Thursday, May 25, 2006

Iowa: A total lack of forethought

Iowa is finally figuring out that, gosh, maybe those laws weren't such a good idea after all. Fewer sex offenders registering with database:

DAVENPORT - The 2000 foot residency rule went into effect 9 months ago in Iowa - and now the Scott County Sheriff's Department says - they're starting to see two big problems. Fewer sex offenders registering with the database and a cluster of them moving into the same neighborhoods.

"I think legislators had good intentions when they made the law, I don't think they had any clue what the kickbacks would be," said Sgt. Bryce Schmidt.

He says it's now harder to keep track of offenders because more are choosing not to register.

"I've interviewed people in jail," he said. "They flat out tell me, 'I knew you had the 2000 foot law, I had no place I could live' - they just keep running as long as they can. That's the mentality." ...

And the lawmakers couldn't have figured this out beforehand? Think how much this is costing them: not only are these guys not gainfully employed, paying taxes, etc.; they're now sitting in jail, costing 15 to 25 thousand dollars a year each. And if they're running -- how likely are they to obey other laws? It would be interesting to see a recidivism study comparing registered sex offenders to unregistered sex offenders.

There are other costs too I may have mentioned months ago on this blog; I am happy to see that one jurisdiction has figured out what they have to do:

Updating maps and filing paperwork have become a huge chunk of this criminal investigator's job - and on top of that - offenders are constantly dropping by his office - all with the same question - where can i live?

That's why Scott County computer guru Ray Weiser is putting together handheld maps for sex offenders - they'll also be available to the public. The pamphlets lay out the areas on and off limits.

They're now paying a criminal investigator to update maps and file paperwork, instead of investigating crime. But they need to be really careful with those maps; the intsant a sex offender relies on them, moves in, and then is told he has to move because there's an error in the map -- they're liable for a lawsuit.

Meanwhile - Schmidt hopes lawmakers address some of the issues this law's brought about.

"There's a lot of issues that don't make sense, legislators are going to have to iron them out," he said.

The issues didn't make sense from the outset, if anybody in Iowa had applied an ounce of brainpower (okay, the units don't make sense) to the issue, which they didn't because the outcomes are so very obvious.

Legislation driven by emotion may feel good at first, real warm and fuzzy, but it carries a whoppingly costly hangover.

The maps should be ready for pick-up next week.

As they stagger into the next stage of this stupidity. The correct and obvious thing to do is the one thing the lawmakers cannot do in the climate they themselves have created. They will be forced to destroy even more civil liberties trying, ex post facto, to bolster a law that should never have been passed, much less proposed, in the first place.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Escape from the ghetto

From Sex Offenders End Up Living In Clusters:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A sex offender living in your neighborhood can be scary, but what about groups of sex offenders living together in what some call sex offender colonies?

On the west side of Columbus, there are two so-called sex offender colonies located between state Route 315 and North Hague Avenue.

On the south east side of Columbus, another cluster of offenders live in the area bordered by East Broad Street, Alum Creek Drive, Freebis and Parsons avenues.

No one quite understands why the groupings are beginning to form.

"They may not currently have the funds to move to a nicer apartment or a nicer home," said Franklin County Chief Deputy Steve Martin.

Some residents said they believe that increasing residential restrictions on registered sex offenders are creating these clusters by default. ...

Duh. But just wait:

... There are currently no laws governing density of sex offender populations.

But it won't be long until some demagogue politician really desperate for an issue will start pushing for same.

Can you say Catch-22? Except that in this case there is an out: non-compliance with the registration law is freedom.

Iowa beginning to figure it out

Iowa, which started the "no-live zones," is beginning to figure the problems with their laws. From Elderly sex offender raises concerns in Shell Rock (he has to move because his nursing home is within a 2000 foot zone):

Butler County Sheriff Tim Junker said Hansen is no threat to the community.

"He's in a monitored situation. He's in a structured environment where he can't hurt or endanger anyone," he said.

Moving Hansen to another facility also presents problems since many are too close to a school or day care. His listing on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry also makes him a liability in the eyes of care providers, Lievens said.

Critics of the state law and strict residency requirements passed by some cities say the rules also hinder offenders from receiving social services, proper medical and mental health care and family support. County attorneys, sheriffs and city police departments across the state have also warned the residency restrictions leave few areas where offenders can live legally, creating clusters of sex criminal districts.

Those on the registry are required to inform their local county sheriff of their address. But officials argue county and city ordinances restricting residency make tracking offenders more difficult because of strong incentives for offenders to not comply.

The problem isn't unique to Shell Rock or Northeast Iowa,

On Monday, city aldermen in Davenport expressed reservations about the effectiveness of tighter restrictions following a presentation by Iowa Department of Corrections officials, law enforcement officers and the Scott County Attorney. The city is considering expanding the residency restrictions to include locations near libraries, swimming pools, parks and other recreational areas, though officials contend the proposal would do nothing to protect children.

Predator's delight

California is about to put its foot in it bigtime: Bill Would Block Sex Offenders From Renting:

SALINAS, Calif. -- The state Legislature is considering a bill that would legally block sex offenders from renting some homes and apartments.

Now this is not a universal prohibition, but it allows the landlord to deny renting to a registered sex offender. It's not likely that there will be very many who will rent to registered sex offenders if given the choice, so the overall effect of this bill will be to eliminate stable housing situations.

After a few rejections, even the registered sex offenders who want to go straight will just shrug their shoulders, give up, become homeless... and drop out of society. A great recipe for re-offense.

And does this bill make the other tenants any safer? Consider: if the sex offender is unregistered, he is allowed to rent. If the sex offender hasn't been caught yet (and about half the convictions every year are first-time convictions), he is allowed to rent.

