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Sex offenders' e-mail addresses are to be passed to social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo to prevent them contacting children.
Under government proposals, offenders who do not give police their address - or give a false one - would face up to five years in jail.
Websites would be expected to monitor the e-mail address usage or block them accessing the sites.
The Home Office said the new laws would apply to about 30,000 sex offenders.
Other measures in new government guidelines include a "kitemark" for filtering software.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she wanted children to be "free from fear".
However, BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said ministers admitted that details of the system were still to be worked out, including how it would work with websites based abroad over which the UK has no jurisdiction.
Both Facebook and MySpace are based in California.
The new government guidance comes after the telecoms regulator Ofcom talked to 5,000 adults and 3,000 children and found nearly half of those aged between eight and 17 had a profile on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo.
It also found 41% of the children surveyed had their profile set so anyone, rather than just friends, could view it.
We feel it will add protection for children using the internet
The recent Byron review also found about a third of those aged between nine and 19 who used the internet weekly had received sexual comments via e-mail, instant message, chat or text message.
Announcing the new guidelines, the home secretary said: "I want to see every child living their lives free from fear, whether they are meeting friends in a youth club or in a chat room.
"We are working together with police, industry and charities to create a hostile environment for sex offenders on the internet and are determined to make it as hard for predators to strike online as in the real world."
Shaun Kelly, from the children's charity NCH, told the BBC that he welcomed the new measures.
"We feel it will add protection for children using the internet.
"It will mean that those who have previously offended against children will be stopped from accessing certain websites and certain social networking sites that children and young people are known to use.
"I think that will increase children's online safety."
The Social Networking Guidance contains recommendations for service providers and safety advice for first-time users.
Arrangements for the industry and law enforcement agencies to share reports of potentially illegal activity and suspicious behaviour
Making it more difficult for people registered over the age of 18 to search for users under the age of 18
Encouraging children not to provide excessive information about themselves
Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation Online Protection Agency Jim Gamble said the guidance had the "real potential to accelerate online child protection".
"It will provide parents with those crucial indicators as to which sites and providers they should be using, allowing children the chance to get on and enjoy the full benefits of the internet with vital reassurance," he said.
Friday, April 4, 2008
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Welcome to the REAL world!
JACKSON (CNN) -- Girls as young as 13 say they were shackled for weeks at a time in Mississippi.
A Texas teen was allegedly offered birthday cake in exchange for sex.
A guard drove his knee into the neck of a frail suicidal Ohio boy after the youth was wrestled to the ground and held down by other guards who stripped him and covered his face with a smock, a state report said.
More than two dozen girls at an Indiana lock-up describe "networking" -- their term for sneaking into each other's cells to have sex, with no interference from guards.
This is a glimpse into what America's juvenile jails look like, according to lawsuits, criminal cases and experts who have spent years delving into what they call a broken system.
"It's a nationwide crisis that has been going on for years, one the public has never been told the extent of," said psychiatric social worker Jerome Miller, the co-founder of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, who has evaluated and helped reform juvenile jails for more than three decades.
This summer, Mississippi plans to close Columbia Training School, a juvenile facility that houses mostly minor offenders. They are often runaways from abusive homes.
Erica was 16 when she was sentenced to Columbia after running away, a probation violation of an earlier marijuana conviction.
She admits she was a girl quick to sass her parents, full of anger about the death of a relative that happened around the same time Katrina wrecked her family's Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, home.
Nervously touching a sparkly barrette in her red hair, she cries as she describes how guards forced her legs into tight metal shackles. She said she was cuffed and chained when she ate and used the bathroom -- and was even forced to play soccer that way against other girls.
Guards called her "Chain Gang," she said.
"I will always remember them things around my ankles, the way they cut into me," she said, pulling up her pant leg to show slash-mark scars on her ankles and heels. "They made you feel like you were nothing."
Represented by attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Erica and nine other girls housed at Columbia are suing the state, claiming they endured a range of sexual and physical abuse, including shackling. Don Desper, a licensed therapist and former employee at Columbia who opposed the practice, told CNN it was used to prevent the teens from escaping.
In a handwritten affidavit, a 15-year-old girl described a male guard molesting her. She wrote: "He came inside my cell half way half of his body and he started touching me and he tryed (sic) to kiss me and then he left he came back with my snack in his hand and he opened my cell again and he started grabbing me around my waist and he tryed (sic) to stick his hands in my pants and I started crying."
When the lawsuit was filed in 2007, a U.S. Justice Department monitor was making periodic inspections at Columbia as part of a 2005 settlement with Mississippi in a previous case. The Justice investigation that led to that settlement found Columbia youths were hog-tied, forced to strip and eat their own vomit and were held in isolation in what was called the "Dark Room," a windowless room with a hole in the floor used as a toilet. Read the Justice Department report that describes girls being shackled to poles
Hundreds of youths have allegedly suffered similar abuse at juvenile detention centers across the United States, according to experts interviewed by CNN and court records checked for this story.
The U.S. Justice Department has sued nine states and two territories alleging abuse, inadequate mental and medical care and potentially dangerous methods like the use of restraints. The department doesn't have the power to shut down facilities -- states do -- but through litigation it can force a state to improve its detention centers and protect the civil rights of jailed youths.
Another facility under Justice scrutiny is Oakley Training School near Jackson, Mississippi, which was sued by the department at the same time as Columbia. Gov. Haley Barbour recently announced Columbia's inmates would be transferred this summer to Oakley when Columbia is closed.
But the Justice Department said Oakley has satisfied barely a fraction of requirements the department set for it years ago. According to a March 2008 Justice report, there is an "enormous amount of work" needed to make Oakley a safe and productive place to rehabilitate troubled teens.
Barbour would not respond to questions for this report. The Mississippi Department of Human Services, which runs Columbia and Oakley, refused to answer most of a CNN public records request citing pending litigation and also declined to be interviewed.
The U.S. Justice Department could not talk specifically about ongoing cases, but Lisa Krigsten, civil rights division principal deputy assistant attorney general, noted the department is going after double the number of juvenile jails for civil rights violations during the Bush administration than in any previous administration.
"We take this seriously and are committed to protecting the vulnerable children who are in these places," she said.
A CNN check of other juvenile facilities shows that, despite years of court wrangling, serious problems persist.
In Ohio, a dozen employees at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility have been indicted since 2003 on charges relating to physical and sexual abuse of youth, according to a May 2007 Justice report. Five were convicted of various charges, including sexual battery and assault; six cases were dismissed and a jury found one employee not guilty.
In January, a state-hired consultant blamed a "culture of violence" in Ohio's juvenile jails for numerous abuses. The expert's report details examples of "egregious use of force" by guards and included a video he viewed of a 2007 incident in which a "frail" boy who was threatening to harm himself was restrained by guards.
The boy was wrestled to the ground, cuffed and stripped, with one guard seen putting his full body weight on the boy's back while driving his knee into the boy's neck.
A so-called "Suicide Smock" was placed "over his airways," the report said. "The youth actually screams that he can't breathe."
In response to the report, the Ohio Department of Youth Services, which oversees detention facilities, has installed more surveillance cameras and beefed up its mental health care staff, spokeswoman Andrea Kruse said.
"We're doing everything we can to improve," she said.
On Thursday, Ohio announced settlement of a suit brought by Children's Law Center of Kentucky. It will add up to $30 million annually to its juvenile justice budget and hire more guards, psychologists and teachers for its system.
Accusations similar to those made in Ohio were made at a Florida boot camp in 2006. Martin Lee Anderson, 14, was seen on surveillance tape being beaten and restrained by guards. Anderson later died. Seven guards and a nurse were acquitted of manslaughter in October.
Since then, the NAACP's Florida chapter has called for an investigation of the state's teen jails, noting at least seven youths have died at lock-ups since 2000, including 17-year-old Omar Paisley, who died at a Miami detention center of a ruptured appendix after begging for help during three days that he was in pain.
A grand jury found that two nurses repeatedly failed to help Paisley. They are charged with third degree murder and manslaughter, have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in July.
Florida issued a report in January asking for more than 50 changes to its system and a partnership with the Department of Education to attack problems before kids drop out of school. Overall, the report calls for treating troubled kids with therapy as an alternative to jail.
Texas is grappling with the fallout from reports of long-term sexual abuse at its facilities, where, since 2000, more than 90 Texas Youth Commission employees -- roughly one a month -- have been sanctioned or fired for sexual misconduct with adolescents, commission spokesman Jim Hurley told CNN.
Texas granted early release in February to a 16-year-old girl who attempted suicide after she was allegedly molested repeatedly by a male guard. The guard was indicted in December on four counts of molesting the girl. He was previously charged with raping four other female inmates, but those charges were dropped, said Hurley, after witnesses retracted their accounts.
This spring, two administrators at a west Texas youth facility are scheduled to stand trial on charges they were having sex with juvenile inmates, one allegedly enticing a teen to perform sex acts for birthday cake. The men resigned in 2005, Hurley said.
Texas recently has added hundreds more surveillance cameras and personnel to its facilities to avoid more problems, he said.
"Girls are sexually abused in these institutions more often than the public would believe," said Paul DeMuro, a delinquency expert who in 2002 inspected Columbia for the Justice Department and is now a consultant for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Nationwide, the Justice Department has said 2,821 allegations of sex abuse were made in 2004, the most recent data on the topic available.
An Indiana juvenile judge said there's another dimension of sexual misconduct happening at Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility -- inmate on inmate sex.
State Judge Peter Nemeth is refusing to send female offenders to the lock-up after a team of delinquency experts interviewed a total of 31 girls at the facility. The girls described "networking," or sneaking into each other's cells for sex. Members of the team told CNN that locks on cells were not working, allowing the young women to leave and enter their cells whenever they wish.
One girl interviewed said a guard had participated in the sex.
