By Mike Benner
PORTLAND -- On Thursday afternoon Portland police officer Heidi Brockmann checked up on registered sex offenders, the way she has for the last several weeks, but this time officer Kim Liday is tagging along.
"I just wanted to go out there and make sure these folks were doing what they were supposed to," said Liday.
The 12-year veteran of the bureau was on her first assignment with Sex Offender Registration Detail. Officer Liday was one of 26 new officers who recently joined the team. The team now has 45 officers, the most it has ever had.
"I can't think of a better sort of criminal to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to," said Liday.
- I can. Murderers, gang members, drug dealers, DUI offenders, to name a few.
"It's a huge population group to have to deal with," Brockmann added.
There are 620 sex offenders for every 100,000 people in Portland. That is the largest sex offender population for a city of Portland's size.
"Some of it has to do with the justice system and people's perceptions about giving people a second chance, letting them rehabilitate," said Brockmann.
Brockmann did not say the high numbers make Portland a dangerous city to live in. She said not every sex offender is predatory.
"You have people who just made mistakes when they were young and ended up with that label," she said.
SORD and its new officers will keep a close eye on all offenders, predatory or not.
"As long as they're willing to let me be part of the team, I'm happy to do it," Liday said.
A federal grant made it possible for SORD to add the new resources. The grant will last for a little more than a year.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
By Michael Mayo
Abuse survivor Lauren Book wants to teach kids how to say no and speak up
If all Florida's tough residency restrictions and anti-loitering laws targeting sex offenders had been on the books when Lauren Book was growing up, she still would have been victimized by a pedophile.
Her tormentor wasn't some stranger with candy lurking in the playground shadows, but a trusted figure in her affluent Plantation home with no known criminal history: Her nanny.
For six years, starting at age 10, Book was molested, raped and beaten by the woman whom her parents told her to obey. [name withheld] is now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
"I didn't know I could say, 'No,' or 'Stop, it's not OK,' to an adult," said Book, 26, daughter of prominent South Florida lobbyist Ron Book.
Her story is horrific, but not unusual. In roughly 90 percent of child sex-abuse cases, Lauren Book noted, victims are assaulted by "someone they know, love or trust."
Which means parents, relatives, caregivers, clergy, coaches and Scout leaders might be a bigger threat to our kids than the registered sex offender forced to live under a bridge.
In many South Florida cities, offenders now can't live within 2,500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds or school bus stops, effectively banning them from all residential areas. The result: Some offenders have become homeless nomads, carving out transient existences in flophouses and homemade campsites.
Still, Lauren Book and her father defend the residency restrictions they helped get enacted throughout Florida, calling them "a tool for law enforcement" and part of a multi-pronged approach to deal with the complex issue.
- But it's not dealing with the issues, it's only making people homeless and jobless while Lauren and her dad exact their vengeance by having draconian, unconstitutional laws passed.
"We want sex offenders and predators to be as far away from children as possible," Lauren Book said.
- These laws punish ALL sex offenders and not all sex offenders have harmed children. Even those who did, this will not prevent them from committing another crime, if they chose, it only alienates them, makes them homeless and jobless, which makes some more of a threat!
To me, there's a bit of a disconnect here. Why go after all offenders with blanket restrictions when studies show kids are most likely to be victimized by someone in their inner circle?
The Books acknowledge things might have gone too far, with too many people classified sex offenders for small offenses (such as when public urination or streaking gets branded "lewd and lascivious behavior"). Florida now has roughly 33,000 registered sex offenders.
And Lauren Book said "it's Fantasyland" to think that children can be protected through residency restrictions and Safe Zones – which ban offenders from hanging out near playgrounds and schools – alone.
- Then why are you advocating passing these "Fantasy Land" laws?
More important, she said, is education for kids and parents. Education on how to resist, report and spot signs of sexual abuse. It's work that she's doing through her advocacy group, Lauren's Kids, which helps abuse survivors. The last two springs, Lauren Book made walking tours through Florida spotlighting the issue, covering 1,000 miles this year before ending inTallahassee.
In a lean budget year, Lauren's Kids just got $1.5 million in state funding to bring its educational efforts to elementary classrooms statewide. Gov. Rick Scott wielded his veto pen to chop a lot of worthy social programs, but he let the Books' pet project remain.
"Would she have gotten the access she did if it weren't for me?" Ron Book said. "Probably not. But she worked the issue."