People will let down their guard, thinking they're safe because there are no registered sex offenders living in their building (or neighborhood or town), making the false assumption that all sex offenders are registered sex offenders. Some, and their children, will unfortunately learn the truth.

This bill will be a predator's delight.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wealthy Wisconsin

Wisconsin is about to get a GPS tracking law.
Wisconsin sex offenders could be tracked for life
. But the surprise is the cost:

... Corrections officials say the GPS tracking would cost just under $3 million for 285 offenders in the first year alone. ...

That will cost $10,526.32 per year per tracked sex offender. Now somebody just barely making it anyway in a society that doesn't want him to make it at all (at least anywhere around here) isn't going to be able to foot this kind of bill, certainly not at minimum wage. So the state's going to wind up paying it.

I bet a lot of those units will only successfully track the offender up to the spot where he makes the irrevocable decision to cut the damn thing off and disappear into the underground. A few of the cleverer guys will figure out how they can delay for many hours even the suspicion that a GPS unit may have been removed.

Louisiana's licenses

Louisiana is working on a license law:

BATON ROUGE -- With little debate, the Senate on Thursday said that child molesters, rapists and other "sexual predators" may soon have to get special orange driver's licenses with the words "SEX OFFENDER" stamped on them as a way to warn others of the convicted felon's past. ...

If the offenders do not drive, they must get a special orange state identification card each year with the words "SEX OFFENDER." Offenders who do not get the required licenses or identification cards can have their probation or parole revoked, be sent to jail for up to six month, pay a fine of $100 to $500, or a combination of a jail sentence and a fine, Mount said. ...

I predict increased non-compliance in Louisiana and increased income for counterfeiters.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Predator Panic: Reality Check on Sex Offenders"

From LiveScience:

If you believe the near-daily news stories, sexual predators lurk everywhere: in parks, at schools, in the malls—even in teens' computers. A few rare (but high-profile) incidents have spawned an unprecedented slate of new laws enacted in response to the public's fear.

Every state has notification laws to alert communities about released sex offenders. Many states have banned sex offenders from living in certain areas, and are tracking them using satellite technology. Officials in Florida and Texas plan to bar convicted sex offenders from public shelters during hurricanes.

Most people believe that sex offenders pose a serious and growing threat. According to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, "the danger to teens is high." On the April 18, 2005, "CBS Evening News" broadcast, correspondent Jim Acosta reported that "when a child is missing, chance are good it was a convicted sex offender." (Acosta is incorrect: If a child goes missing, a convicted sex offender is actually among the least likely explanations, far behind runaways, family abductions, and the child being lost or injured.)

On his "To Catch a Predator" series on "Dateline NBC," reporter Chris Hansen claims that "the scope of the problem is immense" and "seems to be getting worse." In fact, Hansen stated, Web predators are "a national epidemic."
The news media emphasizes the dangers of Internet predators, convicted sex offenders, pedophiles, and child abductions. Despite relatively few instances of child predation and little hard data on topics such as Internet predators, journalists invariably suggest that the problem is extensive, and fail to put their stories in context. The "Today Show," for example, ran a series of misleading and poorly designed hidden camera  "tests" to see if strangers would help a child being abducted (see "Stranger Danger: ‘Shocking' TV Test Flawed").

New York Times  reporter Kurt Eichenwald wrote a front-page article about Justin Berry, a California teen who earned money as an underage Webcam model, seduced by an online audience who paid to watch him undress. Berry's story made national news, and he appeared on Oprah and in front of a Senate committee. Berry's experience, while alarming, is essentially an anecdote. Is Berry's case unique, or does it represent just the tip of the sexual predation iceberg? Eichenwald is vague about how many other teen porn purveyors like Berry he found during his six-month investigation. Three or four? Dozens? Hundreds or thousands? Eichenwald's article states merely that "the scale of Webcam pornography is unknown," while suggesting that Berry's experience was only one of many. (Acosta, Hansen, and Eichenwald did not respond to repeated requests for clarification of their reporting.)

Sex offenders are clearly a threat and commit horrific crimes, but how great is the danger? After all, there are many dangers in the world—from lightning to Mad Cow Disease to school shootings—that are real but very rare. Are they as common—and as likely to attack the innocent—as most people believe? A close look at two widely-repeated claims about the threat posed by sex offenders reveals some surprising truths.

One in five?

According to a May 3, 2006, "ABC News" report, "One in five children is now approached by online predators."
This alarming statistic is commonly cited in news stories about prevalence of Internet predators. The claim can be traced back to a 2001 Department of Justice study issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ("The Youth Internet Safety Survey") that asked 1,501 American teens between 10 and 17 about their online experiences. Among the study's conclusions: "Almost one in five (19 percent)…received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the past year." (A "sexual solicitation" is defined as a "request to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult." Using this definition, one teen asking another teen if her or she is a virgin—or got lucky with a recent date—could be considered "sexual solicitation.")

Not a single one of the reported solicitations led to any actual sexual contact or assault. Furthermore, almost half of the "sexual solicitations" came not from "predators" or adults but from other teens. When the study examined the type of Internet "solicitation" parents are most concerned about (e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), the number drops from "one in five" to 3 percent.

This is a far cry from a "national epidemic" of children being "approached by online predators." As the study noted, "The problem highlighted in this survey is not just adult males trolling for sex. Much of the offending behavior comes from other youth [and] from females." Furthermore, most kids just ignored (and were not upset by) the solicitation: "Most youth are not bothered much by what they encounter on the Internet…Most young people seem to know what to do to deflect these sexual ‘come ons.'" The reality is far less grave than the ubiquitous "one in five" statistic suggests.

