Monday, February 25, 2013
By Chris Raia
Rep. Palumbo calls for offense-based tier system
PROVIDENCE (WPRI) - A state Representative has introduced a bill that would create a much more rigid sex offender registry in Rhode Island.
State Rep. Peter G. Palumbo (D - Cranston) has been actively pushing bills that increase transparency of convicted sex offenders, and he is working now to enact a comprehensive sex offender registration and notification act (SORNA).
SORNA would create an offense-based tier system, classifying offenders according to the risk they pose to their environments. It would also make sex offender information public via a notification website with search capabilities and a function that enables users to receive email alerts when sex offenders commence residence, employment or school attendance within the state.
"As long as there is one sex offender out there that we cannot account for, there is the potential for great harm, the potential for another victim," said Rep. Palumbo.
- True, but what about all the other ex-felons who are not on some online shaming list like murderers, gang members, drug dealers, DUI offenders, etc? Based on the facts, they are more dangerous than ex-sex offenders who have one of the lowest recidivism rates out there.
Currently, local law enforcement agencies are responsible for provide notification on the whereabouts and activities of registered sex offenders. SORNA would give that responsibility to one central agency: The R.I. State Police.
"By making one central agency... responsible for this process will free up local law enforcement resources and save communities money," said Rep. Palumbo.
Supporters of the bill include Attorney General Kilmartin, Rep. John DeSimone (D - Dist. 5, Providence), Rep. Raymond Johnston, Jr. (D - Dict. 61 - Pawtucket), Rep. John Carnevale (D - Dist. 13, Providence) and Rep. Donald Lally, Jr. (D - Dist. 33, Narragansett).
UPDATE: See the second video below.
By Mark Leland
MANITOWOC - Imagine paying up to five times the going rate to rent your home. That's what the state is doing renting dozens of homes. And the homes are for convicted sex offenders.
In a modest, older neighborhood on Green Bay's west side renters can find a pretty good deal.
Jason Kroening with his family recently moved into a single family home on Norwood Avenue and pays $675 a month in rent. Coming from Florida, Kroening was pleased with the low rents he found. But it turns out as a taxpayer he's actually paying for more than just his home.
"So if I told you, for one of your neighbors, the state is paying $2,500 a month for that house. What would be your reaction?" asked Mark Leland, On Special Assignment reporter for FOX 11 News.
"The state is paying for it?" asked Kroening.
"Yes," confirmed Leland. "Taxpayer dollars."
"It's disheartening, especially when I work hard and my wife works hard. We have a child. So yes it's disheartening. It's unfortunate. That's my view," said Kroening.
The home in question is similar in size to the Kroening home, but documents obtained from DHS, the Department of Health Services, show the state is paying $2,500 a month. And it's to house a convicted sex offender on supervised released.
"Yup, like I said it's upsetting. There's no other words I can...if I said other words you'd have to bleep them," said Kroening.
Neighbors figure a fair rent for the property should be $500 or $600 a month. That makes $2,500, four to five times the going rate.
But that's not the only example or over-priced rental rates. Two blocks away, the state is renting this home for $1,800 a month to house another sex offender.
"It's plain stupid--spend people's tax money like that. It's crazy. Rent $2,500 and $1,800 that needs to stop now. It does," said Adrian Trudell of Green Bay.
The state is currently paying the rent on 28 homes across the state, four of those are in Brown County. The total rent payments for all 28 homes is nearly $46,000 a month. That comes to $550,000 a year.
It should be pointed out these sex offenders, who we're not identifying, have served their full prison sentence. They are on supervised release from the state's Sand Ridge Treatment Facility in Mauston. That's where the most dangerous sex offenders after prison are involuntarily committed, if a judge rules they are sexually violent persons. 344 live at Sand Ridge today. If a court decides they're no longer a danger they can be released. Those who have made improvements but still need supervision, can petition for supervised release.