"It's a dangerous place," said Nemeth, who is sending youths to two other facilities at more than twice the cost to taxpayers. "It seems like chaos to me, very little discipline. The girls say they are running the place."
In March, the Indiana Department of Correction said it is transferring boys at the facility to another lock-up, which Nemeth hopes will allow more staffers to oversee the girls section. "It may be a step in the right direction," he said, but won't necessarily solve the problem of girls frequently having sex with other girls.
Before March, the judge detailed his concerns in two letters to Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose office referred all questions for this story to Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison.
"We disagree with the judge's characterization," Garrison said, adding that no investigation at the facility has substantiated the girls' claims.
When Erica was held at Columbia, she said she didn't think anyone would believe her accounts of abuse. It's taken months of therapy, including some counseling at a YMCA, which she found in her small Mississippi hometown.
Erica talks about wanting to be an attorney. It's the first time in her life she is considering her future. She tries not to think about Columbia, but smiles when she talks about the facility closing.
"I'm happy, real happy," said Erica. "That means nobody is going to get hurt there again."
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Anything for another vote... They do not care about anything except getting more votes and fattening their wallets, IMO. Stupidity is rampant in the entire government in this country, which is now USSA!!! Bush can torture anybody he wants, they can spy on anybody they want, they can do anything they want, you nor anybody else has any rights any more. And you think you are free??? Wake the hell up!!!!
The election-year political pandering between the House and Senate over who is offering the best tax cut must take a back seat to the economic realities that state budget makers face. Legislators should put the proposals aside and move on to other important business that remains before them.
The state's revenue from existing taxes has already started going south, the national economy is almost assuredly in recession and Georgia has a host of problems yet to be addressed.
Local school districts are still paying a heavy price for the "austerity cuts" the state imposed on them. About 1.7 million Georgians have no health insurance, 300,000 of them children. Patients are needlessly dying in the state's understaffed mental hospitals, a crisis so severe that it has drawn the attention of the U.S. Justice Department. Child protective services are in disarray.
Yet both chambers are warring over whether to repeal the property taxes Georgians pay on vehicles or implement a 10 percent reduction on the state's income tax rate. In a game of brinkmanship with the Senate, the House has suggested both should be enacted —- an action that would mean a $1.5 billion annual hit to the state treasury.
Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction and not one to ever be associated with the tax-and-spend crowd, has provided wise counsel to fellow Republicans not to overreach on tax cuts. Perdue's spending plan for the next fiscal year has already slashed $140 million in aid to local schools. If the economy continues to worsen, more reductions in other state-financed programs will have to be ordered —- forcing city, county and school officials to raise local taxes.
Moreover, Georgia ranks 51st among the states and District of Columbia in per capita revenue and 49th in spending per capita. That may be why there has been no real hue and cry from taxpayers in the state for tax cuts.
State legislative leaders offer no viable plan for spending cuts of their own to pay for the tax breaks they are suggesting. Instead they hint that they can tap the state's reserves to finance them —- funds that are supposed to be there in the event of an economic disaster. That's not fiscal leadership, that's the very definition of pandering.
The state doesn't limit where murderers or arsonists live once they're released from jail, but it wants to severely curtail where someone who at age 17 engaged in sex with a willing 15-year-old can live. With no evidence that they work and plenty that they don't, the General Assembly is about to reinstate draconian restrictions on where sex offenders can live or work, barring them from areas where kids might congregate. Originally House Bill 908 and now Senate Bill 1, this overzealous legislation fails to distinguish between low-risk sex offenders and serious predators, forcing 82-year-old Alzheimer's patients from hospital beds and 18-year-olds from their family homes. It ought to be rejected.
- Yeah, and there will continue to be tons of law suits, thus draining the tax payers dollars. This country is becoming bankrupt, and nobody seems to give a rats a$$. One day, you will see, but it will be too late them.
And there is much more irresponsible decision-making in the waning hours of this legislative session. A prime example was the Senate's vote on Wednesday to allow Georgians with concealed weapons permits to carry guns onto MARTA and into restaurants as long as they don't drink alcohol.
This bill ought to die today before any innocent Georgians do. Police officers will confirm that their worst nightmare is a drunk with a gun. While House Bill 257 says gun owners can't order beers with their burgers, there's no real enforcement mechanism.
"If you set aside one hour in the evening so the shooting will be between 10 and 11, we might be all right," said state Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta). "That way, the other people could have their dinner and go home before the shooting starts."
The proponents of guns on MARTA trains and in restaurants contend that more weapons equals greater safety. Yet not a single lawmaker can explain this disparity: The United States —- with one of the highest rates of personal gun ownership on the planet —- also has one of the highest rates of gun violence. Countries with far fewer guns in the hands of individuals have far fewer deaths.
Education and vouchers
If legislators were personally liable for the legal costs of defending half-baked laws, House Bill 881 would not exist. The bill creates an appointed state commission to overrule elected school boards and approve charter schools that then draw away local tax dollars. But the Georgia Constitution gives the power to spend education taxes in a local community to the local school board.
