Sunday, April 11, 2010

OK - The cost of walking the straight and narrow

Original Article



For the last generation we've put criminal justice policy in the hands of legislators with one injunction: Hang 'em high. Words like "rehabilitation" and "gain time" were excised from corrections vocabulary as if they were Bolshevik propaganda.

Punishments got tougher, fines stiffer, tolerance for mistakes became "zero." But there have been costs to this, both apparent and hidden. And now that states are facing crippling budget deficits, they are beginning to see that criminal law written solely to mete out punitive retribution is no longer affordable.

Our jails and prisons are stuffed with 2.3 million people. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, according to the nonprofit advocacy group the Sentencing Project. To save bucks on all this human warehousing, states are taking some obvious steps to reduce the population. California has just revised its parole system to eliminate requirements that low-level offenders check in regularly.

The state expects fewer people will return to jail for missed meetings with a parole officer. But another byproduct is that ex-offenders with jobs won't have to figure out how to make meetings, leading to more stable employment.

This points up the hidden expense of our criminal justice system, which is how absurdly difficult it makes life for people trying to abide by the rules once they are released.

We purposely stack the odds. And this myopic policy wrings tremendous costs from individuals, families, communities and ultimately entire states.

The extent of some of these obstacles is documented in a report on Florida's "cash register justice" by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

The report details how the Florida Legislature has imposed user fees on offenders for the costs of the criminal justice system, burdening them with debt loads that make a successful re-entry a pipe dream.

The report found that since 1996, criminal defendants have been slapped with more than 20 new categories of financial obligations.

The fees are imposed to recoup the cost of prosecution and defense, court costs, housing, food and medical care. Offenders are charged for their probation supervision, substance abuse treatment and their own electronic monitoring.

Tom Bakos, who runs a residential re-entry program in Gainesville, Fla., told the Brennan Center that about 80 percent of his clients are charged from $100 to $300 per month in financial obligations related to their interaction with the criminal justice system.

For people out of prison who usually qualify for some of the state's lowest-paid work — an average Florida prison inmate reads at a sixth-grade level — this can make subsistence impossible.

Florida then takes it further. When people cannot keep up with their payment plans, depending upon the county, their driver's license may be suspended, which can lead to job loss or new offenses for driving on a suspended license. If they fail to show at a hearing on a missed payment a warrant is issued for their arrest.

Florida also heaps late fees and collection fees on delinquent payments. In 2009, the Florida Legislature required that collection agents be used after 90 days, allowing a surcharge of up to 40 percent on the amount owed.

The state essentially invites recidivism by laying the groundwork for failure. Call it counterproductive, heartless or insane, any one fits.

As states grapple with ways to dig out of their budget holes, they should address the hidden costs as well as the apparent costs encumbering their states. By ending these blood-from-a-stone corrections policies, more people would leave prison with the real possibility of putting the past behind them. This in turn would reduce recidivism and make more taxpayers out of tax burdens. Long-range thinking, anyone?

See Also:

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

WI - Sex offender registry generates interest, not violence

Click the image to view the article

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

TX - State's sex offender risk classifications can mislead public

Original Article


By Robin Pyle

Which sex offender is a higher risk to the public?

A. A 20-year-old unmarried man who exposed himself at a party.
B. A 30-year-old married man who molested his 3-year-old niece and 5-year-old daughter.

If you said B, you probably would be wrong - if you're going by the state's assessed risk level for sex offenders, experts say.

You also might be notified by postcard about the man who exposed himself, but maybe not the other, because public notification is based on the risk level.

Authorities warn sex offender risk classifications can be confusing to the public, though state officials are working to improve that.

"It doesn't measure how violent he is," said Adam Taylor Puckett, a sex offender officer with the Lubbock-Crosby County Community Supervision and Corrections Department.

Forty-eight of 411 offenders in the city and county were considered high risks, according to law enforcement listings as of Thursday. More than 150 were considered low or moderate risks.