Instead of criticizing Scott or the Books for preferential treatment, I just hope the worthwhile program succeeds. "Ninety-nine percent of child sex abuse is preventable," Lauren said. "It's just a matter of teaching kids what to do."
- The only way to get to this 99 percentage is to teach kids about sexual abuse, good touch, bad touch, etc in school, from kindergarten on up. Otherwise, it's "Fantasy Land!"
The program teaches kids about listening to their "guiding voice," speaking up if someone does something inappropriate, and having a "trusted triangle" of three adults who they can share anything with.
The Books got in touch with me after I wrote about the struggles of two homeless offenders last month and wondered in print if the residency restrictions make anybody safer. We sat down for a couple of hours in Ron Book's Aventura office, the one which has a traffic meter that says "End Homelessness" in the waiting area.
Besides lobbying for clients like AT&T, the Miami Dolphins, the GEO Group of Boca Raton and local governments like Broward County and the village of Royal Palm Beach, Ron Book devotes much of his time to Lauren's Kids and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.
Florida's sex offender residency restrictions began last decade, with state legislators banning offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and parks.
Then local governments, prodded by Book and spurred by the horrific 2005 rape/murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, began going further. Many widened the circle to 2,500 feet (almost a half-mile) and added school bus stops to the mix. More than 160 local governments in Florida have sex-offender residency ordinances tougher than state law.
"It basically bans offenders from living anywhere," said Jill Levenson, a social worker and Lynn University researcher who deals with sex offenders.
Lauren Book said the restriction zones could be reduced to 1,750 feet, but she said they still have a place in the arsenal against sex offenders.
- Well lets see, above she says residency laws will not prevent a crime, but she wants them on the books. Why? I think it's all about vengeance personally.
"Do I think these people should just get a second chance at life?" Lauren Book said. "I have a hard time with that."
- Because you are not a follower of Christ, and are letting your personal emotions get in the way to punish all offenders for your abuse, which was one person, not 38,000 people.
Given her past, the sentiment is understandable. But we also need to be reasonable.
By Amanda Iacone
RICHMOND - The state's sex offenders are a group no one wants to defend, no one wants to house and almost no one wants to pay to treat.
And yet, state taxpayers are spending about $150,000 per year for each sexually violent person the state chooses to civilly commit after the offender completes his prison sentences.
Hundreds of sexual offenders are expected to be released from state prisons this year and about 1 percent of those offenders each year end up in a state-run mental health institution in Nottaway County. The population is expected to peak over 300 men housed at the facility this summer.
Their stay is indefinite and costly to the taxpayer. Although they are being held to receive psychiatric treatment, there are serious questions whether these individuals can be effectively treated.
- Some can be treated, others can't or don't want it. That is a fact!
The population of sexual violent predators at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation is ballooning as judges send more offenders to the facility and few leave.
- It's a business! The more people they keep there, the more money they get. Prison is, and always has been, a business! Yes, I know this is not technically prison, but "civil commitment" is just another word for prison outside of prison.
Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for additional funding this year to add a second facility in nearby Brunswick County, but lawmakers cut the funding from the budget. And they dragged their feet to fully fund the existing facility, instead requiring that the patients double-bunk for now.
This summer, a joint legislative committee is reviewing the program to ensure that only the worst offenders are committed to Nottoway. The committee is also checking whether the 10-question assessment tool the state uses is effectively screening offenders.
- They should have been doing this from the get-go. But, when you have idiots running the country and passing unconstitutional laws, what do you expect?
Offenders are assessed during their final 10 months in prison to determine whether they should be ordered into the program. About 20 percent of the offenders eventually go before a civil judge, who determines whether they are sent home or sent to the predator program, which is known as a civil commitment.
Few lawmakers question the intent of the program. But legislators do question the cost of the program and wonder whether the state is obligated to pay for treatment if treatment isn't helping.
Although the program has operated since 2003, questions remain whether it violates offenders' rights and whether it protects the public.
- Yes it violates their rights and no it doesn't protect the public.
David Albo, R-Fairfax, who was a co-sponsor of the original authorizing legislation. "Having them in this facility literally saves children from being raped. All that sounds extreme, it is that dire."
- What a crock of BS! I'd like to see where he got this "statistic," well, actually I'd not, because I'm sure he pulled it out of his butt.
Albo said he believes the program is working and that all of the offenders housed in the Nottoway facility belong there. Although costs have skyrocketed, Albo said the program is worth the hefty price tag and should be funded before any other state program.
- So believing and facts are not the same. So at the rate it's ballooning, how much is it going to cost in 10 or 20 years?
