Friday, July 28, 2006

"Do you want them spread out or do you want them all in one place?"

From Bangor, Maine: Restricting Sex Offenders

It's a natural reaction to not want sex offenders living in your neighborhood. However, consideration of laws restricting where offenders can live should be based on rational debate grounded in facts, not on emotions or imagined conversations between sex criminals. An examination of whether new statewide policies are needed would save towns from developing their own piecemeal rules.

Residents in Hampden are concerned that three sex offenders live at the Bangor Rescue Mission, which is located on the Meadow Road in Hampden. Rep. Debra Plowman has filed legislation to ban sex offenders from living together in the same dwelling or in the same multi-unit building. She worries that by living together, offenders can discuss their past crimes, making them more likely to commit new ones.

It is more likely that the men, if they even talk to one another, discuss everyday topics such as work, money concerns and sports. Also because sex offenders often feel shame at their crimes, they're not likely to talk about them, according to psychologists.

Studies have found that offenders with a system of support and jobs were less likely to commit future crimes. The three men in Hampden have jobs and are supervised by the Rev. John Bennett, who lives in the house.

Sex offenders aren't more likely than other criminals to re-offend. According to a Department of Justice study of sex offenders released from prison in 1994, 5.3 percent were rearrested for another sex crime within three years, while 68 percent of non-sex offenders were rearrested for another felony or serious misdemeanor during the same time.

Another Justice study found that 93 percent of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser and that most crimes happened in the home of the child, a relative, a neighbor or a friend.

Therefore, housing restrictions, which 18 states have, usually restricting offenders from living near schools, lead to a false sense of security. Worse, they tend to drive offenders into sparsely populated areas, where there is less supervision, access to treatment and fewer jobs. Offenders subject to probation can have restrictions on their living arrangements imposed by judges in Maine.

Restrictions also make it difficult for state and local officials to find housing for sex offenders. In California, one offender remained in jail for more than a year after his sentence expired because of restrictions and community outcry. In other parts of the state, offenders were living in cots in a parole office and the state was paying more than $300 a night to house offenders in motels.

Bangor police detective John Small, who maintains and updates the city's sex offender registry, succinctly framed the issue: "Do you want them spread out or do you want them all in one place?"

That is a question state lawmakers should answer.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Police suspect sex offender targeted in arson attempt

Nothing new here:
Police suspect sex offender targeted in arson attempt

TROY, N.Y. (AP) _ An attempt to burn down a sex offender's home prompted an upstate district attorney to decry "vigilante justice" and promise prosecution of anyone involved.

Rensselaer County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis said Wednesday that convicted sex offenders have the right to live in local communities after they have served their sentences and should not be subjected to "any additional vigilante justice."

Dennis Duboy, 55, was asleep at his Lansingburgh home Monday night when a passer-by started banging on his door to let him know the house was on fire, said police. Duboy woke up in time to use a fire extinguisher to put out the flames around the door and a window. Police said an accelerant may have been used to set the fire. ...

Police are investigating whether the attempted arson was connected to Duboy's status as a sex offender. Duboy had complained recently about being harassed by his neighbors and had also reported a break-in at his home, police said.

Sex offenders' homes have been burning down for years now, and for all their bluster the police never solve the crime. (To be fair to the police, though, I suspect it's hard to point a finger at a particular with arson such as this.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Court challenge nears for sex-offender residency law

Court challenge nears for sex-offender residency law

LOWER TOWNSHIP —The first major challenge of a local sex-predator ordinance is drawing interest from both sides of the debate one month before the matter goes to court.

Steven Elwell, a sex offender registered under Megan's Law, is challenging the township's 2005 ordinance banning him from “residing or loitering” within 500 feet of public areas and 25 feet of school bus stops. Elwell's challenge is scheduled to be heard in Superior Court on Aug. 15.

Several parties, meanwhile, have drafted amicus briefs to weigh in on the issue. A brief supporting Elwell's case from the New Jersey chapter of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers has already been accepted by the court.

Steve Latimer, the association's attorney, argues that residency laws do not reduce the risk to children and can actually disrupt the lives of a registered sex offender's own family.

“There is no empirical data that says kicking people out of neighborhoods will reduce the risk that some kid walking down the street will be abused by a sex offender. If somebody wants to commit a sex crime, nothing stops him from getting in a car or on a bus,” Latimer said.

The association, which is a national organization with chapters in different states, also argues residency laws do not help rehabilitate a sex offender. Latimer said the association is partly made up of psychologists who treat sex offenders.

“It's counter-productive in terms of rehabilitation,” Latimer said.

The nonprofit New Jersey Crime Victim's Law Center has also prepared an amicus brief, although it has not yet been submitted to the court. Attorney Richard Pompelio said the brief makes a case that the township's law is constitutional.

