Posts Tagged ‘registry’

What Rational Purpose?

January 31, 2014

I come here today to ask you a question: What possible rational public benefit can be derived from requiring that an 8-year-old child be deprived of food, shelter or an education? For that matter, what benefit can be derived from doing that to any person?

You may say that we do not do that in this country. But we do. I have been informed that “this is part of the price that is paid for committing” certain crimes.

But what crime can be so heinous that it requires that someone either starve to death or commit another crime, such as prostitution or theft or illegal drug sales, in order to survive? If someone has committed such a crime, won’t they be locked up in prison for the remainder of their lives?

Let me tell you about some crimes in this category.

Public urination. This includes urination in the woods. In at least 13 states, this will get you placed on the sex offender registry.

Swatting a child on the buttocks while he/she is fully clothed.

The purchase of a certain coffee table book in a legitimate (not adult) bookstore, removing it from the country and then bringing it back. This is now considered transporting child pornography into the United States.

Engaging an adult prostitute.

Playing doctor.

Taking a picture of yourself in a suggestive pose, if you are under 18. Or receiving said picture, even if you did not want it.

Skinny-dipping in your own pool, in a fenced-in back yard in the middle of the night.

Grabbing a child by the arm to keep said child from darting out into the street in front of a moving vehicle. This is called restraint of a child.

Locking a 17-year-old in her own bedroom by herself for 15 minutes while you cool down from an argument with her. Again, this is called restraint of a child.

For these crimes, and many more, you can be denied SNAP benefits (food stamps), public housing, or admittance to a shelter during freezing weather, tornadoes, hurricanes or other disasters.
What rational public benefit does this serve?

It does not rehabilitate the criminal. It does not reintegrate the criminal into the community. It does not encourage productive things.

This is continuing retribution, long after the debt has been paid. This encourages further crime. This swells the ranks of the imprisoned by forcing criminal enterprise. This tears families apart, for what mother with a child of 8, 10, 16 would refuse the child food just because he can’t be considered for food stamps? What father would stay with his family if it became necessary to apply for food stamps, knowing that his presence will reduce the amount of food stamps they will get?

What rational purpose does this serve?

I say, none.

Fairy tale

September 13, 2013

I would like to tell you a fairy tale. Please keep in mind that fairy tales are fictional.

Once upon a time, in a place where people were nearly all wise and ruled themselves, there was a very sweet and honest child. She never lied. She only spoke the truth, and everyone believed her.

Now this little girl decided that, since there were a very few bad men, and that they must be punished, she would do something she had never done before, and lie. She knew that there were bad men because her parents told her so, though none had ever been bad to her.  She had a friend whose father was one of those men who her parents said was bad, and she was never allowed to go see her friend because the bad man might decide to hurt her.

She was sure that the bad man had hurt her friend, and she wanted very much for the bad man to be gone from her friend’s house, so she told her mother that the bad man had done something bad to her.

Everyone believed the little girl, because bad men always do bad things again, and besides, the little girl would never lie.

So they took the bad man and put him into a prison where he would never be able to hurt any little girls again.

So the little girl was a hero and no one ever hurt anyone in that land again.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Like all fairy tales, this has a bit of truth. The truth is that sometimes children get hurt. Most of the time it is by someone they know and trust. Very rarely, it is by a stranger.

In this tale, no one got hurt, but someone was punished for a nonexistent harm. This is also something that happens. It happened in Salem, Massachusetts a long time ago. It happens today, all too frequently. We go by the word of a child who may want, as this child did, to see a bad man punished, someone her parents have warned her about. It may be because she wants attention, as we believe happened in Salem long ago.

However, there is much of this story which is completely false.

Very few persons on the sex offender registry re-offend. The re-conviction rate across 15 states surveyed federally by the Department of Justice and followed for 3 years is 3.5%. It might be even lower in the state you live in. About a third of the persons on the sex offender registry were convicted when they were minors. Some were convicted of normal childhood curiosity. Juveniles have even lower re-offense rates than adults.

