Thursday, July 8, 2010
Even after they have paid their debt to society, sex offenders are far from free. Legislation intended to keep them away from children affects their lives in unintended ways.
This is part two of an in-depth report on the lives of sex offenders after they have served their sentences.
[name withheld] victim was 14 years-old when—according to him—he simply put his hand on her vagina. He was 39.
[name withheld] demanded a sexual favor from his victim. She was a family member.
[name withheld] kissed a neighbor “on her private part". They were drunk at a Christmas party. He woke up the next morning and she was gone. He says he got a phone call from her demanding that he give her his Corvette.
They live under Miami's Julia Tuttle Causeway, because that’s the law.
This law materialized after years and years of highly disturbing and highly-profile child sex abuse cases all over south Florida. It originally prohibited sex offenders released from prison from living within 1,000 feet of any school, church, playground, park, or mall; later, the “residency restrictions" were increased to 2,500 feet. The law was put into place in city after city, county after county in a kind of domino effect. Ron Book may be the man responsible for tipping over the first domino. A powerful lobbyist, Book was instrumental in getting residency laws for sex offenders passed in counties, cities and municipalities all across Florida and has been called in as a consultant when other areas wanted to pass similar laws.
Book’s story explains why began the residency law campaign in the first place. For nearly six years, his daughter, Lauren, was molested by a live-in nanny. She's now in prison. His case reads like that of a father protecting his daughter, and it’s possible to argue that the sex offender laws are all simply a case of parents protecting their children.
But this is where the story gets much more complicated.
Ron Book says the stricter residency restrictions work. According to him, sex offender registration is up in Miami and absconding is down, as is the number of sex abuse crimes against children is down.
But the Florida chapter of the ACLU disagrees, saying that residency restrictions are too strict. The ACLU argues that because the laws force sex offenders to live in the hell that is the Julia Tuttle Causeway, many sex offenders won't register themselves and, consequently, don't end up living underneath the Causeway. Where they do live is an unanswerable question because they could be anywhere, hidden from the law. They could even be near a school, playground, park or church, and no one would know it.
Just about everyone also agrees the definition of the term "sex offender" is much too broad under Florida state laws. Certainly some sex offenders fit the stereotype and some have done horrible things. But there are also 18-year-old guys who have sex with their 17-year-old girlfriends. There are men who urinated in public. There are women who streak across parks or stadiums. Should they all be forced to live with the restrictions required under Florida sex offender laws?
There are, however, other places sex offenders can live in Miami-Dade County—exclusive, extravagant, gated communities that are nowhere near any place children could be. But few sex offenders can afford to live in those communities. Few of them can even get jobs.
And this is where a man named Randy Young steps in. Young finds places throughout the Sunshine State where sex offenders can live, but in south Florida, the most likely place is Fort Lauderdale. Housing prices there have tumbled dramatically in the past few years and although the area has a residency restriction, it is only 1,400 feet.
But that doesn't mean the work of finding homes and dignity for just-released sex offenders is an easy. The moment the neighbors find out Young is planning to lease homes in their area to convicted sex offenders, they are up in arms. Sometimes prospective home sellers balk, too. Young has found, however, that money talks in an economy as down as that in south Florida.
Home sellers, finding no legitimate buyer any time soon, are grudgingly taking Young's offers. In some cases, sellers are even asking Young if he'd like to lease out their properties to other sex offenders. These sellers believe that sex offenders will not break the law again once placed in a neighborhood, where they live under a microscope by the law. Ironically, sometimes the presence of sex offenders in the neighborhood even makes it safer, by bringing in an increased police presence.
In the meantime, the ranks of convicted sex offenders living underneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway have thinned considerably. Only about a dozen of them remain. In addition to the ones resettled by Randy Young, others have been relocated temporarily by various charitable organizations and local governments who considered Sex Offender City to be an anathema to the city. In another twist, Ron Book helped with their temporary housing—in addition to being a lobbyist, he is also the director of Miami's homeless trust.
But these solutions are only temporary ones. The larger problem of what to do with sex offenders who have served their time remains unsolved.
I am so happy this girl was found quickly, and alive. And it angers me that the suspect was a known sex offender. This will just hurt all the rest of the RSO's across this country. It also shows that the registry, residency laws, GPS and everything else, does nothing to protect anybody, nor prevent any crime. If a person is determined to commit a crime, they will.