Recidivism revisited

Much of the concern over sex offenders stems from the perception that if they have committed one sex offense, they are almost certain to commit more. This is the reason given for why sex offenders (instead of, say, murderers or armed robbers) should be monitored and separated from the public once released from prison.

The high recidivism rate among sex offenders is repeated so often that it is usually accepted as truth, but in fact recent studies show that the recidivism rates for sex offenses is not unusually high. According to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study ("Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994"), just five percent of sex offenders followed for three years after their release from prison in 1994 were arrested for another sex crime. A study released in 2003 by the Bureau found that within three years, 3.3 percent of the released child molesters were arrested again for committing another sex crime against a child. Three to five percent is hardly a high repeat offender rate.

In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals. The 2003 study of nearly 10,000 men convicted of rape, sexual assault, and child molestation found that sex offenders had a re-arrest rate 25 percent lower than for all other criminals. Part of the reason is that serial sex offenders—those who pose the greatest threat—rarely get released from prison, and the ones who do are unlikely to re-offend. 

If sex offenders are no more likely to re-offend than murderers or armed robbers, there seems little justification for the public's fear, or for the monitoring laws tracking them. (Studies also suggest that sex offenders living near schools or playgrounds are no more likely to commit a sex crime than those living elsewhere.)

Putting the threat in perspective

The issue is not whether children need to be protected; of course they do. The issues are whether the danger to them is great, and whether the measures proposed will ensure their safety. While some efforts—such as longer sentences for repeat offenders—are well-reasoned and likely to be effective, those focused on separating sex offenders from the public are of little value because they are based on a faulty premise. Simply knowing where a released sex offender lives—or is at any given moment—does not ensure that he or she won't be near potential victims.

While the abduction, rape, and killing of children by strangers is very, very rare, such incidents receive a lot of media coverage, leading the public to overestimate how common these cases are. Most sexually abused children are not victims of convicted sex offenders nor Internet pornographers, and most sex offenders do not re-offend once released. This information is rarely mentioned by journalists more interested in sounding alarms than objective analysis. 

One tragic result of these myths is that the panic over sex offenders distracts the public from a far greater threat to children: parental abuse and neglect.

The vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by released sex offenders, but instead by the victim's own family, church clergy, and family friends. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "based on what we know about those who harm children, the danger to children is greater from someone they or their family knows than from a stranger." If lawmakers and the public are serious about wanting to protect children, they should not be misled by "stranger danger" myths and instead focus on the much larger threat inside the home.

Benjamin Radford wrote about Megan's Laws and lawmaking in response to moral panics in his book "Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us." He is the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Counterfeit license... counterfeit citizen?

Some states have considered visibly marking sex offenders' driver's licenses. The negative effects of this could be significant.

First, consider the positive effects of marking licenses: ...oops, there are none. There is no increase in public safety. Consider the really few cases where the driver's license ever gets displayed to someone: making an airplane trip, cashing a check, pulled over for a moving violation -- in none of these situations does identifying the license holder as a properly registered sex offender increase public safety.

If anything, it will decrease the public's safety by shaming the license holder. People forget that Megan's Law was upheld for the promise of increasing safety by identifying the registered sex offender to the neighborhood (that was, and remains, a somewhat false promise as noted before in this blog -- but that's not relevant here) and that the shaming aspect was at best a side effect.

But it's easy to play the bully when everyone hates the bullied, so the idea of public tagging, shaming laws, the scarlet letter, continues to arise and the driver's license is an obvious target.

Of course it will not take long for the properly registered sex offender to figure that tagging his license is really nothing more than a shaming law, an unfair life-long punishment imposed after the fact, sometimes years or decades after the fact, so he will feel perfectly justified in finding a way out of this unjust punishment. (Unjust? No matter what you or I think about it, he will think that way.)

There are a couple of legal measures that could be taken, but for various reasons probably will not. It turns out that there is a much less expensive solution, albeit illegal: obtain a fake driver's license.

Some television program showed just how easy it is to get a fake license. A hundred dollars or so, an hour or two, and you have a counterfeit driver's license.

Now the twist: All of the information on the counterfeit license including, if the aspiring-to-be-somewhat-less-than-properly registered sex offender desires, the license number can be copied from the real license. All the counterfeit lacks is the scarlet letter element.

Of course, once he has gotten this far the about-to-be-formerly registered sex offender will realize that in order to live a normal life he is going to have to break the law, and then why stop at a fake driver's license (with the real one kept on hand in case a cop asks for it) when one can purchase an entirely new identity, one completely unencumbered with the hassles of registration, notification, shaming laws, residence prohibitions, GPS shackles, etc.? Just dump the old identity and disappear; the counterfeiters who can provide the license can provide all the rest, too.

The end result of the shaming law will be criminals deliberately living outside the system, not in it, knowing what they have to lose if ever taken into custody.

Somebody please tell me, how does this make the public any safer?

Monday, May 15, 2006

North Carolina laws to go south...

In Lawmakers Working on Strict Laws for Sex Offenders, it notes:

North Carolina lawmakers are coming up with new ideas on how to track sex offenders. The proposed laws are more strict on offenders.

Some of the proposed legislation includes requiring offenders to not just register in the county they live in, but in whatever county they work. The package of bills includes a directive that would allow the DMV to check the national sex offender registry before issuing a license. A big part of this plan is the internet. The online registry in North Carolina currently allows for searching of zip codes and counties to see who is a registered sex offender. One bill would establish a sex offender watch program, allowing citizens to get email alerts when someone moved into their neighborhood. County sheriff's offices work with the state to keep track of sex offenders, but their reach only extends so far.

More extreme measures proposed in this legislation include the use of GPS monitoring and charging offenders a 100 dollar fee when they register. The members of the state house who are introducing these plans hope to improve the methods currently available to track sex offenders and allow for local law enforcement to protect the public easier.

