder of their lives.

What began as a ban on living within 2,000 feet of child-care facilities and schools is spreading because of fears the law would create sex-offender "ghettos" and leave children vulnerable in other public places. So cities and counties are adding libraries, swimming pools and other facilities, effectively banning sex offenders from living anywhere in many counties. Now neighboring states are being forced to respond.

The ability to live somewhere is a right. The ability to travel is a right. Freedom from being punished twice for the same crime is a right. Freedom from being punished for a crime that is created after the fact is a right. Those rights are protected by the U.S. and Iowa constitutions — for everyone.

Defenders of state laws imposing lifetime punishments on convicted sex offenders have gotten away with indifference to the civil-liberties implications of such laws because of the detestable nature of the crime. But if the state has unlimited power to punish people for the remainder of their lives for one class of crimes, it has the power to apply that punishment to any person for any or all crimes. Government should not have that power.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thinking the unthinkable: The next logical sex offender law: Maybe?

Just look at the hope here. Wonder if this guy calls himself a Christian by day.,0,7720772.story?coll=orl-opinion-headlines

Come with me on a journey into the not too distant future.

We head north into the Ocala National Forest on State Road 19. Deep in the forest we catch sight of a green road sign that reads "Sex Offender Habitat."

We turn west off the paved road onto a clay road with ruts. We drive farther into the forest until we come upon a primitive settlement of wooden shacks and lean-tos. We see men and an occasional woman loitering about.

The place looks like some re-enactment of a lumber crew camp in mid-20th century Florida.

Here live the men and women who have been pushed out of the civilized world by sex offender buffer zones.

We didn't know what to do with them when they were convicted of horrible crimes and sent to prison. (Florida doesn't have a real sex offender treatment program in the state prison system.) We didn't know what to do with them when they were released from prison -- except for the ones we put back in prison.

We had figured if we locked them up tight enough and redefined solitary confinement by calling it "close management," they would get better. Of course, they don't.

We are at a loss as to how to treat sex offenders like human beings, so we have turned them over to the state's wildlife management officials.

It makes sense. Rangers have taken good care of black bears and the Florida panther, right?

For a week out of the year, the state issues licenses for hunters to go after sex offenders. That's when these offenders flee their camp and try to survive by their wits.

Remember in high school we all read that bizarre yet exciting short story by Richard Connell titled, The Most Dangerous Game, where the hunter becomes the hunted? This is the real-life version.

We're not quite sure how we have come to these living arrangements, but everyone seems comfortable with the solution, especially the hunters whose sport was waning because of diminishing habitats and wildlife species.

Bernard L. Welch is a resident of Mount Dora. (Florida)

Surprise! Electronic monitoring isn't realtime

From the "Bought a pig in a poke" department:
Legislators find sex offenders not monitored in "real time"

by O.Kay Henderson

A new Iowa law requires electronic monitoring of those who're on parole after serving time for a sex crime against a child, but no sex offender in the state is being monitored in "real time."

That was a surprise to legislators like Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, who convened hearing at the statehouse to examine Iowa's new sex offender law. "We had the perception that with the bracelet system that we would have real time monitoring which would provide us with instant, pro-active protection for the public," Horbach says. "Many of the information transfers that we're receiving from the bracelets are one business day later, meaning 24 hours after the fact."

Horbach says lawmakers thought that by requiring electronic bracelets, cops would be able to stop a sex offender in his tracks if he entered a school. Instead, the electronic monitoring that's being done can assist in prosecuting someone after they've committed a sex crime, but does little to try to stop the crime in progress. "I think you'll see the legislature take a very strong look and a very pro-active look when we come back in January to get more offenders on the GPS active system which will provide real-time protection to the public. They demand it and so will the legislature," Horbach says. Most of the ankle bracelets that paroled sex offenders are wearing merely report whether the sex offender is in his home, or at his job, and the lease on that bracelet is less than three dollars a day.

Horbach concedes a real-time monitor would be more costly. "For the protection that we're demanding...the $7 cost will be considered, but in no way will it be a detriment," Horbach says. "I think that we are going to have to demand that we use that bracelet, even at double the cost." Horbach says legislators will let Department of Corrections officials decide which sex offenders should wear the more-expensive devices. "Protection is the highest demand from the public," Horbach says. "We need to make sure (the Department of Corrections) errs on the side of safety."

Dave Spencer of Elkhart served time five years in prison for sexually abusing a minor and he's asking legislators to toss out the new restrictions that call for electronic monitoring and restrict where sex offenders may live. Spencer says there's no statistical evidence that electronic monitoring has ever prevented a crime, and he says there's no connection between where a person lives and whether he or she will commit a crime. "Tough talk really doesn't make good law," Spencer says.

Spencer calls the new restriction that bans sex offenders from living within two-thousand feet of a school or day care a form of "banishment" that's unconstitutional. "It's more and more difficult for sex find housing, to find jobs, to find inclusion in the community which does absolutely nothing for making a better, safer society or for restoring the mental and physical health of victims," Spencer says. Spencer testified this(Wednesday) afternoon before a House/Senate committee examining Iowa's new sex offender law.

Representative James Van Fossen, a retired policeman from Davenport who's a member of the committee, says he has no sympathy for sex offenders and no inclination to make the law more lenient.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blogspot trouble... where are my posts?

Very strange. The two previous posts -- the text just vanished when I went to post.

But today (11/19) things seem to be okay again.

Can't live in the city -- can't live in the country

The URL for this one is gone too, but the essence of it is that some locale (county?) in Iowa got upset that the sex offenders were moving to the countryside after being banned from much of the cities and towns. Like, duh, where else could they go? So now it's passing laws to forbid them from living in the country too.

We're only one short step from the ghe.., er, "Preferred Residential Zones." Which in short order will become places they cannot leave without permission, to go to work and the like. And when that fails they will be prevented from leaving at all. But not to worry; they'll be provided with shelter, food and employment. And showers.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Update on Megan's Law Murder

I've lost the URL, but it appears that the Megan's Law Murderer wound up pleading innocent. This after he'd confessed to the police.

Pretty easy to guess his lawyer's strategy: convince the jury this guy did society a favor. Will he get off scot-free, though?

Back again

Sorry about that. Between a computer crash and travel, it took some time to get back.