Supporters in the House argue that local dollars should follow the child because "it's the parent's money." No, it's not. It's the community's money.
On average, it takes about $8,000 a year to educate a child in Georgia. Some metro school districts spend as much as $12,000. That means households with two children would have to pay $24,000 in school property taxes to cover their children's education. Very few homeowners pay anywhere near that amount. The expense is borne by the community as a whole, and that community —- whether the Legislature likes it or not —- elects its own school board to determine whether to approve charter schools.
Along with HB 881, the General Assembly should shun Senate Bill 458, which awards vouchers to students in struggling school systems. Allegedly aimed at students in Clayton County, the bill envisions a $4,000 voucher for each student, an amount insufficient to pay for private school tuitions in metro Atlanta, which can run as high as $17,000 per year. Nor do neighboring schools want Clayton kids; they have all but put up "Keep out Clayton" signs. So it's hard to see what choices SB 458 offers Clayton families.
—- Maureen Downey and Mike King, for the editorial board (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS:
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle
Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson
Majority Leader Tommie Williams
Minority Leader Robert Brown
House Speaker Glenn Richardson
House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter
Majority Leader Jerry Keen
Minority Leader DuBose Porter
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SIX-YEAR-OLD Randy Castro playfully smacks little Katherine DeLeon on the bottom twice (copying another tyke who had done the same and elicited giggles), and the next thing you know, he's treated like one of those potential sex offenders on MSNBC's creepy show "To Catch a Predator." Katherine complained to a teacher. Randy was marched to the principal's office at Potomac View Elementary School. He was told that what he did was inappropriate. A report of the November episode was written up. The "Incident Code(s) for this perpetrator" was "SX2" or "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive." What's offensive is that the police were called and that this blot will be a permanent part of Randy's student record. At least the police had the sense to drop the matter.
Ever since two Supreme Court rulings in the 1990s allowing lawsuits against schools that don't stop sexual harassment and giving a green light to zero-tolerance policies for middle and high school students, some school districts seemingly have been scared into treating every alleged incident like a crime. As a result, hundreds of young children in the Washington metropolitan area have been suspended on charges of sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual contact.
Perhaps Randy's principal was acting out of excessive caution. As Post writer Brigid Schulte reported yesterday, just days before Randy's transgression, district officials were reminded to report threats and assaults to police. What's unclear is whether they were also instructed to use common sense. According to a district spokesperson, the code of behavior stipulates that police may be called for "offenses involving weapons, alcohol/drugs, intentional injury, and other serious violations." Um, call us crazy, but what Randy did doesn't meet that test. Katherine's mother says her daughter has forgotten about the whole thing. Randy's mom says he's now calling himself a "bad boy." Maybe Potomac View and other local schools need to offer a course called Common Sense 101 -- for their leaders.
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A former Baton Rouge police officer was charged Thursday in federal court with a count of distribution of child pornography.
Paul G. Ruiz is accused of distributing, via computer, “visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” court documents show.
If convicted, the 48-year-old Denham Springs resident faces five to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both, U.S. Attorney David Dugas said.
“These are very serious allegations, especially when they involve a former police officer,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff said. “It’s unfortunate, and it’s now up to the system to determine whatever justice is appropriate.”
Sgt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman, said Ruiz, a lieutenant, resigned from the Police Department on March 7.
During his 26-year career with the department, Ruiz worked in various divisions, including uniform patrol, detectives and K-9, Kelly said.
He received a service injury award in 1990 and in 2004 was approved to take the chief of police test, which is required to apply for the position, according to articles published in The Advocate.
The FBI in cooperation with the Baton Rouge Police Department investigated the case against Ruiz, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Bourgeois Jr., Dugas said.
The case is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse, Dugas added.
“The program marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet as well as identify and rescue victims,” he said.
Ruiz’s attorney, Fred Crifasi, did not return a phone call to his office Thursday.
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A former immigration agent pleaded guilty to sexual battery after he took a Jamaican immigrant who was in detention to his home and had sex with her.
A fired immigration agent pleaded guilty Thursday to having sex with a Jamaican woman at his home while he was transferring her from a detention facility in Miami-Dade to another center in Broward.
Wilfredo Vazquez, 35, of Tamarac, also pleaded guilty to ''placing the woman in fear'' during the sexual encounter.
Vazquez cut a plea deal on the eve of trial this week, avoiding prosecution on the more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault. That's the equivalent of sexual battery, or rape, in the state criminal court.
The plea agreement with the U.S. attorney's office entailed dismissing two of the counts and recommending a little over seven years in prison to U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas. Had Vazquez gone to trial and been convicted for sexual assault, he could have faced about 30 years in prison.
''He now understands and regrets that this woman was in fear during the sexual act,'' said Vazquez's attorney, Joel DeFabio. ``As the government stated in court, he never threatened her, struck her or used any physical force against her.
``He feels very remorseful for the victim and his family.''
Vazquez, a decorated Iraq War veteran who had served in the Air Force for 16 years, was fired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the woman alleged she was raped at his home in September. He had worked as an ICE agent for less than a year.
Vazquez was transporting her from the Krome Detention Center in West Miami-Dade to the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach on Sept. 21.
She was being moved after serving a few months at the Miami Federal Detention Center in connection with a false claim to U.S. citizenship. Immigration officials planned to put her in deportation proceedings. She has lived in the United States for 12 years and has a daughter and son.
`JUSTICE ... SERVED'
The woman's immigration lawyer, who brought the case to the attention of U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, said the victim was relieved to put the ordeal behind her.
''She told me that she didn't want this former officer to have the opportunity to sexually abuse anyone else,'' said Cheryl Little, head of the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center in Miami.
''This is not a slap on the wrist. I do believe that justice has been served,'' Little said. ``Hopefully, this will send a serious message to other officers who abuse detainees.''
After the victim filed her complaint, immigration authorities granted the woman parole.
FIAC is helping the woman obtain a visa that could lead to her establishing legal residency.
''We're certainly trying to get her a U visa because she has fully cooperated with law-enforcement officials,'' Little said, expressing her gratitude to prosecutors for making the case and writing a letter of certification supporting her visa.
When federal agents initially confronted the ICE agent about the woman's complaint, Vazquez repeatedly denied he ever stopped at his home with the detainee, according to a Department of Homeland Security arrest affidavit.
But records from Florida's Turnpike SunPass system showed Vazquez's official vehicle left the highway at a Commercial Boulevard ramp near his home, according to the affidavit. The victim also described the interior of his home and neighborhood to investigators -- along with the sexual encounter.
AN EARLIER SCANDAL
The sexual-assault prosecution was the first such case since 2000, when Krome officials opened an investigation into sexual misconduct by guards and officers at the facility.
At least one officer and one contract employee were convicted. The scandal prompted immigration authorities to remove female detainees from Krome. Most women are now housed at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, though some are first processed at Krome.
The Broward Sheriff's Office first opened the investigation in late September after the victim disclosed the episode to authorities. The U.S. attorney's office then developed the case under prosecutor Daniel Rashbaum.
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We are writing with some unfortunate news. Despite the valiant efforts of many legislators, criminal justice lobbyists, and advocates for the safety of women and children, the General Assembly has just re-passed a modified version of the sex offender residence restrictions. The bill will become law immediately upon signature by the Governor.
The law does the following things:
- Reinstates all of the same residence restrictions as were in effect under HB 1059, with the following exceptions for some homeowners.
- A homeowner who established ownership of his residence before July 1, 2006 will not be required to move.
- A homeowner will not be required to move if a day care center, church, park, etc. moves in within 1,000 feet of his residence.
- Adds “public libraries” to the list of “areas where minors congregate,” meaning that people on the registry cannot live within 1,000 feet of a public library.
- Forbids anyone on the registry from volunteering at or within 1,000 feet of a school, church, or child care center
- Prohibits people on the registry from intentionally photographing a minor without the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian.
In other words, with the exception of the homeowners described above, people on the sex offender registry will have to comply with all of the same residence restrictions as in HB 1059 as soon as the Governor signs the bill into law. (This does not, however, include the school bus stop restriction, which is not being enforced at this time).
We do not know when the Governor will sign the bill. It could be anytime within the next 40 days. We anticipate that people who are in violation at that point will be given a very short period in which to move their residences.
Many people on the registry will once again receive orders to move. Once again, we urge you to take these orders very seriously. A violation of the residence restrictions can carry 10-30 years in prison.
You can read about SB 1 at: http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2007_08/sum/sb1.htm
We will now re-double our efforts to fight this legislation in the courts. We will keep the list posted on developments in the litigation, and will be sending out another message regarding the litigation in the coming week.
We are very sorry to be the bearers of bad news. We look forward to a day when our lawmakers will value civil rights and the safety of women and children above political posturing. Unfortunately, it appears that day has not yet come.
All the best,
Sarah, Sara, Mica, James, Gerry & Lisa
Southern Center for Human Rights
83 Poplar St.
Atlanta, GA 30303
California, Kentucky could save $450 million; six others studying idea
PROVIDENCE - Lawmakers from California to Kentucky are trying to save money with a drastic and potentially dangerous budget-cutting proposal: releasing tens of thousands of convicts from prison, including drug addicts, thieves and even violent criminals.
Officials acknowledge that the idea carries risks, but they say they have no choice because of huge budget gaps brought on by the slumping economy.
"If we don't find a way to better manage the population at the state prison, we will be forced to spend money to expand the state's prison system — money we don't have," said Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri (Contact).
- This is exactly what mandatory minimum sentencing does, overloads the prison system, and it's also what occurs when you have a bunch of morons running the government.
At least eight states are considering freeing inmates or sending some convicts to rehabilitation programs instead of prison, according to an Associated Press analysis of legislative proposals. If adopted, the early release programs could save an estimated $450 million in California and Kentucky alone.
A Rhode Island proposal would allow inmates to deduct up to 12 days from their sentence for every month they follow rules and work in prison. Even some violent offenders would be eligible, but not those serving life sentences.
A plan in Mississippi would offer early parole for people convicted of selling marijuana or prescription drugs. New Jersey, South Carolina and Vermont are considering funneling drug-addicted inmates into treatment, which is cheaper than prison.
One victim's concerns
The prospect of financial savings offers little comfort to Tori-Lynn Heaton, a police officer in a suburb of Providence whose ex-husband went to prison for beating her. He has already finished his prison term, but would have been eligible for early release under the current proposal.
"You're talking about victim safety. You're talking about community member safety," she said. "You can't balance the budget on the backs of victims of crimes."
But prisons "are one of the most expensive parts of the criminal-justice system," said Alison Lawrence, who studies corrections policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "That's where they look to first to cut down some of those costs."
Rhode Island Corrections Director A.T. Wall was not sure how many prisoners could be freed early. The payoff for doing so may be relatively small: less than $1 million for the first fiscal year, although that figure would increase over time.
In California, where lawmakers have taken steps to cut a $16 billion budget deficit in half by summer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Contact) proposed saving $400 million by releasing more than 22,000 inmates who had less than 20 months remaining on their sentences. Violent and sex offenders would not be eligible.
Laying off prison guards and making it more difficult to send parole violators back to state prison would account for part of the savings.
Law enforcement officials and Republican lawmakers immediately criticized Schwarzenegger's proposal, which would apply to car thieves, forgers, drunken drivers and some drug dealers. Some would never serve prison time because the standard sentence for those crimes is 20 months or less.
"To open the prison door and release prisoners back into communities is merely placing a state burden onto local governments and will ultimately jeopardize safety in communities," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who could see 1,800 inmates released in his area.
Largest inmate increase in Kentucky
In Kentucky, which faces a $1.3 billion deficit, state senators have considered legislation that would grant early release to as many as 2,000 inmates and save nearly $50 million. If the bill passes, the exact number of prisoners would be determined by prison officials. Violent convicts and sexual offenders would be exempt.
Gov. Steve Beshear (Contact) has said Kentucky must review its policies after the state's inmate population jumped 12 percent last year — the largest increase in the nation.
Kentucky spends more than $18,600 to house one inmate for a year, or roughly $51 a day. In California, each inmate costs an average of $46,104 to incarcerate.
The prison budget in Mississippi has nearly tripled since stricter sentencing laws took effect in 1994.
To curb spending, lawmakers have offered a bill to make about 7,000 drug offenders in prison eligible for parole. A second proposal would allow the parole board to release inmates convicted of selling marijuana and prescription drugs after serving just a quarter of their sentences. Currently, they must serve 85 percent of their terms before release.
Michigan is trying to speed up the parole process for about 3,500 inmates who were convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual offenses, or who are seriously ill.
Barbara Sampson, chairwoman of the Michigan Parole Board, said early release often makes sense, especially for low-risk offenders who get help rebuilding their lives.
"Getting that prisoner back to the community so that he can stay connected to his family, getting him back into the work force ... that's a positive thing," she said.
But not everyone is sold on the idea.
"Economics cannot be the engine that drives the train of public safety," said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs' Association. "Government has no greater responsibility than the protection of its citizens."
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HARTFORD - In the wake of this weekend's deadly New Britain home invasion, Gov. M. Jodi Rell (Email) said Thursday she wants to streamline Connecticut's persistent offender law.
She announced the idea of a study group to review the statutes after meeting at the governor's residence Thursday with the chief state's attorney, commissioners of public safety and corrections, and representatives for the chief justice of the state supreme court.
"We'd like to see them streamlined, strengthened and of course simplified, and I think that will make a big difference when judges get to use the persistent offender law in sentencing," Rell said.
Kevin Kane, the chief state's attorney, agrees the persistent offender law is a complicated but useful tool. It is supposed to allow prosecutors to seek tougher penalties for repeat felons.
"Our persistent offender law reads like the tax code." Kane said. "Every time I have to get it out and read it, it takes me 15 minutes to figure out what fits where."
While Rell said her group would need to study the law, Sen. Andrew McDonald (Email), D-Stamford, the co-chairman of the legislature's Judiciary Committee said he thinks it can be fixed before the session ends May 7. He said the issue was discussed earlier in the wake of another deadly home invasion in Cheshire.
"I certainly hope we can avoid further task forces," he said.
McDonald and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. (Email), D-Brooklyn, said they were encouraged by Rell's announcement Thursday that she's willing to discuss finding more money for additional social workers, sex offender treatment, prosecutors and others. The Republican governor and Democrat-controlled legislature still need to reach a deal on a revised tax and spending plan for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Judiciary Committee, said they will discuss ways of reducing the number of plea agreements reached in state courts. More than 96 percent of cases in the state are resolved with a plea deal, not a trial, officials said.
