Sunday, February 16, 2014

NJ - Offenders pushed through an automated system

Waiting in line
Original Article

02/16/2014

By Dave Neese

They’re certified, known offenders, you could say. And there are 16,000 of them out there in New Jersey neighborhoods — 5,200 of them labelled sex offenders.

They’re parolees who have been released under pressure to make room in near-capacity prisons for incoming waves of new inmates.

There’s additional pressure to keep the parolees moving along through four levels of supervision, to categories requiring less intense scrutiny by over-extended parole officers.

The unofficial motto of the system might be: “Keep ‘em moving!” As with a manufacturing assembly line, any unplanned bottlenecks or backups can bollocks the system.

So how’s it working?

A recent state audit has prompted intense debate on the question.

The nonpartisan Office of State Auditor, in a report to the state legislature and governor’s office, noted what it characterized as unsettling parole glitches.

A spot check of parolee cases concluded that many parolees, including sex offenders, are falling through cracks in the system and going unmonitored. This could be dangerous, the auditors added.

The State Parole Board takes emphatic exception to the report. It says auditors failed to grasp the new, smarter approach the system has for supervising parolees these days — what the board calls “evidence-based practice.”

This gives officers training and discretion to focus on potentially problem parolees and to make unannounced visits to check on them, instead of scheduled checks, parole authorities say.

But in a response to the audit, Parole Board chairman James T. Plousis, the former top U.S. Marshal for New Jersey and former Cape May County Sheriff, cited a statistic on which critics pounced. Of 165,873 unannounced home visits by parole officers in 2012, he acknowledged, fully 40,937 found nobody home.

To critics in the legislature, media and elsewhere, this statistic spotlights a troubling flaw in a parole-supervision system that counts on parole officers’ face-to-face contact on a regular basis with parolees.

But Plousis says unannounced drop-ins by parole officers “will always result in a significant number of no-contact visits.” The alternative, he says, is to rely on what he scoffs at as “staged or manipulated visitations.”

One lawmaker who remains skeptical is Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Cranbury. The state’s approximately 360 parole officers have unmanageably big case loads, she says.

She sponsored legislation that included a provision to cap a parole officer’s sex-offender case load at 40. At the request of the Parole Board, however, Gov. Christie deleted the cap from the legislation. More officers, of course, means more pressure on the state budget. The median salary for a parole officer is $73,000.

Sen. Greenstein faults the Parole Board, not the officers, for the system’s problems.

The Office of State Auditor spot-checked 320 parole cases for Fiscal 2012-13 and reported that required face-to-face contact was not made in 148 of them. These cases included, the audit report added:
  • 60 spot-checked sex-offender parolee cases, with required face-to-face contact not made in 32 of them.
  • 100 spot-checked violent-crime parolees, with required face-to-face contact not made in 48 of the cases.

While the Parole Board’s own official standards set forth face-to-face contact requirements, the board’s case-management protocol “does not require a review of parole officers to ensure compliance with supervision contacts,” the report said.

The Parole Board says it’s augmenting its unannounced drop-ins with drug-detection sweeps and better monitoring technology. The parole system, with a $100 million budget, is the tail-end component of New Jersey’s $1 billion correctional system.

Parole cases have been edging upward while the state’s total inmate population has been inching downward. Still, there are 23,000 offenders under state incarceration, in facilities near their capacity, at an annual cost, for example, of $44,500 per inmate for the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

Some 27,000 parole hearings a year churn out streams of additional parolees to be added to officers’ case loads. The stream of parolees is sluiced through four categories of monitoring. Category I, for example, requires at least two parolee contacts every 30 days; Category IV at least one contact every 120 days.

The Parole Board says the system, for all its challenges, is slowly but steadily improving. In his response to the audit, Chairman Plousis cited a three-year follow-up study commissioned by the legislature focusing on 12,989 inmates who were paroled or who “maxed out” in 2008.

The study, he noted, shows an annual drop in parolee recidivism and absconding. The study found recidivism down by as much as 6.6 percent and absconding down to low, single-digit percentages, around 300 vanishing parolees a year.

Not mentioned in the chairman’s response were less encouraging findings.