If everybody currently on the sex offender registries were tossed in prison forever, it would barely make a dent in the number of sex crimes that are committed. With a re-offense rate of about 3.5%, that means that over 96% of those who commit sex crimes every year have never been convicted of one before. Getting caught seems to be the trigger which causes offenders to stop. Treatment, which usually goes along with conviction, does work. Treatment has been shown to about halve the percentage of re-offense.

Another part of my fairy tale which is false is that the family is better off without the registrant in the house. Sometimes the father is the main breadwinner in the family and the family suffers a great loss of income if he is falsely accused and returned to prison. Nearly always, the former offender is greatly loved by the child or children in the household. They may know he has done something wrong, but they also know that he regrets what he has done. In some cases, he may have been falsely accused, or his “victim” may be his wife and the mother of his children, and they may be quite happily married. Or he may have been convicted of any of a number of truly minor offenses. In all these cases, the child wants her father to be part of her life, going to dance recitals and parent-teacher meetings, but he is not allowed to do these things because of his status.

We, as a society, tend to believe that the people on the sex offender registry are bad people, who will always re-offend. We, understandably, want to protect our children. But what we fail to realize is that we are creating more harm than could possibly be justified for the overwhelming majority of the persons on the sex offender registries and, moreover, for their families.

Other sites where you can find further information:  http://www.oncefallen.com/http://eadvocate-community.blogspot.com/ , http://www.with-justiceforall.blogspot.com/ , http://www.nationalrsol.org/

View of the Registry

April 12, 2013

I have been speaking to some people whose responses I have found to be interesting enough to pass along to my readers. I will not be using their real names, because they are not relevant to the discussion.

The General Public

The first conversation I would like to address here is with a member of what I would call “the general public”. She does not have any relatives or close friends on the sex offender registry. She was raped violently once, but has since recovered and become stronger for the experience, though more watchful on behalf of her daughters. She does not access the public sex offender registry. She works with someone she knows has committed a violation which places him on the sex offender registry, and she has no problem with working along side of him. They joke and discuss all the normal things you probably discuss with people you work closely with. The one topic they do not discuss is the sex offender registry. They never see each other outside work except incidentally, such as at the store or gas station.

She and I were in the car the other day, and I got curious.

“Betty,” I started hesitantly, “You’ve never researched sex offender re-offense rates, have you?” (I don’t use the correct word, recidivism, with someone who doesn’t have reason to know it. It saves having to explain what the word means, and that it means different things depending on which study you’re looking at. But that’s a discussion for another blog!)

“No,” she replied cautiously. She knows I have a son on the sex offender registry and does not want to offend me.

“I’m curious. What do you think the rate of re-offense with a new sex crime is for people who are listed on the sex offender registry is?”

She hesitated. I quickly reassured her, “Don’t worry, I won’t be offended by whatever you say. I’m just curious what someone who has no stake in this thinks. A general guess will be good enough, 50%, 75%, 90%, 20%, all, very few, none. Just a ballpark figure.”

Betty thought for a minute. Finally she said, “I really don’t have anything to back this up with, but I’d guess about 60%.” She glanced sideways at me. I was wearing a smile. “I’m way high, aren’t I?”

“I was reviewing the Muskie Institute report on recidivism yesterday, and the rate they had figured out was 2.2% in the first three years here in Maine.”

She looked amazed, stunned by the fact that the rate was so very low.

Honestly, I think that she low-balled the estimate, figuring that she must have had the figure wrong if I was asking the question. I did not bring the subject up again, but this conversation has caused her to think. I hope it has also caused others to think.

A Registrant’s Thoughts

The second conversation I’d like to bring up for your consideration is one I had with a young man who used to watch child pornography. Don’t worry, nothing in the conversation is in the least risque or suggestive.

Bob is a 21 year old young man who began watching child pornography in his late teens. He was caught doing so when he turned 18. He is not threatening. He is intelligent. He is a hard worker.

We have had conversations about the sex offender registry and sex offenses in general in the past. He also knows that I have a son on the registry. He knows that I know a lot of the facts about the registry.

We were on our way to the store when this conversation took place.

“I know that a lot of people consider your crime a victimless crime,” I started.