The suspect in the New Britain home invasion case, Leslie Williams, pleaded in 2000 to second-degree sexual assault and risk of injury after originally being charged with multiple counts of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. He served eight years in prison and was released four weeks ago. He had faced up to 20 years behind bars.
Police say Williams, 31, walked into an unlocked New Britain home Sunday morning to steal money and a car. He allegedly shot and injured the homeowner and abducted her friend, who was later found dead in a wooded area in Bristol.
Rep. Michael Lawlor (Email), D-East Haven, the Judiciary Committee co-chairman, said prosecutors may be intimidated from going to trial because of inexperience. He said more training is needed. Also, he suggested requiring prosecutors to be involved with at least one trial a year to comply with their job standards.
While Kane said more training is needed, he opposes making a yearly trial mandatory. He said there would be fewer plea deals if his office had more resources. But Kane stressed that plea deals play and important role and shouldn't have a negative connotation.
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WALTHAM - A city councilor said he wants a law in Waltham that pushes sex offenders farther away from schools, libraries and playgrounds, but does not push them underground.
In February, Ward 9 Councilor Robert Logan submitted a resolution asking the city create an ordinance that would keep Level III sex offenders certain distances from areas most frequented by children.
Level III sex offenders are considered by law enforcement to be the most dangerous and to have the highest risk to offend again.
Logan has asked the Law Department to come up with a draft ordinance, which would be submitted to the council's Ordinances and Rules Committee, possibly as early as the committee's next meeting on Monday or when they convene on April 22.
"We haven't even seen a draft yet," Logan said.
Logan said what he wants to see in Waltham is a new law that creates "reasonable buffer zones around areas where you can expect children to be congregating."
What he doesn't want is a law so restrictive that it could push sex offenders to the edges of the city and underground, making it more difficult for police to track them.
Logan said what sparked his effort to push for the ordinance was an incident on Jan. 30 in New Bedford where a 6-year-old boy was raped in a public library. Last year, the city of Marlborough approved an ordinance that prohibits some classes of sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, school bus stop or day care center, and bars them from stepping foot into places where children normally congregate, such as the Solomon Pond Mall there. Mayor Nancy Stevens vetoed an earlier version of the ordinance due to concerns about constitutionality. She helped revise the bill by reducing the protective radius from 2,500 feet to 1,000 feet.
Marlborough City Councilor Ed Clancy was one of five councilors who voted against the revised ordinance. Clancy said his opposition was mainly because he was concerned the legislation would make more it difficult to track sex offenders.
"There's a tendency of individuals to possibly go underground," Clancy said. "I'd rather know that I have a sex offender in my neighborhood than not know."
Logan said he wants to make sure that Waltham's ordinance is not a "law of unintended consequences."
"Clearly, you have to be judicious in the framework and application of these kinds of laws and regulations," he said.
Richard Conn can be contacted at 781-398-8004 or email@example.com. This and other stories about Waltham can be found at www.wickedlocal.com/waltham.
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Already under pressure to make reforms, the Atascadero facility is now dealing with the death of Lawrence Paul Rael. Another patient has been charged with murder.
ATASCADERO - When Lawrence Paul Rael was involuntarily committed to Atascadero State Hospital 10 years ago, his parents considered the placement appropriate.
Born prematurely and with a severe hearing loss, Rael had been in and out of mental health facilities from the time he was a child, with a tentative diagnosis of autism. At 18, he molested two boys and was sent to prison and then to Atascadero.
"We were comfortable with the fact that he was somewhere where he was watched," said Rael's father, Lorenzo, of Rancho Cucamonga. "He was supposedly in a hospital. We thought at least that he wouldn't get hurt."
But early Sunday morning, the slight 37-year-old man was found dead in his bed with a towel around his neck -- the victim of the first homicide in the Central Coast facility's 54-year history.
On Thursday, fellow patient Richard Earl McKee, 44, was arraigned in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on one count of murder in Rael's death and one count of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with an attack on another patient.
The death of Rael, who was well-liked by patients and staff, has deeply shaken the hospital. For the last two years, Atascadero has struggled to transform its approach to patient care under a federal consent judgment that mandated sweeping changes.
The judgment applies to four of the five state mental hospitals and requires them to address issues of patient safety, over-medication and excessive use of restraints. It also calls for changes aimed at more thoroughly involving patients in their own recovery.
In the midst of the transition, Atascadero -- like the state's other mental hospitals -- has had to contend with an exodus of experienced staff members to higher-paying prison jobs. An emergency move to raise salaries has eased recruiting woes in recent months but has brought an influx of staff members inexperienced with the criminal mentally ill who populate Atascadero.
The hospital treats a volatile mix of patients, with hardened predators often housed with more vulnerable residents.
Staff members have repeatedly complained that pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to reduce the use of restraints and antipsychotic medications has contributed to an increase in assaults by patients.