The legislator said he would be willing to consider reducing the number of crimes that make offenders eligible for the state's screening process. He wants to see the results of the legislative study, which is expected in November.
- Well I want to see your study to back up the bogus "99.99%" you cited.
Sharon Reed has spent her career working with the victims of sex crimes - both young and old - and she said it's tax money well spent to keep child abusers off the street.
- Well, has she talked with experts who treat sex offenders as well?
"For most of my victims, their worst fear is re-encountering the offender," said Reed, the director of the Washington County Victim/Witness Program, which helps victims navigate the justice system. "We're a small community. They're going to pass them somewhere, the Walmart, the Food City."
She said she wishes there were effective treatments for sexual predators to keep them from offending. But the state's civil commitment program is the next best thing because it keeps them from returning home, Reed said.
- There are!
Scientific study results on whether treatment helps sex offenders from re-offending are mixed, said Roxanne Lieb, associate director of the Washington Institute for Public Policy and an expert on sex offenders. The institute is the nonpartisan, research arm of the Washington state Legislature.
- There are a couple studies for this state that have been done already (here, and here), and you ignored the facts then, so what makes you think they will listen if someone else does the study? If it doesn't show what they believe, they will just dismiss it.
The results depend on the type of sex offender and the offender's history. Behaviors can improve with age for some; others learn to accept that their behavior is not culturally accepted and try to curb their urges, Lieb said.
But still others will never be able to stop re-offending regardless of treatment. Even castration - chemical or surgical - isn't a sure-fire fix, Lieb said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that governments can isolate violent sexual offenders to protect the public as long as the offenders receive treatment, she said.
"You don't have to know what you are doing is going to turn people around," Lieb said.
The American Civil Liberties Union says civil commitments violate an offender's due process rights because the offenders essentially serve an indeterminate sentence in the institutions, said Kent Willis, director of the ACLU's Virginia Chapter.
The ACLU is a national nonprofit that works to protect constitutional rights including freedom of religion and equal protection rights especially as they apply to minorities, the disabled and prisoners.
"A fundamental principle of the United States is that you have due process rights when you've been accused of a crime. It should apply to everyone equally; this includes sex offenders and murderers as well as people who commit minor crimes. It's a fundamental notion of fairness in the criminal justice system," Willis said. "What you can't do is put someone behind bars until you feel like letting them out. That's what's happening here."
He said the ACLU also questions whether Virginia's program meets the minimum requirements laid out in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, based on a Kansas program.
That ruling led the way for many states, including Virginia, to create civil commitment programs even though Virginia had never discussed the concept before the Supreme Court's decision, Willis said.
Virginia passed its authorizing legislation in 1999. And during debate, legislators were concerned about violating offenders' due process rights. But they were more concerned about the cost of the program. The legislation passed easily but without any funding, Willis said.
Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia, which seeks a more-even handed approach to investigating, prosecuting and punishing sex offenders.
She said the state's civil commitment program overreaches and that the assessment process is rife with problems.
"It needs to be returned to the four original crimes. We keep widening the net," she said.
Devoy said the 10-question test, which is used to weed out offenders that could be committed, focuses on an offender's past criminal history but doesn't take into account how they've responded to any therapy they've received, or if they admitted their guilt, or if they've apologized to the victim.
"It has nothing to do with your possible future of re-offending. It was all about your past behavior. That's not the way we should be judging if people are predisposed to re-offend," she said.
Delegate Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, was one of the few lawmakers who voted against the authorizing legislation that set the framework for the state's civil commitment program. He agreed with Devoy that the number of crimes that make offenders eligible for the program need to be scaled back so that only the worst and most violent offenders are housed in Nottoway.
The more offenders who enter the facility, the more nurses and support staff are needed, and he questions why the state should pay for such a program when developmentally disabled adults and children wait years to receive state benefits, Joannou said.
"It's so costly now. I don't know how we're going to fund it," Joannou said. "What do you cut, aid to children who desperately need it?"
Of course not, they have to protect their own. The general public doesn't get this option, they are forever labeled!
By ADAM LYNN
As far as the official record is concerned, retired Pierce County Sheriff Mark French is no longer a felon convicted of possessing child pornography.
Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff on Friday signed an order vacating French’s 2004 conviction and another restoring his right to possess firearms.
“My hands are kind of tied about this,” Chushcoff said after a brief hearing.
French, who retired from the Sheriff’s Department in June 2000 after a 30-year career, did not attend the hearing.
