The group is made up of sex offenders, their family members, and advocates who believe state lawmakers overlook low re-offense rates for the group, and ignore obstacles to rehabilitation.
"You're pushing sex offenders further out of the community which makes it harder for them to go in check with their parole officer, go into their counseling sessions," said Arkansas Time After Time Executive Director Carla Swanson.
Laws that restrict access to community resources, the group says, makes rehabilitation for offenders and safer communities less likely.
County Executive Steve Bellone has signed a bill passed last week that ends "clustered" housing of registered sex offenders, putting an end to the two trailers used to shelter the county's homeless sex offenders. The legislature's minority leader, Republican John Kennedy of Nesconset still questions why the new law had to be pushed through so quickly and wonders aloud whether the $900,000 annual contract granted to a private contractor should have been subject to a competitive proposal process.
Though hailed by Suffolk Police Chief James Burke as "the most comprehensive law in the nation" for dealing with registered sex offenders — as well as by East End legislators delighted that the seven-year saga of the county trailers in Riverside and Westhampton will finally come to an end — both the law and the process by which it was enacted have drawn sharp criticism.
Civil rights advocates question the constitutionality of vesting a private entity with quasi-law enforcement authority to undertake intensive home surveillance of registered offenders. Others, including the legislative minority leader, Republican Jack Kennedy of Nesconset, are troubled by the hasty adoption of the law and the $900,000-a-year contract it awards to a the Stony Brook-based Parents for Megan's Law group, without first soliciting competitive proposals. - It's a conflict of interest! This is like having drug dealers help solve the "war on drugs."
That flies in the face of democracy and sound public policy, according to the director of the Suffolk chapter of the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union.
"The bill was introduced, updated, subject to a public hearing and voted on within three or four hours," NYCLU Suffolk director Amol Sindha said in an interview this week.
Bellone's office issued a certificate of necessity, which allows the legislature to forgo its normal committee process in deliberating a bill. The CN, as it is known, is "a time-sensitive request" by the county executive on a resolution that requires "immediate consideration," according to the county's website.
But use of a CN is a sensitive subject around the horseshoe in the legislative auditorium — and one that doesn't sit well at all with Kennedy. At last week's meeting, Kennedy questioned the need to circumvent the committee process. He was joined in his reservations by members of the Republican caucus. In the end, they all voted to approve the measure. - So with them all passing the bill, even though they bypassed the process, they are setting a precedent that we are sure, will be used more and more to bypass congress. This is a dangerous situation! If they had an issue with how the bill was put forward, they should've not passed it, and told the author to follow the standard process!
This week found the minority leader second-guessing himself in that decision.
"There is much ambiguity in the administrative code and the county charter," Kennedy said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We have, in essence, empowered the county executive to utilize this. But it clearly is supposed to be for a situation that's emergent," Kennedy said.
This was not such a situation, but instead was one of political expediency, he said.
Then why vote to approve? Lawmakers, including Kennedy, passed the measure unanimously — by a voice vote. - Exactly!
Kennedy said both Bellone and Parents for Megan's Law executive director Laura Ahearn lobbied hard to get legislators on board with the bill and approval by CN. Kennedy said he knew most, if not all, other legislators would support Bellone's effort on this hot-button issue. - Yeah, they just follow the leader, no questions asked!
"There was a sense of inevitability," Kennedy said.
And he did not want to stand alone in opposition to a bill that would be embraced by the public as a "get tough" law on sex offenders. Such opposition comes with a price tag, as he learned the hard way, he said. Kennedy cast the lone no vote on the county's residency restrictions law for registered sex offenders. It was a hugely unpopular vote and he lost the support of his party because of it. He found himself in a tough primary battle to win nomination for re-election. - Yes, he didn't have the balls, and doesn't want to upset those who vote for him. This one paragraph sums it all up! Don't rock the boat!
"It was no fun," said Kennedy, who reiterated his belief that the residency law is unconstitutional. That issue is currently before a court and officials acknowledged last week the county is likely to lose the case — as has every other municipality that's enacted restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live.
"We put this feel-good pablum out there for the public, making them think they'll be safer," Kennedy said. "And now we've spent a tremendous amount of taxpayer money to defend bad legislation." The Republican leader said he's concerned the county is going down the same path with the new law, dubbed the "Community Protection Act."
