Sunday, February 12, 2012
Southern Center for Human Rights - Sex Offender Info
By Kyle Martin
Georgia’s sex offender laws are clear in some respects.
They explicitly say, for instance, that sex offenders have to register once a year on their birthday and let the sheriff’s office know every time they plan to move.
What confuses the public, those on the registry and even law enforcement, are the different time periods that dictate what privileges sex offenders are allowed, said Columbia County sheriff’s Investigator David Rush.
People call him in an uproar for instance, when a sex offender moves into a house across the street from a church or school. But that’s allowable if the sex offense occurred before 2003.
“A lot of times, people don’t like the answers they get,” Rush said.
He is charged with keeping tabs on all the sex offenders in Columbia County. He also heads the regional sex offender task force for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. The state affiliation brings him in contact almost daily with investigators around the area who have a question about sex offender law or related issues.
On a recent morning, Rush took a reporter along for one of the regular trips he makes through the county to check on its 90 registered sex offenders. (Neighboring Richmond County holds about 375 of the 20,440 sex offenders registered in Georgia.)
The law doesn’t require these checks, but Columbia County is one of many sheriff’s offices that specifically dedicate someone to this task. Rush divides his sex offender checks according to zones; on this morning, he covers a large area that starts in Harlem.
- Just imagine all the money he is spending on gas to go around, and find out the person is not home. It's just throwing money down the drain. It seems more appropriate to me, to go after 6pm, when most people, who have a job, will more than likely be home.
His first stop is a squat rectangular house with a long gravel driveway on George Walton Drive. Most of the sex offenders are at work during these daytime checks, and that’s the case with this one. Rush returns to his car, makes a check on his clipboard and pulls back onto the road.
As the tall pines zipping by the car windows give way to shopping plazas, Rush explains that some of the confusion in the law stems from the fact that residency restrictions are based on the time the offense was committed, not a conviction date.
The changes in 2010 break things up further. Anyone who committed an offense before June 4, 2003, does not have to follow any restrictions on where they can live or work. An offense committed between 2003 and June 30, 2006, means an offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of facilities “providing services or programs directed toward persons under 18 years of age.”
The restrictions on offenses between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008, are the familiar ones that keep offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a child-care facility, church, school, playground, etc.
For offenses after 2008, “public library” was added to the list, and the law keeps offenders from volunteering at a child care facility, school or church.
“It’s somewhat confusing because of the different time periods we’re dealing with,” Rush said. “Most people are familiar with the old law.”
In about an hour he has visited four homes, plus chatted with a sex offender taking a stroll along the roadside. Each meeting is less than five minutes, just a friendly, but obvious, reminder that someone is watching their actions. Rush has developed a rapport with most of these offenders after four or five years.
“They know I’m fair. I tell them when I first register them to call me with any questions,” Rush said. “Do whatever you’re supposed to do, and there are no problems.”
Most of them follow that advice, but there are absconders. Rush recalls the time he got lost trying to find a house deep in the woods off a dirt road. After several passes, Rush realized that the sex offender’s house had been bulldozed. That’s what folks in the investigation business call a clue, he jokes.
Failure to comply with the terms of the sex offender registry is a felony that carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. It’s also a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison to give false information about a sex offender’s whereabouts to an investigator. Rush reads that law to friends and family members who hesitate with their answers.
Years of working in tandem with sex offenders has bred some sympathy for their situation. As Rush pulls into different driveways, he gives a brief biography about the disabled veteran living in the house or the unemployed sex offender struggling with his wife’s medical bills. There’s the stigma to live with, too, especially in small towns with a long grapevine.
“They know how the general population feels about them. They stay in their homes, but when they got out in public, occasionally somebody will say something,” Rush said.
I'm an RSO.
Sometimes I am quite depressed, one rejection after another, truly a "leper."
Your site is a bit of encouragement in these times, very helpful, thank you.
I hope to read more, don't know if there is much I can do to help.
Federal Versus State Child Pornography Charges: What's the Difference?
By Milton J. Valencia
Say guidelines often demand punishment beyond severity of crime
As law enforcement officers and policy makers toughen prosecutions for the distribution and possession of child pornography, they are encountering increasing resistance from federal judges in what has become a caustic conflict over the appropriate punishment for a heinous crime.