His attorney, Donald Winskill, argued that under state law, French qualified for both a vacation of his conviction and the restoration of his firearm rights.
The law allows people convicted of the crime for which French was convicted to seek to wipe their records clean and get their guns back if they comply with the conditions of their sentences and remain crime-free for five years, Winskill said.
His client qualifies, he said.
French, 62, pleaded guilty in July 2004 to a single felony count of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Chushcoff sentenced him to 30 days of electronic home monitoring, one year’s probation and $710 in court fines and other conditions.
- How many others who did the same, who are not cops, get this same light sentence?
Tacoma police raided French’s houseboat in April 2003 as part of an investigation into a Russia-based child porn website.
Officers found more than 100 sexual photos of children on his laptop computer, court records show.
- So why was her only convicted of 1 count?
Deputy prosecutor Brian Wasankari on Friday did not oppose vacating French’s conviction – agreeing the former sheriff qualified – but argued French should not be able to possess guns again.
Since French’s conviction, the Legislature changed the law to classify possession of child pornography as a sex crime, Wasankari said. Felons convicted of sex crimes cannot petition to have their gun rights restored, the deputy prosecutor said.
Possessing child pornography was not classified as a sex crime in 2004, and the former sheriff was not required to registered as a sex offender as a result.
- But I wonder, how many who are not cops, like I said, get this option?
“What we fall back on is the statutory law currently in effect, and that law tells us Mr. French doesn’t get his gun rights back,” Wasankari said.
Winskill argued the change in the law was not meant to be retroactive and pointed to case law supporting that contention.
Chushcoff agreed with Winskill, pointing to a 9-0 Washington State Supreme Court decision of last year that backed the defense attorney’s point.
“He’s entitled to his gun rights back,” the judge said.
By Jeff Eckhoff
Locked-up Iowa sex offenders can be compelled to admit their crimes as part of prison treatment programs without triggering a violation of the inmates’ right against self-incrimination, a narrow majority of the Iowa Supreme Court ruled this morning.
Four of the seven Iowa justices found no Fifth Amendment constitutional violation in a refusal by the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility to deny [name withheld] time off for good behavior if he refused to participate in the treatment program.
The remaining justices said they would have allowed the requirement only if the state offered immunity to prevent any admissions from being used against [name withheld] in court.
Iowa law says state prison inmates can earn 1.2 days off their sentences “for each day the inmate demonstrates good conduct and satisfactorily participates” in any program he or she is determined by prison officials to need.
[name withheld], convicted of third-degree sexual abuse in 2006, argued in court pleadings he filed himself that linking those “earned-time credits” to completion of sex-offender treatment violated his constitutional rights because the treatment required signing a contract that would have forced [name withheld] to “assume full responsibility” for his past offenses and behavior.
[name withheld] was still on a second round of appeals in his criminal case at the time he brought a lawsuit in Webster County court. Both sides appealed after a Webster County judge restored part, but not all, of [name withheld]’ time credits.
“I cannot enter treatment because this would be an admission of guilt and would perjure myself in changing my story,” [name withheld] said in court filings. “Also, it would hinder any chance at a new trial if I would sign a confession.”
But the majority of justices – Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield, Bruce Zager and Chief Justice Mark Cady – ruled today that state prison officials have “important rehabilitative goals” in using the possibility of a longer prison term to compel sex-offender treatment.
“The state is not using a threatened loss of credits to try to extract testimony; instead it is attempting to administer a bona fide rehabilitation program for sex offenders who have already been found guilty under a statutory scheme that afforded them all required due process,” Mansfield wrote in a 27-page opinion for the majority.
“[name withheld] had every right not to be a witness against himself… Now that he has been convicted as a sex offender, though, the State of Iowa may constitutionally establish an incentive for him to obtain treatment in prison by withholding earned-time credits if he declines to participate.”
Justice Brent Appel, author of a 30-page dissenting opinion on behalf of a minority that included Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht, said the case boils down to a tough choice for Hawkins: “Simply put, if he chooses to remain silent by not participating in the program, he likely will be incarcerated for a substantially longer period of time.”
Appel’s opinion concludes that Iowa has imposed “an impermissible penalty for the exercise of ([name withheld]’) Fifth Amendment rights” and argues that “the state may force [name withheld] to choose” between self-incrimination and a longer sentence “only if it provides [name withheld] with use and derivative-use immunity from prosecution.”
Fred Scaletta, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said officials there were “pleased with the ruling because it allows us to continue with the treatment program, which we think is very effective.”