Friday, September 22, 2006

Enlightened: "Cast a `no' vote on sex-offender proposition"

Cast a `no' vote on sex-offender proposition


Mercury News Editorial

Based on a Field Poll last month, Proposition 83, which would put additional restrictions and heavier penalties on sex felons, would appear to be a shoo-in Nov. 7. That would be unfortunate because it's grounded in fears, not on facts.

Proposition 83 has two main provisions. It would require anyone convicted of a felony sex offense to wear a satellite tracking device for life. And it would ban a sex felon from living within 2,000 feet -- about two-fifths of a mile -- from a school, park or other public place that a local government chooses to designate.

Before going with their gut -- after all, who wants any felon in their neighborhood? -- voters should give weight to Proposition 83's costs and listen seriously to second thoughts coming from Iowa.

Iowa was one of the first states to adopt Jessica's Law, which Proposition 83 models, after the death of Jessica Lunsford. She was the 9-year-old Florida girl who was murdered, allegedly by a convicted sex offender working as a laborer at her school.

Now, the prosecutors in Iowa who campaigned for the 2,000-foot protection zone acknowledge there's no correlation between children's safety and a felon-free zone (less than 10 percent of sexual abuse is done by strangers). But there have been unexpected consequences. Nearly all downtown areas in Des Moines are now off-limits to sex offenders because of where schools and parks are located; the same would be true in Los Angeles, San Francisco, downtown San Jose and most urban areas.

Pushing sex felons out of cities forces them into more suburban and rural areas. Doing so denies them low-cost housing, job opportunities and transportation. The result, according to the Iowa County Attorneys Association, is that more will go underground and fail to register; some have become homeless. Some sex offenders have married; the ban harms spouses and families.

The association concluded Jessica's Law created more problems than it solved, and favors repeal.

It makes sense to put Global Positioning System devices on high-risk sex offenders to track real-time movements or have a record of where they've been. It's used in California to monitor 1,000 of them, and more will be added with the signing into law this week of SB 1178, sponsored by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, which makes permanent a pilot sex-offender GPS program.

But equipping every sex felon with a GPS device is expensive and diverts attention from those who need the most monitoring. The state legislative analyst projects the cost at $100 million a year within a decade, possibly more, depending if Proposition 83 is interpreted to apply only to new felons or to all 90,000 who must now enroll in the state sex felon registry.

Proposition 83 also would extend parole, now three to five years, to as long as 10 years for some sex offenders. And it would also enable the state to commit especially dangerous and non-cooperative high-risk sex offenders to indefinite stays in a secure mental hospital after prison. These are worthwhile provisions, and the Legislature should pass them into law next year.

But voters should heed the warnings from Iowa and vote no on Proposition 83.

The question is: Will they?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cops: Arson (murder) plot targeted sex offenders

A Mastic man pleaded not guilty to attempted-murder charges yesterday in an alleged plot to burn down a house where four Level 3 sex offenders lived, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

Spota said police detectives, acting on a tip earlier this month, sent an undercover officer to befriend Donald Keegan, a county employee and part-time landscaper who lives less than a mile from the home he planned to torch on Eleanor Avenue. The officer used a hidden camera with audio to tape Keegan, 36, in the backyard of the target home. "I'm going to be going to them from the back, but I'm going to be lighting the side," Keegan told the detective. "The main concern is, I don't know how to explain this: I want them dead."

Keegan planned to burn the house on the evening of Sept. 9, Spota said, using paint thinner and a road flare detectives found in the front seat of Keegan's Ford Mustang when they arrested him that night. Police, who wiretapped Keegan after getting the tip, searched his home and car after the arrest, and found a pit where Keegan did test burns to determine how fast the paint thinner would burn materials.

"He expressed very clearly not only to burn down the house, but kill the sex offenders," Spota said at a news conference yesterday. "Never should a person be taking the law into their own hands seeking to burn down a house, no matter who they are."

Keegan was charged in Suffolk County Court with nine counts, including second-degree attempted murder and second-degree attempted arson, both felonies with maximum prison terms of 25 years. Keegan is being held on $1 million cash bail or $2 million bond.

Keegan's attorney, Daniel Driscoll, of Bay Shore, entered a not guilty plea on each count.

Driscoll described Keegan as a "very hard-working family man who worked ... to support his young wife and 2-year-old daughter."

Spota said Keegan, who worked for Suffolk's Department of Public Works, falsified his county application by not indicating prior arrests, which included convictions for criminal possession of a weapon, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and two petty larcenies.

The home on Eleanor Avenue sparked outrage in recent weeks since the Mastic Park Civic Association went door-to-door to inform residents that sex offenders had moved in.

Some residents said they began keeping their children indoors after the news and launched a series of protests.

Last week, Suffolk police informed the offenders they had 45 days to leave the house because it was within a quarter-mile of a previously unnoticed educational site on the Poospatuck Indian Reservation, a violation of a new county residency restriction law.

The four offenders had been convicted of crimes ranging from forcible rape to sodomy.

Charlie Manolakos, the landlord of the Eleanor Avenue house, said the offenders had been harassed since they moved into the home in June.

"Much of the community has made threats against them ... I'm glad they caught him," he said.

Even residents who led the campaign to oust the offenders applauded Keegan's arrest.

"I was shocked that someone would do something so stupid," said John Sicignano, president of the Mastic Park Civic Association.

"I was SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that the villagers would do such a thing when aroused." Yeah, sure. Would have been far from the first time that a registered sex offender's house burned to the ground, or that a registered sex offender trying to live within the law was murdered.

Bet the jury lets this "hardworking man," with a wife and a 2-year-old daughter to support, off scot-free.

Sex Offenders Restrictions Could Have Dangerous Consequences

(KCPW News) Forcing sex offenders to live 500 feet from schools, parks and public pools could have serious consequences, according to state corrections officials. A state lawmaker is proposing a law that would do just that. Sex Offender Unit Supervisor Jeremy Shaw says such restrictions can cause offenders to feel isolated, stressed and more likely to re-offend.

Shaw adds that distance restrictions also tend to drive offenders into suburban and rural areas where there are fewer law enforcement resources available to monitor them. He does estimate that there are 200 registered sex offenders currently living within one-thousand feet of schools in Salt Lake County. There are nearly seven thousand sex offenders currently on the state's registry.

"such restrictions can cause offenders to feel isolated, stressed and more likely to re-offend" -- but as long as some politician can continue to make hay over the issue, more women and children will continue to be sacrificed at the false altar of "I'm making you safer."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Still here

There has been very little to report lately. More and more locales are enacting the feel-good but worse than useless residence zones, and a few the more dangerous no-work zones. In the meantime lawsuits are being filed against these laws, and some of those who've passed these laws now find they're having to do more and more to ameliorate against the effects of the laws, wrapping themselves ever tighter around the axle.