Elwell's attorney, Frank Corrado, who is fighting the case with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, claims the local ordinance violates the New Jersey State Constitution. This includes constitutional protections of due process, ex post facto clauses and allegations that it amounts to double jeopardy as Elwell suffers for a crime he already paid for. Elwell served time in jail for having sex with a minor. Corrado also argues the state law pre-empts towns on the issue.

Pompelio disagrees. He argues municipalities have an enormous amount of authority when it comes to health, safety and welfare. Pompelio said the law must be reasonable. It can't ban a sex offender from living everywhere in a town.

Pompelio argues that if such laws were only done statewide, then it would send sex offenders away from dense urban areas and out into the suburbs.

“The only way this works is if municipalities do it, and they have to do it in a reasonable way. I think 500 feet is reasonable,” Pompelio said.

Pompelio acknowledged there is debate about whether such laws, which have been adopted by many towns in New Jersey, are effective. He said at least it gives parents peace of mind that their children are safe on the playground.

“At least we have the position of the crime victims supporting this ordinance. He (Elwell) was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a female minor,” Pompelio said.

Corrado said amicus briefs usually come at the appellate level, not in trial court, but he welcomed them.

“I expected the issue to generate amicus briefs. It's an important issue, and it should bring as many points of view as it can,” Corrado said.

If the court accepts Pompelio's brief, Corrado said he would respond to it, although he already disagrees with the view that towns should regulate where sex offenders live. He said the state already regulates residency for some Megan's Law offenders under CSL, or Community Supervision for Life rules.

“There are all kinds of statewide controls on where they can live and can't live. The probation officer approves their residences. Municipalities are pre-empted from additional regulations,” Corrado said.

Another problem, Corrado argues, is that towns have many different versions of residency laws. They vary on what are public areas and vary on how far away a registered sex offender must live.

“They should be consistent,” Corrado said.

Township Attorney Tony Monzo was happy to have support from the New Jersey Crime Victim's Law Center. He has tried to get other towns that have residency laws to join the case, but to no avail.

“This group says the entire ordinance passes all challenges. Based on our research, we feel the same way,” Monzo said.

The case before Judge Valerie Armstrong is drawing a lot of interest since it is one of the first to be litigated. Monzo said the only case that has come to a court decision thus far was in Iowa, where a state law establishing a 2,000-foot residency restriction was challenged. Monzo said it got to a federal appeals court and was upheld.

Many of the Iowa arguments were on constitutional issues, although Corrado noted his case is under the New Jersey State Constitution because it is “more protective of due-process rights” than the federal Constitution.

Lower Township Council in August 2005 banned Megan's Law registrants from “residing or loitering” within 2,500 feet of any school, park, playground, recreation area, day-care facility or school bus stop. The original zone was about 90 percent of the township.

In December, the ordinance was amended to 25 feet from school bus stops and 500 feet from other public areas. The new zone only covered about 20 percent of the township.

Elwell filed suit with his wife, Jennifer. They live in Middle Township but expressed interest in moving to Lower Township. Elwell was convicted of having sex with a student when he was a teacher at Lower Cape May Regional High School.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Drive-by shooting at sex offender's home

Police investigate drive-by shooting at sex offender's home

ST. GEORGE, Utah - Police have no suspects and are seeking the public's help in identifying the perpetrator of a drive-by shooting at the home of a registered sex offender.

Police Sgt. Craig Harding said the resident was sitting in his home with his baby about 10 p.m. Monday when the front window was blasted.

"The front window was broken from top to bottom and there were holes from the pellets of a shotgun all around," Harding said. "The pattern was about 3 feet wide, making the shooter several yards away at the time of the incident."

Harding said the resident has had trouble before because of his history, but never as violent as this time.

"We cannot have vigilante justice," Harding said. "Whether or not a person is guilty or has received the right punishment is not up to the police or the neighbors, it is up to the court to decide.

"Right now, we are looking for the individual responsible for this aggravated assault and possibly attempted homicide," he said.

Possibly? POSSIBLY? Oh, come on. Don't tell me, the shooter just happened to be cleaning his shotgun a few yards away from the front window at 10 PM and it went off by accident.

The article notes the intended victim has encountered "trouble" before, though not this violent. Dollars to douughnuts he soon decides it's too much, um, "trouble" being registered and takes off.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Level II forever?

If this blog has been quiet lately, it's because there's been nothing new to report.

However, I've been mulling over this issue of "Levels." In most places, it appears, sex offenders are graded into four levels. Yes, I said four! We know about Levels 1 to 3, but the 4s are those who get "civilly committed."

I don't know what goes into determination of category. One hopes there are processes of review and refinement going on, but if the states are handling that the way they do new sex offender laws, I doubt anything is being done.