Nearly one-third of sex offenders in the city and county didn't even have a risk level assigned to them, most commonly because they were convicted and released from prison prior to the 2000 law that requires a risk assessment.

But while the classification may be misleading, it is widely used with little explanation in sex offender registries, which the public can go online to check and see if any offenders live in their neighborhoods.

Locally, residents may go to the police department's or county's Web sites to check.

Residents are notified via postcard when a high-risk offender moves into a neighborhood, but postcards aren't sent for lower-risk levels.

Authorities urge residents to not discount low- and moderate-risk offenders.

"I wouldn't go by the risk level," said Police Cpl. Mark Long. "We've had low-risk offenders re-offend."

Despite the label, a low-risk offender could be someone who committed a serious crime against a child or multiple victims or be prone to violence.

The state's assessed risk level doesn't take into account the individual offender or even his offense.

The classification is determined by a form called Static 99, which is aimed at providing a statistical analysis of the offender's likelihood to repeat an offense.

The form includes 10 questions, and each answer is associated with a point. The risk level is determined by the number of points.

Questions include such things as the number of prior sex offenses, if the victim was a stranger or a family member and the offender's age and the relationship status. The victim's age is not a factor on the form.

For example, single men in their 20s automatically get more points than an older man who is married because statistically they are more likely to re-offend.

"We're not sure what benefit (the classification) has to the public," said Jennifer Mora, a supervisor with the Lubbock-Crosby County office.

She is concerned the classification may cause residents to "have a false sense of security living next to a low-risk offender."

One example of a low-risk offender who lives in Lubbock is a 45-year-old man who was convicted of three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a 7-year-old girl in 1992, according to the city's sex offender registry. In another case, a man was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a 6-year-old boy in 1999.

And once a risk level is assigned to an offender, officials said it is not reassessed unless the offender goes to jail for more than 30 days.

Steven Henderson, director of the Community Supervision and Corrections Department, said officials are still learning the best ways to assess a sex offender.

"We're still in the infancy stage of this," he said, noting the standardized form is recognized nationally.

In 2005, the Texas Legislature directed the Council on Sex Offender Treatment to study dynamic risk assessment, which would include assessing the offender based on multiple factors.

"What it's going to provide is a more accurate predictor of risk," said Allison Taylor, executive director of the council. "The main thing is determining the true predators."

She said the public needs to be notified of how dangerous an offender is, rather than just the sexual recidivism level as indicated on the Static 99 form.

The council has been researching the best tools that would help officials determine the danger to the public.

Once complete, the new risk assessment will take into account other factors, such as the age of the victim and how many victims there have been, and provide a better-rounded glimpse of the offender.

The council implemented a pilot program in 2007, for which data are still being collected and analyzed.

The five-year study period is to end in October, but Taylor didn't know when the new risk assessment would be implemented statewide.

I think we should give everyone in the general public the same Static-99 test, and lets see who would be considered a dangerous sexual predator, even without committing a crime, or being caught. I am willing to bet, a vast majority would fail the test.

Video Link

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

CJI speaker examines America’s obsession with tracking sex offenders

Original Article

A generation ago, few Americans would have supported registration and “marking” of sex offenders who had served their time and paid their debt to society. In today’s world, however, the tracking of sex offenders is no longer seen as un-American or neo-Nazi, according to Prof. Wayne A. Logan (Email) of Florida State University College.

Logan visited the Law Center as part of the “Criminal Law at the Cutting Edge” lecture series sponsored by the Criminal Justice Institute. He outlined how every state now operates a system of mandatory registration and notification, and noted how the nationwide obsession with tracking sex offenders represents “a really remarkable public policy story.” The story is made all the more remarkable because there is no empirical evidence that the system does any good. “We live in a very scared society,” he said, “and a very unforgiving society.”

Some 700,000 sex offenders are registered in the United States, but the actual number is much higher as many sex crimes are never reported and offenders find easy ways to skirt the registration law, Logan said. While listing names and addresses of offenders on the Internet may make the neighborhood more alert to the convicted sex offender down the street, Logan noted how the system focuses on “strangers” – and does nothing to protect loved ones from relatives or trusted family acquaintances who commit most of the offenses. As the father of two young daughters, Logan admits he frequently scans the offenders list on the Internet. At the same time, he said he is “very aware that potential abusers could be someone I know and trust.