GPS monitoring, registration fees, etc. etc. etc. It has pretty much become the case by now that when you see the words "strict" and "crackdown" in the same headline as "sex offender(s)" you've got some clueless lawmakers. Hefty (or really any) registration fees are a bad idea because they will feed the anger of being pushed outside of society.

Go further and mandate they wear GPS tracking post-release, you're just going to waste the money spent on the GPS gear because they'll just cut them off (if you get them on them too beging with) and go underground. But now far more dangerous than ever before because they'll know what they'll lose if they are ever apprehended.

No doubt that North Carolina will not be able to resist, so some of their citizenry will pay the penalty for their lawmakers' inability to think things through.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

California Dreamin'

California is setting itself up. According to this article:

The law states that upon release, an offender must not live, work or go within a half-mile of a K-12 school.

"Go within"? I hope they're ready to supply parolees with maps that clearly show, for any locale within the state, what are the prohibited sections of roads and freeways. I remember my high school (quite within the definition of K-12) that backed up to a freeway. Under this law, an offender would be in violation of the law if he even drives this prohibited mile-plus-long stretch of freeway -- even if he were on the far side, with two tall fences and deadly traffic the other side to encounter. Or maybe they want the offenders to individually go through the exercise of absolutely precisely identifying all prohibited school locales (question: does the law apply only to advertised public schools or does it include unidentified private schools?), in order that they know where the concentrations.. prohibited locales are?

They must be into some really powerful mind-alteration in California. Reason is clearly not the rule of the day there.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

License to abuse

As noted here, a bill requiring a "readily distinguishable" license for registered sex offenders is about to become law in Kansas:

TOPEKA, Kan. - The next time a registered sex offender gets a Kansas driver's license, it will look different from the one normally issued.

That was among several provisions included in compromise legislation sent Friday night to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is expected to sign it. The House passed it 119-0, followed by the Senate with a 40-0 vote.

The bill specifies that registered sex offenders receive a "readily distinguishable" driver's license annually. How the license will be different is to be determined by the Department of Revenue's Division of Vehicles.

Driver's licenses are usually issued every six years, but sex offenders will be required to renew them annually.

The bill also requires sex offenders to report every six months to their local sheriff to update personal information and be photographed.

Yet another law that will do nothing to protect the public, that will actually make things worse, but lawmakers simply cannot resist the madness.

First off, this is a shaming law, which Megan's Law was not intended to be. The situations where a driver's license gets displayed tend not to be situations where there is any risk -- when pulled over for a moving violation (where presumably the policeman will have that information anyway), or as ID at an airport.

Now the acquisition and display of a Kansas driver's license is something to be avoided. It's not hard to think of ways, legal or otherwise, in which that can be done. (There's even an exploitable loophole, but I'm not telling.)

The key point is that this element of this law will now have the registered sex offenders thinking of ways to avoid the envisioned compliance. That is dangerous; that keeps them feeling they are "outside" of society and there is no way back in.

Ans as with other measures applied after the fact, noted in a previous posting, it also tells those who are trying to go straight that there is no amount of good behavior that will prevent their lives from getting worse.

Also note the extreme silliness of requiring an annual update in the very same bill that requires twice-annual re-registration in person, and photograph!

I don't think even Kansas lawmakers, who voted unanimously in both chambers for this incredibly poorly thought-out bill, are in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Congressional oversight

Thinking about that bill that's gone through both the House and Senate, albeit in slightly different forms, it quickly struck me (though I didn't have time to post until now): Re-registering (really reconfirming registration information) in person does absolutely nothing to confirm the registrant's current address, unlike mail (which at the very least requires cooperation with an actual resident at the postal address). All one gets is the declarant's assertion that he in fact is living at the claimed address. But he could be easily living in the next county or state over.

There is another element to this. Everyone recognizes that not all released sex offenders are complying with the registration requirements. But at the same time, many of them (from 50% to 90%, depending on the jurisdiction and the presence of other factors such as the NIMBY, feel-good, useless and counter-productive "zoning laws") are.

The re-confirmation requirements of this bill will do nothing to make the scofflaws repent, but it will send a powerfully strong message to those who are working to "go straight", to wit:

No amount of repentance and good behavior will prevent things from getting worse for you.

With that as an expressed and personally-felt reality, what incentive is there to live within the law? Things are getting worse and there is no way to avoid them -- so long you live within the law; the better way is "outside."

Congress and enough of the American public seem to be much too readily lured by Kipling's "loudest throat." They're decreasing, not increasing, public safety.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A VERY expensive and counterproductive bill

As noted here, the Senate has passed new sex-offender legislation (the House passed something similarly earlier). As the article says:

...Both bills would create a national database to link individually-managed state Web sites that track sex offenders. Members of the public would be able to search all the states' data.

The legislation also would require convicted sex offenders to register their whereabouts every month, in person, and would upgrade failure to comply from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Under current law, those convicted of child sex crimes are required to register once per year, by mail, Hatch's office said. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor. ...

This is going to be spectacularly expensive. First, the police are going to have to increase the staff who collect this information many-fold.

Second, this onerous monthly "in your face" in-person reconfirmation is going to lead to higher non-compliance rates, felony or no.

Third, making non-compliance felony is going to mean longer prison terms which cost tens of thousands of dollars a year per convict (a bigger loss when you consider he's no longer a taxpayer).

Fourth, it will further isolate the sex offenders from society which will lead to more crimes -- and as the linked study notes, when sex offenders commit new crimes the crimes are very often in other categories. In particular I would expect to see the assault figures increase.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

...but Keansburg doesn't

Interesting story out of Keansburg (NJ?), Pecora changes position on sex offenders. Seems the town had to amend its zoning laws to avoid a lawsuit:

Councilman Patrick Pecora changed his position on sex offenders when he voted against an amendment allowing Tier I offenders to live within 1,000 feet of schools.

