Sunday, September 1, 2013

UK - Making friends with a paedophile: 'We can't kill him, so we help him not to do it again'

Circles of Support and Accountability
Original Article

Just because someone wears the "child molester" label, that doesn't mean they are a pedophile.



Could it help to cut reoffending rates? Emily Dugan gets unprecedented access to a pioneering project in which the public encourage abusers to change

Whenever Paul Sloane wants to remind himself why he gives up a night a week to hang out with a convicted child sex offender, he thinks back to one phone call. The 55-year-old former engineer from Newcastle was recently rung on his mobile by a paedophile he had volunteered to befriend.

Paul recalls: "One day he rang me out of the blue. He had gone and bought a load of teddy bears to give out to kids. He said, 'I feel really terrible.' But he didn't do anything with them and it makes you feel afterwards, good job we were here, because God knows what would've happened if we weren't."

Paul volunteers on a programme which aims to prevent child abuse by creating a friendship group around known perpetrators. The Independent on Sunday was given unprecedented access to these social support networks aimed at preventing convicted child sex offenders from reoffending.

Circles UK (Facebook) has been running these groups quietly in Britain for more than 10 years, but is so concerned about the hysteria around the subject that it usually shies away from publicity.

While befriending paedophiles may be a hard sell to the tabloid press, the statistics show that it works. A review of a Circles project in the South-east found that none of its 71 past clients had reoffended over a four-and-a-half-year period. A control group of 71 criminals with a similar offending history committed 10 new offences in the same period.

The latest man Paul has agreed to help is Barry, a 69-year-old who is on the sex offenders' register for life after sexually assaulting young children, including his own son and stepson, for more than three decades.

Despite his disgust at Barry's actions, Paul is one of five volunteers who meet up with him every week to talk about his life. "I hate do-gooders and I don't usually volunteer for things, but I felt so strongly about this," Paul says. "He's a bastard and what he's done is awful and I'd love to wring his neck. But we can't kill him and we can't lock him up for life, so what are we going to do? The only answer is you try to help him not to do it again. To me there's no alternative."

Sitting in the Newcastle community centre where the group meets once a week, Barry talks with unnerving honesty about his crimes. "I was in prison for abusing young boys," he says, maintaining eye contact. "My sentence was for historic offences against my son but I have a long history of it. I don't think I'd do it again, but I have to look at it every day as a possibility. It could be very easy if I allowed myself to accept it as acceptable behaviour again. There'll always be an attraction to children and you can't change that much."

Barry is forced to live a long way from his family now – most of whom detest him – and he walks with a cane after being so badly beaten in a vigilante attack that a brain injury has affected his balance.

He asked to be put on to a Circles project before he left prison. "I want to be somewhere with people where, if the need comes, I can discuss bad feelings. I don't have any friends because of what I've done."

Though much of the conversation at meetings deliberately mimics a normal friendship group – with casual chats about everyone's day and interests – they also discuss thorny issues, including the temptation to abuse again. In these talks, volunteers often confront Barry.

At one point in the meeting attended by The IoS, Barry tries to suggest that "times were different" when he committed his offences and "it was viewed more casually in society". But his new friends are quick to interject. "No, I don't agree," a retired probation officer, Colin Robson, 59, interrupts. "That's just not true."

Paul is likely to be even more confrontational with Barry as the meetings go on. "I want to talk to him about medical castration," he says. "If he's so full of remorse and never wants to do it again, what's so difficult about taking a tablet?"

It is these frank conversations that the charity's advocates believe are central to its success. The more sex offenders are ostracised by society, the less likely it is they will ever have an understanding of normal sexual behaviour – and the more likely it is they will reoffend.

Circles of Support and Accountability started out as a Mennonite church project in a town in Ontario, Canada, in 1994. Realising that a low‑IQ sex offender called Charlie was about to be released into the community, church volunteers formed a group to support him. The method soon expanded across Canada, where studies demonstrated a 70 per cent reduction in reoffending rates.

The Quaker church in Britain decided to mimic the project, and in 2002 it secured Home Office funding for a pilot in the Thames Valley. Now Circles UK has grown to 11 projects around Britain with more than 600 volunteers working with 96 sex offenders. The model is so admired that the charity is now advising criminal justice systems in the Netherlands, Belgium, Latvia, Bulgaria and Spain.

Stephen Hanvey, chief executive and founder of Circles UK, said: "Demonising such serious offenders, even given the awful things they have done, driving people underground, renders them less safe, and less inclined even to attempt to lead offence-free lives. Forcing them from their homes to live somewhere else equally means someone else's sex offender is being driven into your area. It has to be more about supportive vigilance than mere vigilantism."

About half of the charity's national funding comes from the Ministry of Justice, while local projects are paid for by a mixture of charitable trusts, probation trusts and the police. The projects visited by The IoS in Middlesbrough and Newcastle are run by the children's charity Barnardo's – though they do not provide any funding because they are too worried about donor reactions. Instead, money comes from a collection of local authority, probation and public health funds.

