Thursday, May 04, 2006

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...?


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