Sand Ridge officials had originally agreed to an on-camera interview to discuss the costs of supervised release. They even offered to give FOX 11 a tour of the facility. But all that was canceled by a DHS spokeswoman, who indicated the state agency was not happy when FOX 11 began to track down where the properties were located.
In an exchange of pre-interview emails though Leland did ask about those high rental costs. Lloyd Sinclair, the Sand Ridge community programs director, told him, "We seek to find the best bargains; we're all taxpayers and want to keep costs down."
Sinclair's email went on to say, "landlords know that we have so many impediments to finding suitable housing, and they also often put up with a fair share of harassment to themselves and sometime their families, so they charge us a premium."
Sinclair confirmed the state often contacts landlords they've worked with in the past when additional rental properties are needed. And according to state documents, two landlords it turns out rent multiple homes to the state. Three of the homes in Brown County are linked to Travis Enterprises. When contacted by phone, owner William Travis didn't want to talk about his rentals.
But real estate records show the Norwood Avenue home was purchased back in 2009 for just $32,000. At $2,500 a month the state could have owned the home in just 13 months, but instead continues to pay the rent.
"I asked Sand Ridge officials why not just buy the homes," said Leland. "They indicated that was not an option and it would take the state legislature to change that."
So FOX 11 tracked down State Senator Michael Ellis of Neenah, president of the Senate to find out.
"Is there a law that needs to be changed?" asked Leland.
"There's no law that says the state cannot own a facility and house people, that's not the deal," said Ellis.
Ellis looked into the rental costs and agreed buying homes makes more fiscal sense.
"Over ten years of what we're doing is going to cost us $5.5 million," said Ellis. "We also know we could purchase 9 homes (at a generous $140,000 each) and save $4 million. We know that because it's just pure mathematics."
Ellis says the legislature would have to alter the state statute that deals with how many sex offenders can be placed in a given area. His figures include placing three offenders in each purchased home.
Right now DHS policy allows no more than two offenders in the same residence. But in Brown County all four live alone in high priced rentals, including those two in Green Bay who are just two blocks apart.
"Well I know it sounds ridiculous. It does. But we're going to look into it and I know we can save money," said Ellis. "You triggered this thing, I did not. But it caught my attention when you were telling me what we were paying for rent. That's just money down the drain."
A special legislative committee recently issued a report evaluating the criteria for granting a sexually violent person supervised release, but there was no scrutiny of the rental costs. Ellis, who was not a part of the committee, says he will pursue a fiscal review.
Read the court document
By Andrea Lannom
A convicted sex offender will not be able to choose where he worships, West Virginia Supreme Court justices recently ruled, saying an offender does not have an automatic right to attend religious services.
Instead, it is up to the trial court's discretion, the Feb. 22 opinion states.
[name withheld] of Bridgeport entered guilty pleas in Harrison County Circuit Court to charges of sexual abuse by a person in position of trust and to third degree sexual assault.
The state alleged in a court brief that [name withheld] "perpetrated hundreds, if not thousands of sexual assaults against his stepdaughters while they were minors and that after one of the stepdaughters was impregnated by the petitioner, the petitioner himself performed a crude abortion on the victim."
The Harrison County prosecuting attorney's office offered [name withheld] a plea agreement, and in February 2009 the court sentenced [name withheld] to not less than 10 nor more than 20 years for the first charge and not less than one nor more than five years for the third degree sexual assault charge.
[name withheld] would serve these sentences by electronically monitored home confinement, with the sentences running concurrently.
The reason for this sentence is because of [name withheld]'s diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, post traumatic stress disorder and depression.
However, concerns arose and [name withheld] wanted the trial court to address six areas: the failure of counsel to take an appeal, "erroneous information in the pre-sentence report, ineffective assistance of counsel regarding sentencing/post sentencing appeal and motion to reconsider, a more severe sentence than expected, excessive sentence and mistaken advice of counsel as to parole eligibility."
Newcomer Justice Allen Loughry delivered the opinion of the court, affirming the lower court's decision.
"We find no basis for habeas corpus relief or for further modification of the terms of petitioner's sentencing," the opinion states.