The borough's original ordinance prevented all registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and parks. The amended ordinance exempts Tier I offenders, or those who are least likely to repeat their offenses.

Pecora originally voted in favor of the ordinance at a special meeting of the Borough Council on April 5. However, he voted against the ordinance's relaxation at the council's April 26 regular meeting.

“I thought about it more and I think we should fight the fight,” Pecora said of his flip-flopped vote. “We should do what we can to protect the children of this community.” Pecora later added that he specifically voted to introduce the ordinance so that the council could have more time to consider it.


The amendment to ease the residency limitations was ultimately passed in a vote of 3-2, with Mayor Lisa Strydio, Deputy Mayor Drew Murray and Councilman Jimmy Cocuzza voting to in favor of the amendment, and Hoff and Pecora voting against.

According to Borough Attorney Michael Hanus the amendment was proposed to prevent litigation from an unnamed Tier I sex offender who was affected by the ordinance. Because the amendment was passed it nullifies the lawsuit.

“There is no insurance to cover the court cases dealing with the constitutionality of a municipal ordinance,” Hanus said. “Dollar one would have come out of the taxpayers' pockets.”

Hanus added the legal battle could possibly go all the way to the Supreme Court, and could last for at least six years. “If it turned out that this was unconstitutional, the municipality would have to foot the bill for the costs of going to court for an unconstitutional ordinance.


Cocuzza said he voted for the amendment because the borough's legal team advised the council that a case involving a Tier I offender could not be won.

"Our lawyers told us that they would get rich off of Keansburg if the borough decided to fight this fight. It's a court case that our lawyers said the town can't win. They advised Keansburg not to pay them to litigate the case when our town has elderly people on fixed incomes who are loosing their houses because of taxes," Cocuzza said.

But just in case you thought all was sweetness and light in Keansburg, the article also notes:

The sex offender issue has turned into a political battle. Former Deputy Mayor Mike Coppola has posted a sign outside his Forest Avenue home declaring that Cocuzza supports pedophilia.

I smell a libel and defamation suit here. Cocuzza would seem to have a slam-dunk case.

What a town is Keansburg. They're unsure about the constitutionality of a law they passed, they (reasonably) amend it when their counsel advises them that the town will lose not just the case but lots of money in litigation, but those who wanted to retain the original law turn around and engage in libel.

It says a lot about the emotional immaturity of some of those behind sex-offender legislation.

Arkansas has money to burn...

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas is willing to fritter away a whole lot of taxpayer money, and worse:

State likely to be stuck with sex offenders’ bills

A new state law requiring sexually violent predators to be on electronic monitoring at their own expense for at least a decade will cost each offender thousands of dollars every year — money that even parole officials believe the offenders won’t be able to pay.

If they can’t, the state must bear the costs or let those predators move about unsupervised.

With the number of predators in Arkansas growing —from 67 in mid-March to 83 in early April — the state could get stuck with millions of dollars in monitoring costs as people who committed crimes after the law went into effect April 7 are labeled as predators and released into communities. Though the law passed during the recent special session left the burden on the state, it does not spell out a way to fund the monitoring.

“If we don’t get the resources, we can’t do it,” said David Guntharp, director of the Department of Community Correction, which supervises parolees and probationers.

State Rep. Dawn Creekmore, D-East End, sponsored the legislation and acknowledged that the state’s share could be “a significant amount.” So she plans to have funding meetings beginning this week with a group of people who helped her develop House Bill 1005.

She did not fight for funding during the special session because the law is not retroactive. Only sexually violent predators convicted of crimes committed on or after April 7 must be tracked once they are in the community. Most likely will spend time in prison first.

The law requires those predators pay up to $15 a day to be monitored for a minimum of 10 years, unless they are indigent. Most, if not all, sexually violent predators would qualify as indigent, Guntharp said. A majority of higher-risk sex offenders monitored under the state’s current system make minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Others are unemployed, agency spokesman Rhonda Sharp said, either because of their criminal record or because of poor decision-making skills, which may have gotten them in trouble to begin with.

“If we put this on the offenders and they can’t pay,” Guntharp warned, “we’re likely going to push them into absconding or stealing to pay for it.”

If they run, he said, there is no way for the state to watch what they are doing. Though Guntharp supports monitoring these offenders, he said he wants the program to be feasible for both the state and the offenders.

Those involved in the creation of the Arkansas law, which passed overwhelmingly early last month, say the expense for the state is worth the added protection. Sexually violent predators are the most dangerous and high-risk sex offenders.

Last year, at least nine states enacted laws requiring that sexual predators be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Oklahoma Department of Correction spokesman Jerry Massie said the 239 — 152 signed up so far this year — sex offenders in that state pay $5 a day to be monitored as required by a law passed last summer. Of the 152 released on monitoring this year, 31 are delinquent, Massie said. Oklahoma doesn’t pay for those who are delinquent. Instead, the matter is referred to the court system.

The Oklahoma law hasn’t been around long enough, Massie said, for officials to know whether it is reducing the number of sex crimes in Oklahoma.

Legislators in Arkansas are optimistic that it will do so here.

“Yes, I’ve thought about [the costs]. No, I’m not concerned,” said Creekmore. “I just don’t think you can put a dollar amount on protecting our women and children of Arkansas.”

She believes she will have a majority of support during the 2007 legislative session to secure money for electronic monitoring equipment with Global Positioning System technology to track the sexually violent and to pay for monitoring costs that fall to the state.