The study said that though recidivism was indeed down, it was still at a 41.9 percent parolee re-arrest and re-conviction rate; that on average re-arrests occur within one year of release, and that offenders tend to get collared for doing the same crimes that originally landed them behind bars.


UT - Utah group homes fight paranoia and stigmas

Mob Mentality
Original Article

02/16/2014

By Mark Saal

MORGAN - Last summer, when Alpha Counseling & Treatment went before the city council here, seeking to put a youth group home into a residential neighborhood, you'd have thought they were asking to open a meth lab.

Mace Warren, clinical director for ACT, was seeking to house up to 12 boys in a six-bedroom home at 535 Derrick Circle. These were boys, according to Warren, exhibiting "moderate male behavioral disorder," including Asperger's syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities.

Neighbors packed the small city council chambers, worried that the proposed home would bring violence, drugs, sex offenders and other troubles to their small community. When the city council finally -- reluctantly -- approved a conditional-use permit for the group home, tearful, angry residents in the neighborhood talked of selling their homes.

So, do they? Sell their homes, that is?

As it turns out: not usually.

There are plenty of residential group homes in Northern Utah -- some have been operating here for years. And generally, once the initial fuss dies down, neighbors are fairly accepting of group homes.

"I did worry at first, because I didn't know what to expect," said Paul Rohde, who lives next door to a group home in North Ogden. "But it was more a concern out of not knowing what it would be like."

The Rohdes have lived in their current home for seven years; the group home has been there about three. He says the residents of the group home have been no more trouble in the neighborhood than his own three children.

"They've been fine, we've had no issues," he said. "The first year they were here, they picked up all our leaves, and we've got a ton of trees. They raked our leaves again this year."

Rebecca Ostler, who lives on the other side of the group home, says the only problem she's had is that it was a bit of a disappointment to her own children.

"At first, it was kind of hard for my boys, because they saw boys there at the house and wanted to play with them," she said. But, Ostler says, the boys at the group home aren't allowed to interact with neighborhood children.

"They're kept away from the neighborhood, and have strict rules," she said. "They're friendly, they say hello, but they don't interact."

Other neighbors of this group home at 1217 E. 3100 North, in North Ogden, operated by Crossroads Academy, have similar tales to tell.

"I didn't know they were in until they were in," said neighbor Judy Howard. "But we've never had any problems with them."

A year ago, as the Howards were cleaning up following a windstorm, two young men from the house stopped by and asked, "Can we help you pick that up?"

"We've never had any cop cars there, or anything like that," Howard said. "And none of the neighbors say they've seen increased break-ins. They're very quiet, and the house is well-maintained."

And neighbor Betty King said: "They've not been any problem at all. I see them come sliding down the street on skateboard sometimes. But they're just like anybody else."


FL - Woman (Alexandra Westover) faked rape after skipping work: authorities

Alexandra Westover
Alexandra Westover
Original Article (Video available)

02/16/2014

By DOYLE MURPHY

A Florida woman wasn’t raped after all — she just didn’t want to get in trouble for missing work, authorities said.

Alexandra Westover, 21, of Boca Raton, had reported a frightening, broad-daylight attack to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.

The tale, which authorities now say is fake, was full of details.

She told detectives she had a flat tire about 9 a.m. on Tuesday and pulled over in the side of the Florida Turnpike.

A white man in a white vehicle soon pulled over and asked if she needed help, Westover reportedly told authorities.

The man supposedly asked for a sharp object to pry the hubcap loose. When she opened her passenger door and leaned in, the man attacked, shoving her from behind and sexually assaulting her in the car, Westover reported, according to police.

Crime fighters launched a full-scale search for the phantom rapist, wasting more than 100 man hours before Westover finally admitted the hoax, according to a sheriff’s office statement.

Detectives were already growing suspicious of the woman’s tale of a rush hour rape, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The Florida Highway Patrol reviewed turnpike video and couldn’t find images Westover’s vehicle anywhere on the recordings.

Her dad eventually called the sheriff’s office and told them Westover had admitted to making up the story, the paper reported.

A deputy followed up and Westover admitted she lied because she didn’t want to get in trouble for skipping work at her great-uncle’s house, the paper reported.

