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Sunday, August 12, 2012
CANADA - Support stops sex offenders - Program that helps released offenders ease into community also reduces chances they'll reoffend
By Glenda Luymes
What is the best way to prevent a sex offender at the end of his prison term from victimizing someone else?
The answer is simple, according to experts: provide a community of support.
But try to find a supportive community, and things get a whole lot more complicated.
"Our natural tendency is to push these people away. But it turns out to be the worst possible thing we can do," said Andrew McWhinnie, who works with sex offenders in his role as an adviser with Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA).
The not-for-profit program, which is funded by various government departments, including the chaplaincy division of the Correctional Service of Canada, works under the tag line No More Victims.
But its work - providing support to sex offenders in the community - would likely be distasteful to any-one who has ever been the victim of a sex crime.
Sex offenders have been in the news at least four times this week in B.C. On Thursday, Abbotsford police arrested a child lurer who breached the conditions of his probation, only a few days after the department warned the community about another recently released offender who decided to take up residence in the city. Meanwhile, police on Vancouver Island arrested a sex offender with a backpack full of women's and girls' underwear, and another man is facing charges for allegedly molesting young boys at a public pool.
"Most people could care less about [sex] offenders," McWhinnie told the Sunday Province. "They want them to go back to jail ... but what they don't think about is how many more victims that can mean."
Instead, CoSA helps sex offenders ease back into society. Volunteers, at the request of the offender, can help him find housing, get him to appointments and make sure he/she has food. "Those first few days [after being released from jail] can be absolute hell," said McWhinnie, adding police alerts, which inform a community about the presence of a sex offender, can make daily life very difficult.
But the alerts, such as those recently issued by Abbotsford police after two sex offenders settled in that community, can also provide an added level of accountability.
One of the offenders, [name withheld], who was released from prison in February after being convicted of luring teenage boys online, was arrested Thursday for breaching the conditions of his probation in a ruse that was "remarkably similar" to his previous crimes. [name withheld]'s picture was released by police when he left prison, and it was an alert citizen who brought his recent online activity to police attention, said Abbots-ford police Const. Ian MacDonald.
In 2010, while [name withheld] was on bail awaiting trial, another citizen spotted the sex offender sitting in a hot tub at an Abbotsford public pool and called police.
Last week, when child sex tourist [name withheld] decided to make Abbotsford his home, police issued another warning and a map highlighting his new neighbourhood.
MacDonald defended the department's decision to issue the public alerts, saying warnings are not made lightly and are not made with the intention of running the offender out of town.
"We consider the individual's right to privacy, and we try to find a balance," MacDonald explained. Police and behavioural sciences officers look at each case independently with the ultimate goal of keeping people safe. In Abbotsford, the chief or deputy chief must sign off on all public notifications. The privacy commission is also notified, as well as the offender himself.
MacDonald said police are very aware that offenders with support are less likely to reoffend.
Conversely, it is offenders who feel alienated and isolated who are at risk of falling back into old behaviour and hidden sexual deviance, said Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon.
Statistics show about 14 per cent of sex offenders will reoffend in the five years after their release from prison. That number drops to six per cent after 10 years and four per cent after 15 years.
- More recidivism studies here.
By Jared Janes
Edinburg’s passage last week of an ordinance restricting the activities of registered sex offenders within city limits placed it among an ever-growing list of Texas municipalities taking similar steps in the name of public safety.
Small and mid-sized cities across the state have adopted ordinances that go beyond state-imposed rules to restrict areas where sex offenders can register to live, prohibit their presence around child-oriented facilities or force them to stay indoors on trick-or-treat night. But those ordinances also have been accused of providing families a false sense of security while vilifying some sex offenders on the state’s bloated registry who pose no serious threat to children.
Many of Edinburg’s 102 registered sex offenders live near schools, parks and other areas where children typically congregate. Edinburg Police Chief Rolando Castaneda told the City Council the ordinance limits their presence around those facilities “before it enhances into something bigger that might hurt one of our children.”
The city’s ordinance was also in response to public concern from residents who live near registered sex offenders, said Detective Arturo Montemayor, who leads the Edinburg Police Department’s sex offender registration unit. Although state law establishes a “child safety zone” for sex offenders — prohibiting them from being within 500 feet of children — there are no regulations once they complete probation and parole.
“We get a lot of calls from the community saying there’s a sex offender where I live, right across the street from a playground or school,” he said. “We have to tell them, ‘If he’s not on probation or parole, he can live where he wants.’”
Under Edinburg’s new ordinance, registered sex offenders are prohibited from remaining on the premises of school or child-oriented facilities after being asked to leave, returning to the site within seven days or establishing a continual pattern of loitering on streets and sidewalks outside the building. The ordinance allows exemptions for registered sex offenders who are at the school to pick up their own children, attend classes at the school or just pass by in a vehicle.
