Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Restrictive residency laws add to the problem"

Daytona News-Journal

April 26, 2006

Sex offenders at home

Restrictive residency laws add to the problem

Before looking at solutions to the problem of tracking and controlling sex offenders who've served their time, consider what's creating the tracking problem in the first place.

In Florida, and in Volusia County in particular, state and local residency laws designed to keep offenders away from places "where children congregate" have turned into frenzies of one-upmanship and mazes of contradictions, vagueness and nonsense. Absent comprehensive evidence that shows whether they work or not, the laws aren't based on fact but on fear and prejudice. Law enforcement's response has been equally haphazard as police agencies have taken to interpreting the laws quite differently, or not enforcing them for lack of manpower, or enforcing them so stringently, when offenders are freed from prison, that offenders are being banished to their own underground.

The very laws designed to track and control them are causing the offenders to slip away from families, support groups and jobs. That sort of isolation would be destabilizing even for a law-abiding individual. It's not clear what effect that has had on the recurrence of sex crimes. What's clear is that in places where the numbers have been tracked -- in Iowa, which has a statewide law similar to Florida's -- three times more registered sex offenders have gone missing than before the law took effect.

Lack of uniformity and lists of exceptions and qualifiers in the laws make compliance a guessing game, and a sense of security even more so. Florida's residency restriction law that took effect Oct. 1, 2004, forbids offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, a park or other such places, but it does not apply to offenders who were convicted before it took effect. Nor does it apply to offenders convicted out of state. (The Legislature may be closing that loophole.) Daytona Beach Shores, Ormond Beach, DeBarry, Flagler Beach, Orange City, Oak Hill, Holly Hill, DeLand and Pierson all passed residency restriction ordinances. But the ordinances vary widely. In some towns, they apply only to sexual predators, a more violent category of sex offender (a predator is usually an adult convicted of a violent sexual crime on a child 12 years old or younger, or a repeat offender even if the child is older).

In some towns the buffer is 2,500 feet, making virtually the entire municipality off limits. In others, the buffer is 1,500 feet. In others still the beach is off limits whether or not portions of it are beyond the 2,500 feet from a place where children gather. Some towns enforce their ordinances regardless of when the offender was convicted; some only apply it to convictions post-dating their ordinance. None of the ordinances apply to offenders in their cars or trucks. An offender could be staking out a school all day long, or sleeping in a vehicle near a school. The ordinances are silent on those counts.

They're also silent on the most sobering fact of all: Out of 1,654 sex offense convictions in Flagler and Volusia counties in 2004 and 2005, fully 68 percent involved the child's care-taker. Experts note that fewer than 10 percent of all sexual offenses on children involve offenders who are complete strangers to the child.

The problem with sexual offenses on children is, tragically and overwhelmingly, under the child's own roof. If, as law enforcement agencies claim, fewer than 16 percent of all sexual offenses are reported, the problem is being largely neglected for lack of awareness. All the attention is going to the stranger, the lurker, the low-probability, high-profile scandal. Lawmakers could easily correct constituents' perceptions and raise awareness about (and focus resources on) the real problems. Instead, they're all too glad to feed off the sensational cases, write draconian laws and make no difference where it matters.

Sex offender residency laws' inherent contradictions are the best evidence that they likely do more harm than good. So a fair starting point regarding the safest accommodation of sex offenders in society should be to reconsider the laws and ordinances undermining the solutions they're meant to achieve. A useful starting point regarding children's safety from sex offenders should move much closer to home.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Because If I save only one child it's well worth it."

Such a hypocritical statement. Just think of the children around the world, dying of treatable diseases or even just starvation while people such as the one who made this statement (preceding article) do absolutely nothing.

Such statements often enough are intended to mask the fact that the speaker is either inciting hatred for personal gain, or getting jollies for being the bully -- exercising his own hatred under the guise of working for the civic good.

Hmmm... where have we seen that before?

The consequences of zoning sex offenders


Cities across the country, including in Minnesota, are restricting where sex offenders can live. In Minnesota Taylors Falls and Wyoming already have ordinances. A number of other towns including Albert Lea are considering similar measures. But some legal experts and law enforcement officials worry the ordinances may make communities more dangerous.

Rochester, Minn. — Taylors Falls has a population of about 1,000. In February it became the first city in Minnesota to restrict sex offenders from living near all places children congregate, including bus stops.

Mayor Mike Buchite says his restriction isn't a means of handling dangerous sex offenders, but he doesn't see the state offering alternatives.