Of particular concern, Kennedy said, is that the law empowers a private organization with responsibility for verifying the home addresses of the county's registered sex offenders.
Equally troubling, Kennedy said, is the approval of a $2.7 million, three-year contract with a private entity without details of the contractor's responsibilities being disclosed to lawmakers and without submitting the contract to any sort of competitive process, Kennedy said.
"I wouldn't deem Parents for Megan's Law the only entity in Suffolk County to do what the contract requires," Kennedy said. "And we don't even know what that is. There's nothing defined yet," he said. "But there are other victim services agencies in this county." - A private company should not be doing this. It's a law enforcement issue and that is why the police have jobs, to enforce the laws.
"By local law and after public debate, the county has satisfied the procurement guidelines under state and local law for this type of contract," Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokesperson for Bellone said in an email yesterday.
But the bill itself was not available to the public until the afternoon of the Feb. 5 hearing. It was not posted on the legislature's website until after it was adopted. - Exactly, so how can anyone comment on a bill they haven't even read yet?
"To call it a public hearing is essentially a farce," NYCLU's Sinha said.
Others, like Kennedy, are troubled by the bill's lack of specifics about the duties of Parents for Megan's Law under the $900,000 annual contract.
Forensic psychologist Bill O'Leary, who, under contract with the state, works with registered sex offenders, points out that 95 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by people who are not on any registry.
"If we really want to protect our children from sexual predators, we need to address that instead of focusing all our resources on the registered offenders who re-offend, which represents a statistically small portion of those crimes," O'Leary said in an interview.
O'Leary made the same argument to lawmakers at the hearing last week, pleading with the legislature dedicate resources to prevention through education, and by strengthening its child protective services unit, which has suffered budget cuts.
"If there's money to be spent, that's where the county should spend it," O'Leary said at the hearing.
He got no response from lawmakers at the meeting.
The new law, in the section authorizing the contract with Parents for Megan's Law, lists six types of services the organization will provide. Item six reads: "the provision of community and prevention education."
Kennedy, who complained at last week's meeting that the bill did not have the proposed contract attached to it, which he said was the norm, reiterated that complaint in an interview with RiverheadLOCAL this week.
"When you look at the research, it's frightening — the small number of sex crimes committed by registered offenders, as opposed to people not on any registry. Yet we're still so focused on the registry," Kennedy said.
"It's missing the forest for the trees."
Riverhead Assessor Mason Haas, who spoke on behalf of the town in support of the bill at the hearing, agreed more emphasis should be placed on prevention and education.
"There's no doubt it needs to be tweaked," Haas said. But as a longtime advocate for closing down the homeless-offender trailers, Haas said the new program represents the local community's best shot at making that happen.
During a break in the public portion of last week's meeting, Haas engaged in a discussion with O'Leary about education and prevention initiatives needed and Parents for Megan's Law might do in that regard under the new contract.
Haas suggested the two speak with Ahearn, who was also in the lobby of the Hauppauge auditorium. Ahearn refused to discuss it in the presence of O'Leary, Haas said.
O'Leary said he was not surprised. He said Ahearn has refused to talk with him, or respond to his calls or emails for some time.
Ahearn acknowledged her refusal in an interview this week.
"It's my understanding he has a practice in which he provides services to sex offenders," Ahearn said. In her opinion, she said, he has no place in a county program monitoring sex offenders, counseling victims or crafting education and prevention programs. - And you have no place in monitoring them either! The contract should be null and void.
"I'm sure if he [O'Leary] wants to expand his efforts he has the wherewithal to go out and find grant funding to do it," Ahearn said.
"If you saw the presentation, if you took the additional time to listen, you know the program includes significant victims services and prevention initiatives," Ahearn said.
Parents for Megan's Law would be hiring "additional prevention staff" to undertake those services, she said.
In a presentation to the county legislature's public safety committee on Jan. 31, Ahearn outlined a "sex offender tracking and community support eight-point plan." Under the new program, the organization would establish a 24-hour hotline providing access to a trained specialist, she said. An education supervisor will "conduct extensive outreach to schools and community organizations and train per-diem prevention educators to conduct sexual abuse, abduction and rape prevention workshops and Internet safety programs. The group will also enhance its existing crime victim advocacy support programs," she said.