Immediately, he interrupted me. “I don’t! It is non-contact, but what I did is awful. I  was talking about this in group (group therapy), and I told them… Well, I realize that I am that “nameless, faceless stranger” and I had no business watching that child being degraded.”

I was impressed that he had identified the problem so clearly.

He went on, in a sadder tone. “I’m really sorry for what I’ve done. I didn’t think too much about it when I did it, but now I wouldn’t do it again for anything. Objectifying anyone is so wrong, and I don’t think I could ever look at any porn again.”

There was more to the conversation, but this is the part that really meant the most. Bob was guilty of what he had been charged with, but I truly believe that he will never recommit the crime. He now has too much empathy for the person at the other end of the process to ever commit an act against them.

Conclusions

The public has an overinflated view of the sex offender recidivism (re-offense) statistics. Most simply don’t ever think about these things. They just assume the press and politicians have been giving them good information, and never think to question it. It’s not really their fault. You can’t question EVERY statistic you see. It does emphasize that we must, if we want the facts to be more widely known, be willing to give the source for our statistics and take every opportunity to spread the truth.

Most who are on the sex offender registry are either innocent of the crime, or it was something that would not have been considered a crime (such as public urination or consensual teen sex) when I was growing up (the 50’s and 60’s), or they are repentant and would not ever do such a thing again.

The questions then come up, “Why do we have such broad laws that could apply to so many? Why do we persecute them when those are the acts we least want to have repeated, and persecution is most likely to cause re-offense?”

I don’t have any objective answers for those questions. Perhaps the legislators felt they were justified in them when they passed them. The registries, and especially the public aspect of it, were passed in the wake of horrible but thankfully very rare tragedies. The emotions were running high, and it is understandable that legislators wanted to assure that those horrors never happened again. Unfortunately, high emotions rarely make for good laws. I recommend A Parallel Universe by Alex Landon and Elaine Halleck, a quick view of which can be found at http://www.meganslawbook.com/ParUnivAdvPraise.html . There are several excellent places to find more information. A recently started blog with many references is http://with-justiceforall.blogspot.com/ and an excellent website can be found at http://www.oncefallen.com/ .

I realize that I have an emotional investment in the removal of the registries. However, I also recognize that the FACTS support this position. I welcome input, even that which opposes my position. I only ask that you keep it civil and rational.

The Costs of the Sex Offender Registry

March 12, 2013

Complying with the Adam Walsh Act is not coming cheap for states. There are many different levels of costs associated with this list, not all of which can be expressed in dollars and cents.

The primary costs include re-aligning the list of sex offenses with length of time to be spent on the registry, reprogramming the computers, educating the staff responsible for the upkeep of the registry and many other administrative tasks, including the upkeep of the database. Studies by independent agencies have indicated that states have spent and are spending tens of millions of dollars for this one piece of legislation. 

If this was really making a difference, if it was really making anyone safer, it might be worth it. However, studies have also shown that there is very little, if any, positive result from having a sex offender registry. It is not saving anyone, and is often instituting a false sense of security, since (as I mentioned in my previous blog post) the real threat is from someone close to the child, not the sex offender down the street.

In the meantime, other dollar costs are being incurred.

Secondary costs

Legal defense of a bad law, which is certain to happen, is a secondary cost. People will sue the state to keep them from being labelled a “tier III offender”, when they have little chance of re-offending, such as a teen-on-teen relationship where the two involved have married or moved on to other peers.

Police departments across the country must keep a registry officer, one who registers the sex offender, updates the database locally, checks on the compliance of the registered individuals and so forth. This cost is borne locally. It is also a secondary cost.

This officer often has nothing else to do, since tracking sex offenders is a full time occupation. In larger communities, more than one officer may be dedicated to this task. Sex offenders move often, usually because they are forced to move by those who do not want a sex offender in their apartment building, mobile home park or neighborhood. People who have forced such things do not realize that they have not made their families any safer.Repeated studies have shown that sexual offending has little relationship with where they live (see Jill Levenson’s studies or the Human Rights Watch report, No Easy Answers). 