Depending on the type of GPS system, Guntharp estimated the cost per predator could be between $8 and $12 a day.

The less expensive system is passive, meaning it would track an offender and then send a report of his activities to Community Correction the next day. An active system would allow the agency to monitor an offender’s every move, in real time.


Guntharp said he plans to ask the Legislature for an additional $1.5 million for fiscal 2008 and $1.3 million for fiscal 2009 to cover new employees, equipment and monitoring fees as a result of the new legislation. That will not be a one-time request, he said, adding that he will be asking for at least that much additional money each session.

Former prosecutor and state Rep. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, said a lack of funding is one of several reasons he voted against the measure.

“There was no honest estimate of how much it would cost and the big thing is there was no provision on how it would be covered,” Johnson said. “We were placing some great responsibility on the Department of Community Correction without giving them any additional support or ensuring that we ever would.”

Johnson’s also concerned that there may be constitutional issues with long-term monitoring of sex offenders who have completed their sentences.


Between March 16 and April 3 of this year, the number of felons labeled as sexually violent predators increased from 67 (with 46 still in prison) to 83 — almost one a day.

“It will continue to grow,” Flynn said.

State Rep. Dawn Creekmore: “I just don’t think you can put a dollar amount on protecting our women and children of Arkansas.”

As has been noted before, if there is no price you are not willing to pay for something, expect to be paying a VERY high price for it.

Of course, Creekmore's law will not protect the women and children of Arkansas. Let us begin with the established fact that over half of the sex offense convictions handed down every year are first-time offenses. No amount of monitoring or other post-conviction action will reduce that number -- but by drawing attention away from the fact you make it that much more likely: "We are safe; there are no registered sex offenders here."

Let us continue with the fact, as noted in many of the articles posted on this blog, that the vast majority of offenders are well-known to their victims. The rapist who leaps from the bushes to attack a stranger is by far the exception, not the rule. Tracking will not help in this situation either.

And of course there will be those who will, in the words of this article, "run." Not wanting to be monitored, much less pay for it, they will make a deliberate decision to break the law and become in actual fact outlaws. Of course, being an outlaw has its difficulties -- it becomes really difficult to hold down an honest 9 to 5 job when the state is out looking for you. This means you have to come by money for food, housing, transportation, etc. by other means, means that are not likely to be very legal. Can you say "criminal enterprise?" When this occurs, the law is not reducing crime, it is increasing and encouraging crime -- and we're talking crimes here of the kind that leave victims, living or dead. It might actually be better for the state to announce that if you run it will not go looking and turn a blind eye!

As I see it, Rep. Creekmore has put the taxpayers of Arkansas on the hook for ongoing millions of dollars annually, a figure that will only grow as, per Flynn, the number of monitored registered sex offenders grows. But she and many of her fellow legislators now have an "issue" with which to promote themselves in their re-election campaign. I have no doubt but that the good voters of Creekmore's "East End" district, and elsewhere throughout Arkansas, will appreciate their legislators' wise and careful use of public monies and re-elect them.

What's that old saying about something being born every minute...?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"No more sex offender registries: Despite the rhetoric, they don't protect us"

From the Valley News:

No more sex offender registries
Despite the rhetoric, they don't protect us

The impulse to post the names, pictures and locations of sex offenders on public registries is understandable. That doesn't make it smart, or right. Rather than continue efforts to showcase or expand online registries, political leaders should take a genuinely courageous step and shut them down.

Aside from murder, no crimes are more repugnant than rape, child molestation and other forms of sexual assault. Sex offenders deserve criminal punishment and social reprobation. In many cases, no amount of jail time can repair the damage they do to victims, families and communities.

The entire premise of public registries, however, is wrong. While supporters say they give people an important tool to prevent sexual abuse, the facts suggest they provide an illusion of safety - and may, in fact, make offenders more likely to commit new crimes by consigning them to social isolation.

When murderers, armed robbers and other criminals do their prison time, they are considered to have paid their debt and are allowed to re-enter society without being listed on a registry. Not so sex offenders. In New Hampshire, all offenders convicted of sexually abusing children find their names, pictures and addresses posted to a state website when they return to the community. In Vermont, a smaller group of high-risk offenders is posted (with towns, not specific street addresses), although lawmakers may double that list's size.

Supporters of registries argue that the public needs to know about predatory strangers moving in nearby. Also, sex offenders will inevitably seek out new victims, they say. Both arguments hold great emotional and political appeal.

Neither is backed by the facts.

Sex offenders are almost never strangers to their victims. According to a Valley News analysis of statistics and studies, at least 97 percent of sex offenders in both states were relatives, friends or acquaintances of their victims. In other words, most victims and their families didn't need to fear a predator lurking in the shadows; the abuser had a familiar face.

And while politicians have tried to score political points by asserting that sex offenders almost invariably re-offend, the facts again contradict that claim.

While some hard-core offenders have alarming recidivism rates, experts say that the most common type of sex criminal - one who grooms a victim known to him - is far less likely to re-offend once returned to a now-vigilant circle of family and friends. Further, sex criminals who undergo treatment re-offend at sharply lower rates. (For detailed figures, go to and click on Sex Crimes: Fears & Facts.)

No second chances

Even as offender registries fail to live up to their justification, they can create new risks. The most dramatic is vigilantism, a point illustrated most recently in Maine, where Stephen Marshall looked up the addresses of two sex offenders and shot them dead.

There have been other instances of vigilante justice, some close to home: A man mistaken for his sex-offender brother was nearly beaten to death with a baseball bat in New Jersey, the state that began the nationwide move to internet registries after 7-year-old Megan Kanka was killed by a neighbor. A New Hampshire man stabbed a man and lit fires in two buildings in Concord occupied by convicted sex offenders. Last May in Lebanon, a man knocked on the door of a registered sex offender and punched him in the face.