The history of registering criminal offenders and alerting the community to their whereabouts is not new, according to Logan. The practice traces back at least to France, Germany and England in the 19th Century and, he said, “derives from a human desire to know what’s going on around us.” In the United States, a registry of freed slaves was kept in the 19th Century, and in the 1930s, California kept a registry of known gangsters who were migrating from the East Coast. Other states followed suit – and the move toward public registries gained impetus in the 1980s after a number of child abductions, including the kidnapping and death of Adam Walsh whose father, John, became a television crime crusader. In 1994, the federal government waded in with the so-called Megan’s Law, which requires states to adopt a registration system. To ensure compliance with the registration requirements, the government employed a “carrot and stick ” approach of awarding and withholding federal criminal justice funds from states. In 2006, President Bush mandated certain additional requirements, including adding juveniles to the registry and making it retroactive, when he signed into law the Adam Walsh Act. The law is seen in some quarters as a states’ rights issue, Logan said, and 18 states have refused to adopt the measure. He predicted legislatures will be debating the matter as the act comes up again in July.

Logan raised the question: What accounts for the remarkable turnaround from 1986, when just a handful of states had a registration system? Logan conjectured that a “notion of moral panic ” swept the country in the 1980s and 1990s as a rash of high-profile child disappearances refocused debate on the issue. Missing children’s pictures began appearing on milk cartons; several child protection bills made their way through Congress; and Walsh launched America’s Most Wanted on television. “Shame sanctions” became popular in the courts, gaining a national reputation for Harris County judge (now Congressman) Ted Poe, who employed unique attention-getting sentences. Harsher terms, chain gangs and civil commitments for sex offenders “provided fertile ground for registration and community notification to take root,” Logan said. The politics of criminal justice also witnessed a trend toward personalization and demonization. The previously unusual practice of naming laws after victims – Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law, for example – made it much more personal and compelling, Logan said. If a legislator opposed a bill, he or she appeared anti-victim or “anti-law-and-order.” Defendants were demonized in legislative halls, courts and the press as “monsters,” “animals,” and “predators.” The public developed “a sense of information entitlement on sex offenders,” Logan said, “with any concerns of privacy or other rights trumped by the right to know.” In recent times, courts have shown little concern for the offenders who are governed by these laws; in fact, Logan noted how the net has been cast wider as more and more categories of offenders are being added. “If everyone is classified, then classifications are meaningless,” he said, adding that it raises the risk of the public becoming inured to the threat. “It is corrections on the cheap,” he said. The government puts everything on the Internet and says, “It’s up to you to self-protect.”

Logan said the effort to narrow the scope of registries could gather steam in the years ahead. But he predicts the system will remain and may actually strengthen. “We’re not going to see an unwinding of these laws,” he declared. Reaction to sex offenders is psychologically very visceral – “much more so than any other crime, even murder,” Logan noted. It may take a horrible act perpetrated by “community vigilantes” to prompt a change, he added. “Tragically, what’s on the line is our own personal safety, and that of our loved ones.”

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

As usual, Oprah picks the worst of the worse offenders to make it appear as if all sex offenders are like them, which the vast majority are NOT!

Article: Disinformation (Wikipedia)

Disinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. It is synonymous with and sometimes called Black propaganda. It may include the distribution of forged documents, manuscripts, and photographs, or spreading malicious rumors and fabricated intelligence. Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false.

Article: Fear Mongering (Wikipedia)

Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.

Video Link | Oprah Article

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

CA - EDITORIAL: Branded for life: Predator laws' flaws

Original Article


As a teenager, _____ made a very bad decision, for which he spent time in jail and on probation.

He's 29 now, and if he had committed a crime such as burglary or assault, he would be considered to have paid his debt to society and would be clear of the justice system.

