Saturday, January 7, 2012
With over 725,000 men and women being released from prison each year, the need for housing assistance for the formerly incarcerated population is immense. Indeed, in addition to linking homelessness and incarceration, research has identified a significant relationship between homelessness and re-offending. Unfortunately, a number of barriers place the formerly incarcerated population at a disadvantage when trying to access safe and stable housing. For some, returning home to their family is not an option as family members may be unwilling or unable to accommodate them.
Accessing housing in the private market also presents a challenge given high prices and landlords’ exercising their personal discretion to discriminate against people with criminal histories. Finally, public housing policies – both at the federal and local level – deny access to individuals with certain criminal convictions.
Community-based service providers around the country working in the reentry field have begun to respond to this overwhelming need with few resources. This toolkit highlights the experience of The Fortune Society in its development of a housing project in West Harlem. Through Fortune’s experience, organizations can glean strategies to help them overcome one of the greatest challenges associated with providing housing to formerly incarcerated men and women.
NIMBY opposition can result in significant project delays, or even shut down. This case study documents how an organization can address a myriad of community concerns and ultimately garner support for its project. By offering tangible steps and lessons learned by Fortune, this toolkit provides guidance and encouragement to those organizations working to assist formerly incarcerated people and create safer communities.
For the remainder of this paper: by The Fortune Society and the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
By DAVID CRARY
NEW YORK (AP) — Recent high-profile cases of child sex abuse have roused national revulsion against the adults who perpetrated them. Rarely mentioned is the sobering statistic that more than one-third of the sexual abuse of America's children is committed by other minors.
For many of the therapists and attorneys who deal with them, these juvenile offenders pose a profoundly complicated challenge for the child-protection and criminal justice systems. It's a diverse group that defies stereotypes, encompassing a minority of youths who represent a threat of long-term danger to others and a majority who are responsive to treatment and unlikely to reoffend.
- The same can be said about adults. Not all, but a vast majority.
"There's a long continuum, from kids who will never do it again to a kid who probably will be an adult rapist/pedophile," said Steve Bengis, executive director of the New England Adolescent Research Institute in Holyoke, Mass. "It's not a 'one size fits all' yet we end out with public policy that's geared toward the worst 5 percent."
- The same is being done with adult ex-sex offenders.
That public policy includes a federal law, the Adam Walsh Act, with a requirement that states include certain juvenile offenders as young as 14 on their sex-offender registries. Many professionals who deal with young offenders object to the requirement, saying it can wreak lifelong harm on adolescents who might otherwise get back on the track toward law-abiding, productive lives.
- Same thing for adults.
Some states have balked at complying with the juvenile registration requirement, even at the price of losing some federal criminal-justice funding. Other states have provisions tougher than the federal act, subjecting children younger than 14 to the possibility of 25-year or lifetime listings on publicly accessible registries that include photos of the offenders.
- Just wait until one of their own sons or daughters are slammed with the label, then I'm sure they'll change their minds.
Delaware recently had a 9-year-old child on its registry. Several other states have registered 12- and 13-year-olds.
"We're bringing down a very heavy hammer on the head of kids, with significant life-altering consequences," said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. "It's a knee-jerk reaction that's foolhardy beyond imagination."
- Yes I agree, and the same for adults.
Nicole Pittman, a Human Rights Watch researcher, has been analyzing the impact of registration on the children who get listed, and says states should halt the practice. But she knows it's a longshot quest.
"Most legislators do not believe children should be on the registry — yet it's the kiss of death for most politicians to vote against any sex offender law," she said.
- And this, IMO, is the whole reason these cruel and unusual laws are passed, to save ones own career and reputation.
Basic data about child-on-child sex abuse is detailed in an authoritative, Justice Department-sponsored analysis of crime data from 29 states. Conducted by three prominent researchers, the 2009 analysis found that juveniles accounted for 35.6 percent of the people identified by police as having committed sex offenses against minors.
Of these young offenders, 93 percent were male, and the peak ages for offending were 12 through 14, the researchers found. Of the victims, 59 percent were younger than 12 and 75 percent were female.
- And I'm sure, in most cases, it was kids being kids and experimenting with sex, which almost all of us have done, if you'd admit to it.
The report referred to a popular misconception that juvenile sex offenders are likely to reoffend, and said numerous studies over the years have shown the opposite — that 85 to 95 percent of offending youth are never again arrested for sex crimes.
- The same can be said for adults. Yes, I know I sound like a broken record.
University of Oklahoma pediatrics professor Mark Chaffin, a co-author of the 2009 report, says efforts to deal constructively with juvenile sex offenders are complicated by the tendency of some legislators and others to lump them together with adult sexual predators.
"That used to be the message — that we should apply the template from what we know about adult pedophilia," Chaffin said. "Now that the data has shown most of those assumptions were wrong, it's difficult to undo those messages that people in the advocacy and treatment fields were putting out a generation ago."