"We can't even protect our patients and that's our job," one psychiatric technician said, adding that one resident greases his face to deflect punches and pads his body by dressing in several shirts and pairs of pants. "They can't exactly get well when they're constantly in fear."
Meanwhile, staff members contend that increased paperwork requirements have detracted from time spent building the kind of relationships with patients that can defuse violence.
The hospital's executive director, Jon DeMorales, called the death "devastating" and said the hospital is planning a "top to bottom analysis" to find ways to enhance patient safety.
He said the hospital is considering patient-operated bedroom door locks that could protect them from predators while they sleep, surveillance video cameras, enhanced training and supervision for novice staff, and night-vision goggles to aid in rounds.
"Our mission is evaluation, treatment and protection," DeMorales said, "and in that last regard we failed."
DeMorales acknowledged an increase in patient violence on the evening shift in recent months and said administrators were studying the causes. Though the transition to a system of more rigorous documentation has been hard on the staff, DeMorales said, he called it the best path to improved patient care and denied that it had detracted from relationship building.
Convicted of molesting two girls, McKee arrived from prison at Atascadero in 2005, categorized as a "mentally disordered offender," meaning he had a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia that contributed directly to his criminal behavior. Court records show that when he stopped his medication in prison he had become hostile.
Last year, a hospital spokesman said, his status was changed to "sexually violent predator." Patients said McKee developed a reputation for abusively threatening patients who he believed to be child molesters or homosexuals.
He was bounced from unit to unit -- housed mostly with other sex offenders, who generally do not suffer from the types of severe mental illness that require intensive psychiatric care.
Last month, McKee lost a legal appeal challenging his confinement, records show. He became increasingly distraught, abusive and paranoid, patients said.
"A lot of guys had expressed concern about him," said Bill Langhorne, 51, a fellow patient with McKee and Rael on Atascadero's Unit 22. "He was talking to himself, making threats, pacing up and down, making lists."
On Saturday, Rael stayed up past midnight watching a vampire movie in the unit's "dayroom" and quietly playing his Game Boy, Langhorne said. About 3 a.m., a staff member heard screams and found McKee assaulting another patient in his bed. McKee was placed in seclusion. But it was not until shortly before 8 a.m. that Rael's battered body was discovered in his room.
DeMorales said logs show that staff members conducted mandatory patient checks every 20 minutes. However, Rael's attorney, San Bernardino deputy public defender Jeff Lowry, questioned how they could have failed to notice Rael's body. More thorough patient checks were in order given McKee's assault on the other patient, he said.
"Staff totally dropped the ball," said a distraught Lowry, who described Rael as "a really nice kid" who had been nicknamed "Shaky" because of a neurological tremor.
Patients and staff described Rael as "kind," "mild-mannered" and "benign." He loved science-fiction and Stephen King novels, his father said, and hospital records show that he tithed a portion of his meager monthly earnings from his canteen job to a North Carolina televangelist.
"He was everybody's kid brother. He was everybody's nephew," said Ron Barrett, 53, a convicted sex offender who was at Atascadero with Rael until February. "I miss that boy so much already. My heart is broken."
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CONCORD – A serious split has emerged over Gov. John Lynch's (Contact) legislative crusade to crack down on Internet sex predators.
Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (Contact) and some law enforcement segments disagreed Thursday over the custody of sexually explicit evidence against accused offenders.
Ayotte wants to permit a defendant's experts to view this material in a secure location but only after the expert signed a nondisclosure agreement.
But Portsmouth police Detective Michael Leclair objects. This practice has led to evidence has been seen besides a defendant's lawyer in cases in California, Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, Leclair said.
In New Hampshire, a lawyer could inspect evidence kept under lock and key at the state laboratory and five other locations, Leclair said.
And giving a copy to the accused would put New Hampshire in violation of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, Leclair warned the group.
"There is no serious impediment for a defendant by mandating that private examiners conduct their exam at a state facility and defense counsel review evidence at a state facility," Leclair, a certified computer examiner, told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
"Nothing will be taken away from the accused by adjusting the manner to which they will have access to it. On the other hand, this adjustment will have enormous benefits for child victims."
A co-sponsor of Lynch's bill, Rep. Bill Knowles, D-Dover, said he's worried that anything other than Ayotte's offering could run aground in the state Senate and jeopardize the whole cause.
The bill increases punishment for those who use the Internet more than once to entice children to have sex.
It also splits the child pornography law into three separate offenses of possession, distribution and manufacture.
Each separate offense would carry enhanced penalties for repeat offenders.
Someone convicted of possessing child pornography can now face up to seven years on a first offense; this proposal would increase that to as much as 15 years in prison.
Under current law, someone convicted for making child pornography a second time can face up to 15 years in state prison under current law.
This plan would have same maker of child pornography convicted the second time facing up to a life sentence in state prison.
Finally, it closes a loophole to make a predator's indecent exposure on a webcam an act of criminal lewdness.
Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 224-8804 or firstname.lastname@example.org.