Saturday, May 29, 2010

GA - Transparency, Context, and the Sex Offender Registry

Original Article (Listen)


By caheidelberger

A couple weeks ago, after receiving some court documents from an eager reader, I questioned the usefulness of the sex offender registry. The wise Dr. Newquist supported a point that guides North Dakota law, that the registry can do more harm than good and quite possibly turn some relatively harmless offenders into more desperate, dangerous criminals.

According to an August 2009 Economist article, the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board sampled its registry and concluded that 65% of folks on the list "posed little threat." 30% were "potentially threatening," and 5% were "clearly dangerous."

Social media researcher danah boyd speaks to the Gov 2.0 Expo about sex offender registries as an example of how government transparency is not enough: we can release lots of data, but we must include context and help people develop media literacy so they can properly interpret that data.

Video Link | Related Study

Boyd provides a draft of the presentation text (PDF). Among the important passages:

The problem with the registry is not its intention. Of course we want to give people the tools to protect their children. The problem is also not simply one of transparency. In fact, the transparency of these lists allows us to call into question how our laws are enforced. The problems that stem from the registry stem from the fact that people misinterpret what the data means. When the list of registered sex offenders is made available out of context, it's easy for people to misinterpret what they see. And boy do they ever. In most of your minds, a registered sex offender is automatically Evil Incarnate. So when someone has that Scarlett Letter attached to their chests, they are immediately judged without the circumstances and situation being understood. Transparency may allow us to see who's registered, but for this information to be used effectively, it needs to be communicated in context. In short, we need people to not just have access to the data, but have access to the context surrounding the data [danah boyd, "Transparency Is Not Enough," Gov 2.0 Expo, 2010.05.26].

Boyd also notes that she has done research that adds some important context to the statistics about the danger of sexual solicitations minors face on the Internet:

Consider the statistic from 2006 that 1 in 7 minors are sexually solicited online. This statistic flew around the press and was employed by Attorneys General across the U.S. to argue that the Internet is dangerous for children. This statistic was from a highly reputable source - the Crimes Against Children Research Center. The problem is not the statistic; it is accurate. It's what it implies without further clarification. Most people interpret this statistic as suggesting that 1 in 7 minors are sexually solicited by older sketchy adults seeking to meet minors offline for sex. Yet, over 90% of sexual solicitations are from other minors or young adults and 69% of solicitations involve no attempt at offline contact. Finally, the researchers used the term solicitation to refer to any communication of a sexual nature, including sexual harassment and flirtation [boyd, 2010].

When boyd publicized this research, a state attorney general called and told her to "go find different data." When she stuck by her research, that AG proceeded to trash her in the press.

The lesson here is not that we can't trust statistics or that we shouldn't look to data. Quite the opposite: the lesson here is that when we get statistics and data, we need to get even more information to put the data in proper context.

Related Articles & Videos:

PA - AP: Police Officer (Jose Manuel Santiago) Charged With Sex Offenses

Original Article (Listen)


Officer Accused Of Sexually Assaulting Three Juveniles

KENNETT SQUARE - A southeastern Pennsylvania police officer is charged with hundreds of sex-offense counts including rape, incest, statutory sexual assault and endangering the welfare of children.

Chester County prosecutors say 54-year-old Kennett Square police Officer Jose Manuel Santiago was arrested Thursday at his home in Newark, Del.

Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Callahan says Santiago had sexual encounters with three juveniles under the age of 14 between 1991 and 2000.

Borough officials say Santiago joined the department in 1998. He had been on disability leave since December 2008 and is now suspended without pay.

Santiago is in New Castle County prison awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania. His phone number is unlisted and it was not clear if he had an attorney.

TX - Boerne sets 1,500-foot limit for sex offenders

Original Article (Listen)


By Dave Pasley

Tuesday night the Boerne City Council approved on second and final reading an ordinance prohibiting registered child sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of “child areas,” such as schools, parks, day-cares and similar facilities where children are likely to congregate.

The restrictions apply only to offenders convicted of a crime involving a victim who was 17 years of age or younger at the time of the offense.

The ordinance also prohibits these offenders from entering one of the protected child areas unless the offender is accompanied by his or her own child, or a child he or she is the legal guardian for, who is under the age of 18.

The distance restriction in the final ordinance is 500 feet less than the distance in an ordinance approved on first reading two weeks ago and 500 feet more than the distance recommended by Assistant City Attorney Bradford Bullock and Assistant Police Chief Jim Kohler.

The vote in favor of the ordinance was 4-1. District 4 Councilman Bob Manning cast the dissenting vote. Manning said he would have voted in favor of a 1,000 foot restriction but felt the 1,500 foot limit was too restrictive.

District 2 Councilman Ron Warden initially made a motion to approve the ordinance with the 1,000-foot restriction recommended by staff. District 5 Councilman Jacques DuBose seconded the motion.

During discussion on the motion District 1 Councilman Jeff Haberstroh said he felt a 1,500-foot limit was a better compromise between the staff recommendation and the ordinance that was approved on first reading. Haberstroh then offered an amendment to the motion, changing the distance to 1,500 feet. Warden and DuBose accepted the amendment, setting the stage for the 4-1 final vote.

According to Marisa Dimas, the sex offender registrar for the Boerne Police Department, there are currently three registered sex offenders residing in Boerne who have been convicted of crimes involving children 17 or younger. All live within 1,500 feet of a protected child area as defined in the new ordinance.

However, Bullock said those offenders will be “grandfathered” and can not be forced to move from their current residence.

They will be subject to the restrictions on entering a child area and the distance requirements of the ordinance will apply to them if they move to another location in Boerne.

There are currently four other registered sex offenders living in Boerne who will not be subject to the new ordinance because their victims were over the age of 17. A May 14 article in the Star incorrectly stated that one of those four offenders would be subject to the new ordinance. (See the correction below for details.)

Because Boerne is a relatively small city with numerous schools, parks and day-care facilities distributed throughout the community most of the 1,500-foot restricted areas overlap and, collectively, they encompass most of the residential areas north of I-10.

However, there is an unrestricted area north of the interstate along South Main Street that includes the Vistas Apartments and there are some small pockets of residential areas that are outside the restricted areas, including most of the Bentwood subdivision.

Much of the area south of I-10 is either commercial or undeveloped, thus the primary residential neighborhood in the city that would appear to be open to registered sex offenders convicted of a crime against a child is Menger Springs. Portions of the Lake Country subdivision are also outside the restricted area.

Bullock said placing extreme limits on the area where offenders can reside could be problematic from a legal standpoint and both he and Kohler expressed concern that a larger distance requirement might concentrate offenders in a small area.

Having them concentrated in one small area seems to undermine the purpose of the ordinance,” Bullock said.

Bullock and Kohler also pointed out that state law already restricts registered offenders on probation from living within 1,000 feet of a child area and they said it would be beneficial, from an enforcement standpoint, for the Boerne ordinance to be consistent with the state statute.
- If the state already has a 1,000 limitation, why do you need a city ordinance as well? Kind of redundant if you ask me.

During the lengthy discussion on the matter, which included some citizens speaking in favor of a larger restricted area and others expressing concerns that the restrictions could be counter-productive, it was repeatedly emphasized that most sexual offenses against children are committed by someone the child knows, who is not a registered offender, often a family member or family acquaintance.

Manning said he fears the ordinance could turn out to be a “feel-good illusion.”

I don’t think this is going to make much of a difference and it will just make a lot of people mad,” Manning said.

Warden said he agreed to some extent with Manning’s concerns and the ordinance should not provide anyone with a false sense of security.

However, we have to try to do the best we can do,” Warden said.

For the regulations on entering child areas to be enforceable, Bullock said, signs notifying sexual offenders they cannot enter the facility must be posted. He said that is the case for both public and private restricted areas. A violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 per day.

In other matters taken up at Tuesday’s meeting council members:
  • Unanimously approved regulations and signage for the new skate park on Adler Road. The park is scheduled to open June 26.
  • Unanimously approved Mayor Dan Heckler’s appointments to several boards and commissions. Most of Heckler’s selections were re-appointments but there will be two new members on the nine-member Planning and Zoning Commission; Richard Sena and Charlie Boyd IV.
  • Received status reports on several projects funded by the 2007 quality of life bond issue. Planning and Community Development Director Chris Turk said recent rains have slowed work on the new Patrick Heath Public Library.