"I'm a big believer of in the meantime, I've got to have the protection." he says. "Because If I save only one child it's well worth it."

Buchite is proud of the number of communities that have contacted him about the ordinance, over a dozen.

"Maybe the State of Minnesota will say, 'We're seeing a domino effect,'" he says. "And maybe this ripples up to the Capitol to the point where they say, it's time to do something about this."

Buchite hopes that happens before every city in Minnesota takes up the ordinance. He says no one has called him to say this is a bad idea. But he also says he hasn't talked to law enforcement officials in Iowa.

It was the first state to pass laws limiting where sex offenders can live. Linn County, Iowa, Sheriff Don Zeller is no fan of the law.

"It's been a total nightmare for law enforcement," Zeller says.

The law prevents anyone convicted of a sex crime, including indecent exposure, from living 2,000 feet from a school, daycare, or park. Some towns passed local ordinances to include bus stops and libraries.

"Sex offenders didn't get beamed down in some version of Star Trek. You should meet my mom and dad and my family. Never in a million years would anyone think that out of that environment would be born a sex offender."
- Dean, sex offender

Zeller says his county had 435 offenders registered last year. When the law first went into effect in September, 114 people in the county moved. Seventy-four people were charged with violating the ordinance. Some just disappeared.

"We went from knowing where about 90 percent of them were. We're lucky if we know where 50 to 55 percent of them are now," Zeller says. "Because what the law did is it created an atmosphere that these individuals can't find a place to live. So what that causes them to do is come in and lie about where they're at or maybe they just don't come in at all."

Sheriff Zeller says he knows of one man who finished parole for statutory rape, got married and had two children. Last fall the man took his daughter out of kindergarten and moved so the family could comply with the law.

Zeller says in December temperatures were below zero, and his department had to deal with another offender.

"He didn't have a job. He didn't have any family that lived here. He had no place to live," he explains. "Even though it wasn't responsibility of my staff, my staff tried to get him into a shelter. We couldn't get him into a shelter because all of the shelters were in the 2,000 foot barrier of a school or daycare."

Housing is so tight for sex offenders, Zeller says, he knows of a motel where 26 are now sharing rooms.

His staff has had to spend more time tracking offenders. They've had to map and post restricted areas without additional funding. Zeller says the law destroys hope for people wanting to make positive change in their lives.

Rick Weinberger agrees. He's the clinical director at Alpha Human Services in Minneapolis. A sign on the corkboard above his desk says no one is so wicked they can't be redeemed. Alpha House is the only non-custodial residential treatment center for adult male sex offenders in the five-state area.

"There's a lot of therapy I mean they're doing therapy eight hours a day, five days a week for 13 to 18 months," Weinberger says.

Residents also go through a series of tests.The follow-up outpatient treatment can take years. The center has been open since the 1970s. A recidivism study showed that over 20 years only 11 percent of the men who completed the Alpha House program successfully committed another sex offense.

That's similar to Minnesota Department of Correction statistics. They indicate only three percent of Level One offenders, that's the group of people least likely to re-offend in the state's eyes, committed another sex crime within six years of release. The people considered most likely to re-offend, Level Threes did so about 10 percent of the time over six years.

Weinberger says sex offenders are often as damaged as their victims. He also says most never re-offend. Ninety percent of sex crimes are committed by first-time offenders.

"You know we teach our kids to stay away from strangers, don't talk to strangers," Weinberger says. "But statistically 10 percent of the sex crimes are committed by strangers. Ninety percent are committed by people we know. So we should teach them just the opposite. Don't talk to anybody you know."

One of Weinberger's clients is a guy we'll call Dean. Instead going to prison, Dean went through the Alpha program twice. It took him six years.

"I committed my offense in 1990. Criminal Sexual Conduct in the First Degree," Dean says. "I raped a 15 year old member of my family," he says.

Dean says the program rubbed his face in every awful thing he'd done or thought. He says it also taught him that every behavior is a choice. And he could learn to think differently. He now runs his own business and is married.

"Sex offenders didn't get beamed down in some version of Star Trek," he says. "You should meet my mom and dad and my family. Never in a million years would anyone think that out of that environment would be born a sex offender."

Dean acknowledges that he can't be objective about restrictions on where sex offenders live. Still, he says it would ruin his life. He says he could never be more than his crime.

But what about his victim? Dean says the best thing he can do for her is be an honorable person today. By court order he hasn't had any contact with her. So he doesn't know how she's dealt with what happened, or what's she has faced as a result. He does acknowledge that he's taken a lot away from her.

"And I'm mindful of that," he says. "I haven't committed an offense again. There is a chance in all of us, that re-offense would take place. But I don't think that she perhaps would get along in life any better as a result of me being restricted to where I can live or any of those other things.

The importance of helping sex offenders move on with their lives is key, says John La Fond. He's a reitred Constitutional law professor at the University of Missouri and the author of "Preventing Sexual Violence: How Society Should Cope with Sex Offenders."

"There's no evidence that indicates that where sex offenders live have anything to do with where they commit sex crimes. There is evidence, unfortunately, that these laws make it more difficult for sex offenders to re-establish safe and successful lives in the community, reunite with their families and generally become law abiding citizens," La Fond explains.

And he says they could even hurt the victims.

"Harsh regulatory measures imposed on sex offenders will certainly make it less likely that sex offenders will participate in plea bargaining and will create incentives for them to go to trial," he says.

That means putting the abused on the stand. If an offender wins the case, he won't participate in any treatment.

Minnesota's sex offender policy coordinator Eric Lipman says he understands the desire to restrict sex offenders' movement. But he believes the Department of Corrections is doing a lot to monitor sex offenders. It already limits where probationary offenders can live and with whom they can interact.

"Our question is, more broadly, you know have you made the public safety situation any better? And I think it's a fair, non-judgmental question," Lipman says.

He says the state can now do a risk evaluation of any offender who moves to Minnesota from another state. And he says Minnesota offenders who are considered sexual predators are kept in prison for an indeterminate amount of time. His fear is that like Iowa, offenders will go underground.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

When the "law 'n order" folks aren't

Interesting to see the reality of the self-professed "law 'n order" folks over at Free Republic ( as they advocate cold-blooded murder. Don't take my word for it, read it for yourself:

Sex Offenders Fearful for Their Safety

Maine Killings Raise Vigilantism Fears (two sex offenders killed)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Aren't they watching their kids?

Of course, they're also ignoring the high number of first-time convictions...

Council sends sex offender ban proposal back to committee

Indianapolis, April 17 - The children were out in force Monday afternoon as the sun returned some mild weather to Garfield Park. The parents were out too, watching the little ones.

We talked to some of them about a proposed ordinance that would place restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

"Protection of the innocence of our kids is number one."

"I think it's great, I think it's a long time coming."

And so do public leaders in Marion County.

Democrat Prosecutor Candidate Melina Kennedy says an ordinance would be timely. "Especially as the weather gets warmer and we'll see our kids out playing in the parks."

The proposed ordinance aims to keep sex offenders 1000 feet from a playground or public pool unless accompanied by another adult. Council Democrat Mary Moriarty Adams is concerned about whether the ordinance will be allowed to stand.

"In order for it to meet constitutional muster, we needed it to allow sex offenders to reintegrate into society with his or her family."

In order to give the ordinance more constitutional muster, child molesters can still go to parks with no playground. It's only parks with playgrounds where they could be in violation. But Ken Faulk of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union as well as some council members, question it's constitutionality.

"We think that after you do your time all people have the right to go into parks, go into public places...You cannot just have a blanket statement that everyone should be banned because of some past criminal history."

It's a controversial topic. One council member, Republican Lincoln Plowman, voted against the ordinance saying it's not tough enough.

"I don't like the provision. What that tells me, he could get another adult who's also a sex offender and hasn't been caught yet and go in there and stalk our children."

Even some parents at Garfield Park agree.

"God only knows what this other adult...Who hangs out with sex offenders? You know what I mean?"

Stiffer penalties could be added to the ordinance in committee. Supporters hope to have an amended version up for a vote next week.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Two registered sex offenders shot

Watch the (non-)reaction to this. First Washington, now Maine. Of course, there's the other message being sent: "Registration is death." With the public applauding.

2 registered sex offenders killed in Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine - Two registered sex offenders were fatally shot in their homes Sunday morning, prompting the state to take down the Maine Sex Offender Registry Web site.

State police said the site, which contains the photos, names and addresses of more than 2,200 registered sex offenders, was taken off-line as a precaution.

Investigators said a 19-year-old Canadian man described as "a person of interest" in the case shot himself in a Boston bus station after he was cornered by police later Sunday.

Stephen A. Marshall was in critical condition at Boston Medical Center, a spokesman said.

The pickup truck Marshall was driving was spotted leaving one of the victim's homes after the shooting, Maine state police said. They alerted authorities in Boston after discovering the vehicle abandoned and bullets linked to Marshall in the bathroom of a bus station, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The shooting victims were identified as Joseph L. Gray, 57, of Milo, and William Elliott, 24, of Corinth.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

If it ain't broke . . .

Editorial in the Orlando Sentinel:

"Deltona commissioners are considering following the lead of Florida cities that have restricted where sex offenders can live.
But Deltona already is ahead of the pack with a more effective system. A deputy sheriff shows up unannounced at the home of each offender in the city at least once a week. Sheriff's officials say it's working well.

So if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Close monitoring is a more sensible approach than setting up buffer zones that can force sex offenders underground and discourage them from registering. That just makes them tougher to track and increases the risk to potential victims.

Restricting where sex offenders can live may sound like a good idea to worried parents, but it creates more problems than it solves."

Sounds like Deltona has a potentially expensive and in-your-face program that will ultimately also be counter-productive.

Friday, April 14, 2006

There's one born every minute

From WREG-TV, Memphis:

Memphis - New homes go up everyday in Memphis. Phil Chamberlain is one of the developers in the thick of it, but what he has planned for one of his developments is generating buzz.[1] He wants to keep sex offenders out .

"If we are building the house, we are gonna have them attest they are not a sexual offender according to the Tennessee code." says Chamberlain of Chamberlain McCreery.

Chamberlain says it's about safety and home value. He plans to make his homes in the Chapel Ridge-Phase 3 subdivision in Arlington a part of the new requirement. He's already sold five lots and buyers signed a contract that they are not sex offenders Chamberlain's plan would also allow him to buy back a home if it is later discovered that the owner is a sex offender.

Phil Chamberlain is talking to an attorney about his plan and whether it's enforceable. We decided to talk to an attorney as well, to see if Chamberlain can legally keep sex offenders out. Real estate attorney Derek Renfroe says Chamberlain's plan may sound easy, but might not hold up in court. "People can put whatever they want in a contract. People can enter into any agreement they want to. The question is whether or not there is an adequate remedy at law, whether it can be enforceable." says Renfroe. He says it could be difficult to buy back the property and lenders may even shy away from the loan. But that's not deterring Phil Chamberlain.

"We have not made the final decision if we are gonna do it in that subdivision, but I feel like we probably will." says Chamberlain. He says it's about protecting his buyers' safety and the value of their biggest investment.[2]

Chamberlain says his plan will not affect the existing Chapel Ridge sub-division, only phase 3 of the development which will start in a few weeks.

[1] He's already reaping his rewards with the attention.

[2] Only a sucker would buy into this, even paying extra for this false sense of "safety." Remember that over half the sex-offense convictions are first-time convictions. This subdivision is no place in which to let your guard down. Also note that because people will think they're safe in such a place, a subdivision such as this is a perfect target for a sex offender (convicted or not) looking for a victim. Plus, this developer's sales agreement is not a binding community covenant; even if he doesn't sell to a sex offender, somebody who bought from him might -- and then watch all the neighbors' home values drop to normal market value.

But Phil Chamberlain will be long gone by then, counting his cash. He's one smart shark...

(Calling all flim-flam men: Target-rich environment here...)

Not doing enough (inaction belies words)

From the New Jersey Herald:

Weighing a Ban on Offenders

OGDENSBURG — As part of what appears to be a trend among local towns, the borough put forward a law earlier this week to prohibit convicted sex offenders from living near schools, parks, libraries and child care centers.

The borough's proposed legislation came as Newton postponed a decision Monday on its own sex offender ordinance and, the following night, Franklin became the first municipality in the county to enact residency restrictions for sex offenders.

Like the Franklin law, the ordinance introduced Monday in Ogdensburg would ban sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet and from loitering within 100 feet of places where children gather. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for May 8 at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

The proposed law would not apply to sex offenders who are currently residing within the borough. The state police's Offender Internet Registry shows that one moderate-risk offender lives on Passaic Avenue, a few blocks from Ogdensburg Elementary School.

Under the Ogdensburg proposal, an offender who moves into a restricted area would be sent a notice of violation informing the offender that he or she has 30 days to leave.

Ogdensburg Mayor Jacqueline Pietrodangelo said the Borough Council has been discussing a potential sex offender ordinance since Police Chief George Lott brought it to the governing body's attention two months ago. Pietrodangelo said the sex offender living in the borough and the actions taken in Newton and Franklin had no bearing on the borough's decision to consider the ordinance.

