Monday, April 11, 2011

LA - Civil rights advocates challenge constitutionality of sex-crime law

Original Article

04/11/2011

In Louisiana, civil rights advocates are challenging the constitutionality of a centuries- old sex-crime law. The law makes requesting payment for oral or anal sex a crime, and requires those convicted to register as a sex-offender. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 40% of those registered as sex offenders in Orleans Parish are on the registry as a result of this law. From New Orleans, Zoe Sullivan has more.


TX - Sex offender tag must be accurate

Original Article

See Also: The Editorial Board Gets it Wrong: Confuses Sex Offender Registry with Child Abuse Registry

04/11/2011

Before being placed in a registry, the accused deserve to be heard.

Labeling an individual a sex offender can change a life for forever.

Registries for convicted sex offenders are an effective way to continue to monitor them after they have had their day in court.

In Texas, however, some state employees have the authority to place men, women and even children older than 10 on a sex offender list with little or no due process.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has been keeping the registry since the mid-1990s and includes the names of more than 654,000 people, including more than 36,000 children 10 to 18 years of age, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Only state protective services employees have access to the registry, but the information on the registry can be used to keep individuals on that list from various jobs and volunteer opportunities involving children.

A name can be added to the registry after a protective services department caseworker investigates and finds evidence of abuse.

The accused are notified of the abuse finding, but they are not told their names are being added to a registry. That makes it difficult for them to request a review of the findings and seek an appeal before an administrative law judge if they are unhappy with the outcome of the review.

That is unfair and unjust.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Katy, has introduced legislation that would require the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to provide a person a copy of the allegations against them and allow them to appeal before they are added to the department's sex offender registry.

Since March 2006, about 3,300 people whose names have been included on the registry have requested reviews and 1,245 have had their names removed, the Dallas newspaper reported.

No one should be placed on a sex offender registry without having an opportunity to address the allegations

Last summer, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals took the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to task for allowing correction officials to classify some parolees as sex offenders although they have never been convicted of a sex crime.

The court took issue with the fact that the alleged sex-offenders were never allowed a hearing and allowed to correct false information.

Being labeled a sex offender is a serious matter. The unconvicted-but-accused deserve an opportunity to defend themselves.


TN - Parents have concerns over change in sex offender law

Original Article

04/08/2011

By Bill Christian

In 2010 Tennessee lawmakers made a change to the sex offender law. Sex offenders still can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school. But now sex offenders with a child at a school could be able to go to the school if their child is participating in some type of school function.

"It's a tough situation for everybody involved because parents do have rights and we want to honor those but our first priority is always safety," said Andy True, Kingsport City Schools.

It's now up to principals to decide if a sex offender with a child should be allowed to be at the school to drop off or pick up their child. This also includes sporting events. But many parents don’t believe sex offenders should be allowed on school property even if they have a child there.

"I just think it's a bad situation to give them an open line to kids," said Karen Schallon, parent.
- Not all sex offenders have sexually abused kids, and I am sick and tired of the ignorant public thinking so.


GA - ‘NIMBY’ threatens worthy program

Original Article

04/10/2011

By ADAM VAN BRIMMER

You can see the tents and lean-tos through the trees if you look hard enough.

Savannah’s homeless have a little commune just to the west of the Georgia approach to the Talmadge Bridge, right along the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal.

Follow the canal south for about two miles, and it meanders past the old Derst Baking Co. warehouse on Mills B. Lane Boulevard. Here, too, will soon be a place for the homeless to sleep — unless some residents of the neighborhoods flanking the building get their way.

The Old Savannah City Mission wants to open an emergency shelter for homeless women and children at the site. The mission is no stranger to the neighborhood; it has used the building to warehouse donated furniture and other items for the last two years.

Furniture is one thing; 120 homeless Savannahians is another, evidently. Neighborhood residents don’t want the homeless to have to sleep under tarps and scrap materials a few miles up the canal, but better there than in a gated, supervised facility in their neighborhood.

