Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The train wreck continues in Rhode Island

Byron Deweldon is not the poster boy for one-trial learning. He has several sexual assault convictions behind him and was civilly committed for eight years.

But he was released from civil commitment last year. That means that he was found no longer to be at a dangerous risk of re-offending. He could live in the community, monitored, as a registered offender.

And that is exactly what he did for almost a year. He settled down in a home with his mother in Warwick, Rhode Island. He lived quietly and with no further arrests. He was monitored by the authorities in Warwick and was on his way to becoming a slow learner who finally got it.

Then the Rhode Island Legislature, driven largely by one legislator who was angered when a registrant moved a few blocks from him, passed legislation increasing the residency restriction “buffer zone” around schools from 300 to 1,000 feet for the higher-level registrants. This encompassed the home occupied by Mr. Deweldon and his mother.

According to Deweldon, he was notified of this change and his imperative to find another place to live on September 17.  The next day he left home.

He traveled. He went to California, Florida, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine and Pennsylvania. He did not register in any of the states he visited for brief periods although the states required him to do so. Meanwhile, during a routine compliance check at his home in Rhode Island, his mother told the officers that he was traveling.

Deweldon then talked with the Warwick authorities and returned to Warwick where he was immediately arrested and is being held on warrants of failure to register in violation of SORNA.

He will most likely go back to prison—not for committing a sexual re-offense, not for stealing or assaulting or murdering, but for committing a crime that didn’t exist a few years ago, the crime of failure to register. Instead of continuing to live peacefully in his home with his mother, he will now again most likely be back in the Rhode Island prison system for a non-violent crime and because of a retroactively applied law that gave him no choice but to leave his home and go somewhere else.

This is the beginning. Numerous other registrants across Rhode Island, those that have stayed in their homes up to this point, will in a few days face either arrest or homelessness. The ACLU is fighting this. RSOL is fighting this. This cruel and retroactive piece of legislation was passed with no support from anyone except the Rhode Island legislators and the president of a union representing the correction officers who work in the Rhode Island prison system. Much evidence was presented against it, including expert testimony that these restrictions do only harm and do not provide a public safety benefit, but it passed anyway.

Byron Deweldon knows where he will be residing for the immediate—and most likely beyond—future. Sadly, other registered citizens in Rhode Island do not.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

There are idiots, and they walk among us

I have a friend who often expresses the reluctance to say, "Well, now I've seen everything!" because, he claims, something more ridiculous is sure to come along.

And he's right.

A state senator in Florida has filed a bill "that would make it a crime for registered sex offenders to use a remote control drone to spy on kids or take their pictures." 

A drone. 

This is a prime example of what my buddy Lenore Skenazy likes to call "worst-first thinking." That is the tendency, in any situation, to think of the absolutely worst thing that could possibly happen and then proceed as though it would. This, however, goes right beyond worst-first thinking and off into the realms of "what were you smoking when you dreamed that up?"

The good senator admits she has "never heard of a case where a sex offender used a drone to stalk a child, but she contends it's bound to happen eventually."

This is the same reasoning that has put Halloween restrictions for registrants in place in three-fourths of our states in spite of the fact that no case can be found of a child being abducted by a registrant on Halloween in America and in spite of the fact that, year after year, both the states that have such restrictions and those that do not report zero such instances.

But getting back to drones--what's next? How about a law against registrants tunneling underground from outside their 1000-feet restriction areas and popping up, like a gopher, in a playground, camera in hand? Or dropping from parachutes into a park? Or, a-la-Trojan Horse, wrapping oneself inside a huge box, bow on top, and being delivered to a child's birthday party?

I suppose it would be too much to hope that some legislator might go for facts and evidence and propose legislation shown to actually be effective in increasing public safety and doing something toward actual prevention of child sexual abuse.

I guess that would REALLY be in the realm of the ridiculous.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Travesty in Rhode Island

October and cooler weather are upon us, and November will be here before we’ve unpacked all the winter clothes. November is Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving means Christmas is hasting on, and both Thanksgiving and Christmas mean home and family.

This year, for some men in Rhode Island, Thanksgiving and Christmas won’t mean home because theirs are being taken from them.

According to this excellent piece in the Providence Journal, October 5, 2015, those required to register as sex offenders in Rhode Island who have been assessed--some a great many years ago--as Tier III offenders and live within 1000 feet of a school have thirty days to move. In Providence, a few tiny parcels of land remain in which they may legally live. 

This is due to a bill passed in June expanding the 300-foot restriction to 1000 feet for Tier III registrants. The bill was supported by the R.I. Brotherhood of Correction Officers, no one else, and apparently that “Brotherhood” does not encompass all of law enforcement, for, according to the Journal:

Remarkably, law enforcers, civil-rights advocates, supporters of victims of sexual assault and experts who study sex-offender management say the expanded ban could actually decrease public safety by forcing offenders to move frequently or become homeless, destabilizing their lives.

Most of Providence’s affected registered citizens have lived, quietly and offense-free, in their neighborhoods for years. Some own their homes. Many are senior citizens. A few have found other places to live. The majority are bewildered, facing homelessness and hopelessness. As one said, " 'The state has got to stop punishing us. We've paid for our crimes. What's next?' ”

That is an excellent question. I am almost sure that, for most of them, what is next will not include Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas tree in the homes where they have lived, in total compliance with every law and regulation, for a good portion of their lives.