Sunday, March 30, 2014

Georgia private probation companies expand sex offender industry

In 1994 the Jacob Wetterling Act established the first national sex offender registry law, and Indiana’s “Zachary’s Law” placed their state registry online.

In 1996 “Megan’s Law” was passed at the federal level, forcing states to maintain publicly accessible registries and allowing all levels of community notification.                                                
In 1997 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld civil commitment in Kansas v. Hendricks, and a year later, Delaware passed the first law requiring registrants to carry a special ID card.

In 2005 strict mandatory minimum laws were created with the Jessica Lunsford Act followed by the Adam Walsh Act in 2006. (1)

These laws are the result of horrific acts of violence often resulting in murder and with actual or assumed sexual motivation against youth. They were driven in equal parts by grieving parents wanting justice, politicians who, for reasons both altruistic and self-serving, were willing to take up the cause, and a media fired by the sensationalism inherent in the issue.

The cases that drove the laws are rare anomalies; with instant telecommunications and every story being repeated beyond counting, the impression is easily given and received that these heinous incidents happen every day. They don’t. They represent the tiniest fraction of all sexual offenses, but the transition is easily made in the public’s mind: sex offender = violent, predatory pedophile and potential murderer.

And an industry was born—a multi-million if not billion dollar industry—containing but not limited to these branches; the only order attempted is alphabetical.

  • Apps for cell phones/messages to emails-- manufacture; sales; supply; monitor
  • Electronic license plates
  • Expert witnesses
  • Federal marshal grants/other federal grants
  • GPS –manufacture; supply; monitor
  • Manufacturers and sales of polygraph equipment
  • Medical care for the incarcerated
  • Non-government companies who post registry information and charge to remove it
  • Parents of victims--publicity; financial
  • Politicians-getting/staying elected
  • Polygraphers—give exams as part of probation requirements; under state contracts
  • Private civil commitment facilities/management/treatment
  • Private monitoring and tracking companies
  • Private prisons/staffing for/management of
  • Registry management companies
  • Screening systems in schools, libraries--manufacture; sales; install; monitor
  • Security systems/alert systems—manufacture; sales; install; monitor      
  • Telephone/email services: inmates to outside world; family to inmates
  • Treatment providers, usually with “locked-in” state contracts  
  • Webinar “instructors”

And now come private probation companies.

According to an article by Nicole Flatow at Think Progress, March 25, 2014, the Georgia legislature has passed a bill which gives private probation companies, already being sanctioned and investigated for abuses and misconduct, even more power to operate, power that has critics recalling the days of debtors’ prison due to their ability to have someone jailed for failure to pay the probation fees.

As Flatow points out in her article, “Private probation firms are a growing industry that, like private prisons, stand to profit from criminalizing more conduct, and have an incentive to lobby for policies that send more individuals to probation and/or jail.” (2)

Sex offenders are easy targets; who will come to their aid? Anyone who does so is accused of being a pedophile or a rape apologist. Any politician who does so is sounding the death knell for his career.

This is more than a sex offender issue. This is a civil rights issue. This is a constitutional issue. This is the slippery slope. This doesn’t just affect those on the registry.

Who will next fall prey?

(1) Source for timeline: Timeline of Sex Offender History


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Do we really need new sex offender laws every time a child is killed?

First, we need to get out of the way the accusations, based on the title of this post, that I don't care about the victims. I care about the victims much, much more than those who persist in supporting a system that all but ignores the victims and apparently doesn't care about any victims except those victimized by registered sex offenders.

Florida has just passed a plethora of laws, and is looking to pass more, under the guise of protecting children from those registered sex offenders

According to the FBI Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Statistical Briefing Book, 2008, family members and acquaintances are responsible for, depending on the age of the child, 98 to 95% of sexual crime against children. The remaining small percentages are committed by strangers, and those already on the registry are a small percentage of those small percentages, leaving the focus on registrants, the public registry, and all of its appendages a useless but very expensive exercise in futility, virtually worthless in addressing the serious issue of child sexual abuse.

As far as these new bills in Florida are concerned, careful analysis seems to reveal one impetus: an opportunity to make political hay driven by the tragic death of a child, Cherish, by a repeat sex offender. Even though Florida has some of the most self-defeating and draconian laws on the books, the civil commitment program that has been in place has actually done a good job. Much has been made of the fact that "...Florida has a serious problem with repeat offenders. Hundreds of violent sexual offenders have committed new sexual crimes after being released from prison...." That sounds so alarming, and of course any violent crime is alarming and should be answered with a prison sentence commiserate with the crime, but using all of Florida's numbers relevant to this reveals a totally different perspective.

Those hundreds of violent offenders--a few short of 600--represent the failures of the program over a 14 year period of time. During those 14 years, the program screened and released 31,000 individuals. That means that, under the program in place, 30,400 released sex offenders did not commit a second offense over the 14 years. It appears the program had a 98% success rate with violent offenders over the time period. The number of total re-offenses, including the almost 600 violent ones, for the 14 years is 1,400. For those who like recidivism--sexual re-offense--rates, that is less than 5%. Some states come in lower, some a bit higher. Florida is right in the middle, right at the figure the DOJ arrived at after a multi-state, mega-study released in 2003.

These new laws are not needed. I predict that the rates will not change. Somewhere around 5% of released offenders either will not choose or will not be able to alter their behavior and will be, deservedly, returned to prison. And children in Florida will continue to be sexually abused at exactly the same rate as they have been and by the same people, and so few of them will be registered sex offenders that everyone on the registry could drop dead today and the amount of sexual crime against children will be the same tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Have we reached the sex offender registration tipping point?

According to Merriam and Webster, a tipping point is the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.

Maybe overload point would be a better descriptor.

In Chicago, a sort of tipping point seems to have been reached at the Chicago Police Department where registrants must renew their registration every year. They must also report any changes to this office within three days--changes like an address, a job--losing one or getting one--or enrollment in any school.

They start lining up before 6 a.m. in the well-below freezing weather, in the dark, pre-dawn hours of an Illinois winter. They wait for hours. Some make it in; some don't. Some are in violation because their three-day window closed during the days they stood there, unable to get in. The line is "cut" at noon, which means anyone still in line will not be processed, no matter how long they have been there. The office says it is open until three. A reporter who has monitored the situation for two weeks has observed the doors being locked before one in spite of the advertised hours of business being 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The doors are locked, a spokesman says, when they have more people inside than they can process by closing time.

Frustrated, angry, and hopeless men walk away, fearful men, because some of them are now in violation. They could be arrested for non-compliance, for failure to keep their registration current. It won't matter that they tried, that they stood in a line, cold and fearful, for hours, day after day, only to have the door locked yet another day. 

Is this a tipping point, a point at which the once-believed helpful concept of registering those deemed to be a danger to society has become so all-encompassing, so comprehensive, that the entities charged with facilitating the process are overwhelmed and, rather than fixing the problem within the organization, are instead shutting it off, locking it out, and refusing to deal with it?

What has caused this deplorable situation?-- for deplorable it is. It is not like advocates for a more fact-based system have not been warning for years of these consequences.  Requiring registration for some of the petty and misdemeanor offenses that in no way put anyone at risk of harm is the first of many errors. Keeping law-abiding citizens on the registry for years after they have completed all court-ordered punishment for a single offense doubles them. Having such a short window for updating change of address, etc., adds to the errors. Mismanaging the registration center to such a high degree compounds them to an almost incalculable degree. And being willing to incur the expense of re-incarcerating men who are trying their best to be compliant rather than using the money to fix the problem is criminal.                                       

Why do not the citizens of Illinois  protest en masse at the inefficiency and the ridiculous waste of their tax dollars? Why are not attorneys standing by, lined up with the registrants, waiting to file suit when a man is arrested for non-compliance under these circumstances?

Or--and here's a radical thought--why do the powers that be not open their minds to what experts and research studies and empirical evidence have been telling us for years--that the system is broken, that it was flawed from the beginning, that it goes against what everything tells us makes for a safer and healthier society, that it needs a major overhaul?

Will it take what is happening in Chicago to repeat itself at every registration center in every city and town in every state in the union?