Marc Klaas' daughter Polly was murdered when she was 12 years old and he has devoted his life to protecting children from murderes/sex offenders since then. Are the laws in place which limits sex offenders to where they can live really helping or are they backfiring? Marc Klaas says that there needs to be a way to differentiate certain sex offenders from others and then make the punishments equal.
By Mark Hamblett
Former Governor George E. Pataki and other officials can be sued for the involuntary civil commitment of violent sexual predators without notice or a hearing upon the completion of their prison terms, a federal judge has ruled.
Southern District Judge Jed S. Rakoff concluded that Mr. Pataki, the former commissioners of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, the state Office of Mental Health and others are not shielded by qualified immunity for actions that "rather blatantly violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights."
The inmates were shuttled directly from prison to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center after Mr. Pataki unilaterally promulgated a Sexual Violent Predator Initiative in September 2005. He acted after the Legislature several times failed to enact a civil confinement statute.
Judge Rakoff said the governor's initiative ran afoul of U.S. Supreme Court case law and, in any event, "no balancing of public and private interests can remotely justify what happened here."
The state Attorney General's Office has appealed Judge Rakoff's decision in Bailey v. Pataki, 08 Civ. 8563, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Both the office and Mr. Pataki, now of counsel at Chadbourne & Parke, declined comment yesterday.
Six plaintiffs sued Mr. Pataki and several officials alleging a politically motivated conspiracy to violate their civil rights.
The governor's program authorized involuntary civil commitment pursuant to New York Mental Hygiene Law §9.27, which allows two state-employed psychiatrists to commit, without a prior judicial hearing or determination, "any person alleged to be mentally ill and in need of involuntary care and treatment."
But in 2006, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in State ex rel. Harkavy v. Consilvio, 7 N.Y. 3d 607 (2006), that post-release commitment could only occur through Correction Law §402, which permits transfers of inmates to civil confinement in a psychiatric facility only upon a judicial determination made after notice, hearing and examination by court-appointed psychiatrists.
Before the Harkavy decision, the six plaintiffs were all near the end of their prison terms when they were transferred to the psychiatric facility.
After briefing and oral argument, Judge Rakoff dismissed some claims against some of the defendants. But he left in place allegations against Mr. Pataki and his former aides under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments, conspiracy under §§1983 and 1985, state constitutional claims and state law claims for negligence and gross negligence, and claims by three of the plaintiffs for false imprisonment.
In his opinion Tuesday, Judge Rakoff cited Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480 (1980), in which the U.S. Supreme Court called involuntary psychiatric commitment "a massive curtailment of liberty" that cannot be done without adequate due process protection, including notice and a hearing.
"The fact that a citizen has been previously convicted of an offense involving sexual violations in no way deprives him of this protection," Judge Rakoff said, adding that the plaintiffs' evidence shows that "none of the essential requirements set forth in Vitek was met."
The plaintiffs, he observed, were transferred "without the slightest advance notice" after being evaluated by two physicians prior to transfer. And he said there was nothing in the record, when viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, that suggested it was infeasible to accord procedural safeguards to the inmates.
The judge rejected the defendants' claims that their actions were objectively reasonable and not in violation of clearly established law. He added that "it would have been the easiest thing in the world" to follow all the required procedures.
"This is so obvious that no reasonable defendant official could have failed to miss it," Judge Rakoff said.
He said the plaintiffs had put forth evidence that could lead a jury to conclude that the officials knew they were violating the inmates' rights but persisted "in a deliberate decision taken for political reasons."
"To deprive plaintiffs of their constitutional rights for political gain can never be reasonable," he said.
And while Mr. Pataki and the other defendants "vehemently" deny they acted for political advantage, he said, "plaintiffs have proffered sufficient competent evidence to make this a jury question."
Plaintiffs' attorney Ameer Benno said it was absurd for Mr. Pataki and others to claim qualified immunity because they are being indemnified under Public Officers Law §17.
"The whole doctrine of qualified immunity is based on the idea that public officials should be able to act in a way that is bold and decisive without fear of personal litigation," Mr. Benno said. "This perpetrates a fraud on the community, which is not aware that these officials are not going to pay out of their own pocket."
Assistant Attorneys General Edward J. Curtis Jr., Jane R. Goldberg and Matthew Silverman represent the defendants.
After Mr. Pataki left office in 2006, the Legislature enacted Article 10 of the Mental Hygiene Law, which established a process for civil confinement of sexual offenders.
By Scott Koperski
The Beatrice City Council gave final approval to a citywide sex offender ordinance at its meeting Tuesday evening.
The new ordinance will set restrictions requiring sex offenders to reside more than 500 feet from schools or child care facilities.
Sex offenders who established residency in Beatrice before July 1, 2006, and haven’t moved from the residence will be unaffected by the new regulations.
- So once again, another retroactive law. If the law hasn't been approved or signed into law yet, or just now approved, then why are they back dating it to 2006? That is an ex post facto issue.
Councilman Jason Moore, who has been a firm supporter of the ordinance since its first reading at the council’s June 7 meeting, reiterated for the council and public in attendance why he was in favor of the ordinance.
“It may not be perfect, but it may prevent that one incident,” Moore said. “You guys have to look at this as a building block. This is the least we can do to prevent that one problem.”
Police Chief Bruce Lang, who spoke highly of the ordinance, helped to ease the mind of Councilman Gary Lytle, who had concerns that the ordinance could potentially create a false sense of security.
“I didn’t think that this is a good piece of legislation,” Lytle said at the meeting. “If the chief supports it and thinks that it’s something that needs to be done, then my support’s going to be with it also. The only way I probably would not support it at this time is if somebody came forward with something stronger.”
Councilman Alan Fetty, who opposed the ordinance since its first reading, remained in opposition to it at the Monday meeting.
“I really feel that this is an unnecessary piece of legislation,” Fetty said. “It will not accomplish what those that have pursued it think that it will accomplish.”
Despite having much support since its first reading, the passing of the ordinance was narrowed, passing with a 5-3 vote.
Along with Fetty, Calvin Carey and David “Pede” Catlin also opposed to it.
Carey said he was opposed to the ordinance because he didn’t think it was strict enough to be effective.
“This is just a feel-good law,” Carey said. “I think we need to be a lot tougher on it. I wrestled with this back and forth and I want to go farther than this.”
Catlin, who has been quiet on the subject in the past, also voted against the ordinance in hopes of establishing something better.
“I don’t say a whole lot, but I set back and I listen,” Catlin said. “The thing that we kept stepping on tonight is if it’s not a solution, then why can’t we make a better solution before we do something?"
“This affects so many people in so many different ways I don’t think it’s something we should take lightly.”
In South Florida, redemption is hard to come by for sex offenders. Some have been forced to live under a bridge for the rest of their lives.
This is part one of an in-depth report on the lives of sex offenders after they have served their sentences.
The strict regulations on housing for sex offenders are the result of a confluence of what some consider as public paranoia, misguided laws and poor management, particularly in south Florida. Sun, surf, and sex appeal have drawn millions from the entire Western Hemisphere to this tropical wonderland.
But a few years ago, this tropical heaven was hell for children. No one knows why things worked out the way they did. For about 30 years, some of the highest-profile cases of sexual molestation of young children came from this area. Those cases had names: Jessica Lunsford, Jimmy Ryce, Adam Walsh. As a result, the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County and other nearby cities rushed to strengthen sex offender laws. At one point, sex offenders released from prison could not live within 1,000 feet of any school, church, playground, park, or mall—anywhere children could be. After another rash of violent sexual molestation cases involving children, city and county leaders strengthened those "residency restrictions" to 2,500 feet.
But there was a problem.
A major metropolitan area like Miami is full of schools, churches, playgrounds, parks and malls. Once the heftier residency restrictions were in place, there were only three places in all of Miami sex offenders could live: at the airport, in the Everglades or under a major thoroughfare called the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
And this is where probation officers told the sex offenders to live. According to the law, there was nowhere else for them to go.
By the summer of 2009, the population of “Sex Offender City” under the bridge had swelled to over 100. Tents were dwellings, patio table and chair sets were dining rooms, generators supplied electricity, and just about everyone living there sported a GPS unit around his ankle. Amenities and toiletries were luxury items and toilet paper became the de facto currency. It was hot, especially in the Miami sun, and these "monsters of Miami" had to live here forever.
A very strong argument can be made there was one man behind Sex Offender City, one man who caused the creation of this place. His name is Ron Book. Book has his reasons for creating the situation, and he disputes that he did, indeed, create it, but that story is for part two.
But there are others who are trying to help the sex offenders move on with their lives. One of them is Randy Young. He finds houses where sex offenders can live, leases them, then leases them back out to sex offenders. And finding rental property is not very difficult in south Florida, which has suffered dramatically in the ongoing economic crisis. By putting sex offenders back in society, he is changing the way people think about these men.
To be continued...