The ordinance also requires sex offenders to stay in their residences on trick-or-treat night, turn off all their exterior lights and place a 9.5-by-11-inch sign outside that says “No Candy.”
Violation of the ordinance carries a $2,000 fine.
But Edinburg’s measure doesn’t go as far as that of some other Texas cities that prohibit registered sex offenders from outright residing within 1,500 feet of a place where children commonly gather.
In March, a Lewisville man filed suit against that city, saying the residency restrictions made it impossible for his family to buy or rent in town and forced him to live with his wife and two children in a motel room. Attorneys for [name withheld], who was convicted in 2007 of online solicitation of a minor, contend the residency restrictions are an unreasonable burden for people who have completed their court-imposed prison sentences.
But [name withheld]’s case is an example of the closed doors many sex offenders find when they try to reintegrate into society, said Mary Sue Molnar, the executive director of Texas Voices, a nonprofit organization that promotes “common sense” laws and policies for registered sex offenders. Texas is home to more than 70,000 registered sex offenders — roughly equal to Edinburg’s population — with the state’s Department of Public Safety adding more than 100 to the rolls each week.
While many people “think everybody on that list is dangerous,” it’s filled with those convicted of minor or nonviolent offenses such as Romeo and Juliet romances, Molnar said. Her group is working with a 19-year-old convicted of having sex with his girlfriend, who was about three years younger and was one month short of the age of consent.
Convicted of three counts of sexual assault of a child for each time they had sex, the 19-year-old will be required to register as a sex offender for life.
Molnar said the state’s registration process — marking virtually all offenders for at least 10 years to life — has left authorities unable to determine who is likely to re-offend.
“We would like to see Texas concentrate on the few who really pose a threat,” said Molnar, adding that residency restrictions are “feel-good laws” built on “fear and myths” that have little impact on public safety. “But right now Texas has no idea who those people are."
“Until they get that down and can distinguish who is dangerous and who is not, it’s pretty much useless.”
Molnar’s organization also says residency restrictions often give parents a false sense of security. More than 90 percent of sex offenses against children are committed by first-time offenders who, frequently, are family members or close acquaintances.
But advocates of municipality-imposed ordinances say they only fill in the gaps left by the state. Texas law prohibits all registered sex offenders from residing with children while on probation.
State Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled in 2007 that cities are allowed to restrict residency for sex offenders.
Meanwhile, sex offender ordinances across the country have been contested in court with varying results, ranging from an Indiana appeals court that upheld a ban on sex offenders visiting city parks to a federal court that struck down a Pennsylvania county’s residency restriction law.
The same can be said for adults. When you make it impossible for someone to reintegrate back into society by having an online hit-list and draconian residency restrictions, which many studies have shown neither prevents or deters crime, then it's only obvious that many will commit another crime (related or not) in order to survive. The injustice system is suppose to be about rehabilitation, not just locking someone up and forgetting about them for awhile, and then when they get out, you make it impossible for them to do anything! Adults also have low recidivism rates.
By Kelli Wynn
The state credits community-based treatment efforts, designed to deliver more effective rehabilitation and save money, for a 17 percent decline in juvenile sex offenders over a three-year period.
The Ohio Department of Youth Services reported that 85 juvenile offenders were admitted into DYS in 2011 for sex-related crimes that included rape, gross sexual imposition and sexual battery. Year-to-date figures in 2012 suggest a 48 percent decrease in these type of offenders statewide.
“Over the last several years, we’ve been able to drastically reduce our facility population. Admissions of all categories (person, property, drugs, etc.) are down,” said Kimberlee Parsell, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
The average daily facility population for DYS dropped to 730 in 2011 from 1,293 in 2009. As of July, the 2012 daily average was 567.
The state’s collaboration with community partners — which has been in place since 2008 — is the main reason for the reduction, Parsell said. The system is designed to provide appropriate services for youth by matching risk level with the least restrictive program setting.
“This not only saves the state a lot of money, but it gives kids a real second chance, the opportunity for rehabilitation to take place,” Parsell said.
The state spends approximately $8 million a year to fund evidence-based programs in communities through Targeted RECLAIM and Behavioral Health and Juvenile Justice initiatives. The goal is to reduce criminal behavior, which diverts youth from DYS.
“Utilizing these alternatives, the participating counties in these initiatives reduced their admissions to DYS facilities by a total of 712 youth over the last three years,” Parsell said. “Savings are realized by the reduction (of kids) in DYS facilities.”
Counties participating in these initiatives include Montgomery and Hamilton. These counties are selected based on the number of youth committed to DYS by the judicial system.
“We’re placing the right kids in the right environment and not mixing lower-level youth with the higher-end youth who are better served in one of the DYS facilities,” Parsell said. “By serving the right youth in the local community, we’re keeping them close to family and affording them a good chance of turning their lives around.”
DYS has four correctional facilities statewide that treat juvenile sex offenders. The closest to southwest Ohio is the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, but there are other options in the region.
“Montgomery County is setting a precedent nationally, in my opinion, because they have opened up a high-risk residential facility right here in town, to be able to keep our kids here,” said Richard Gulley, program director for Lighthouse Youth Services, a counseling agency that treats low- to high-risk juvenile sex offenders from throughout the region.
Lighthouse also serves high-risk youth being housed at the Juvenile Cognitive Alternative Rehabilitative Effort-Special Treatment Program located at the Montgomery County Juvenile Justice Center, 380 W. Second St (Map).
Gulley said that Lighthouse data dating back to 2004 revealed that the youth services agency has had zero percent recidivism on sexual offenses and about 22 percent recividism on non-sexual offenses.
“National statistics say that an adolescent who is caught, adjudicated and successfully completes a sex offender specific treatment program is very unlikely – to the tune of 96 percent – not to recidivate sexual behavior,” Gulley said, adding that the Lighthouse is in line with the national average.
Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi, president of the Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges, described the juvenile sex offenders he sees in his Montgomery County courtroom as being “a substantial number of family and friends who used trickery, gifts, bribes or threats to hide their acts.”
“Forty to 80 percent have been sexually abused themselves,” said LaToya Gregory, Sex Offender Progam administrator for the Ohio Department of Youth Services, of juvenile sex offenders. The majority of the offenders are male.
The victims in Capizzi’s cases range between the ages of 2 months and 17 years old.
“Most adolescent offenders describe the incident as consensual,” Gulley said. “Now, the law says you cannot give consent under the age of 13."
“For the younger ones you have to sort out what is sexually reactive behavior versus what is sexually abusive behavior,” he said. “If a 15- or 16-year-old adolescent talks a 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old child into some sexual behavior, bribes them, coerces them, you have intimidation, which could be considered force under my definition. For the simple fact that they are bigger, they’re smarter, they’re more savvy about what’s going on. The child has no idea what they are agreeing to.”
Under Ohio Law, a child under the age of 13 cannot give consent for sexual activity.
“If an 11-year-old has sex with an 11-year-old, that is statutory rape between both children,” Capizzi said.
Adolescents can be adjudicated as a result of a sexual encounter in which the victim was not manipulated. An example of this type of situation would be if a 14-year-old was caught having sexual intercourse with a 12-year-old.
“Educating them about the law tends to make them not recidivate in a sexual way,” Gregory said.
Under certain circumstances, children 14 and older can be labeled as sex offenders, Capizzi said. If a child is under 14, they cannot be labeled as a sex offender.
Two years ago, offenders between 16 and 18 had to be classified as a certain type of offender, similar to classifications of adult offenders. At that time, it was at the judge’s discretion on what to do with offenders under 16.
“Now it’s almost all discretionary,” Capizzi said.
Ohio’s version of the Adam Walsh Act, which classifies sex offenders in three tiers, states that all youth who were 16 or 17 at the time of their offense are required to register. It also states that youth who were 14 or 15 at the time of their offense and who have had a prior adjudication for a sexually oriented offense must register. A judge may consider lowering or removing registration requirements if the juvenile participates in a certified sex offender treatment program.
“We look at the kid holistically and then we route them into different programs based on what they need,” Gregory said. “The parents are involved and they are available every step of the way.”
Sometimes treatment reveals that there may be a history of sexual abuse in the offender’s family.
“To me it’s the number one social problem in America today,” Gulley said. “Unfortunately, sexual abuse in this country is still accepted based on my opinion on how we look at things. It’s not reported. It’s overlooked. Families frequently protect the child offender over the child victim, particularly when we see there is a male child.”
When asked what parents should be doing in order to prevent unlawful sexual activity among juveniles, Gregory said parents need to be mindful of their children’s activities and behaviors.
“Kids should be hanging out with their peers,” she said. “Parents need to understand that most abuse happens at home.”
Gregory also stressed the dangers of children being exposed to pornography: “In some, but not all cases, viewing these materials could be one of many high-risk factors for this population.”
Once treatment is finished, it is possible for an offender who has abused another child living in his or her home to return to the same home where the victim lives.
“We would do this only if the family was requesting this placement, and the family and victim do not have concerns of future victimization,” Parsell said of the state’s view. “The judge would have to agree to do this, and we would monitor the situation closely.”
Regarding online sting operations, it clearly states that there is no clear evidence showing that these stings deter crime, and in some instances they can even increase crime.
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