Until this case, the opinion notes, the court hasn't addressed whether home incarceration constitutes "the qualifying level of incarceration for purposes of seeking post-conviction relief in habeas corpus."
Justices ruled that federal law "leaves no doubt" that this remedy is available to those on home incarceration, noting the U.S. Supreme Court has "broadly interpreted" the phrase "in custody" to extend to "any situation where there are significant restraints on an individual's liberty."
"The fact that petitioner is serving his sentence in an alternate fashion subject to the terms of the Home Incarceration Act does not mean that he has the freedom to come and go as he pleases; his daily activities are subject to both the supervision and control of the Home Incarceration Office," the opinion states.
[name withheld] questioned whether habeas corpus should be granted because he paid for services to provide a motion to reconsider and an appeal but he "received neither," court briefs state.
[name withheld]'s attorney, Steven T. Cook from the Stapleton Law Office, filed a petition for post-conviction writ of habeas corpus in March 2010, but the court denied the writ regarding allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel.
This Wednesday, 2/27/13 @ 1:30 pm, there is a public hearing on Alabama's HB 85, an anti-clustering law that will impact all registered citizens in the state living in multi-family units, halfway houses, and any living within 500 feet from another registrant.
If you are close enough to Montgomery, AL to attend and speak out, I encourage you to do so. I want to go but it is impossible on such short notice to raise $250 for a bus ticket in this short amount of time. So I'm asking you, if you have anyone who can be there to oppose this bill, please do so now!
(I'm annoyed with them doing this on such short notice, it caught me off-guard with no time to prepare a trip, so I'm hoping to drum up support by getting people to attend this)
Visit ReFORM-AL (http://reformalabama.blogspot.com/) for more info about HB 85 and the info of the bill's sponsors.
By Erin Smith
The state’s most dangerous sex predators ran up a $1.2 million taxpayer-funded legal tab last year by quietly using an obscure provision in state law that lets them hire public defenders to go behind closed doors and argue to keep their identities and whereabouts secret, a Herald review found.
Since 2003, when the state ordered the most dangerous, or Level 3, sex offenders be posted on a public website, convicts have flooded the Committee for Public Counsel Services with requests for lower, laxer classification. Since then, the public defenders’ office has had to shell out skyrocketing sums for lawyers to take those cases before the Sex Offenders Registry Board.
Last year alone, the bill to represent indigent convicts cost taxpayers $1,228,065. That’s up a hundredfold from $11,293 in 2002.
“These sex offenders have already been criminally convicted in court. Now we’re handing them taxpayer-funded lawyers so they can attack our laws? It’s ludicrous,” said Laurie Myers, a longtime advocate for tougher laws for the state’s roughly 11,100 sex offenders. “This is an administrative hearing. If you get a traffic ticket, no one gives you a free lawyer.”
- Everybody is entitled to free legal counsel if they cannot afford it, based on the bill of rights! That is part of the Miranda rights.
What’s more, the legal tab could rise even higher under a bill filed recently by state Rep. Brian Mannal. The Barnstable Democrat wants the registry board to contact all sex offenders requesting reclassification or removal from the online registry and inform them of their right to a hearing and a free, taxpayer-funded lawyer if they’re deemed indigent.
The classification system is key to public safety — making the difference between “high-risk” Level 3 offenders who must have their names, mug shots, crimes and addresses posted on the Web; “moderate-risk” Level 2 offenders, whose names are available only upon request from the board or local police departments, and “low-risk” Level 1 sex offenders, whose identities are available only to law enforcement and certain state agencies.
- The public registry (hit-list) should be taken offline and used by police only for all tier levels. It's nothing more than a phone book for vigilantes to use to look up, harass and in some cases murder ex-sex offenders or an innocent person.
Unlike parole hearings for second-degree murderers, critics point out, hearings before the Sex Offender Registry Board are held behind closed doors and without notice, or input, from victims or their families.
The board does not report how many Level 3 offenders successfully got their classification knocked down to Level 2, nor how many Level 2 offenders got reclassified as Level 1. As a result, it’s impossible to determine how many of these sexual predators have gone on to commit new crimes.
- Sex offender does not equal sexual predator!
The Committee for Public Counsel Services said they’re just following the law by representing convicts in their classification appeals.
“The Legislature obviously recognized that this was an important enabling issue. This isn’t something that CPCS has unilaterally decided is a good idea,” said Lisa Hewitt, general counsel at CPCS.
Rep. Mannal, a criminal defense attorney, defended his bill, saying, “I think for the folks that go through this process — while it’s not a criminal proceeding — it will have a lasting impact on their lives. Someone who doesn’t have a legal background could find themselves unmatched in this environment.”
Meanwhile, state Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading) has filed a bill to get taxpayers off the hook for paying convicted sex offenders’ legal fees.
“After you’ve been convicted and the taxpayer has paid for your incarceration, now we’re going to have the taxpayer pay to say you’re not at risk of re-offending?” Jones said. “I think that’s an unjustifiable expense and it’s something that’s ballooned exponentially.”
- Herald: State loophole protecting Level 3 sex offenders
- Large legal bill for sex offenders (Video Below)
By Rex Santus
COLUMBUS - Ohio may be the next state to confine sex offenders beyond their prison sentences.
A bill that would authorize the civil commitment of "sexually violent predators" after incarceration was introduced in the Ohio Senate last week. The bill would also allow GPS tracking of some sex offenders.
Under civil commitment, sex offenders who’ve finished their prison sentences but are thought to still pose a threat to the public would be sent to treatment centers to live until they’re deemed healthy enough to return to society.
More than 20 states already commit some sex offenders after their prison terms. Supporters say it keeps potentially dangerous criminals off the streets and in treatment centers, but detractors say it walks a tightrope between good intentions and constitutional infringement and wastes taxpayers' money.
Sen. Kevin Bacon, a Columbus-area Republican, is sponsoring the bill, and he said there is plenty to iron out before the legislation is finalized.
"We're not married to a proposal yet," he said. "We wanted to get it out early to kind of signify it's an important issue."
While the bill is still short on specifics, it has already caught the attention of legal groups that advocate for the rights of sex offenders.
Amy Borror, spokeswoman for the Ohio Public Defender's office, said a big concern is the money similar practices have cost other states.
"It really ends up becoming a money pit," she said. " . . . People who are civilly committed almost never get out, and it's a population that almost never goes away."
Borror said a certified professional has to believe a committed sex offender is no longer a danger to the public before he or she can be released. More often than not, however, treatment centers are not willing to take that chance, and civil commitment is far more expensive than incarceration, she said. The dollars pile up, and the state has to pick up the check.
Civil commitment of sex criminals also raises questions about human rights, Borror said, because it threatens to violate due process. Confining a released or paroled sex offender to a mental-health facility is arguably just prolonging an expired prison term, she said.
"If they've already served their term that they've been sentenced to as punishment for what they've done, keeping them essentially incarcerated longer raises double jeopardy issues," she said.
Nick Worner, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the greatest concern is that civil commitment practices do not typically reduce sex crimes.
Because sex offenders are one of the most monitored groups in the country, it's often ineffective to add red tape to an already heavily regulated and scarcely resourced bureaucracy, he said.
"The bill wants to crack down on sex offenders," he said. "What it really ends up doing is it adds another layer of bureaucracy and another layer of cost."
Both said their organizations will pay close attention as the legislation develops.
Bacon said the complexity and controversy of holding sex offenders after prison weighs heavy on his mind as he pushes the legislation forward, but he thinks it's too important to shelve.
Sex offenders are more likely than almost any other type of criminal to repeat an offense, he said, but his intention is not to monitor or commit every sex offender.
- This is a lie as well. Sex offenders, based on many studies, have one of the lowest recidivism rates of all other ex-felons, but we don't lock them up beyond their time.
"This would be reserved for a certain class of individuals that could be a threat to society," he said. "Our focus is, first and foremost, protecting society."