Thursday, April 19, 2007

Maine Brain Freeze

Must be the cold weather Maine's been experiencing lately. Bunch of dumb legislatiion seems to be making its way through the legislature:

Legislators will begin a marathon review of proposed changes in the state’s sex offender law when they return from spring break next week, including the constitutionally thorny issue of prohibiting where offenders can live once they get out of jail.

The scores of bills proposed stem largely from the case of convicted sex offender, Joseph Tellier, who was released from prison in 2004 after serving 15 years for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a then 10-year-old girl. He strangled her until she was unconscious and left her for dead on a remote road in Limerick.

After his release from prison, Tellier moved from town to town in York County, dogged by community protests. At least four towns have passed restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can live as a result of the case, and the Legislature is now being asked to decide on rules for the entire state.

On the opposite side of the issue are bills dealing with sex offender rights, particularly rules regulating what has to appear on the state’s sex offender registry, which currently lists the names and addresses of people in Maine, who have records of sex offenses. The registry is supposed to let people in a community know if an offender is living near their home.

This week marks the anniversary of the murder of two registered sex offenders on Easter Sunday of last year. They were gunned down by a Canadian man police say had used the state’s on-line registry to locate the men at their homes and kill them. The gunman later killed himself.

The mother of one of the slain men testified before legislators last year that the registry had killed her son.

“Their addresses should not be listed there for vigilantes to come to their home and murder them,” she said weeping. “If you change this law, it might save lives.”

“We are going to work our way through this rather complicated minefield,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Cumberland County, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee that will recommend law changes to the full Legislature. Diamond said his hope is to narrow down proposals by mid-May into several law changes that will then be voted on by the full Legislature.

Diamond said residency restrictions have to be better defined.

“There’s a constitutional question, and they don’t even address the real problem,” he said, which is “trying to keep violent sex offenders away from children.”

He said most limit the distance a sex offender can live from a school or playground, but don’t say to the sex offender, “you can’t hang out there.”

Diamond has his own bill in that would create a new crime of loitering in a child safe zone. A person who has been previously convicted of committing a crime against a person under the age of 14 may not enter, work in, loiter at or remain in a child safe zone, under his plan.

Child safe zones are defined as 200 feet from a public or private elementary or secondary school, a child care facility, an athletic field, park, playground or recreational facility or other place where children typically gather.

We saw how stupid ideas like this worked really, really well just this week in Virginia Tech, where they wanted people to "feel safe." Diamond wants parents to "feel" their children are safe because they're in "child safe zones." There's an extremely explicit and perhaps technical name for the children of such parents.


But hopefully these won't end up dead, unlike the "children" (and that's how they behaved) of VA Tech.

The bill also requires the court to use electronic monitoring to keep track of high-risk sex offenders during their probation.

No argument here.

Diamond also is sponsoring a bill to deal with changes in the sex offender registry.

It calls for a tiered risk assessment so people can determine the seriousness of the offender’s crime, their risk of re-offending and the likely danger they pose to the community.

Diamond said under the proposal there would be a high, medium and low-risk list, with information on low-risk offenders available only to the police or the public by going through the police.

Who is listed on which list would be determined by a forensic board made up of a psychiatrist, psychologist, a member of a sex offender community treatment program, a prosecutor from the state Attorney General’s office and a defense attorney.

Diamond's on to something here, I have to say. He misses one thing: a task force, or supervisory board, or whatever you want to call it, that does a periodic review (every two years?) of the assessments of the board's decisions, with suggestions or stronger on alterations to the criteria used by the board, based on analyses of recidivism vs. the board's rating system. Close the loop, introduce feedback, and you might keep the car on the road and out of the weeds.

Diamond said right now the public can’t discern the level of risk of a released offender from the registry.

“They shouldn’t have to,” he said. “We should make it clear.”

Hearings on proposed sex offender bills will begin next week at the Statehouse and the schedule through the rest of April includes:

• April 23: An Act to Strengthen the Crime of Gross Sexual Assault as it Pertains to Persons Who Furnish Drugs to Victims, sponsored by Sen. John Nutting, D-Androscoggin; An Act to Rename and Specifically Identify Sex Crimes, sponsored by Rep. Michael Vaughan, R-Durham; An Act to Reduce the Amount of Good Time that May Be Awarded to Certain Offenders, sponsored by Sen. Diamond; ... An Act to Amend the Law Relating to Probation and Supervised Release for Sex Offenders, sponsored by Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham.

• April 27: An Act to Create Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Persons Convicted of Certain Sex Offenses Against Victims Under 12 Years of Age, sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples; An Act to Take Into Account the Crime that Facilitated a Sexual Assault, sponsored by Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta; An Act to Provide for Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators and to Prohibit Sex Offenders from Residing Together, sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Penobscot.

A potential for trouble here, although Colorado(?) has already done the same. What about members of the same family? What about a married couple (from the 80s & 90s witchhunt -- they do exist)? What about group homes/work-releases? I haven't read the bills, so maybe they've dealt with these. But I bet they haven't.

• April 30: An Act to Prevent Certain Sex Offenders from Having Contact with Persons Less than 14 Years of Age, sponsored by Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta; An Act to Place Lifetime Restraining Orders on Violent Sex Offenders and Predatory Sex Offenders, sponsored by Rep. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Waterboro; An Act to Prevent Sex Offenders from Areas Around School, sponsored by Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston; An Act to Ensure the Safety of the Public and of Victims of Sexual Assault, sponsored by Rep. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Waterboro; An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Establishment of Residency for Convicted Sex Offenders After Release From Prison, sponsored by Sen. Richard Nass, R-York County; An Act to Require as a Condition of Probation for Sex Offenders the Approval of a Residence by a Probation Officer, sponsored by Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta; An Act to Allow Municipalities to Designate Safe Zones to Protect Children from Sex Offenders, sponsored by Wesley Richardson, R-Warren; and, An Act to Create Safe Zones and to Increase the Use of Electronic Monitoring of High-Risk Sex Offenders, sponsored by Sen. Diamond.

Hard to say where to begin; this session is fraught with counterproductive stupidities. Based solely on their titles there are only two acts which have even the possibility of achieving the goal of improving, as opposed to decreasing, public safety.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a registered sex offender. I'm always bemused by the public's shock and anger at sex offenders living together. I don't know how many comments online I've read where the public is upset that the state is "allowing" these people to live together.
The irony is that, as a rule, sex offenders don't trust each other. They hate living together. In every case I know where sex offenders are living together, it is under some sort of mandated "shared living arrangement". Trust me, the state isn't "allowing" these sex offenders to live together - they're making them.

10:45 PM  

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