Monday, March 7, 2011

LA - Challenging the modern-day ‘scarlet letter’

Original Article

03/07/2011

By Zoe Sullivan

Forty percent of the people registered as sex offenders in Orleans Parish have not committed a violent crime or taken advantage of children, according to the Center for Consti­tutional Rights.

This group of people has been required to register as sex offenders because of a law dating from 1805 that prohibits the solicitation of oral or anal sex. This is called the Crimes Against Nature (CAN) law, and advocates say that it brands those convicted with a modern-day scarlet letter, which renders it almost impossible for them to move out of sex work and into the mainstream.

To fight this, Loyola University's Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic partnered with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Andrea Ritchie, filing a lawsuit to have the statute repealed.

Alexis Agathocleous, co-counsel for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that he was "startled" when he learned the percentage of people registered as a result of the CAN law. "It just doesn't make any sense," he said. "The fact that about 75 percent of them are women, and 80 percent are African-American is deeply troubling." Agathocleous also pointed out that 97 percent of the women in Orleans Parish who are on the registry are on there because of a CAN conviction.

Women With a Vision is the New Orleans community organization that brought this issue to the attention of legal advocates. The group has been doing harm-reduction work related to HIV and others issues for 20 years. Deon Hay­wood is the Executive Director of Women with a Vision. She calls the impact of the Crimes Against Nature law "devastating."

One of the ways the law impacts registrants is by printing the words "SEX OFFENDER" in bright orange letters on the person's driver's license or ID card.

"If you think about...how hard it is in today's economy to find a job....I can't get a job because I have to show my ID. So a lot of doors are closed. It makes it hard for people to move from one place to another in society, if you think about how many times you use your ID." Haywood explained to the Weekly.

This "Scarlet letter" isn't the only way that registered sex offenders are affected by the law, however. Haywood says that grants for education are also denied to registered sex offenders, creating an additional barrier to someone who is trying to create a new life. Beyond this, some social services and housing facilities won't accept registered sex offenders, further restricting the supports available to those trying to take care of themselves.


TX - Who is a sex offender?

Original Article

03/07/2011

By Megan Mares

What constitutes a sex offender in Texas, one of the toughest states on sex offenders, is a subject of great controversy and thin lines.

According to the Texas Sexually Violent Predator's Health and Safety Code, Chapter 841, Article 4, Title 11, the state has the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt a person accused of a sexually violent crime is a dangerous predator with behavioral abnormalities.
- I do not think this is true. All it takes in almost any state, is just someones accusations to get you arrested, put in prison and possibly on the sex offender registry. At one time the state did have to prove everything, now it just takes someones word!

Section 841.002 of the code states that a behavior abnormality is a congenital or acquired condition that affects a person's emotional or volitional capacity, which predisposes the person to commit a sexually violent offense, to the extent the person becomes a menace to the health and safety of another person.

A thin line is drawn when it comes to sexting and charges of statutory rape against people four to five years older than the minor.

Both have been the reason many young adults have been convicted of third-degree felonies, sent to state prisons from two to 20 years and forced to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

The age of consent in Texas is 17 years old.

Anyone more than three years older than the minor, unless they are legally married, who intentionally or knowingly participates in sexual activity with the minor is in direct violation of the law.

Sexting, text messages containing sexually explicit messages and photographs, is a popular expression of lust within high school and traditional college-age groups.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 22 percent of teenage girls reported that they have sexted. In response, last year, Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, were working together to allow the prosecution of minors, in sexting and statutory rape cases, without an existing record with a Class A misdemeanor charge instead of a third-degree felony.

This would allow young offenders to have opportunity to create a different future for themselves and not bear the Scarlett letter "sex offender" for the rest of their days.


