Tuesday, January 24, 2017

No validity for keeping those on sex offender registry from state parks

"What is the point in doing everything right for years when it counts for nothing? Where is the incentive? What I did was wrong, but that was 15 years ago. I'm not the same person I was when I was 19...My oldest is 9, and I've had to explain it to her -- why we can't go to a lake, why there's no point in our getting a boat. She understands as well as she can at her age."

Shawna is a mother of three. She is on the public registry in Oklahoma for life for a one-time sexual encounter on her 19th birthday with a 14-year-old boy. Her court-ordered punishment was a jail sentence, which she served, and lifetime probation and sex offender treatment. She is also serving an additional life sentence on the public sex offender registry, one whose requirements can shift and change depending on the whims of legislators and new laws. Since it is not considered punishment, applying conditions retroactively is apparently not a problem.

Oklahoma, where Shawna, her husband, and their three children live, is one of only three states defining “parks” to include public state parks and with a state-wide law forbidding park usage, access, or loitering to some or all who are required to be on a sex offender registry. The other two are Louisiana and Illinois. A fourth, Tennessee, couches its language ambiguously, saying that such access is prohibited “…when the offender has reason to believe children under eighteen (18) years of age are present…”

Oklahoma extends the definition of “park” far beyond children’s playgrounds, parks, and areas whose primary use is intended to be by children, the definition adhered to by other states with presence restrictions and by all individual counties and cities with similar ordinances. In Oklahoma, Illinois, and Louisiana, a park is a park is a park, and state parks are included. All access to lakes, beaches, and waterways are state parks.

Oklahoma passed its law in 2014, twelve years after Shawna was ordered to register on the Megan’s Law registry as a level 3 offender, an automatic designation when the victim, even a statutory one, is under 16.

Another Oklahoma registrant, writing a comment on a With Justice for All blog, said, “I was surprised that here in Oklahoma, I cannot go to a park. A park does not mean a place with swings and playground equipment... it means ANY park, State Park included. I really wanted to buy a boat, and I can, but I would have no place in Oklahoma to use it.”

The state of criminal justice reform as it applies to those required to register as sex offenders is very much in flux. While some jurisdictions and states recognize that no evidence supports residency and presence restriction as effective and either eschew or overturn such requirements, others are rushing to implement them.

In North Carolina such and other restrictions have become so onerous that National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) and NC-RSOL have filed a suit against the state on constitutional grounds.

A fourth of the states follow what research clearly shows as the most beneficial to public safety, making serious efforts to integrate law-abiding former sex offenders into their communities by placing no restrictions on where they may live, work, or go with their families. The majority of the other states range widely in the restrictions and requirements they place on their registered citizens.

Only three – Oklahoma, Illinois, and Louisiana – have taken steps to assure that children with a parent on the sex offender registry will not enjoy, as a family, the wonders and beauty that their state’s national parks offer to all citizens and the educational value of their state’s historical monuments – all, that is, except those who are punished beyond reason and with no safety justification all the days of their lives for crimes committed far in their pasts. Those like Shawna.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Sex offenders and the YMCA

I will from time to time receive columns or op-eds written by others with requests to print them on my blog. I have complied a time or two, but generally I do not. This one can be added to the times I complied.

I received an email from someone requesting anonymity. He explained that he was a registrant in New Jersey. He included this link, which led to a message to “the community” in the form of an open letter from the executive director of the West Essex YMCA, which is in Livingston, New Jersey. It is the standard public relations fare put out by businesses in order to familiarize communities with their products and services.

My anonymous correspondent included his own open letter with a request that I try to have it printed in the same online neighborhood newsletter that printed the one from the YMCA. I found the request valid, and I zipped it off to the editor the same day. After several days of no response, I emailed her again telling her that if she would not be using it, I would be printing it elsewhere and asking for an acknowledgment. I received none, and therefore I am printing his letter to the ED of the West Essex YMCA.

Ms. Helen Flores
Executive Director, West Essex YMCA

Dear Ms. Flores,

My family and I have recently moved to your community. I was pleased to see your letter to the community about what your facility offers. My wife and I have three children, and we have been recently discussing the value of the many programs that YMCAs offer. In fact, we had reached the conclusion that a family membership would be a good investment, and then I read something that stopped me in my tracks.

Apparently you have installed a program that screens for sex offenders for the purpose of preventing their entry into the Y and, I presume, preventing their becoming members.

Since the vast majority of those who are currently engaged in sexual offending, especially against children, have never been identified or charged, this confused me. How could your system alert on them? And then I realized that you mean those who are required to register on a sex offender registry, almost none of whom are still sex offenders.

Let me tell you my story. When I was a high school senior, 18 for a portion of my senior year, my girlfriend was a sophomore and 15. We became sexually active and became pregnant with our first child. I was charged with sexual crimes against a child and required to register as a sexual offender.

Sadly, we lost that child in a miscarriage. Her parents moved away, taking her with them, to prevent our seeing each other. Of course we communicated, and after she graduated from high school and I from college, we dated again and then married. Today we have a wonderful marriage and three great children. It took a while, but her parents forgave our bad beginning. I, however, am required to register as a sex offender for life.

Everyone where we lived knew our story, and we were fortunate to suffer only minimal collateral consequences from being registered. Our wonderful family more than made it worthwhile.

My work has now brought me here, and we have had some rocky patches. I am sure though that we will work through them. We cleared a big hurdle recently when we finally found a church who would accept us as a family.

If my wife or I applies for a family membership at your YMCA, what will the outcome be? Will you accept our application? Will you exclude me? If so, will I be allowed to enter to pick up the children on those occasions where my wife’s business takes her out of town and one of our children may have an activity at the Y?

I would very much like to know. I don’t want to put my children in the position of facing embarrassment or ridicule if their father is treated like a criminal and refused entry.

Thank you for your time.

A very concerned father who is NOT a sexual offender.

Shelly here – I have nothing to add.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What does it take to activate a vigilante?

Obviously, not much.

Start with a totally made-up story, make sure it involves child sexual abuse and troops of pedophiles trading and selling kids in Washington, D.C., and mix in enough of one of the major presidential candidates to guarantee that approximately half of the population are predisposed to believe it. 

Stir in one self-proclaimed “protector of children” with a gun or guns – reports are mixed – and the willingness to “protect children” by shooting off said gun into a crowd of them eating pizza.

Edgar Welch drove from North Carolina, gun or guns at the ready, and marched into his target, a popular D.C. pizza restaurant, Sunday, December 4, in order to, in his words, “self-investigate” the pedophile activity. The fact that the false rumors about the pizzeria have been debunked and found to be totally unsupported did not serve as a deterrent to him at all. After all, where sex and children are used in the same sentence, how could it not be true?

How that evolved to his shooting off his rifle is anybody’s guess.

Thank God no one was hurt and the gunman was captured.

False news is apparently one of the negative consequences that we just have to put up with in this age of social media and electronic information where anybody can say anything online with the assurance that somebody will believe him.  But given what it has led to in this specific instance, we need, more and more, to remember that responsibility must accompany the exercise of rights and freedoms.

We must remember that freedom of speech does not grant the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. And the ability to make up a story and disseminate it far and wide via Twitter and Facebook does not grant the sense to know when not to do so.