 Tertiary Costs

Other costs are also incurred which are not so readily apparent. Sex offenders must have some variety of income. When people see where the registrant is working, they sometimes complain to the company. Most companies will fire a registrant after the first complaint, not because the registrant has done anything wrong, but because they are sensitive to public opinion. When a company fires a registrant, he has little choice but to apply for some variety of governmental assistance. He would rather work. The fact that he had a job proves that. But if he can’t work, due to the fact that most companies don’t want their names on the registry, then he must get food stamps, rental assistance and so forth. The level of unemployment among the sex offender registrants in many places is 85%. 

If the registrant is capable of working, nearly all the registrants would like to do so. They would like to become productive, tax paying citizens, not unemployed people living off the state or local assistance. 

Not All Costs Can Be Measured in Dollars and Cents

The cost to families of registrants has been well-documented elsewhere. Stress, bullying of the children of the registrant, vandalism to homes and cars of the family. All these have been documented in other blogs. For further reading on the subject of collateral damage, especially to families of registrants, I recommend http://prospect.org/article/life-list, I love a sex offender, life on the mountain and as a general overview of the subject, https://www.facebook.com/OfficialSOIssues .

 

If you take anything away from this post, remember that the registry has a long list of costs, both dollar amounts and human costs. One of those potential costs is your own liberty.

“Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.” 

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

An activist’s start

March 10, 2013

I have been an activist for many years. I was born in 1951, and came of age in the Washington, DC area in 1969. The place was overflowing at that time with worthwhile causes to be active in. I was active in the civil rights movement, the women’s movement (and am discouraged with some of the current parts of that movement) and the anti-Vietnam War movement (while supporting the troops themselves, at times a delicate balancing act).

So, I am not an newbie to activism. I am, however, a newbie to having an activist blog.

The cause which I am addressing myself to in this instance is liberty and justice. A broad topic, one might think, but one which I have found to be sorely under addressed. In particular, I am very concerned with the registries now popping up all over the place.

The sex offender registry is one which impacts me personally. I have two sons who are listed on it.

You never really appreciate how devastating it is to have someone you love on a publicly available registry until it happens to you. I could go on for pages detailing the damage done by the sex offender registry, but others have done that, in many cases far more compellingly than I could. Instead, I want to tell you that it has happened before, and the consequences for the society where it happened became obvious only over time.

Germany in the 1930’s instituted a registry of sorts. Sex criminals and homosexuals were the first on which this registry was tried. A system of triangles, which the offender was required to wear at all times, was the manifestation of this registry. It was sold as being for the benefit of the children. Does this sound familiar? How do we justify the sex offender registry today? “If it saves one child…” is the cry of the politician, but studies have indicated that we are sacrificing children on this altar, not saving them.

If we truly want our children to be safe (and 100% safety cannot be assured, no matter what we do) then we will pay attention to studies which indicate that those strangers on the registry are not the ones most likely to harm our children. A child today is more likely to be arrested for violating one of the more than 250 laws which can get him on the registry than to be a victim of a sex crime. One third of all sex crimes against a minor (including sexting and consensual sexual experimentation) are committed by other minors. This does not save the children. Things that today’s law-abiding adults did as children can get their children arrested.

I have seen articles about children as young as an 8-year-old playing “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” being arrested and taken to court. This does not protect anyone.

What also does not protect children is posting the address and workplace of a sex offender. Your child is far more likely to be molested by someone in the family than by the sex offender down the street. If that same sex offender has a job, the odds of him offending again are far lower, especially since he is being supervised at work. Do you feel any safer knowing that the sex offender you got fired from his job is now free to go where ever he wants at all times of the day? Do you feel any safer knowing that the sex offender you got kicked out of his home or apartment is now roaming the streets in the middle of the night to keep from freezing to death? If he did it, why shouldn’t he do it again, what is his motivation to keep crime-free? If he didn’t do it, you are punishing an innocent person, and possibly his family along with him. Does this protect children?

It is my hope that you will think about these things. I will leave you with one more thing to ponder. Today we are publishing the names and addresses of NOT JUST sex offenders, but gun owners and domestic abusers and drug users. Other registries are being debated. How long before YOU are on one? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.”


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