But one wonders about the for-life classification. If, say, a Level 2 goes 20 years without a re-offense, is it not likely he has developed the skills to avoid re-offense that might make him a prospect to become a Level 1? What if a Level 3 becomes incapacitated, even paralyzed? Is he then still a Level 3?

Just asking the questions nobody else seemingly thinks to ask.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"New sex offender law all but unenforceable"

New sex offender law all but unenforceable

Georgia’s new sex offender law, ostensibly designed to keep some of society’s worst elements far from where they can cause harm, is already a failure.

The law, which had been scheduled to take effect on July 1, is tied up in court already, a move that likely has law enforcement agencies across the state sighing with relief.

The law has good intentions. It prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a number of places where no one wants them: schools, day care centers, churches, etc. The problem is that once many municipalities began drawing 1,000-foot circles around everything the law enumerates, there were not many places left for sex offenders to live.

The new law prevents sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of school bus stops. There are more than 2,000 bus stops in Camden County. Once the county finishes drawing 1,000-foot circles around all of them, there probably won't be much real estate, if any, left over in Camden County for sex offenders.

And if there's no room in a mostly rural county like Camden, there won't be any in most of Georgia. This is likely what lawmakers intended when they wrote the law, but it's irresponsible lawmaking at best.
[Likely?! It IS EXACTLY what they intended!]


The law is embroiled in a Constitution-level lawsuit and has had a temporary restraining order placed upon it by a federal judge, blocking its enforcement. The question is whether the law imposes an ex post facto — after the fact — punishment and is therefore unconstitutional is one that will be tied up in court for some time. It's likely the lawmakers knew this before passing the law, but were just hoping to score some points by appearing tough on crime, even though the law can't be enforced and, therefore, has no value.

There are other parts of the legislation that make sense and have the desired effect of clamping down on sex offenders. The law mandates a 25-year prison sentence for rapists and child molesters and requires sexual predators to be monitored by electronic tracking devices.

Perhaps the greatest danger of the new law is that it is so strict that sex offenders will simply stop registering with police departments as required. This registration is vital to helping law enforcement monitor the whereabouts of sex offenders and if sex offenders fail to use it, there is no law enforcement organization in Camden County with the resources to track them all. Other states that have enacted laws similar to Georgia have seen registration rates drop from more than 90 percent to less than 50 percent.

We are all for laws that increase safety for children, but this one needed a little more thought before being enacted.

Gee, do you think? This information was available, but they went ahead anyway.

Monday, July 03, 2006

"Sex-offender law flawed and geared toward politics"

Sex-offender law flawed and geared toward politics

There are several provisions within the law that do more to put children at risk as well as attempt to provide a false sense of security. The public does not understand all the aspects of the Sex Offender Registry, and what is worse, 95 percent do not want to.

This is a highly charged topic and the media slant is parallel to public opinion of "Lock the child molesters away forever." The media does not give equal time to see the other side of the coin.

The most glaring problem with House Majority Leader Jerry Keen's proposed bill, now law, is treating every sex offender the same. There are three established levels of sex offenders within the state. The new rules apply equally to the accidental indecent exposure offender and the multiple child rapist. Who thinks justice is being served?

Keen and the majority of the House and Senate are just playing politics. What politician could vote against any bill that makes laws against sex offenders more restrictive? It would be political suicide to step up, be the voice of reason, and "defend" the rights of a sex offender. Even if you are attempting to limit the punitive effects of the law to the level 1 offenders, the press would jump all over it and report that House Rep. So-and-So is defending child molesters.

The part in the law about putting all sex offenders on the registry for life does nothing more than make the registry a joke in a few years time. The crimes that are added daily to what constitutes a sex-offender registry requirement will dilute the registry so much that it will be meaningless in monitoring the ones it was created for: rapists and re-offenders.

Many Georgia lawmakers admit that the law was not meant to have the effect Keen has voiced, and if they could, they would vote against it now. What is needed is the education of parents and children. A good parent can do more to prevent a sex offense against their child than all the laws in the state. But like so many other things, parents no longer seem to be responsible for, the state has to attempt to be a surrogate parent through legislation.

The law needs to be repealed and introduced next session. A new bill should be written with the advice of probation officers, sheriffs, sex offender counselors and maybe even an offender or two.

The most important part of any legislation is to protect without harm. It could be done but not with zealots like Keen trying to make a name for himself by trampling on the Constitution.

What can be done? Very little, as public opinion would strip sex offenders of all their rights. Many have said it is going to get worse before it gets better, and that trend seems to be happening all over the country. It will not be long before this witch hunt tries to round all the sex offenders up and ship them off to some island somewhere.

Oh wait, England did that with Australia. Maybe we could ship them all off somewhere and keep an eye on them. No, Wait, Hitler did that with the Jews.

As you can see, history will not judge these actions well.

John Shaw