But _____'s crime was sexual in nature, so his debt to society is a lifelong one. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he must register his address with authorities everywhere he goes.

And because that address is posted on an Internet database, his neighbors on a Murrieta cul-de-sac recently became aware of him. They have been protesting outside his house, demanding he move, and last week took their case to the City Council.

In a plea bargain, _____ (15 at the time) admitted to sexual battery on a girl under 14; exactly what his crime was is unclear, because court records don't offer details and he isn't speaking about it. He has not been accused of any other offenses in the 14 years since.

_____'s case highlights the flaws in the "Megan's Law" databases around the country, from their unwieldy size to their lack of useful detail. What were intended to warn residents of the presence of dangerous sex offenders in their midst have been broadened to include so many people convicted of such a wide array of offenses that even law enforcement officials say they have become largely useless as crime-fighting tools.

What they are good at is painting offenders with a scarlet letter they wear for life, making it that much more difficult for them to ever fit back into society.

For some on the list, that lifelong tag is warranted. But for every John Gardner ---- charged earlier this year with the heinous rape and murder of a 17-year-old Rancho Bernardo girl ---- there are dozens on the list who pose no threat to others.

Now the Riverside County Board of Supervisors wants to add to the clutter.

Supervisors voted last week to send out notifications to people when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood.

What the supervisors should be doing is pushing the Legislature to modify the law, narrowing the database to the true threats ---- serious, violent offenders, and adults who commit crimes against children. Or at least create levels of threats, so people know whether the neighbor on the list is a predatory pedophile or someone whose teenage transgression 20 years ago continues to haunt them.

Where _____ fits on that scale is unclear. But it has been 14 years since he committed whatever act landed him in jail, and there is no indication he has committed another offense since then.

He deserves the right to try to reclaim his life without fear of harassment or worse everywhere he goes.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

FL - Bill aims to clarify where sex offenders can live

Original Article



DAYTONA BEACH -- A compromise bill moving through the Florida Legislature would sharpen definitions of where sex offenders can live but also prohibit them from "loitering or prowling" in areas where children are found.

The measure, Senate Bill 1284 and its House companion, HB 119, have lurched forward this session with political tweaks to the language along the way. Similar measures have been pushed in recent years but shot down.

"It's not perfect, but it does tighten up some things," said local Public Defender Jim Purdy, vice president of the Florida Public Defender Association. "A person that has to obey this statute will have a better idea of what he or she can or cannot do."

The bill would specifically define places sex offenders cannot live, including near child-care facilities, playgrounds and schools. Under the old law, broad terms like "day care center" and "places where children congregate," caused some confusion among offenders trying to find homes.

Although the provision that adds a loitering-and-prowling restriction gave Purdy some "heartburn" because of potential constitutional challenges, he said the bill is "a step in the right direction."

In recent years, local people released from prison as sex offenders have found it difficult to find suitable places to live, as cities created ordinances to keep them out.

In 2006, sex offender _____ was told he could no longer live in his home in Ormond Beach because a new city ordinance extended the buffer between sex offenders and schools, parks and day care centers to 2,500 feet.

A year later, the local courts were faced with a flood of sex offenders who were being jailed because they couldn't find places to live. South Florida made national headlines when sex offenders were housed beneath a bridge because of a 2,500-feet residency restriction for offenders.

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union (Contact) have debated that a 1,000-foot rule statewide would protect the rights of offenders to find housing.

"We would have to see how (the proposed restrictions) would be enforced before we could evaluate them," said Brandon Hensler, director of communications for the ACLU of Florida in Miami.

Under the bill, counties and cities will be prevented from passing local ordinances that add to the list of places defined by the law. But, Purdy said, the law would allow cities to increase their buffer zones to 2,500 feet.

The bill would allow sex offenders already living in a house to stay if a child-care facility, school or playground is built nearby.

In the past, officials said citizens were getting permits to operate day-care centers as an effort to force offenders living near them to move.

"That has been cured by this," Purdy said. "The bill will close some of the problem issues and make it more understandable."

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin