Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Yellow Journalism in Augusta, Georgia

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This “Political Cartoon” appeared in the Augusta Chronicle on March 20, 2007. We assume, rather safely I presume, it is in response to the tragic death of little Christopher Barrios. What is interesting is the fact that three days (March 17) earlier, I sent an Op-Ed to the Publisher. He responded (on March 19) with a simple “thanks.” The opinion is below the horizontal line.

All this proves my point; the mainstream media in America is not interested in solving this problem because it sells too many papers, and generates high ratings. At the end of the day, it is apparent the owners and Board of Directors, the management teams of our media are only interested in the bottom line, not in the safety of our children.

Christopher Barrios did not have to die, but he did, why? If we look at the events of the 2006 Georgia legislative session, we can find answers.
  1. Had the Georgia Representatives (led by Jerry Keen) and Senators (led by Eric Johnson) listened to Dr. Gene Able or Dr. James E Stark, and the other experts who spoke at the hearings last year, Christopher Barrios might still be alive today.
  2. Had they listened to the RSO’s who spoke at the hearings last year, Christopher Barrios might still be alive today.
  3. Had they implemented RISK ASSESSMENT and a risk level system for ALL the current RSO’s and not just the new ones after July 1, 2006, as was recommended to them, Christopher Barrios might still be alive today.
  4. Had they listened to the experts in Law Enforcement, and not forced Law Enforcement to spend all their resources on chasing LOW RISK offenders away from churches and employment, Christopher Barrios might still be alive today.
  5. ALL the Laws and Restrictions in the WORLD will NOT STOP someone who wants to offend, the Sex Offender Registry does not make children safer, and neither do SAFETY ZONES; however, THERAPY DOES. Offenders in therapy have the lowest recidivism rate. Had the legislators used common sense in place of political posturing, Christopher Barrios might still be alive today.
  6. Because they FAILED to LISTEN to the experts, because they FAILED to LISTEN to Law Enforcement, because they were looking for election year sound bites, they are JUST AS RESPONSIBLE for the death of Christopher Barrios as the perpetrator is.
Again, I ask the people of Georgia to LISTEN to the experts, and force their elected representatives to do the same. Within the past year, these experts have voiced their concern about the new laws, well-intentioned lawmakers are enacting. Here is what they are saying.
“What you’re doing is pushing people more underground, pushing them away from treatment and pushing them away from monitoring, you’re really not improving the safety, but you are giving people a false sense of safety.” – John Gruber, Executive Director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers

“It may be time to do away with sex offender registration laws altogether. At the very least, the federal government should commission research to study the laws’ effectiveness. In the meantime, several changes should be made. States should differentiate between serious and non-serious offenders and only require registration of the most serious offenders. Next, public access to online sites should be dismantled, and registries should be kept at the local police stations. This would provide at least a minimal screening process to those seeking inquiries… Lastly, we should experiment with restorative justice models such as what has happened in Canada where sex offenders moving into a community meet with members of the community in a public forum facilitated by a trained mediator. This type of forum gives the community an opportunity to meet the offender face to face and express their concerns and for the offender to show the community that he is earnestly seeking to change his life.” – Rachel King, Professor of Law, Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C.

“Though laudable in their intent, there is little evidence that recently enacted housing policies achieve their stated goals of reducing recidivistic sexual violence. In fact, there is little research at all evaluating the effectiveness of these policies. Furthermore, these policies are not evidence-based in their development or implementation, as they tend to capture the widely heterogeneous group of sex offenders rather than utilize risk assessment technology to identify those who pose a high danger to public safety.” – Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Human Services, Lynn University

“I would rather have someone who has committed a sex offense be going to work every day, come home tired, have a sense of well-being that comes from having a regular paycheck and a safe home, as opposed to having a sex offender who has a lot of free time on his hands.” – Richard Hamill, President, New York State Alliance of Sex Offender Service Providers

“We’re not aware of any evidence that residency restrictions have prevented a child from being victimized.” – Carolyn Atwell-Davis, Director of Legislative Affairs, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

“Therapy works for these people. Let them be punished for their crimes, let them out and let them get on with their lives. Let them work. Let them have stable homes and families and let them live in peace. Harassing them, making them move and continually punishing them does far more harm than good. A sex offender in therapy with a job and a place to live is less of a threat than one that is constantly harassed.” – Robert Shilling, Detective, Crimes Against Children Division, Seattle, WA
There is not a shred of evidence tough laws and residency restrictions have saved one child. There is however, corroboration from the experts, that Sex Offender Registries and “safety zones” are doing nothing more than giving the public a false sense of security.

Again, I call for a National Sex Offender Policy Forum. Georgia can pave the way by holding a Georgia Sex Offender Policy Forum. These forums would be comprised of treatment providers, law enforcement, jurist, victims, offenders, and their families. With the recommendations from the forum, legislators will know what laws need to be written, or amended in order to insure the safety of our children.

Why are we all in deep denial about this problem? As long as citizens rely on uninformed politicians, the misinformed media and myths about sex offenders, all children remain at risk. We need to come to terms with our denial and seek real solutions, and we need to do it today. How many more Christopher’s, Jessica’s, Dylan’s, Megan’s, Polly’s, and Jacob’s have to die before we WAKE UP?

At the end of the day, we are all responsible; we are all involved in the safety of our families and have an investment in the outcome of this discussion.

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