Westover didn’t respond to phone calls from the Daily News.

She was arrested on Thursday on a charge of falsely reporting a crime and a misdemeanor perjury count.

She was released Friday on her own recognizance, according to jail records.


CA - GPS monitoring alerts overwhelm probation officers

GPS Tracking
Original Article

02/15/2014

By Paige St. John

SACRAMENTO - Electronic monitoring was supposed to help Los Angeles County deal with the influx of thousands of felons moved out of California's prison system to ease overcrowding.

The nation's largest probation department strapped GPS ankle monitors on the highest-risk of those convicts, expecting the satellite receivers to keep tabs on where they spent their days and nights, and therefore keep the public safe.

Instead, agents are drowning in a flood of meaningless data, masking alarms that could signal real danger.

County probation officers are inundated with alerts, and at times received as many as 1,000 a day. Most of the warnings mean little: a blocked signal or low battery.

The messages are routinely ignored and at times have been deleted because there were so many, officers say.

Auditors making a spot check last fall found more than a dozen cases in which officers failed to notice that the devices were dead and probationers roamed unmonitored, some for weeks.

"If we keep getting false positives, we're not going to know the real one that means danger," said John Tuchek, a vice president for the Assn. of Probation Supervisors.

California's statewide system for monitoring sex offenders sends out as many as 40,000 alerts each month to state parole agents.

The consequences of ignoring such warnings can be disastrous.

In upstate New York, federal probation officers deluged with false alarms opted to disregard tampering alerts that cleared themselves within five minutes.

Because of that, no one noticed last year when a man facing child pornography charges broke the strap of his monitor and slapped it back together with duct tape. The man left the still-operational device at home, then traveled across town and raped a 10-year-old girl and stabbed her mother to death.

A U.S. District Court judge in New York released a report in April noting that probation officers in 12 of the nation's 94 federal court districts routinely ignored short-term alerts. Federal court officials ordered the practice stopped.

In Colorado last year, officers dismissed days of tampering and dead battery alerts from a parolee's GPS monitor. The man had slipped out of the device strapped to his ankle and killed a pizza delivery man and the state's corrections chief, authorities said. The fugitive was shot and killed days later while attempting to flee police in Texas.

Proponents of GPS technology say improving the system is a matter of better training, smaller caseloads and more effective technology to filter the flood of data.

Steve Logan, chief executive of Satellite Tracking of People, which monitors California sex offenders, said officials and the public should not see GPS tracking as a panacea.

Electronic monitoring is "a tool … not a silver bullet, but a really, really good tool," Logan said.

But some national GPS experts and parole officers say there are so many technological problems with GPS monitoring that it will never be as secure as officials promise.

"When these alerts are in the tens of thousands, it seems like an unwinnable situation," said Matthew DeMichele, a former researcher for the American Probation and Parole Assn. and coauthor of the Justice Department's guide on electronic monitoring.

"In some ways, GPS vendors are selling law enforcement agencies, politicians, the public a false bag of goods," he said.

The data overload disclosure comes as nearly every county in California is preparing for a massive expansion of the "virtual jail" — the use of GPS devices to track criminals on the street rather than incarcerate them.

The growth is being driven by a federal court order requiring the state to reduce prison crowding. In two years, California shifted more than 100,000 state inmates and parolees to local control.

The influx has required the release of lower-level criminals to make room, meaning county probation departments must monitor an increasingly dangerous population.

Last year, then-L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca solicited bids from GPS tracking companies to monitor as many as 3,000 offenders released from jail, while the county Probation Department is using GPS to track hundreds of felons released from prison. Riverside County has approved $1 million to monitor up to 600 criminals.

California began using GPS tracking in 2008, when voters passed Jessica's Law, which required round-the-clock monitoring of serious sex offenders. More than 8,000 state parolees continue to be tracked under that law.

The basic systems involve a device strapped to a person's ankle. The monitor picks up satellite signals and transmits location information over cellular networks to a central computer.