O'Leary said he does not understand how an effective program to prevent sexual crimes could be undertaken without consulting any mental health experts on the criminals themselves. He said he has expressed that sentiment to the county executive and was hoping for a meeting with him.
The county's process in crafting and adopting the new law was "not informed decision-making," O'Leary said. "It's not defining the real problem and putting the solution ahead of defining the problem."
O'Leary said the general public is terrified of registered offenders. "As the father of two young children, I completely relate," he said. "But that fear is largely misplaced. The real threat comes from trusted relatives and family friends. People you know. They are the people who are far more likely to molest your child. It's a difficult thing to come to terms with. But if we really want to prevent abuse, we need to teach parents and children where the real threat lies and teach them how to recognize warning signs. We don't need to use scare tactics and we certainly shouldn't lead people to believe the main threat is from people on a registry."
Advocates for reforming registry laws argue that's exactly what the registry laws and groups like Parents for Megan's Law do.
An organization called USAFair, established in 2012 by family members of registered sex offenders to advocate for the reform of registry laws, faults lawmakers, the media and groups like Parents for Megan's Law for what they say is exaggerating the likelihood of a registered offender re-offending.
"A 2010 survey by the Center for Sex Offender Management of the U.S. Department of Justice found that 72 percent of Americans believe that the sex crime recidivism rates are 50 percent or higher, with a third believing it is more than 75 percent. Only 3 percent believe it is less than 25 percent - even though actual recidivism rates are considerably below 25 percent," USAFair said in a Feb. 4 press release. "New studies are constantly confirming low recidivism, with the latest being released last month (PDF) showing a recidivism rate in four states of 10 percent after 10 years, with rates dropping sharply with years of offense-free tenure in the community."
USAFair faults Ahearn's group in particular, arguing that the Parents for Megan's Law website misrepresents recidivism statistics.
"USA FAIR has been attempting to get Parents for Megan's Law to take down misleading statistics from their website that reinforces the 'big lie' of high sex offender recidivism," the organization said in a statement. "Numerous studies, including a landmark 2003 study by the U.S. Justice Department have found that sex offenders actually have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system, about 5.3 percent."
Shana Rowan, a USAFair founder, said she wrote to Ahearn in December seeking changes to statistics on the PFML website that she says misrepresent the results of a study on repeat offenders. Ahearn never replied to the letter.
"As executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, Laura Ahearn has shown herself to be a zealot who has built a career demonizing the very people she is now to be charged with monitoring. She has perpetuated the myth of high sex offender recidivism, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to enrich her organization," Rowan said.
Ahearn dismissed Rowan's criticism, pointing to Rowan's engagement to a registered offender who she said "raped a six year old child." Ahearn also said Rowan is "part of NAMBLA," the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Asked for documentation, Ahearn said, "Just search her name on the Internet." - That is defamation! Just because something is on the Internet doesn't mean it's true, and she didn't want to show where she got that BS from, which we know where she got it from. It's all BS and we hope she takes you to court and wins!
Rowan categorically denies that she has ever in any way been associated with NAMBLA. A website called evil-unveiled has a page about her with her name in the URL, and it's the top hit in a Google search of her name. The page says she is a member of "the new NAMBLA" a name the website gives to "activists" seeking reform of registry laws, allegedly so that they can have sex with children.
"I think it's very telling that she [Ahearn] would resort to personal attacks instead of discussing the issues on the merits," Rowan said this week. - We agree. It's the usual Ad Hominem attack.
Rowan said as the recipient of signifcant public funding — Parents for Megan's Law's 2011 federal tax return reports the group received more than $946,000 in government grants in 2011, the lion's share of its total revenue of just under $1.1 million — the group should be held accountable for providing accurate information to the public. "That was really all we were seeking," Rowan said. "The new deal with Suffolk County is a whole other subject," she said.
"Parents for Megan's Law has no experience in sex offender management - none," Rowan said, questioning how the county could "sole-source such an important and costly contract without even considering truly qualified parties - such as the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, who are mental health professionals and sex-offender policy researchers." Rowan said the vote by the legislature was "a political attempt to purchase Laura Ahearn's support for the controversial proposal at great cost to the taxpayer."
Asked to respond to the criticism of USAFair, Baird-Streeter, the county executive's spokesperson said, "No comment."
You said "Why are your repeat offenders repeating their crimes?" Well, if you look at the facts, and not your personal opinions, you will see that Colorado did a study (PDF) on recidivism, and as expected, they are low! 02/13/2013
DENVER (CBS4) – Some Colorado lawmakers say there’s no need to increase penalties for people who attack young children. What’s known as “Jessica’s Law,” named after a Florida girl sexually assaulted and killed, won’t become law in the state.
The same bill has failed four times now in Colorado. Democrats oppose it so much so this year they sent it to the so-called “kill committee.” Still, Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, traveled to Colorado from Florida and begged lawmakers to pass the bill.
“I kneeled down and I hugged her and I kissed her and told her I’d see her later,” Lunsford said.
Lunsford sat before Colorado lawmakers and cried as he recounted his darkest hour. - Yeah, he's good at that now, he can cry on command.
“And the lump just starts to grow and your heart just kind of stops beating,” he said.
Eight years ago in February his 9-year-old daughter Jessica was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and buried alive by a man who had been arrested twice for sexually assaulting children; and yet had been released from parole.
“For those three days my little girl was tied with speaker wire and put into a closet,” Lunsford said.
“I want to send a strong message to our communities that we will not tolerate these crimes,” said Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada.
Szabo is the sponsor of the bill. Jessica’s Law would require a minimum prison sentence of 25 years for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting a child under 14.
The Colorado Defense Lawyers Association opposed the bill, saying Colorado already has strong laws in place.
“The courts and prosecutors have been able to respond given the tools they already have,” an official with the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association said.
The minimum sentences under those laws range from two to 16 years. It’s at the discretion of the judges.
“We hear about all this discretion and recidivism rate. How many times do these children have to go through it before somebody does something,” Lunsford said.
But Democrats have opposed the bill time and again, and with the majority vote, killed it.
“It’s a one-size-fits-all solution and sometimes one size does not fit all,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Longmont.
Lunsford says he’s not giving up.
“Start an army that comes to your Capitol and kick your legislators right in the posterior,” Lunsford said.
The District Attorneys Council and Colorado Coalition against Sexual Assault took no position on the bill. However the Coalition against Sexual Assault released a statement saying that under Colorado’s Lifetime Supervision Act for Sex Offenders, there are already sufficient safeguards in place for those offenses.
Forty-five other states have passed Jessica’s Law.
SORNA is just a bill to set the minumum standards, it's not a law you must past, it's recommendations.
By David Chang
According to the report, 19 jurisdictions, including New Jersey, have implemented few or none of the requirements.
New Jersey is one of 19 states that are not in compliance with a federal act meant to streamline sex offender laws.
In 2006, Congress passed the Sex Offender Registration And Notification Act (SORNA) to strengthen and standardize requirements for sex offender registration. Congress imposed a deadline of July, 2011 for states to adopt and implement the requirements of the act. Several states however, including New Jersey, failed to meet that deadline, according to a report last week from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
According to the report, only 19 of 56 jurisdictions (50 states, 5 territories and the District of Columbia) have "substantially implemented" the act. Only 18 jurisdictions have implemented at least half of the requirements. Finally, 19 jurisdictions, including New Jersey, have implemented few or none of the requirements.
NJ State Senator Joe Vitale says as long as he’s chair of the state’s Health and Human Services Committee, New Jersey will never adopt SORNA. Vitale claims the state already has tougher requirements than the federal law, including door to door notification when a tier-three offender moves into a neighborhood.
“The process that currently exists in New Jersey actually works,” said Vitale. “We assess offenders before they leave to determine what their likelihood is of reoffending. That would no longer happen under SORNA.”
The penalty for not implementing SORNA is a 10 percent reduction in Justice Assistant Grant (JAG) funds, which can be spent on a variety of local programs. If New Jersey doesn’t come into compliance with SORNA however, it will lose between $700,000 and $800,000 in federal funding. Vitale says that’s a price worth paying if it means keeping a system that keeps families safe.