In 2010, federal judges deviated below sentencing guidelines in child pornography cases 43 percent of the time, compared with 18 percent for all other crimes, according to data from the US Sentencing Commission, the agency that Congress established to set the guidelines.
That figure has been steadily increasing since the Supreme Court in 2005 and 2007 affirmed that judges have the right to depart from commission recommendations.
Just last month, a federal court judge in Boston sentenced a Dedham man to 21 months in prison for possession of child pornography - far lower than the 63 months he faced under sentencing guidelines, and even lower than the 30 months prosecutors had recommended as part of a plea deal.
The judge who pronounced the sentence was US District Court Judge Patti B. Saris, who also happens to chair the Sentencing Commission. "As far as I’m concerned, there are some problems with the guidelines," she said in open court in issuing the sentence.
In another example, US District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor sentenced a man in 2010 in Springfield to four years of probation, though prosecutors asked that he serve the 6-to-8-year sentence called for by the guidelines.
The judges’ persistent departure from the guidelines for child pornography offenses has caused such a stir that the US Sentencing Commission has agreed to examine them again, listing the endeavor as a priority. A public hearing is set for Feb. 15 in Washington.
Judges, including several locally, argue that changes in child pornography sentencing approved by Congress over the past decade, which add extra time for various factors such as the number of images involved, have resulted in sentences that are far too severe.
"Congress sets policy, but Congress doesn’t sentence individuals, judges do," said retired US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, who served on the bench in Boston until September 2011. "The guidelines don’t make sense, even for one who wants to be tough on pornography. The measure of the guidelines doesn’t match the culpability of the defendant."
Prosecutors acknowledge that the guidelines should be reconfigured to better reflect a defendant’s culpability. But they maintain that any changes to how the guidelines are calculated should not affect the actual scale of the sentences.
They say Congress - and society - have called for the toughened penalties for the crime.
"There’s been recognition nationwide that there’s been an epidemic," said James Lang, chief of the criminal division for the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts. "There is an exploitation [of children] that goes on every time those photos are shared."
Someone does something good, and like usual, the government screws it up.
By JULIANA KEEPING
The Rev. David Nichols founded Hand Up Ministries in 1996 to help convicted felons transition to life after prison. It evolved to a program that houses mostly sex offenders because of the many restrictions on where they can live in Oklahoma.
[name withheld] served almost nine years in prison. When he was released three months ago, he didn't have enough money to pay the $16 fee for his birth certificate.
The world had changed. It had sped up, gone digital. He'd lost custody of two sons. He had earned his high school diploma and gotten off the alcohol and meth that had ruled his life.
One thing will never change: [name withheld] is a sex offender.
[name withheld] said he molested his 12-year-old niece at age 23 while on a meth binge. He got a 10-year prison sentence and 10 years probation. As a sex offender, he must register his address every 90 days for life.
[name withheld], 32, is one of about 130 members of a gated Oklahoma City mobile home park who will be kicked out of his home in less than six months under a law that take effect July 1.
The law prohibits sex offenders from living together. Violators can be fined up to $2,000 and be sentenced to five years in prison.
- What is the rational behind this? I guess the politicians who passed this think that ex-sex offenders who are living together are conspiring to carry out a mass sexual assault campaign?
That's a big problem for Hand Up Ministries, the nonprofit that runs the gated, 14-acre mobile home park of convicted felons at 2130 SE 59. About 100 mobile homes and travel trailers house 235 convicted felons; 225 of them are sex offenders. The park only houses men; three men typically share each residence.
The Rev. David Nichols founded Hand Up Ministries in 1996 to help convicted felons transition to life after prison. It evolved to a program that houses mostly sex offenders because of the many restrictions on where they can live.
Those who commit to change their ways typically stay for a year before they get on their feet. The park operates on $100 weekly fees and small donations from churches. The ministry usually supports about 70 men who cannot pay weekly dues, Nichols said.
A map of Oklahoma City in the office trailer at the mobile home park is covered with colored dots. The dots represent schools, parks, child care centers and other areas where sex offenders can't live in the 606-square-mile city. Most of the map is under dots.
The unassuming trailer park is squeezed into an unrestricted area in the shadow of the city's massive landfill and down the road from several strip clubs. Only the sign with red letters warning “No Women or Children Allowed Past This Point” hints that this mobile home park is different.
[name withheld] said the help from Hand Up Ministries is the only thing keeping him off the streets, back to a life selling drugs. The ministry lent him the money to get a copy of his birth certificate. Then he could get an ID and found temporary work at a construction site.
Along with other men who live at the mobile home park, [name withheld] is driven to work every day in one of the ministry's two vans. Residents do the maintenance work to keep the vehicles running. The vans break down a lot, said Carol Barber, a driver for the ministry. Barber put 200,000 miles on the van he drove last year — running the men to court, to register in person as sex offenders, to work and to doctor appointments.
[name withheld] said conversations with staff members in the past three months about his problems — like finding the willpower to stay away from alcohol and meth — are the only time in his life he can recall receiving support from another adult male.
Nichols is encouraging the men who will be impacted by the new law to purchase tents and camp in public to show lawmakers who supported the bill and the governor who signed it the consequence.
“They're going to be responsible for their actions now,” Nichols said. “I'm going to let them face this issue. I don't get government money, state money or anything else. These guys are basically packed together and help each other and pay the bills so they can have a place to live.”
Having men living in a trailer together is part of the park's strategy to get residents on the right track. The men are accountable for each other, office manager James Womack said.
Residents abide by strict house rules. No alcohol, drugs, pornography are allowed at the park. The curfew is midnight.
Women and children are not allowed on the property. Womack said that regulation is meant to protect the men that live there, not the women and children.
“A lot of them are still on probation and they are not allowed to be around children or women,” he said.
Men who violate the rules are reported to a council of residents, which decides a course of action, including being kicked out of the park.
A high number of the residents suffer from mental illness. That includes [name withheld], who said he has been diagnosed as manic depressive and has anger issues. Hand Up Ministries drives him to the HOPE Community Services to receive treatment.
Despite the barriers, most residents have jobs. Nichols said the ministry has helped thousands of convicted felons and lowered recidivism.
Womack, who is a sex offender himself, agreed.
“This is a place for change,” Womack said. “This is a place for men who want to change their lives, get back on their feet and become productive members of society. If they want to continue to do the same things they've done, this is not the place for them.”
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty did not return calls to The Oklahoman for this story.
Lawmakers had lots to say during a lively debate leading up to the bill's passage, a recording from the state Capitol shows.
Asked about the origins of Senate Bill 852 during debate May 19 at the Capitol, Jolley said the bill "is a request from the chief of police of Oklahoma City."
"They went to the location of the offender and discovered child pornography in abundance," Jolley said. "They didn't know where it belonged because there were four offenders living in one location."
Jolley said the measure closes a loophole in the law that forbids sex offenders from living together in homes or apartments, but allows them to live in mobile homes.
Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, got emotional during the testimony while warning "You cannot figure out all the unintended consequences."
Jolley said via e-mail Friday that he understands the ministry will put additional trailers at the park so each person can rent their own. He also believe they are taking steps to start a second park at another community in the stae.
The bill initially failed 21-25, but was reconsidered and passed 34-12.
Often times, sex offenders end up on the streets because of problems finding houses and jobs after prison, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.
The tightening of the law likely will mean more homeless, unregistered sex offenders, he said.
That quandary was the single topic at a January monthly meeting at WestTown Resource Center, a complex where agencies provide assistance to the homeless. The meeting gets “all the homeless brains in the city” together to discuss various issues, Straughan said.
The group didn't come up with a solution to this problem.
“It seems to make sense to provide housing in such a way you know where they are,” Straughan said. “On the other hand, if someone was going to build it in my neighborhood, or even on a vacant corner of WestTown, I'd be troubled by that."
“City Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, just can't take that population. Those are family shelters with women and children. They're out of the mix,” he said.
Womack served two years in prison after groping a 14-year-old's breast while drunk, he said. He faced the same charge as [name withheld] — lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child — and also must register as a sex offender for life.
“We're the new lepers in society,” he said. “They don't want us in the cities. We've been cast out.”
They've been spewing the "100,000 missing" goldilock number for many years now, it never grows or decreases, and is just a number picked out of thin air because it's "not too large, not too small!" Also see the text at the top of our blog, below the title, or this study by Jill Levenson: "100,000 Sex Offenders Missing ... or Are They?