TX - Sex offender list in the middle of a showdown

Original Article

03/06/2011

By HEATHER CAYGLE

Federal mandate costs too much to implement, Texas officials argue

The latest battleground between Texas officials and the federal government is an unlikely clash over the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law to protect children from sexual predators by creating a national sex offender registry that local law enforcement agencies could tap.
- Not exactly. The law is about various other punishment of sex offenders in general, not just predators.

The state - which has the second-largest sex offender database in the nation, with 63,000 men and women registered - is balking at the law's requirements, citing unacceptably high costs of implementing the law's provisions.

The Legislature has not yet passed the changes, saying the cost for Texas to comply would be $38.8 million, a significant amount with the state facing a budget crisis.
- And to not implement it and take a 10% cut in Byrne Grant funds would be less. So you do the math!

Following two highly publicized showdowns with the federal government over Texas pollution-control efforts and education funding, this low-key standoff is yet another issue in Gov. Rick Perry's ballyhooed war on Washington.

But unlike the previous battles, the governor's office has downplayed the sexual predator issue and has been coy about whether the governor ultimately will support compliance with the federal mandate.
- How have they downplayed the issue exactly? True predators are rare, they account for 5% or less of all sex offenders.

"We support efforts to increase the monitoring of and penalties for these criminals," said Katherine Cesinger, Perry's spokeswoman. "We will continue working with lawmakers this session to make sure Texas implements measures that will have the greatest impact in protecting our citizens from these violent offenders."
- These criminals? Who are you referring to exactly? Predators or all sex offenders?

$2.2 million penalty

If Texas does not comply with the federal mandate by July 26, the state will lose 10 percent of its federal funding under the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, which provides assistance to crime victims and witnesses. The penalty would amount to an estimated $2.2 million in 2012.
- Yep, so they are willing to spend $38 million to keep $2.2 million in grant money? Sounds insane to me!

The crux of the dispute is a difference in approach to the same problem. Texas' current sexual offender registry is based on risk assessment; the federal law requires registration based on offenses committed.
- And being based on risk assessment, by professionals and not just pretend professionals, is better.

The federal law divides offenders into three tiers based on the crimes they committed and has different registration requirements for each tier. For example, the most severe offenders would have to renew their registration in person every three months.
- And this is flawed. You should base the tier level on the persons history and the severity of the crime, not the crime committed, that is just pure insanity and unfair.

Under current Texas law, sex offenders register either for 10 years or for life based on offense and risk level.

Because of the change in requirements, the number of people on the registry would "increase greatly," according to a report by the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which recommended that the state not comply with the federal law.
- And thus they can hype up the fear factor by making it appear as if there are a lot more truly dangerous people, when in fact that is not true.

"There will be an enormous amount of cost to the state without enhancing public safety," said Allison Taylor, executive director for the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, a state agency that develops and implements policies regarding sex offenders budget shortfall or for much else.
- I don't follow this logic. How will it cost more money to not implement the changes? And how does it "enhance" public "safety" exactly?

"What is more important and more precious than our children?" Jackson Lee asked.
- I am sick and tired of hearing this BS! Many on the registry had nothing to do with a child, yet this idiot appears to think otherwise. And eradicating peoples rights for the FALSE safety is wrong! Everybody wants to protect everybody, but hey, we don't live in Wonderland either. No matter how many laws you pass, children being harmed will never stop.

If the impasse can't be broken, she says she'll push the Obama administration to delay penalties against Texas rather than forfeit federal victim assistance funds.

"I think it's more important to get states to comply than to meet arbitrary deadlines," said Jackson Lee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

"The cost for Texas is considerable, but the impact on saving the lives of children warrants that kind of investment," Jackson Lee said.
- It's nothing more than fear mongering and "for the children politics!" Education is more important to "protecting" kids. If you teach them what to look for, when to say no, and what is right and wrong, then the chances of them being abused will go down. Also, if you wanted to protect children, then why not put all other criminals on a registry, like abusive parents, domestic violence, gang members, drug dealers, DUI offenders, etc? They harm children and others as well.