A more insidious problem is ostracism. Even with the harsher sentences under consideration in New Hampshire and Vermont, most offenders eventually will return to our communities. When they do, the odds of them leading productive lives will depend on their ability to find jobs, reunite with family and friends, and win a place in society.

That goal is thwarted by the public registries. In recent weeks, two high-profile offenders have emerged from prison and returned to the Upper Valley, only to find themselves shunned. To be sure, Thomas Pellerin and Leon Colbeth have earned a measure of enmity and fear; they not only committed sexual assaults but also failed to participate in treatment programs while in prison. But what are the odds of them becoming law-abiding members of the community if nobody will afford them a peaceful place to live and work?

Rather than use public registries to create a new form of scarlet letter, officials would do well to focus on the traditional way of keeping tabs on potentially dangerous criminals - sharing their names with local police officials and conducting criminal background checks for those applying for jobs involving children or other vulnerable people.

Another productive approach would be to follow the lead of the Upper Valley's Women's Information Service in helping to educate children and adults about how to respond when someone - stranger, relative or friend - crosses the line. No system, public or private, can eliminate all risks. But a heightened awareness can significantly reduce them.

If New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and other political leaders want to do more than simply score cheap political points in an election year, they should use their bully pulpits to inform the public about the real risks of sex offenders - and the frightening consequences of banishing them to the fringes.

This article is: 0 day(s) old.

The referenced link follows:

Sex Offenses: Evidence Is In; Jury Still Out

Perceptions, Not Facts, Often Shape Society's Response

By Kristen Fountain — Valley News Staff Writer

It is every parent's nightmare: There are people out there — strangers living down the street, lurking near the local school, cruising town roads — who are looking for children. These predators want to snatch kids, entice them into a car or lure them into a home and use them to satisfy perverse desires.

Such images are powerful and provide an impetus for the current push by politicians, including New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, to crack down on sex offenders with tougher enforcement, longer prison terms and increased community supervision.

But these fears, while not unfounded, do not begin to provide a full picture of the complex problem of sex abuse in the Twin States. A Valley News analysis of regional and national statistics, and interviews with sex abuse experts, law enforcement officials, victims and perpetrators suggest that the dimensions of the problem are not well understood by the public and that its solutions defy easy prescription by politicians.

According to those sources:

• Rates of sex crimes and sexual abuse in New Hampshire, Vermont, New England and the nation are generally falling, not rising. The exception is the rate of rapes reported to police in New Hampshire and Vermont, which has increased in recent years. However, the latest rates are still much lower than the national rate.

• Most sex offenders are not strangers. Instead, they are victims' family members and friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Nationally, strangers commit only one in 10 sex crimes. In New Hampshire, that figure is less than one in 30. In Vermont, it's less than one in 50.

• Many of those who sexually abuse children are themselves minors. Law enforcement records in Vermont and New Hampshire show that in four out of 10 cases involving victims younger than 13, the abusers are 17 or younger.

• The belief that sex criminals will almost certainly leave prison to find new victims is not supported by research. National studies show that many sex criminals have lower recidivism rates than people convicted of offenses such as burglary and nonsexual assault. While some hard-core sex offenders have 50 percent recidivism rates, others — particularly those who undergo treatment — have rates of 5 percent or less.

• Although a Vermont judge's decision in January to sentence a sex offender to a minimum of 60 days sparked a firestorm of debate, an independent study by a Vermont group and interviews with lawyers suggest that judges are not soft on sex offenders. If anything, they say, sentences have been getting tougher in some Twin State courtrooms.

• Even as politicians push for mandatory minimum sentences for sex offenses, prosecutors in both states agree that such minimums would prove a handicap rather than a deterrent. While more consistency in sentencing would build public confidence, they say, mandatory sentences would take away the plea-bargaining power used to resolve cases that might be hard to prove in court.

• Finally, interviews with perpetrators and victims suggest that it's dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions about the causes of abuse or its long-term consequences.

Even though experts say the problem of sexual abuse is not as simple as some might believe, nobody disputes that it's still a problem. Groups that assist sexual abuse victims in New Hampshire and Vermont say that they've been seeing more victims than in years past.

Sarah Kenney of the Vermont Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Network said her network's groups — including the Upper Valley's WISE — reported almost 15,000 calls from victims of both domestic and sexual violence in 2005, an increase of 14 percent since 2004.

She said the increase could result from a rising number of attacks, more people discovering the service, or a combination of the two.

"The reality is that there are survivors of sexual violence in pretty much every room you find yourself in," said Kenney. "Survivors are everywhere."

But the overall decline in sexual abuse rates also suggests that at least some of the steps taken in recent decades — from educating the public and police to instituting prison rehabilitation programs — do help. "The problem (of sexual abuse) is still enormous," said Lisa Jones, a professor with the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. "But if we ignore the fact that it is going down, then we may miss the fact that some of the solutions we have now are actually working."

The Valley News will explore the problem, and its possible solutions, in a four-part series beginning today.

And a sidebar:


Public fears about sex offenders aren't always supported by the facts. Read more

By the Numbers: A statistical portrait of sex offenses. Read more

Recidivism: Sex offenders commit new crimes less often than some politicians suggest. Read more

Sentencing: Some prosecutors say prison sentences in most cases are already tough enough. Read more

Treatment: Treatment reduces the risk of criminals committing new sex crimes, particularly with a surprisingly common class of offenders: juveniles. Read more

Victims: The victims of sexual abuse report effects that range from crippling emotional damage to subtler wounds. Read more

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Somebody's thinking...

