Sunday, May 22, 2011

TV Justice Thrives on Fear

Original Article

05/22/2011

By DAVID CARR

This week, it was announced that “America’s Most Wanted,” hosted by John Walsh, the longest running perp walk in television history, would no longer be regularly broadcast on Fox. With the future of Mr. Walsh’s hunt for bad guys uncertain, who will speak for the victims of crime?

Well, there’s always Nancy Grace.

Every night on HLN, CNN’s supposedly softer side, Ms. Grace sprays lightning bolts in all directions — at her guests, the law, and most often, the accused. Since her show began in 2005, the presumption of innocence has found a willful enemy in the former prosecutor turned broadcast judge-and-jury.

Shows like “Nancy Grace” and “America’s Most Wanted” — along with “Cops,” and all the prison reality shows and Court TV re-enacts — may serve as a window on crime, but the fundamental appeal is more primal. Crime shows are the adult version of the scary stories we were told as children, the ones about the unseen Gollum who sweeps out of nowhere and devours the lives of unsuspecting people.

I have no issue with true crime, as long as it is true. Ms. Grace, a former prosecutor in Atlanta who was reprimanded for stepping over a line more than once, obliterates lines every night on “Nancy Grace.” Working with a contingent of experts who have all the independence of a crew of trained seals, Ms. Grace races toward judgment, heedlessly ignoring nuance and evidence on her way to finding guilt.

Ms. Grace knows what she knows with a great deal of certainty, but she was wrong about the now debunked rape charges against the Duke lacrosse team, she was wrong about who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. She taped a corrosive interview in 2006 with Melinda Duckett, whose 2-year-old son had gone missing, and Ms. Duckett killed herself the next day. Ms. Grace broadcast the interview anyway.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington and a frequent television talking head on legal matters, says she practices a hybrid of journalism and law that manages to be neither.

Nancy Disgrace
I think she has managed to demean both professions with her hype, rabid persona, and sensational analysis,” Professor Turley said. “Some part of the public takes her seriously, and her show erodes the respect for basic rights.”

She has her fans. Ernie Allen, the president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is upset about the apparent passing of “America’s Most Wanted” and sees Ms. Grace as one of the last people standing up for victims.

What Nancy Grace does so well is tell the story from the perspective of the victims,” he said. “Her show is a way for the broad dissemination of information about the victims of crime.”

Like Mr. Walsh and Dominick Dunne, Ms. Grace came by her victimhood honestly when her fianc√©, Keith Griffin, was killed when she was just 19. In her book “Objection,” Ms. Grace suggested that a stranger with a criminal record shot Mr. Griffin outside a convenience store, was arrested and denied any involvement. By her recollection, she had to sit through three days of agonizing deliberation and then the prosecutor asked her if the defendant should be given the death penalty. She said no, she had no stomach for it.

The New York Observer fact-checked her written account and discovered that Mr. Griffin was killed by a former co-worker with no criminal record who confessed to the crime immediately. At trial, he was convicted within hours and the prosecution did in fact ask for the death penalty, but was denied. Ms. Grace explained the variance by telling The Observer, “I have tried not to think about it.”

So what if she got a few details wrong? The love of her life died when she was at a young age. And she’s been dealing payback ever since.
- Amen, just like John Walsh, Ernie Allen, Mark Lunsford, etc.

It can be a successful line of work. (Indeed, Beth Holloway, mother of Natalee, the young girl whose disappearance six years ago became a cable-television and “Nancy Grace” mainstay, now has a Lifetime show called “Vanished with Beth Holloway.”, Video) But there are some signs that crime doesn’t pay as it once did.



ME - Tiered system for sex offenders remains elusive for lawmakers

Original Article

05/20/2011

By Eric Russell

AUGUSTA - Lawmakers on Friday deferred action once again on legislation that would adopt a tiered classification system for registered sex offenders even though the inaction could have legal and financial implications.

Rep. Anne Haskell
LD 1514 (PDF), submitted by Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, would update Maine’s Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act, which was first passed in 1999, by creating three tiers of offenders and a risk assessment tool to classify offenders into those tiers.

Members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee were generally supportive of Haskell’s bill during a work session Friday, but they ultimately decided to push any decision to the next legislative session.

I certainly would like to see us take a direction,” Haskell said during the session. “We’ve been plowing the same ground now for all this time.”

After the vote, Haskell said she wasn’t necessarily frustrated with the result.

The bill was submitted late and it was a comprehensive bill,” she said. “There are a lot of freshman legislators who didn’t have time to get up to speed.”

Still, there may be increasing pressure to make changes soon. Maine is one of dozens of states that are still trying to meet new requirements of the federal Adam Walsh Act. If Maine does not meet those requirements by late July, it could lose Department of Justice funding.
- But, passing the laws would cost more to enforce than to accept the lose.

Lawmakers in several Legislatures dating back to 2006 have discussed implementing a tiered system for sex offenders, similar to what Massachusetts and other states have done, but actual changes have been elusive.

Haskell’s bill would separate offenders into 10-year registrants, 25-year registrants and lifetime registrants and would further establish a risk assessment process to determine the threat level an offender poses to society.

The biggest concerns over LD 1514 were related to risk assessment. Some critics are worried about the cost of implementing such a program. Others are not convinced risk assessment is reliable or consistent.

Legislators voted to carry over LD 1514 to the next legislative session, but they also committed to holding a workshop over the summer to address any lingering concerns.

Sen. Bill Diamond
Although they delayed action on Haskell’s bill, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee did vote to send forward an amended version of LD 1025 (PDF), a bill that also proposes changes to the sex offender registry. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that bill would require Maine’s registry to show whether someone would be listed for 10 years or for life. Currently, there is no way to differentiate between low-risk offenders and high-risk predators.

Diamond said even making that minor change would do more than any other Legislature in recent years has done to address inequities in Maine’s sex offender laws.

Rep. Gary Plummer
The committee also approved on Friday LD 1317 (PDF), sponsored by Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, which prohibits information collected by the State Bureau of Identification from being disseminated to the public except as part of the state-run registry.

Many private registries have been created by nongovernmental groups, but the information is not updated regularly and often contains incomplete and sometimes inaccurate data, according to Matthew Ruel, director of the State Bureau of Identification, which manages the registry.

That bill is likely to be reviewed by the Judiciary Committee because it has implications on Maine’s Freedom of Access laws.

The Maine Department of Public Safety, meanwhile, is seeking lawmakers’ assistance in discouraging private sex offender registries from popping up on the Web with Maine data.

Ruel said the state could further discourage private registries by creating mapping capabilities on Maine’s site, but legislators were not overly supportive of that idea.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky
I’m going to be careful about putting any more information out on that registry,” said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick.



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LA - Lawmakers seek to ban convict use of social media

Original Article

05/21/2011

By Mike Hasten

Rule to apply to sex offenders, inmates

BATON ROUGE — Prison inmates and sex offenders who have been released should be banned from utilizing social networking sites on the Internet that could be used to solicit victims, state lawmakers say.
- I disagree, it's an unconstitutional law that removes rights everyone else has.  Not all sex offenders or inmates have used or will use social networks to "solicit victims!"  If the offender used a social network to commit their crime, then this is understandable, while they are on probation or parole, but once they have done their sentence, their rights should be restored.

Bills addressing separate issues have been approved in the House and Senate and have been sent to the other body for consideration.

Rep. Ledricka Thierry
HB55 by Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, bans certain sex offenders, especially those whose crimes involved minors, from accessing social media like Facebook or MySpace, or going into chat rooms or peer-to-peer networks. It has been sent to the Senate for review after receiving 76-0 approval in the House Thursday.

"Currently, we have laws that tell sex offenders how many feet they have to stay away from our children and what places they can go near our children," Thierry said. "With the increasing rate of usage of the Internet and usage by our innocent children, I think it's only proper that we have this legislation so we can tell them how far to stay away from our children on the Internet."
- Just the usual feel good law.  If a person is truly dangerous, it's very simple to create a new identity and get on one of these sites.  So it may deter some, but it won't prevent crime, and telling people where they can and can't go, on the Internet and elsewhere, is unconstitutional, if the constitution meant anything.