It’s NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard,” said the mission’s executive director, the Rev. Jim Lewis. “Everybody wants to help the homeless but not if it means they have to share their neighborhood with them.”

NIMBY is an epidemic prone to outbreaks in Savannah. Union Mission Inc. twice had new facility plans thwarted by would-be neighbors, first in Skidaway Terrace and then in Magnolia Park back in 2004.

Another local group that helps those in need, Hope House, met neighborhood resistance a few years earlier when it opened a facility in midtown.

NIMBY is why every halfway house and rehab center the mission's architect, Bradley Brigman, designs leads to an uproar. It’s why every registered sex offender who moves in down the street prompts the neighbors to break out the torches and pitchforks.

In some cases, such reactions are justified. When it comes to the Old Savannah City Mission and most other homeless outreach programs, blind opposition is as annoying as panhandling.

Questions with answers

The Rev. Lewis hosted a town hall meeting at the planned emergency shelter last Thursday. The gathering attracted about 75 people. When the shelter’s would-be neighbors were asked to identify themselves, fewer than 10 hands went up in the crowd.

Four of those folks spoke up at the meeting; three spoke out against the shelter.

They expressed concerns about safety, property values and increased activity in an area already home to three public schools and a center for homeless children.

All sounds legitimate, at least on the surface.

The Feiler Terrace, Summerside and Cann Park neighborhoods have a blue-collar, family feel. Small, clean, well-maintained houses line the streets. The homes may fall short of the HGTV definition of “curb appeal,” but it is obvious the owners take pride in their domiciles.

You won’t find boarded-up windows or overgrown lawns here.

The claim that a homeless shelter will hurt property values is a stretch. According to Chatham County property records, the only sales within five blocks of the facility in the last two years were foreclosures. Go back a few more years, and private party sales ranged from the mid-$60,000s to $110,000.

The Old Savannah City Mission plans to make the equivalent of a $1.6 million investment in the emergency shelter. The building will go from looking like a neglected warehouse to an architecturally designed medical complex, complete with a tastefully done perimeter fence and landscaping.

If anything, the facility will improve property values.

As for safety and increased activity, the mission’s reputation should dampen those concerns. The mission has been serving Savannah since 1997. Its main campus, at Bull Street and Maupas Avenue, is a complement, not a detriment, to the Starland Dairy neighborhood.

You won’t find the homeless who frequent that shelter prowling the streets and harassing the neighbors. Lewis and his staff run a structured operation in a clean space.

If the mission wasn’t occupying the block-long building, it would likely be like many others in the neighborhood — empty, or at least partially so, and in need of attention.

Plus, the Mills B. Lane shelter will accept only females plus boys under the age of 13 accompanied by their mothers. No men or teenage boys — the homeless demographic many Savannahians are most weary of.

Residents voiced concerns during the meeting about what would happen if the new shelter fails, some new group comes in and uses the facility as a halfway house for felons or a rehab center for men struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse.

The Old Savannah City Mission is an established and stable organization funded largely by two of the city’s larger churches. The mission isn’t going anywhere.

Walk in another’s shoes

Given all that information, the debate really comes down to one question: Would you be comfortable with this shelter in your neighborhood?

It’s easy to work up some righteous indignation over a community turning its back on a homeless shelter when you live somewhere else. This situation should force us all to do some soul searching.

If the Old Savannah City Mission wanted to put this shelter in the old Sheraton hotel, a gated, secure facility located in my Wilmington Island neighborhood, I would support it.

If it were some other group trying to do the same thing, I would at least research the organization and the people behind it before deciding to accept or reject it out of hand.

The time has come to stop advocating for the homeless only when it is convenient for us. They are our neighbors, whether they’re camping by the canal or sleeping in a shelter.

Folks like the Rev. Lewis and the Old Savannah City Mission should be welcomed, not shunned.

I think there will come a day when the neighbors say proudly, ‘They chose our community,’” Lewis said. “All we need is a chance.”