From Seng pushes ordinance on sex offenders:

Mayor Coleen Seng spent the morning talking — first to the press, then to City Council members — about changes to a proposal limiting how close the city’s sex offenders can live to schools.


Seng did revise the proposal to include high schools, at Casady’s request, after the state law included the possibility.

It didn’t include the 900-some licensed day-care centers, the number of which Casady said changes daily. In larger cities, that restriction just isn’t practical, he said.

Plus, Seng said she didn’t think it was necessary because most children don’t walk to day care. They are dropped off there by parents.


Monday, May 01, 2006

The ACLU gets involved

ACLU to challenge sex-offender ordinance in Taylors Falls

The board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota voted unanimously Saturday to challenge a new ordinance in Taylors Falls that severely restricts where sex offenders can live.

Speaking on behalf of the board, director Chuck Samuelson said the restrictions are so severe that they basically prohibit any Level 3 sex offender from living in the town.

"It's not right," he said, adding that a convicted and released sex offender would be prohibited from living within so many feet of a school, park, church, day care or bus stop. "It is our sense that as a society we may have swung a little too far in this direction." Laws that overly restrict where released inmates can live could prevent them from registering as sex offenders in the first place, he said.

The ACLU will write a letter to Taylors Falls officials asking them to rescind the law. It will also contact the state public defender's office to see whether any Minnesota sex offender was forced to move to a different town because of the new ordinance.

"If indeed there is someone ... then we will sue to get the law declared unconstitutional," Samuelson said.

As a result of high-profile cases such as the one involving the accused killer of Dru Sjodin, more towns and states are creating laws that restrict the movement of convicted sex offenders.

Twelve years ago, Minnesota created a sex offender program and began civilly committing its most dangerous sexual offenders to mental institutions. There are now 180 people at a treatment center in Moose Lake and about 200 in the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

Restrictive residency laws have also passed in Wyoming, Minn., in Iowa and 12 other states. A proposed ordinance in Maplewood was recently defeated.

This could be interesting to watch.


Finally, somebody had the honesty to say it out loud.

Perdue signs bill cracking down on sex offenders

ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue on Wednesday signed into law tough new legislation cracking down on sexual predators in Georgia, a move supporters hope will prompt the worst offenders to leave the state.

"Our strongest obligation is to keep Georgia citizens safe, especially our children," Perdue said.

The law places strict new limits on where those offenders may live, work and loiter after being released from prison.

It boosts prison sentences for even first-time offenders and makes it a crime to harbor a sex offender. Those deemed sexually dangerous predators would have to wear electronic monitoring bracelets for life once they were released from prison and pay for the cost themselves.

The bill was pushed as a key part of the Republican agenda this legislative session and GOP lawmakers, as well as Perdue, are expected to campaign on the issue in the fall elections.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said he wanted to tighten Georgia's laws in response to the killing of Jessica Lunsford, the 9-year-old Florida girl who was raped and killed by a sex offender.

"The horrors of sex crimes, especially those committed against children, leave lasting scars on their victims," Keen, of St. Simons Island, said.

The new law stipulates that sex offenders cannot live, work or loiter with 1,000 feet of schools, child care centers, bus stops or other places where children congregate.

But Sara Totonchi, public policy director for Southern Center for Human Rights, said that portion of the law was likely to drive sex offenders to the rural areas of the state that have less resources to treat and supervise the offenders.

"We believe that this legislation casts the net so broadly that it will make monitoring people on the (sex offender) registry next to impossible," Totonchi said.

The legislation was modified as it moved through the state Legislature to ensure that teens who have sex with their slightly younger peers don't fall under the plan's harsh penalties.

So this law is intended to make registered sex offenders move to another state? I did not know the character of Georgians had fallen so low -- but here it is, in print!!

(Maybe, to be fair, it's all the damnyankees who've moved in.)

Another counter-productive law

No doubt this one will survive all court challenges because, after all, it's only sex offenders they're going after.

Santa Ana Considers Tough Restrictions On Sex Offenders
'Child Safety Zone' Would Prohibit Presence Near Schools, Playgrounds

LOS ANGELES -- Santa Ana could become the first Orange County city to adopt a Child Safety Zone ordinance that would tighten restrictions to keep sex offenders away from playgrounds and other places children gather.

The Santa Ana City Council will consider an ordinance modeled on one adopted late last year in National City in San Diego County. The National City ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for registered sex offenders to be within 300 feet of schools, facilities that provides day care or children's services, video arcades, playgrounds, parks or amusement centers.

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail, but sentences can be reduced to an infraction punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense. For a second offense, fines can be as much as $500.

Santa Ana has 383 sex offenders, four considered "high-risk offenders," according to police. In 2003, Santa Ana had 192 child sex abuse cases, followed by 166 in 2004 and 157 in 2005, according to statistics.

Two bills pending in the state Senate, as well as the proposed ballot measure dubbed "Jessica's Law," would restrict the activities of registered sex offenders. "Jessica's Law" also would require certain high-risk offenders to wear tracking devices that incorporate GPS technology.

Assembly Bill 50 would make it illegal for particular registered sex offenders or people convicted of certain sex crimes from being on any school property, or streets, sidewalks or public walkways adjacent any school. Assembly Bill 96 would require GPS tracking for certain high-risk sex offenders before they are paroled.

For anyone who thinks this is going to make anyone any safer, I have this bridge...

The real result of this will be to accustom registered sex offenders to being continual lawbreakers, thus leading to more real crime (you know, the kind that has victims) instead of less. Do-nothing feel-good (it must feel real good to be a successful bully) laws really are dangerous and counterproductive, as Iowa is learning as their zoning laws dropped registration compliance from 90+% to 50% -- but if this is what the shee... er... voting public really wants, well...