Experts say the young offenders differ from adult sex offenders not only in their lower recidivism rates, but in the diversity of their motives and abusive behavior.
- I disagree. Adults have a low recidivism rate as well, and many studies have been done to show this, yet politicians, given the reasons above, continue to ignore these facts.
While some youths commit violent, premeditated acts of sexual assault and rape, others get in trouble for behavior arising from curiosity, naivete, peer pressure, momentary irresponsibility, misinterpretation of what they believed was mutual interest, and a host of other reasons. Some cases involve sibling incest; sometimes the offenders have autism or other developmental disorders that lessen their ability to self-police inappropriate conduct.
"There needs to be a highly discriminative response system," said sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. "It needs to differentiate between the kids we should stigmatize as little as possible, who are probably going to be fine with some kind of education, and others who need a lot of intervention, including maybe incarceration, because they pose a tremendous risk."
"We run a big risk if we get it wrong," he added. "We fail to protect the public on one hand, or we ruin the lives of young people who might otherwise be headed in a healthy direction."
- Adults as well.
In most cases of child-on-child sex abuse, the public never hears about it. Experts say many incidents are never reported in the first place, due to the shame or embarrassment of victims and their parents, and most of the cases that are reported are handled confidentially through the juvenile justice system.
An exception was the highly publicized case of Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old foster child in Florida who hanged himself in 2009. Post-mortem investigations determined that he had been a victim of sex abuse perpetrated by an older boy, had touched some of his classmates in sexually inappropriate ways, and was on several powerful psychotropic medications.
In response to his death, Florida formed a task force which concluded that Gabriel's problems with sex abuse were not addressed effectively by the long chain of adults who dealt with him. The task force recommended upgraded training about child-on-child sex abuse and development of an alert system to better monitor children with sexual behavior issues.
"With Gabriel Myers, the big thing was lack of training," said Robert Edelman, who has worked with many abused children as a mental health counselor in Gainesville, Fla. He said investigators, counselors and case managers involved with child-on-child sex cases should be required to get special certification.
The ripple effects of such abuse were evident in another case that Edelman became engaged in, involving a man now in his 20s who was molested at age 8 by an older boy, and later — at 15 — was charged with molesting his half-sister.
During a counseling session after that arrest, Edelman noticed slashes on the youth's arm — he'd tried to kill himself out of remorse for abusing the sister.
In his early 20s, the man was arrested for a domestic violence incident involving his wife, Edelman said, and at one stage faced the possibility of having his children removed from the home because he'd been labeled a juvenile sex offender.
"Something that happened to him when he was 8 was still being carried around 15 years later," Edelman said.
- And just like with police, lawyers, therapists, etc, when you are constantly dealing with a certain kind of crime or accusations, eventually you will become one-sided and see everyone as guilty, if accused, even without evidence to back it up, and it's happening all the time.
Veronique Valliere, a psychologist with a counseling practice in Fogelsville, Pa., has worked with numerous youths implicated in sex offenses, ranging from those she deemed highly unlikely to reoffend to others who posed a clear long-term menace. One such case, she said, involved a youth who began molesting younger children when he was 12 or 13 and was showing signs of developing pedophilia.
"By 14, he was so sophisticated that he could sexually assault a child sitting next to him in church — or in the backseat of a car," Valliere said.
- So, was this child molested himself, and if so, did he get treatment for it?
Despite extensive attempts to treat the young man, the abuse continued, and Valliere said he is now serving a 30-to-60-year prison sentence for child sex abuse he committed as a 22-year-old.
"He was a rare case," she said. "He had every opportunity to get better. We did everything we could do, but he just wasn't willing to manage himself."
Looking nationwide, experts differ as to whether sex abuse by juveniles is proliferating or abating.
The latest juvenile crime data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that arrests of juvenile sex offenders declined by about 25 percent from 2000 through 2009. That would mesh with a decline in child sex abuse committed by adults, as well as a decline in the overall juvenile crime rate.
But data from New York City, Florida and elsewhere indicates that the prevalence of child-on-child sex hasn't dropped noticeably.
In any case, forms of abuse evolve with the times as sexting becomes a common youth activity and easily accessible online pornography affects some children.
"There's a fear of technology — parents don't think they can control it," said Marsha Levick, who has been working with colleagues to dissuade prosecutors from criminalizing commonplace teen sexting activities.
For parents, it's often hard to discern warning signs about potentially dangerous sexual activity or to identify youths who might pose a threat to their own children.
"It would be less scary if we could come up with a stereotype ... so as a parent we could say, 'Stay away from this type of child,'" said Nancy Arnow of Safe Horizon, a New York-based victim services agency. "There is no typical youthful offender. They come from all backgrounds."
Safe Horizon serves adult victims of rape and sex trafficking, but Arnow said the child-on-child sex abuse cases are among the most difficult.
"We have to distinguish between sexualized behavior that might be pretty normal — experimenting, touching each other — versus molesting, subjecting another child to harm," she said. She recalled investigations of children as young as 7, and the arrest of an 8-year-old.
In New York City, sex offenders aged 7 through 15 usually end up in family court, where the main goal is rehabilitation, not punishment.
- The goal is rehabilitation and not punishment? Well, that depends on who you are. Most who are living in the injustice system will tell you it's not about rehabilitation but all about punishment. If you've never lived it, then you can't talk about it, that would be like a car mechanic asked to perform brain surgery.
"We're supposed to consider needs of juveniles and the need for public safety, so it's balancing act," said Thea Davis, chief of the family court's Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit. Cases often end with plea bargaining and probation. The most severe outcome is an 18-month placement in a secure state-run facility for juvenile offenders.
The hardest cases, Davis said, are intra-family cases where a cousin or brother abuses a younger cousin or sibling.
"Immediately you have to separate the perpetrator from the victim and make sure the victim is safe," she said. "But you also have to think that in the long run you're dealing with a family, and you're not going to keep them separated forever."
Virginia White, a family counselor with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, deals with young victims of sex abuse, including those targeted by siblings.
"The parents are in a tough place — they feel guilty a lot," she said. "And the victim is often torn, because the other sibling may be removed from home."
Ideally, parents as well as the offending child should be involved in treatment, according to Jay Deppeler, president of an agency called Edison Court in Doylestown, Pa., that runs a residential treatment program for adolescent male sex offenders.
However, Deppeler said stigma and fear of consequences probably deter some families from telling authorities about cases of intra-family abuse.
"The family may circle the wagons, and the abuse may persist," he said.
Another challenging type of abuse cases involves youths who are autistic.
Lawrence Sutton, a psychologist from Pittsburgh, recently assessed 37 youths in a residential sex-offender unit and found that 60 percent were autistic. He said these youths, many of them past victims of sexual abuse, can be treated successfully if the reasons for their behavior problems are understood.
Many don't know who to form relationships, "how to make friends," Sutton said. "Most of them have done to others what was done to them at some point."
Deppeler recalled one autistic young man who came through Edison Court as an outpatient. He had committed a sex offense as a 14-year-old and later — after turning 18 — committed a property-related offense that sent him to the adult criminal justice system. As a result, the young man became obligated to apprise prospective employers of his full record, including the juvenile sex offense — making him "virtually unemployable."
- Exactly, if you have the label, and it's online for all to see, you most likely will not be able to find any job!
"Long term, I fear his prospects are quite bleak," Deppeler said. "What do we end up doing with a guy like that?"
More junk science, like the "lie detector," ruining people's lives.
By ALICE GOMSTYN
Two decades after unfounded sexual abuse allegations and a controversial autism communication tool turned her family's life upside down, Suzette Wheaton is angry to hear that another family has found itself in similar straits.
"It still makes me mad that something like that can happen," Wheaton, now 55, told ABCNews.com. "It has happened to a lot of people and it's just aggravating that something like that can happen to a family and just destroy them."
In the early 1990s, the Wheatons were part of a disturbing trend: families whose autistic children accused them of sexual abuse -- allegations leveled through a technique called facilitated communication.
The technique involves a trained person called a facilitator, who holds a disabled person's arm while they type on a keyboard. But in case after case, charges against accused parents were dropped or dismissed and questions were raised about whether facilitators were, in fact, guiding their young clients to type the unthinkable accusations.
The cases caught the attention of the American Psychological Association. In 1994, the association deemed the technique an "unproved communicative procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy," a position it continues to stand behind today.
In the decade and a half that followed, the controversy seemed to die down. That changed in 2007, when prosecutors in Oakland County, Mich. leveled charges against a husband and wife when allegations emerged through facilitated communication. In this case, an autistic teenage girl named Aislinn typed out accusations similar to many of those earlier cases, that her father, Julian Wendrow, had sexually abused her.
Julian Wendrow was arrested, but prosecutors later dropped the charges against him, arguing that his daughter had become uncooperative. The Wendrows, meanwhile, said that a courtroom hearing testing their daughter's use of FC proved that the technique wasn't working for Aislinn and that girl's facilitator had made up the allegations.
The family, which was profiled on Friday's "20/20," is now suing law enforcement authorities and others involved in the case. Many allegations were dismissed because of immunity laws but others are yet to be adjudicated. The police department involved in the case settled with the family for $1.8 million with no admission of wrongdoing.
Speech pathologist Howard Shane, of Children's Hospital Boston, an ardent critic of facilitated communication, was involved in the Wheaton's case as well as several other of the 1990s FC sex abuse cases. When he was brought in to testify in the Wendrow case, Shane remembered a prosecutor questioning his expertise, noting that it had been 15 years since he had researched FC.
Shane said he hadn't continued research on facilitated communication for a reason.
"It'd be like suggesting that we continue to study cold fusion or bloodletting," Shane said. "When it's over, it's over."
In the 1992 Wheaton case, Betsy Wheaton, a 16-year-old autistic girl, supposedly used facilitated communication to accuse her father and brother of sexual abuse. Shane consulted in the case and developed a test that ultimately convinced Wheaton's facilitator that she, not Betsy, had concocted the sex abuse allegations.
The test, which Shane has used in other sex abuse cases involving FC, hinged on pictures: Shane would show one picture to Janyce Boynton, the facilitator, and a different picture to Betsy. Then Betsy, with Boynton's help, was asked to type what she had seen.
In every instance, the word typed was not what Betsy had seen but what Boynton had seen.
Boynton spoke to "20/20" in 1994. She told Hugh Downs she was devastated and confused by the test results.
"I had no explanation for that," she said. Boynton would come to the conclusion that facilitated communication didn't work and asked authorities at her school to stop using it. With the help of "20/20," she also arranged a meeting with the Wheatons and apologized to the family.
In an interview with ABCNews.com Friday, Boynton, now 49, said she was sad to hear of the Wendrow case. She said that when she spoke out in the 1990s, she hoped it would bring a stop to the use of facilitated communication.
"I think people's intentions are really good, but what they're doing is really damaging," she said. "I'm sad that other people didn't take the initiative to question what they were doing."
Why would any facilitator make up such serious allegations?
Shane said that a facilitator's behavior isn't malicious but rather the result of a bizarre psychological phenomenon he called the "savior effect": Facilitators want to help so much, they don't realize they are making up what they're typing.
"If you think that you are really going to help someone, that alone drives to put reality aside," he said.
At least two families entangled in unfounded sex abuse allegations linked to FC in the 1990s have sued law enforcement authorities as well as Douglas Bilken, the Syracuse University professor who introduced FC to the U.S. The lawsuits were both later dismissed but in 1997, in a separate case, a New York family won $750,000 after a jury found Orange County, N.Y., officials liable for failing to properly train its employees to "use the difficult and unproven technique of facilitated communication," according to The New York Law Journal.
In that case, an 11-year-old girl was removed from her home after she typed out sex abuse allegations with the help of a teacher. After being shown a demonstration of FC, a judge was not convinced the girl was in fact communicating through the technique and the girl was reunited with her parents.
There has been at least one case of an abuse conviction in which initial abuse allegations surfaced through facilitated communication. In 1993, a man was convicted of abusing an 11-year-old facilitated communication user at Heartspring, a special needs center in Witchita, Kan. The man's conviction was upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court, though Heartspring later stopped using facilitated communication.
"In our research studies we never found a single child who was actually able to communicate" with a facilitator, then-Heartspring president Jack Andrews told an Illinois newspaper in 1997.
Biklen, who was promoted to be dean of Syracuse University's School of Education in 2005, continues to champion facilitated communication. He said in a recent interview with ABCNews.com that ultimately the goal of facilitated communication is "to get people to be able to communicate independent of physical support." Some, he said, have accomplished that and can even say words as they type them. He also cited a 1996 study that tested 43 students using facilitated communication and found that some did give accurate answers to questions that their facilitators were blocked from hearing.
Biklen said that in the case of sex abuse allegations, it is crucial that a new facilitator without knowledge of the prior allegations be brought in to help the alleged victims communicate. That, he said, can confirm whether the alleged victim's statements are truly her own.
Then, he said, "you depend on a court determine the veracity."
In the Wendrow case, Aislinn Wendrow's parents requested that a new facilitator be brought in for Aislinn's questioning, but that never happened. (Read more here.)
Shane said the 1996 study cited by Biklen and other studies supporting facilitated communication are flawed and use methods that don't meet the standards of scientific rigor. And he said those who Biklen claims can now communicate independently still have facilitators who touch their shoulders or offer other support.
Suzette Wheaton, of Maine, said it took years for her and her husband to overcome the trauma of their 1992 ordeal. Her son, who died 10 years ago, never let go of the anger he felt over how he was treated, Wheaton said.
Wheaton's daughter, Betsy, now 35, attends a treatment program for developmentally disabled adults and children but her communication abilities, Suzette Wheaton said, are "nonexistent."
Even before the sexual abuse allegations surfaced against her husband and son, Wheaton said she had her doubts that facilitated communication was truly working for her daughter.
"She talked a little bit when she was little, but she never learned how to read, never learned how to write or spell," Wheaton said. "It didn't take us any time to believe that it wasn't real."