The system is designed so that an alert is sent out if an offender tries to remove the device or enter a forbidden area, such as a school or park. But notifications go out for a variety of routine reasons, as well: GPS signals are blocked by buildings, batteries run down, cases crack and straps come loose.

There is no easy way to distinguish the cause of a notification. A prolonged lost signal might mean an escape or merely a signal blockage inside a mall.

Field tests by California corrections officials in 2011 showed the devices used to track nearly half of the sex offenders in the state reported no signals 55% of the time — blind spots the manufacturer attributed to buildings, cars and trees.

In most cases, each anomalous event prompts an alert to the supervising officer.

The number of emails is compounded by another stream of data: The county Probation Department sets its system to trigger an alert whenever a device passes a school or park.

More than 4,800 prohibited areas are designated in L.A. County, about one every square mile. That makes it difficult for an offender to go anywhere without causing a string of alerts — a total of 7,500 messages generated by about 300 probationers each month.

"Just riding the Red Line would set off 10 alerts, passing schools on the way," said Tuchek, the union official who also works as a county probation supervisor.

One recent log showed that 65 offenders racked up 135 alerts in a single overnight shift. None resulted in an officer's response, and the probation office wrote off one felon's string of seven tamper alerts as a possible equipment malfunction.

The email overload was made even worse because of a policy that until recently required all alerts to be sent to every probation officer supervising someone via GPS.

The combined effect, department administrators said, was that deputies on some days were greeted by more than 1,000 new alerts in their email in-boxes.

"If the probation officer receives thousands of emails for every probationer in the county, he will delete them all without reading any," said one deputy who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

A department audit in September documented numerous cases in which alerts went unheeded. Officers, according to the audit, were unaware their charges were not being tracked for days at a time. One offender went untracked for 45 days.

Reaver Bingham, deputy chief of the county Probation Department, said most officers try to discern the most serious messages in the flood and concentrate on those.

In November, the county stopped blasting out group alert messages to reduce the email overload. Still, the system generates more than 20,000 messages a month.

Sentinel Offender Services, the Irvine-based company that provides L.A. County's GPS monitoring system, refused to comment on the program. However, in a 28-page corrective action plan sent to the county in November, Sentinel's chief business development officer, Mark Contestabile, discussed "the onslaught" of alerts.

The frequency of the alerts is "overwhelming to the officer," Contestabile wrote. "This is an area of the program that must be addressed as we move forward in program development."

Dwight Thompson, a field representative for the union representing county probation officers, said reducing the number of alerts won't solve all the system's problems.

Officers, he said, rarely have the time to check out even a lower number of alerts. "How do you drop everything else to find out why" an alarm has gone off, Thompson said.

And he said probationers are well aware there is seldom a response when a device does go off: The department lost 80 offenders in 2013 who cut off their GPS monitors and disappeared.

"If a person's not being properly monitored or supervised, then what's going to stop them from taking it off and leaving?" Thompson asked. "If they take it off, what was the point of putting it on?"

See Also:


Everyone to be Stigmatized

Letter
The following was sent to us via the TELL US YOUR STORY form and posted with the users permission.

By Vance:
At the dawn of the hysteria 24 years ago, I noticed the obsessive practice of media creating "victims" with competing grudges. If you feel offended you may claim victim status, and turn the tables by having them put on a list. Nobody can prove you are not victimized out of fear, or concern for "the children", but many lists are being developed to protect us from danger. Will you be on one of those lists? I was due to be married BEFORE the hysteria hit, but AFTER the "victim" came of age. Just 5 weeks prior I was arrested for a love letter she wrote but misplaced at school. The social outlook in 1990 did not YET label me as being a horrible monster. In fact there was some tolerance for "Romeo & Juliet" type relationships. Stories abounded of judges dismissing cases when marriages were already planned. The change in zeitgeist came from above. Today you could be arrested on abuse charges if you allow your daughter to be "legally" married at age 16. YES, I committed a crime, and STANDARDS MUST BE UPHELD. But what are todays standards? They are not the same as 24 years ago, but as a "sex offender" you will be ostracized as though they were. Get your torches and pitchforks ready for Romeos' and "mashers" of 70 years ago! Those in senior centers and retirement homes MUST be held to account for acts of the distant past by applying our lofty standards of today. New lists are being created to keep the vigilantes happy. Lists of "potential" terrorists, abusers of all types, gun owners, protesters, etc., but will we be safer with YOU on a list of the potentially bad people?


Sex offenders face hurdles rejoining society

Man jumping over a hurdle
Original Article

02/14/2014

Just mentioning the housing needs of convicted sex offenders is sure to raise the ire of many, with the prevailing attitude being “not in my neighborhood.”

It’s an understandable reaction, because those who commit sex crimes often prey on the most helpless and vulnerable victims, our children. To say it’s an especially harmful crime falls short of describing the emotional havoc left in its wake.

That’s why many states and locales have enacted laws requiring convicted offenders to register where they live and work; where and how they use the Internet, and prohibiting them from visiting places where other children may frequent.

In Indiana, offenders are prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of schools, parks or youth program centers. As a result, offenders are forced to live in the most “unhealthy” of neighborhoods to satisfy that requirement, if they can find housing at all.

As a society, we owe it to our children to keep them safe. We also have an obligation to provide a safety net for those who have served their time, which means clean and affordable housing for sex offenders.

The case where up to eight homeless offenders were about to be evicted from a church-run shelter in Muncie for violating the distance requirement illustrates perfectly how laws with good intentions can clash with people trying to do the right thing. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the offenders were not forced to leave their shelter. But a long-term solution is lacking.

When drawing the 1,000-feet restrictions on a map, it’s difficult to find areas that satisfy that requirement. The result is a concentration of offenders.

In downtown Muncie, a half-mile radius from the newspaper offices shows 12 addresses where offenders live, according to data from the Delaware County Sheriff’s office. Four addresses list multiple offenders living there, including at least one shelter.

In Fort Wayne, a trailer park housed 14 sex offenders — nearly half the park’s addresses — where a 9-year-old girl disappeared and was later found dead just before Christmas in 2011. They were living there in order or to satisfy residency restrictions. It should be noted the girl and her family knew the man who killed her.

Some more statistics: There were about 190 registered sex offenders living in Muncie last Friday, or about one offender for every 357 Muncie residents.

But statistics are harder to come by when determining whether sex offenders are likely to repeat their crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice, a U.S. study of more than 9,000 male sex offenders released in 15 states in 1994 found that sex criminals were less likely to be reconvicted over the following three years than all released prisoners — 24 percent compared with 47 percent. Child molesters had a lower rate of 20.4 percent. Other studies point to varying rates of recidivism, with a main factor dependent on how long offenders are tracked after their convictions.

Existing evidence seems to counter the popular notion that sex offenders are far more likely to be repeat offenders than other criminal populations.

It’s unacceptable to ignore the problem, just as it is unacceptable to pass it along to other communities, or to force offenders to live in narrowly defined areas, especially when other studies show that 90 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by someone known by the child such as a family member, friend or other adult.

We are not seeking repeal of existing laws, but for the application of common sense. If offenders are living in a shelter or halfway house under close supervision, that should be sufficient in light that they must register with police agencies any change of address or job status.

If we as a society believe in fair play and that offenders must pay for their crime, it makes no sense to stack the deck against those who have paid that debt to society, making it nearly impossible for them to become productive citizens. We’re better than that.


CA - In Crisis - Concern Continues At Coalinga, Metropolitan & Stockton Facilities

Coalinga State Hospital News
Original Article

02/16/2014

Problems at California's state-run facilities climb, despite the much-anticipated new Stockton Prison that accepted its first inmates last July. In six short months, the complex became home to nearly 1,300 men with various medical concerns. The Stockton facility was developed to reduce prison crowding elsewhere and bring inmate medical care up to constitutional standards. It was opened as a result of lawsuits that showed neglectful health care under CDCR. Prison medical operations have since been managed by Receiver J. Clark Kelso. Kelso hoped Stockton would be the CDCR's first step toward a permanent solution to its unconstitutionally dangerous health conditions statewide. CDCR was confident in the Stockton project, they've tried to persuade courts to return control of the prison system to them since January 2013. However, their confidence was premature. Due to numerous health & safety issues, Stockton halted admissions as of last week. Inmates' lawyers inspected the sprawling facility after learning of a patient death January 8th. The man bled to death in his bed while calling repeatedly for help. Some of the more serious issues include: - a scabies outbreak -men w/ the wrong sized catheters lying in their own feces all night - broken wheelchairs - injured inmates assisting the more infirmed w/transport throughout buildings - lack of clean towels forcing men to dry themselves with dirty linens - serious staff shortages preventing bathroom breaks. The concerns at Stockton are sadly not unlike those at Coalinga State Hospital since 2005. However, conditions have worsened for CSH residents. They're increasingly fearful as staff members continue to exercise their authority using unnecessary force. Patient abuse is becoming routine and stress levels are high for all men residing at the facility. The crisis continues...


International travel - All RSOs banned from Canada and Mexico at request of US?

User letter
The following was sent to us via the contact form and posted with the users permission.

By MT:
Apparently the US government is expanding its ex-post facto punishment scope by advising other countries to not accept US citizens that have ever been RSOs. From what I've read, even after being removed from registry, this does not fix the problem.

I was just refused entry into Mexico despite having been there at least a dozen times in the last 10 years. Nearly two decades ago I plead Alford to “possession of a visual depiction of a minor under the age of 16″, which at that time in my state was the lowest level felony and for which I received a couple years of probation. As it turns out, the girl was over 16 – and a stripper at a local strip club, but I’d already taken the plea once we found this out. I completed probation and haven’t been in any trouble at all since then.

I was very recently (2014) traveling with my family including my in-laws, my mom, my wife, and daughter. When the plane arrived and before anyone got off the plane, they announced over the speaker that I needed to get off the plane first. I was escorted off and taken to a room an interviewed by about 5 gentlemen – all taking notes. Three of them had camera phones. The lead guy (who was the only one that spoke) asked if I’d ever had trouble with the law. I told him that he must know that already or I wouldn’t be there. I told them of my conviction, that it was nearly two decades ago, and that there was no physical contact with the alleged victim. The lead guy wrote this all down and faxed it back to Mexico City. Within 10 minutes it was determined that I would not be allowed to stay in the country.

This was highly embarrassing. Here I have my in-laws and my mom. We spent about $15,000 just on hotel. They were all allowed to stay in the country, but I was put on the next plane back to the US 40 minutes later (which was the same plane I flew in on). In retrospect from what I’ve read elsewhere, I was very lucky I didn’t sit in the airport for days.

Upon realizing I was there with my family, the lead immigration guy at my destination was very sympathetic. I feel that were it were up to him personally, I would have been able to stay. He told me that “the US State Department had contacted Mexico City and told them that I was coming” – Those are the exact words he used. He showed me the paper he received from his Mexico City office, but it was in spanish, so I couldn’t read it. There was one line that said something like “sexual” that he pointed at. I did not see a photo with it though these guys probably took 5 photos of me while I was there. These guys were very nice and professional and treated me well.

When I returned to the US, I went through US Customs and went through the usual extended screening BS that all RSOs get to enjoy. The US Customs agent said that “in the past few months”, that this was happening every single day multiple times and that “something must be going on.”

I told my family to go ahead and enjoy the vacation since it was paid for but this sucks for me. If they came back with me, it would be even worse for me since I’d have the guilt of that on top of all the money lost. At first I thought this was politically motivated as punishment for being outspoken and donating to the wrong candidates, but reading this here, obviously there are other forces at work. I am going to look into other (legal) avenues to get permission to enter the country if possible. Again, I’ve been to Mexico a dozen times in the past decade – and I’d been to this particular city three times. I do feel that the US is trying to create a defacto prison from which we cannot escape.

I read somewhere else online today that there was a law signed by the president of Mexico December 3 barring all RSOs from entering the country but wasn’t able to find any other verification of that.

From what I've found online, there is as of now a COMPLETE and TOTAL lockout of travel to either Canada or Mexico for US RSOs - even if you have family living there - and this is a culmination of the "International Tracking of Sex Offenders Working Group" (PDF)

It is amazing to me that there is ZERO information on this being made available to RSOs.

See Also: