Sunday, May 16, 2010
By Norm Pattis
Those of us who earn our living on the front lines of the criminal justice system are often too shell-shocked to recognize larger trends. But when things go beyond a mere trend, and take the form and shape of a tsunami, everyone notices. So I write today about allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, the latest tidal wave to inundate the courts. It is the new crack cocaine of the criminal justice system.
There was a time when it seemed as if every other call for representation was from some soul caught within the web of a federal indictment for conspiring to sell crack cocaine. Here's how the game was played: The feds would target a suspected dealer. They'd watch him, record his phone conversations, and then, after several weeks, sweep in and arrest every person who as much as touched a rock of crack. Those at the periphery of the action were expected to plead guilty and get favorable terms in exchange for fingering those at the center of the conspiracy.
These cases became an art form, with predictable acts, plots and characters. (Client: "We never talked about the coke on the phone." Lawyer: "Yes, I know you talked about shrimp. But tell me, what have you to corroborate that you were really in the business of selling seafood?") Once you've seen a couple dozen of these, you've pretty well seen them all.
Today new melodramas are unfolding. They all involve child sex claims. It seems that two of every three calls we get now comes from someone accused of either looking at child pornography on line, enticing a purported minor on line to have sex, or groping a niece or daughter of a friend. Law enforcement has got its game down pretty well now, so expect more and more of these cases to be brought until, for reasons as yet unforeseen, some new fashions sweeps lawmen off their feet.
I'm not the only lawyer to observe this trend. I live in a tiny jurisdiction, and cover courthouses throughout my state. Lawyers gossip about what they are doing. Many lawyers are stunned by the sudden volume in these cases. Sex, I say, is the new crack.
I doubt seriously that some new wave of lechery has overtaken our society. In terms of the actual contact between adults and minors, I suspect things are pretty much the way they have always been. Sometimes the wrong things go bump in the night. We no longer overlook these transgressions: Today we seek long periods of incarceration in the effort to banish untoward desire.
But what has changed in the ubiquity of images on the Internet. I represent plenty of young men who took their libido for a walk on line. Some of them got curious about things they might never try. They looked at pictures of forbidden acts. Now the state and federal government want them to go to prison. It seems like a waste of life and human potential.
Other young men dabble at sex on line. The forms this lust takes is sadly common. If I hear about another guy in his twenties promising an undercover cop posing as a 14-year-old girl that he will teach her to give oral sex like a porn star, I'll sigh a deep groan of despair. I fear that Dante's vision of Hell is far more interesting that the warp and woof of our contemporary sins. Lust is ugly; we bend in only so many grotesque ways.
But here is what I worry about: As law enforcement perfects the craft of prosecuting these cases the standard for when to prosecute will get lower and lower. I now represent a young man accused of possessing four images of child pornography on his computer. This calls for prison. If there were only three images, he'd go free. So we fight now about whether he actually looked at all four images, and whether that matters. Were lawmakers thinking when they passed laws calling for mandatory prison time?
Or consider a new statute in Connecticut, aggravated sexual assault in the first degree. Touch two or more children under the age of 13 in an improper manner, and you look a twenty-five year mandatory sentence dead in the eye. That's the same penalty as required for manslaughter with a firearm. The real import of a statute like this is to frighten defendants into a plea: anything to avoid the risk of trial, whether they are guilty or not.
We're in the grip of a strange moral panic. The end does not seem yet to be in sight.
It is far too easy for lawmakers to pass legislation requiring draconian sentences from within the antiseptic chambers of a legislative assembly. Who, after all, wants to appear to go easy on those who abuse children? But not all forms of abuse are identical, and neither are all defendants. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake and the harm than comes of making it a crime dwarfs all justice. I wish that lawmakers were required to go to court to see their handiwork.
I wish that lawmakers could see that making child sex allegations the new crack cocaine of the criminal code is a manifest tragedy. I wish, finally, that each lawmaker were required to spend a few months behind bars to get a sense of what it is to live isolated and afraid. Is it to much to ask those who make the product to test drive what they are producing?
This article appears to be the start of them just locking up all those who commit a sex crime!
By John Wilkens
The state’s worst sex offenders are kept at Coalinga, where Gardner could have lived
COALINGA — When most people think about locking up violent sex offenders, maybe forever, the state mental hospital here isn’t what they envision.
Inside, it feels a bit like a boarding school. A spacious central mall features a store, a cafeteria, a barbershop, a library and a gymnasium. Windows look out onto small gardens.
The residents here — 800 child molesters and rapists deemed too dangerous to release when their prison sentences ended — live in brightly colored dormitories named after California landmarks: Catalina, Fisherman’s Wharf, Newport Beach.
John Albert Gardner III could have ended up here indefinitely after his first prison term. Instead, he went on to murder North County teenagers Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, and was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole.
It’s one of the many paths not taken for Gardner that afflict his victims’ families and motivate policymakers eyeing reforms.
Legislators and state auditors already are examining practices that even the state’s Sex Offender Management Board admits are dysfunctional — costly, convoluted and too often unable to recognize and control the most lethal predators.
Gardner, 31, spent five years in state prison for molesting and beating a Rancho Bernardo girl in 2000, and like many violent offenders, he was evaluated before his release for possible mental-health commitment. According to multiple sources, evaluators disagreed about whether he posed a danger to the public; under the law, that split decision meant he was paroled instead of hospitalized.
Had Gardner been committed, he probably would have started at a different state hospital. But some criminals from his class of offenders have been transferred here. There’s certainly room for them. The facility has a capacity of 1,500 beds, and about 600 of them are unused.
The empty beds are among the things being examined in the wake of the murders Gardner committed. Although the passage of Jessica’s Law (PDF) in 2006 brought a tenfold increase in the number of offenders referred for possible hospitalization, commitments have gone down, according to data analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Nancy Kincaid, assistant director of the Department of Mental Health, said that’s because most of the referrals don’t meet the stringent criteria for mental-health placement. Chris Johnson, a San Francisco attorney who has been critical of the system, said it’s being done largely to save money. A state audit examining the bottleneck was approved in early May.
“We have serious concerns that (the Department of Mental Health) is not fully executing its duty to protect the public from sex offenders,” said state Assemblymen Nathan Fletcher (Contact), R-San Diego, and Jim Nielsen (Contact), R-Gerber, who asked for the audit.
- They are both running for office, so like clockwork, out comes the sex offender issues. Not all sex offenders are dangerous, but Nathan seems to think otherwise.
Coalinga opened in August 2005, the first state hospital built in California in 50 years. It cost $388 million. It sits next to Pleasant Valley State Prison, about four miles west of Interstate 5 amid farmlands, oil wells and not much else — which was the whole idea. Nobody wants sex offenders nearby, especially not those known officially as “sexually violent predators,” which most of these men are.
Almost from the beginning, the facility has been an awkward hybrid, part prison and part hospital. The outside has high fences and razor wire, and the residents wear uniforms and have daily head counts. Inside, the focus is therapeutic, with clinicians talking about relapse prevention and addressing the patients as “Mr.”
- It's a prison. It has razor wire and they have to wear prison outfits, instead of their street clothes, so yeah, it's nothing more than a prison.
In its own way, this is a place of learning, and an expensive one — $185,000 a year per person. That’s almost four times as costly as prison. The annual tab to attend Stanford University is in the neighborhood of $50,000.
At least at Stanford, most of the students go to class. Here, two-thirds refuse to participate in the treatment designed to one day return them to society. They think Coalinga is a sham and spend their days watching TV, playing cards, lifting weights.
The end result: In 15 years of the civil-commitment program — first at other hospitals, now at Coalinga — 19 offenders have been released via treatment, roughly one a year.
“This place was never meant to do anything except ensnarl us in the system,” said _____, 53, a convicted child molester from San Diego. “They never really intended to let us out. The most viable release plan is through a body bag.”
To get here, the men were first screened by evaluators with the Department of Mental Health and found to have a disorder that makes them likely to re-offend. Then, through a court process in the county where they committed their crime, they were ruled predators and ordered locked up until they were well enough to be released.
Incarcerating people past the end of their prison terms for crimes they might commit is controversial, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s legal as long as the goal is treatment, not punishment. Nineteen other states have similar programs.
Most of the men are in their 50s. Several use wheelchairs. They don’t all look like the worst of the worst. Some display the same charms that got some of them close to their victims — deferential smiles, compliments, politeness.
But there’s also anger below the surface, and frustration. They know what society thinks of them. Every time a Gardner happens, it gets worse. But they also know they aren’t exactly doing hard time.
“If you have to be locked up, this is the place to do it,” said _____, 30, a convicted rapist from Humboldt County who edits The Ally, a newsletter for hospital detainees. He hopes legal appeals will free him, although he acknowledged that “most of these guys are never getting out, and they know it.”
To get out, they’re supposed to complete a five-phase, behavior-modification plan that includes group therapy and individual counseling. They’re expected to accept responsibility for their crimes — “owning what you’ve done,” in the words of psychologist Tricia Busby, one of the hospital’s clinicians. The patients also develop empathy for their victims and learn skills for recognizing and controlling deviant urges.
The final phase involves court-approved, conditional release into the community, with continued outpatient treatment and supervision, akin to parole, from a private contractor.
At several steps along the way, their progress is tested with polygraphs and penile plethysmographs, a gauge that measures arousal to pictures and videos. Completing the treatment program typically takes about six years, Kincaid said.
Busby said the ultimate goal is containment — no new offenses. Almost nobody thinks sex offenders can be cured. They’ll need to be in treatment the rest of their lives, no matter where they’re living, she said.
Of the 19 statewide who have been released via treatment since 1996, six had their conditional releases revoked for violations and returned to the hospital, Kincaid said. Four of the six were released again later. An additional 175 have been released unconditionally because of medical reasons, advanced age or legal rulings.
_____, 54, hopes soon to be among the freed. He’s in treatment, working his way through Phase III. He said his violence — he described himself as a convicted rapist from Oceanside who once attacked an elderly double amputee — has its roots in his upbringing.
“There was a seed planted in me, and I accept that now,” _____ said. “I’ve learned to know when that seed is coming out and to get help.”
But for others, a big obstacle to treatment is the requirement that they admit all their sex crimes, even those for which they were never arrested. What they say can be used against them in court.
That’s a big reason 67 percent refuse treatment. Others decline because they don’t think they did anything wrong, or because they dismiss treatment as ineffective, or because they find the process hypocritical: The same legal system that denied they were mentally ill at trial and denied them mental-health treatment in prison now incarcerates them indefinitely because of mental illness.
_____ is among those opting out. “What are they releasing, one a year? There’s no real exit strategy,” he said. “It’s pretty expensive for the taxpayers. You could release me and pay somebody to follow me around all the time and it would be cheaper. Where’s the bang for the buck?”
He spent 10 years in prison for luring boys to a house and molesting them. He has been in a state hospital — first Atascadero on the Central Coast, now Coalinga — for eight more. He believes he has gotten better and is no longer a threat, but he said he also understands the public’s reluctance to gamble on people like him.
Not now, he acknowledged. Not after John Gardner.
By CECIL M. JONES JR.
At the suggestion of a friend, I recently became a volunteer at the Shiloni Transformational Ministry for Homeless Sex Offenders. Shiloni is a faith-based program in Birmingham founded five years ago by Bill and Barbara Grier to help sex offenders after they get out of prison by providing them a temporary place to live while they try to find a job.
- Please visit their web site above, send them an email, and thank them for what they are doing! I did!
The ministry addresses their spiritual and physical needs. All offenders are difficult to help, but sex offenders are more so. Shiloni is the only program of its kind in the entire state.
Recently, the Legislature unanimously passed and the governor signed into law a bill affecting where sex offenders may live. Already, under a prior law, sex offenders cannot live or work less than 3,000 yards from a college, school or day care center.
- I believe this 3,000 yards is a typing mistake, and notice it is in yards, which is 9,000 feet. See my comments below this blog post.
I believe such constraints are reasonable, but the new law is not.
For example, along with other ill-conceived requirements, the law says no more than one adult criminal sex offender and one unrelated juvenile sex offender can live in the same house, and only one sex offender may live in an apartment complex within 100 yards of the residence of another sex offender.
Basically, the thrust and intent of the law are that sex offenders may not live anywhere.
However Draconian and unfair it may be, it is easy to pass a law in Alabama affecting sex offenders. I believe that if a bill were proposed to brand offenders on the forehead with the letters "SO," it would pass the Legislature unanimously.
Like other people, I thought I knew all I needed to know about sex offenders: Put them in prison and throw away the key. Case closed.
It is not that easy. We think we know what a sex offender is, but we do not. What do a 17-year-old boy having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, a streaker, and a drunk, naked frat boy rolling around on the front lawn of his fraternity house shouting "Roll Tide" have in common?
According to Alabama law, they are all "sex offenders." Once arrested and found guilty, they are branded for life.
The streaker and the drunk frat boy are easily dismissed, but the two teenagers are not. Alabama law holds that a girl under the age of 16 cannot agree to consensual sex with a boy older than she is; therefore, the boy is a rapist and a sex offender.
Ridiculous? Think again. I know such a boy in the Shiloni program. Mom and dad get mad, and the boy gets jail.
Or, consider "Brad." Brad's father left when he was 1 month old. He was later molested by his half-sister's husband. When he was 14, his mother suddenly died. Brad was alone and an emotional wreck.
He then started acting out sexually. He was arrested and sent to the state juvenile detention center at Mt. Meigs, where his life was saved. However, when Brad was released at age 18, he was branded as a sex offender.
One person I will never forget was a 53-year-old man who had consensual sex with an underage girl. Having been a missionary and a pastor, he was stricken with guilt at his sin and turned himself in to police. He knew it was wrong in the sight of God.
None of his past life's goodness and his deep remorse was taken into consideration at his sentencing. He was given 30 years.
When sex offenders are released, if they have not found a place to live within three days, they are arrested and put back in jail. This is not morally right. They have served their sentence and committed no additional crime. They are in a catch-22 situation.
What we should be concerned about are real sex offenders -- the predators, the pedophiles and the serial rapists who cannot be rehabilitated.
- Some can be rehabilitated, if they want to change.
The biggest barriers sex offenders face when they are released are finding a place to live and finding a job. The Shiloni ministry helps with these two needs. Providing a place for sex offenders to live is a huge problem because, understandably, no one wants them in his backyard.
Without a lot of fanfare, well-intentioned people representing the city, the county and their respective police forces should be able to work together to find an appropriate place for a shelter.
Bill and Barbara Grier have put their hearts and souls into helping sex offenders. They have spent endless hours and thousands of their own dollars to sustain their ministry. They are what I call "special people" who have been tapped on the shoulder by God. They need help both in goodwill and in financial support.
Shiloni is just one program. There should be more like it.
Warren County has tried practically everything to deal with its homeless sex offenders.
- Not everything! If they repealed the residency restrictions, which IMO is causing the homelessness, then more folks can get homes and jobs. A person in an unstable life, homeless, jobless, is more likely to re-offend. So if we want NO MORE VICTIMS, then the laws need to be repealed.
It has tried placing them in a single motel near the Northway in Queensbury, far from schools or playgrounds. After the news got out about so many convicted abusers all living in a place where a family might unexpectedly drop in and rent a room, the hotel owner lost his insurance and the county had to find other accommodations.
- This is typical. If the laws were repealed, then you'd not have so many living in the same places. The laws force them to congregate together, and living in large numbers in hotels/motels is common sense! And when the public finds out, then out comes the mob, and the sex offender shuffle continues.
So it tried to place several offenders in one of the only motels that would take them. That motel happened to be across the street from the Aviation Mall and down the street from the Queensbury school complex.
Then last week, county officials tried to place its offenders in a motel in Whitehall, in another county and 45 minutes up the road. That, too, fell through when bad publicity about the move, and the motel's close proximity to a day care center and trailer park, prompted the offenders to move out. County officials fear that without a suitable location to house them, the men will become homeless.
- And like I said, when life is unstable, and you've lost everything, then many will result to crime in order to survive.
Given the lack of success the county has had in finding suitable quarters for paroled sex offenders, it may be time for officials to look into buying or constructing a single residential facility to house them. While it might seem like the worst possible idea to place a bunch of sex offenders together in one big building, studies show that it's not necessarily far-fetched.
- Even if you do this, when people find out, it will be the usual NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard!)
Putting homeless sex offenders in one place solves several problems. First off, it makes it a whole lot easier for the county to track these individuals when they're not scattered throughout the region in various motels and apartments. The police would know quickly if they'd moved to another location and not told them. By not having to move sex offenders around from motel room to motel room, the county would be providing them with a stable housing environment. That, studies show, contributes greatly to rehabilitation and treatment efforts.
Second, having one building could be more cost-effective than paying daily hotel bills. Warren County currently pays about $120,000 to house sex offenders in various locations. Say it bought a $500,000 building to house a dozen sex offenders. The mortgage would be about $3,000 or $4,000 a month, or $36,000 to $42,000 a year, plus maintenance and utilities. Even if the price went up to $1 million for an existing structure or a modular facility, the long-term cost still could be less than what the county is paying now.
And what money the county saves on motel bills, it could hire a counselor to work with sex offenders and to find them permanent housing. A county-owned housing unit also would have other benefits, such as allowing probation officers to limit offenders' access to Internet sites where they could prey on children.
- Not all offenders prey on children!
By being able to select the location for the building, the county could ensure that sex offenders follow residency restrictions by not having them live in close proximity to schools, day care centers, playgrounds, shopping malls or other places where kids gather. According to a 2008 study by the California Coalition On Sexual Offending, available research shows no relationship between where a registered sex offender lives and the pattern of any new sex crime he commits. But that just lends credence to the argument of keeping sex offenders in a place where it's easier to monitor them.
- Exactly, residency restrictions do not protect anyone, nor prevent crime, they only force offenders into unstable lives and homelessness (i.e. punishment)
Removing sex offenders from motels eliminates any risk that an unsuspecting family will drop into town and rent a room where sex offenders are staying. A number of communities are beginning to require that motels post signs notifying potential visitors about the existence of sex offenders in the building. That requirement will only reduce the number of motels willing to accept sex offenders, making residential housing a more reasonable option.
It might be tempting for the public to just say, "To hell with these guys. Who cares if they're homeless?" But one option the county doesn't have is giving up. A homeless sex offender is potentially far more dangerous than one provided with a place to live. A homeless sex offender gets no stability, no treatment and is very difficult to keep track of. That creates a greater opportunity for that person to re-offend.
Short of giving them a bus ticket and sending them to live under a bridge in Florida, the county has to come up with a solution.
Despite the county's best efforts to find housing for its homeless paroled sex offenders, nothing's worked so far.
Creating a residential facility might be the last, and best, solution.
- Not in my opinion. They will just spend millions of dollars building it, while the public is raising hell about it, and if it's ever built, it's only a matter of time before it's shut down due to the mob mentality!
Well, politicians have found their way to get elected or laws passed, exploit victims of sexual abuse and sex offenders. This is why I have always hated politics, they are just a bunch of blood sucking ticks.
In the first video, Michael took a study out of context, like usual, and picked only the portion which helps him look better. Read the entire study, in it's full context, below. See the last video, which explains it all!
Video Link | Jasmine's Law (PDF)