In addition to the struggle to raise money, most projects find it hard to rustle up volunteers – particularly male ones – willing to give up a night a week for at least 18 months to spend time with some of society's most hated criminals.

Deborah Marshall, who runs the projects in the North-east, was staffing a stand at a recent volunteer fair when a man came over and asked for more information. "I could see his face change as I explained what we do. I said, 'Could you see yourself volunteering?' and he said, 'I feel I'd kill the guy.'"

Deborah, a former probation officer, understands the difficulty caused by public opinion. Even she isn't always open about what she does. "I've stopped telling my parents now because they're in their eighties. When they found out about a previous job in a sex offenders' treatment centre in prison, my dad said he was appalled that I would work with scum like that."

Diane Robson, 39, is a psychology student with a six-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. She volunteers in a Circle for a 23-year-old called Ben, who had sex with a 15-year-old girl. When the girl rejected him, he posted naked pictures of her on Facebook and was later arrested.

"There are certain people in my family and certain friends that I don't disclose to," she says. "I have the best mother-in-law in the world, but as far as she knows, I volunteer for Barnardo's and that's it."

At times, the conversations about socialising a convicted child sex offender can make for surreal listening, as the volunteers discuss the best way to get Ben friends – and even a girlfriend. Dressed in a black T-shirt, with a silver chain round his neck and closely cropped hair, Ben carries himself like an angry teenager, though he is much older.

Diane admits that conversation in these "informal" meetings can be strained. "In the early days, we struggled for common ground and it was like pulling teeth some nights."

She is glad that Ben's offences did not involve young children. "I'm not saying what Ben did wasn't wrong and a serious offence, but in a way it was a relief finding out what he did. I don't know where my cut-off point would be, but I'd been preparing myself to work with someone quite a lot more serious. I believe in what I'm doing but if that was my child who had been abused, I don't know how accommodating I'd be to the idea."

For Ben, who is unemployed and lives with his parents, the Circle has been a source of hope. "I look forward to it. It's pretty much the only time I leave the house," he says.

He has never had friends as an adult after being bullied at school. Since then, he has had depression and been suicidal, but now he is hoping to go to college and try to get work. "It's been really helpful. I want a job and I want friends. That's the main thing. One of the reasons for my offence was I didn't have the confidence to go with girls my own age and I didn't have the confidence to go out of the house."

Another man to benefit from the social effects of a Circle is Douglas, a jocular 63-year-old who does a mean Elvis impression and likes flashing at kids. His mother, whom he lived with his whole life, died less than a year ago and his behaviour became increasingly erratic. He took to walking round the house naked and soon began standing by windows without clothes, particularly when young boys were around.

On the first day he met the group, he said: "This is me. I'm the monster." That jokey tone has persisted throughout their meetings. He has never had sex with anyone and is convinced that fleeting glances at bus stops or in the supermarket are sexual advances.

Douglas says: "These are my friends now", and they really do seem to be. While they're joking and reminiscing about outings to bowling and dinner, it is easy to forget the serious reason they have come together. But in many cases, this "normal" interaction is what can create a breakthrough. Since Douglas joined the circle, his probation officer says his risk level has been reduced from high to low/medium.

Many of the volunteers are psychology or social work students hoping to get experience with difficult criminals. But others simply want to be involved in a practical solution to preventing an unsavoury crime.

Richard Harris, 62, is one of five of the 50 volunteers in the North-east who are survivors of abuse themselves. Though the web developer and Latin dance teacher says the abuse he suffered was not of the most serious sort, it is part of what motivates him. "When I was a lad, I had an incident with a Scout master. It was minor, but I told my parents and they said 'no, not Ron', and did nothing about it. As a result of society's inaction this has persisted."

"You can't apply the easy solution because there isn't one. You can't hang someone or lock them up for ever, so practical solutions are really important. Sometimes a problem is too difficult to legislate on. Sometimes you have to get involved."

The day he spoke to The IoS he was meeting the group for Adam, a 29-year-old who was caught looking at child-abuse images and has been coming to a Circle for 10 weeks.

"It's a difficult process for Adam to get through, so we're here to help and provide support. In this group he knows there's nothing he can't talk about. We accept what he's done. We don't like it, but that doesn't mean we don't like him. He is not the thing he's done."

The names of all the sex offenders featured in this article have been changed

TX - Former West Columbia Police Chief Michael Parker facing sex charges

Michael Parker
Michael Parker
Original Article


WEST COLUMBIA - A big development in case we've been following. You may recall when the former West Columbia police chief disappeared. Now more than a month later, he's turned up again, and he's been indicted on some very serious charges.

As the child sexual assault case against him moves forward, everyone wants to know -- where had he been?

Last August, Michael Parker was running the West Columbia Police Department. We talked to him then about a suspicious letter he was investigating.

"Given the way things are these days, you never know what's going to show up in your mailbox anymore," Parker told us in August 2012.

Now a year later, Palmer is facing multiple charges, including aggravated sexual assault of a child, and eight counts of tampering with evidence.

The former chief went on the run over a month ago when investigators turned up evidence that he'd bound, gagged and sexually assaulted a young boy, repeatedly, beginning in 1998. They even say they found bondage gear in Palmer's office at the police department.

Police and EquuSearch volunteers spent days trying to find him. He finally turned up Monday, near the town of Brazoria, where investigators with the county district attorney's arrested him.

The DA won't say exactly where he was arrested or where he'd been hiding. Palmer was released Tuesday after posting a $75,000 bond.

He wasn't home Friday when we stopped by.

West Columbia residents we talked to said they're glad he's off the street.

"He's got a problem. He's a sick fella evidently. They certainly need to take care of somebody like that," said resident Ike French.

Palmer lost his job in February before the child sex charges were filed when fellow officers complained he was stealing pain killers taken as evidence in police investigations.

Palmer still faces trial on all of the charges against him. The child sex abuse charges alone are enough to send him to prison for life if he's convicted.

ME - Lawyers seek sentencing range in Maine child porn case against former Attorney General James Cameron

James Cameron
James Cameron
Original Article



James Cameron's defense and prosecution say the court must give guidelines before they can argue.

Attorneys continue to wrangle over how a new prison sentence should be calculated for the state's former top drug prosecutor, now convicted of child pornography and of fleeing while on bail, and have asked a judge for aid.

James M. Cameron, 51, formerly of Hallowell, remains behind bars as he awaits a new sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Maine.

An appeals court last November reversed convictions on six of the 13 charges, but upheld the remainder. The morning after that decision was announced, Cameron, who was free on bail, cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and fled his home in Rome.

He was picked up Dec. 2 by federal marshals in Albuquerque, N.M., and returned to Maine. He pleaded guilty in February to a contempt of court charge relating to his 18-day flight and sentencing was anticipated within two to five months.

Instead, the defense and prosecutor remain far apart in their positions on how the guideline sentence should be framed.

Cameron was sentenced to 16 years in prison on the original convictions. He has served about 20 months so far.

On Thursday, Cameron's attorney, David Beneman of the federal defender's office, filed a memo in U.S. District Court saying "unresolved factual and legal issues (require) determination by the court in calculating the correct advisory sentencing guideline range."

Beneman said both he and the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, need the range settled before they can argue over the appropriate sentence. An entry in the federal court docket shows the government has to file a sentencing memo by Sept. 13.

In the meantime, the defense argues that Cameron's sentence should not be increased because he fled.

"There is not dispute that Cameron improperly removed his home monitoring bracelet, left Maine, and was arrested in New Mexico," Beneman says in the memo. "Cameron admits this misconduct."

"However, the increase does not fit the facts of this case," Beneman says. "Cameron did not escape from custody, or fail to appear for any scheduled proceeding."
- If this were the average Jane / John Doe, none of this would even be considered, they'd be in prison for a long time, but hey, it's a "Good Ole' Boy!"

The defense memo continues, "Flight to avoid arrest is specifically listed as not supporting the obstruction increase."

Beneman urges the judge to reject the consecutive sentence sought by the prosecutor, calling it "double punishment for the same conduct, flight."

An earlier memo in aid of resentencing filed by Malone, asks the judge to do a number of things, including considering the underlying conduct in the vacated charges because they relate to Cameron handling child pornography images.

The First Circuit, "did not find that the defendant was factually innocent ... it determined only that he should have been permitted to confront certain witnesses about evidence admitted against him," Malone says.

Malone says that except for the conviction for Dec. 21, 2007, possession of child pornography (the day his Hallowell home was searched), Cameron's convictions for receipt and transmission of child pornography images span June 12 to Aug. 11, 2007. She argues that the vacated counts show him transmitting child pornography beginning July 2006.

"At bottom, a defendant who for 14 months moves hundreds of child pornography images from his computer to secure storage areas on the Internet, using an ever-changing array of account names, in addition to swapping child pornography images over email and a chat network for two months, is qualitatively and quantitatively different from a defendant who only swaps images for two months."

She points to a presentencing report noting that Cameron engaged in sexually explicit chats starting in 2006, "frequently posed as a teenage girl during these chats because it drew more attention," received child pornography during the sessions and when he saw they were illegal, abandoned the profile he was using.

Malone also says one of the counts upheld included two images "depicting patently sadistic conduct," which should be used to increase the sentence.

Cameron previously served as the chief drug crimes prosecutor in the Maine Office of the Attorney General, where he spent 18 years as an assistant attorney general.

He became the target of an investigation after the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that Yahoo! found multiple images of child pornography in an account belonging to Cameron's wife.

Cameron was fired from his state job in April 2008 and indicted on the child pornography charges Feb. 11, 2009.

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