AG Buddy Caldwell
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) said summer is a prime time for solicitors of children because they are out of school and have lots of idle time to spend in the Internet.

"Internet access offers incredible opportunities for learning and entertainment, but parents need to know that there are some dark and dangerous off-ramps, especially for children, when surfing the Web," he said. "The AG's High Tech Crime Unit and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force are working hard to keep kids safe online, but we also need the help of parents."

Caldwell says without proper supervision, children can easily be exposed to inappropriate material and messages, be exploited by sexual predators and even become victims to unscrupulous con artists.

Sen. Francis Thompson
Sen. Francis Thompson's SB182 takes a different approach.

It targets inmates who are behind bars and using the Internet to create social networking sites to make connections with people, further scams, threaten witnesses, solicit contraband to be brought into prisons or send or receive pornography.
- This I agree with.  People behind bars should not have access to the Internet, especially unmonitored.

Thompson's bill cleared the Senate 31-1 and is scheduled to be heard in the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

SB182 is "a public safety issue and a victim's right and protection issue," Thompson said.

It was proposed by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, which presented Thompson with "a four-inch-thick folder of things I could not talk about in committee."

He said it contains "horrible things they say, things they'd do — drugs, developing relationships and intimidating people. I wish they would all rehabilitate properly, but the fact it, they don't. There's a lot of abnormal behavior going on."

Corrections officials monitor letters that go out, phone calls in and out and computer usage, he said, but inmates get people on the outside to create sites for them.

While the bill can't penalize someone else for setting up a social networking site for an inmate, the law would punish any inmate that gets someone else to do it.

"The bill says they're responsible for their own actions," Thompson said.

Thierry's HB55 creates the crime of unlawful use or access of social media, such as networking websites, chat rooms or peer-to-peer networks by a person who is required to register as a sex offender and who was either previously convicted of indecent behavior with juveniles, pornography involving juveniles, computer-aided solicitation of a minor or video voyeurism, or was previously convicted of a sex offense in which the victim was a minor.

The proposed law provides an exception for those sex offenders who have permission to access social networking websites, chat rooms, or peer-to-peer networks from a probation or parole officer or a court of original jurisdiction.

Upon a first conviction, the offender shall be fined not more than $10,000 and shall be imprisoned with hard labor for not more than 10 years without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

A second or subsequent conviction would bring a fine of not more than $20,000 and shall be imprisoned with hard labor for not less than five years nor more than 20 years without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

Thompson's SB 182 expands present law that authorizes the secretary to permit visits between inmates and persons outside the institution under reasonable conditions between approved friends, relatives and other persons.

It would prohibit any offender sentenced in state court from establishing or maintaining an account on a social networking website.

The proposed law provides maximum penalties of a fine of not more than $500 and imprisonment of not more than 30 days.

Thompson said the penalty "was not necessarily my idea" and some people argued that it didn't seem like much of a penalty for someone who was already in prison.

He said he told them, "just like it is out here, in there, money is king. In there, $500 can buy a lot more than it can out here."

Thompson said state corrections officials have talked to major social network providers to help prevent inmates from creating sites.



UK - The conversation: Does restorative justice work? Yes!

Original Article

05/21/2011

By Oliver Laughland

[name withheld], a serial offender, broke into 72-year-old Kathleen's house while high on a cocktail of drugs. After he was convicted, the pair agreed to meet and hear each other's story. They talk about how the experience has helped them

The Ministry of Justice is considering increasing the use of restorative justice – in which offenders are encouraged to meet their victims – as part of its forthcoming green paper on criminal justice reform. Oliver Laughland brings together 34-year-old [name withheld], a prolific offender and drug user from Widnes, Cheshire, and 72-year-old grandmother, Kathleen, whose house he burgled, to discuss their experience of going through the restorative justice process and their reflections on the crime.

[name withheld]: My recollection of that day is going into the town centre to do some shoplifting to fund my drug habit. We got through about five runs until the security guards had had enough and we couldn't get in any shops. We were making our way back and it was only then, on the way past [Kathleen's house] when the window was open, it was an opportunity. I climbed through. All I was looking for was something quick to sell, you know, or money, gold, that type of stuff. Kathleen turned up so I opened the front door and darted out through fear of getting caught. I knew what would happen if I got caught. I'd go to prison and I'd be rattling [detox] so I darted. That day I was under the influence of alcohol, crack cocaine and diazepam.

Kathleen: When I came home I tried the front door key but I couldn't get in – then you came out. I tried to grip you but I couldn't and you ran off. Upstairs was an absolute mess. I phoned the bobbies who came. Then somebody came out to see if I was all right, did I need somebody to talk to? At the time I didn't, all my insides felt just like clockwork. But I was there [at home] for one or two days and I just didn't feel safe. I kept turning round [thinking someone was there] and when I went to bed, being on my own, I was listening for noises. My granddaughter lives across the road so I moved in with her for a few weeks and then I went back to my house but I still didn't feel secure. So I left her and I went into private accommodation, but I still had that fear. I went to the doctor and he gave me tablets. I was really angry that you'd invaded my privacy.

RA: It was the day after I was arrested and put in prison that I knew what had happened. I knew I'd burgled a house, that ... it was an old lady. At that point, I was still under the influence of drugs, you don't feel much. It wasn't until my detox that I started feeling bad.

K: Why go for houses?

RA: I think people go for houses through desperation really. They exhaust all other avenues, whether it's family or their own possessions, and drugs get you to a point where you don't care about yourself, you've got no feelings for others and all you're motivated by ...

K: Is a fix?

RA: Yeah. You know your head will tell you it's OK to do because you need that drug and you're not thinking at the time about who's living there.

K: It took me a long time [to get over it]. I'm in my 70s – it's frightening. You've got to look at it at from other points of view. If you went in that house and there was an elderly person in, how would you feel if the shock killed them?

RA: I don't know.

K: You want to think of it that way. At the end of the day, it's not worth it.

RA: No. I understand that now.

Oliver Laughland: Can you remember how you felt the day you met through the restorative justice process?

RA: I was full of fear. I thought, how's she going to react? But I felt that you deserved an explanation and that you deserved to get how you felt about it across to me, as well. The way I see it is that you must have imagined some kind of monster going through your stuff.

K: I did. When I went to meet you there was still built-up anger, and when we got talking I burst out in tears. All that hatred had built up that much, that's how I released it. And [after that] I just built my life back up. All the hatred and everything went out. It was like a relief.

RA: It must have been pretty scary and I can understand all that, definitely, and that's what I felt bad for. I thought, what have I done to this lady? You've worked all your life, you've got all your stuff, and for someone to just come in and invade it like that. It must just have been awful. So I was feeling pretty bad, but I sat there and I went through it. To be honest, I felt really upset myself, but me being a lad, you know, I always try to hold it in me. But that day it was all about you really having to face me. I wanted to know what I'd done, because I needed to know. Everything you said to me, I got it up there [points to his head] and I'll always keep it there because it's a constant reminder to me of what I was capable of in drug addiction. I took your independence away.

K: I didn't know you were on drugs and I didn't know your tale until it all came out. You were a different lad altogether. You weren't the same [name withheld] that I'd seen dart out the house.

OL: And what has happened since you've been through the process?

RA: Kathleen giving me the opportunity to explain myself, has been very therapeutic for me as well. That day motivated me to get detoxed because I was still on a methadone script. I went in for five weeks and it was a nightmare. It was hell. It was the worst rattle I've ever had. I got through the process and now I've got my own flat, I don't go near anyone that's using any more, and I'm just trying to get my life back on track.

K: Good. Very good. I was hoping that you would change, which you have, and it's good to hear that you're doing so well. You've got to think about your freedom, you don't want to be locked up again. I've tried to get you back on track. But now it's up to you. Just keep up the good work.

RA: I will. Whenever I'm feeling down or in that mould of where I used to be, I always, always think of you and it keeps me going forward.

K: Never look back, always look forward.