"It doesn't make sense, if there's a sex offender, why you would put them by kids?" Pietrodangelo said. "I think (the ordinance) will have a positive effect." [1]

Restricting sex offenders is in the best interest of the town and its residents, said Vito Telischak, co-owner of Roe's Day Care on Main Street. The day care center already has surveillance measures in place to protect the children, whose ages range from three days to 12 years old, but Telischak said the borough ordinance would provide an added sense of security.

"Our position is always, first and foremost, the safety of the children," [2]Telischak said. "You shouldn't put an (offender) in the position where they'll be tempted to repeat that behavior."

[1] Unlike Maplewood City Council Member Patricia Cave (noted in the previous post), Mayor Jacqueline Pietrodangelo is too lazy, too stupid, or too much the political panderer to actually do any research on the actual results in other locales of the measure she's pushing. But hey -- she's a politician, member of a breed lower even than used-car salesmen. So what if she messes up? Nobody's going to hold her to account.

[2] If your position is "always, first and foremost, the safety of the children," then you aren't doing nearly enough. Remember that over half the sex offenders convicted every year are first-time offenders. So, Mr. Vito Telischak, owner of Roe's Country Day Care, 330 Main St, Ogdensburg NJ, (973) 827-5775, what measures are you taking to keep your patrons safe from them -- other than taking videos of any assaults?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Somebody gets it

Plan to limit sex offenders' residency shelved

The Maplewood City Council declined Monday night to enact a sexual predator ordinance that would have limited where convicted offenders could live, deciding to focus instead on education, awareness and prevention of sexual abuse.

A proposed ordinance would have enacted boundaries preventing certain classifications of offenders from living within 2,000 feet of places where children typically gather, such as schools, parks and day care centers.

"When this proposal first came in front of me, I was very excited about it as something we can do for our children,'' said Council Member Rebecca Cave, who along with other council members said she had received much input from residents in recent days.

After conducting more research, she said, "I don't feel this is the place and the way to do it. … (The ordinance) will not protect our children.''

Staff members of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, a child-protection advocacy group, said such residency restrictions could undermine the registries designed to track sex offenders.

"Of all the offenders I've ever talked to,'' said the foundation's program manager, Michele Longe, "they've said it doesn't matter how far they live from a school, a park, whatever. … If they want to re-offend, they will. But most try really, really hard to assimilate back into the environment. They have already experienced very punitive measures while they were in prison.'' ...

Constitution? What constitution?


Oelwein Gets Tough On Sex Offenders

Oelwein is one vote away from imposing a new kind of restriction on sex offenders with a history of preying on children. State law now bans sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or daycare. Last January, Oelwein city leaders began talking about an ordinance that would be even tougher. It would prohibit sex offenders from even going near places where children gather. "It went through a couple of readings and it was pulled from the agenda...the thought was down at the state house they were going to address the issue," says Oelwein city administrator Steve Kendall.

However, the issue was never addressed in Des Moines, so Oelwein's city council is taking action. Monday night, the proposed ordinance passed the second of three required readings. If the new ordinance passes, sex offenders will be prohibited from coming within 250 feet of public or private schools, bike trails, public pools, public recreation areas, the public library, and public parks. Those caught risk being fined 750 dollars.

People entrusted to deal with kids every day say the ordinance is a way to help parents feel safe. "Years ago we probably would never have thought about this kind of thing. But in today's world lets not have people worry about what's going on with their kids when they're at school," says Oelwein School District superintendent Jim Patera.

The ordinance looks good on paper, but city officials know it's not fool proof. "I think it's just one more tool to try and help the situation but it's not a silver bullet or anything," says Kendall. The Oelwein city council will take its final vote on the ordinance April 24th.

Many other communities have imposed restrictions beyond the state law. For example, Dyersville bans convicted sex offenders from living anywhere in town. And Marion bans them from living near libraries, parks, trails and recreational centers.

Binghampton NY did something like this a little while back. A few days later they dropped it faster than a hot potato.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sorry for the outage

Computer problems and lost password kept me out for a while...

Think before you leap

As a number of articles have been reporting over the past few months, Iowa is reaping what it sowed with its sex-offender zoning laws: Make it too difficult to be a law-abiding citizen, all you'll get are outlaws.

As noted here, compliance with basic registration has gone out the window:

Before the law went into effect, Vrotsos said, there used to be nearly 100 percent compliance with the sex offender registry law, he said.

''Since then, it's gone way down,'' he said.

Or try:
Iowa's Residency Rules Drive Sex Offenders Underground