Thursday, July 30, 2009
A False Sense of Security or an Effective Public Policy?
Criminal Justice Policy Review, Online First. Sage (subscription required)
"With the enactment of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA), states are required to standardize their registration and community notification practices by categorizing sex offenders into
three-tier levels in the interest of increasing public safety. No empirical research, however, has investigated whether implementation of the AWA is likely to increase public safety. Using a sample of registered sex offenders in New York State, the current study examined the effectiveness of the Adam Walsh-tier system to classify offenders by likelihood of recidivism. Results indicated that the AWA falls short of increasing public safety. In fact, registered sex offenders classified by AWA as Tier 1 (lowest risk) were rearrested for both nonsexual and sexual offenses more than sex offenders in Tier 2 (moderate risk) or Tier 3 (highest risk)."
Hearings on: Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA): Barriers to Timely Compliance by States (from March 10, 2009)
US v. Gould: Gould was convicted of a sex offense in DC in 1985. After his release he moved several times in the states surrounding the District. He finally settled in Maryland in August 2006. He did not register as a sex offender, as required by state law. In July 2007, Gould was charged federally with failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA"). He moved to dismiss the indictment on various grounds, but the district court declined to do so. He entered a conditional plea and was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Gould's conviction, rejected several of the arguments he had raised below.
First, Gould had argued that SORNA could not be applied to him because, at the time of his indictment, Maryland had not yet updated its sex offender registration procedure to conform with SORNA requirements. In other words, because he could not register in the way SORNA set forth, he could not be convicted for failing to do so. The court concluded otherwise, holding that the criminal provisions of SORNA are separate and apart from the spending/state mandate provisions of SORNA that requires action from the states. Maryland had a means for registration and Gould's failure to avail himself of it was sufficient. For similar reasons, Gould's ex post facto claim was also rejected.
Second, Gould argued that he could not comply with SORNA's registration requirement because it requires registration before completion of a sentence, which he completed in 2002, prior to SORNA's passage. The court noted that this argument "bootstraps on his first argument" due to Maryland's failure to come up to SORNA standards with its registration scheme. Regardless, because Maryland law required Gould to register when he came to the state, SORNA applied to him. The court also noted that Gould was aware of his general duty to register, as he had done so in other states before he moved to Maryland. He was not in the (very small) category of offenders who wasn't required to register with anybody until SORNA's passage.
Third, Gould argued that it could not be proven that he "knowingly" failed to comply with SORNA registration requirements because the Government never notified him of those requirements, as the law requires. However, the court held that the word "knowingly" modifies "fails to register" and thus relates to the Maryland state requirement that he register, not SORNA's specific requirements. Conviction under SORNA does not require knowing that a failure to register violates federal law.
Fourth, Gould argued that the interim regulations promulgated by the Attorney General clarifying that SORNA applied to defendants convicted before it was enacted violated the Administrative Procedures Act. The regulation was enacted without notice and without the required 30-day waiting notice. The court concluded that the AG had good cause to do so, given the "need for legal certainty about SORNA's 'retroactive' application . . ." Delay "could reasonably be found to put the public safety at greater risk."(Once again, it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution to make any law which applies retroactively, or retrospectively. When will these court justices read our Constitution?)
Finally, Gould argued that SORNA exceeded the scope of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause. The court noted that one of the elements of a SORNA offense is that the defendant "must travel in interstate commerce" and that the Act applies even when the act of failing to register is purely intrastate. The court pointed out several other statutes that criminalize "local acts" undertaken after interstate travel. As explained by the court, "[t]here must be a conviction that gives rise to the registration requirement, subsequent interstate travel, and a failure to register." That conclusion is in line with other circuits have decided the issue.
Judge Michael dissented, arguing that the AG's reason for promulgating a rule without following the APA procedures was inadequate. Because Gould's conviction relied upon that regulation, it must be reversed.
West Virginia officials are trying to determine if the state is in compliance with a federal act that would result in more stringent listings in the national sex offender registry - or whether it's really worth trying to comply.
West Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said the federal act would affect numerous agencies in the state. "At this time the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has determined that in the interest of providing efficient governmental services it would be counterproductive to comply with the requirements of the Adam Walsh Act," Baylous said.
"This is all retroactive," DeLong said.
States that fail to comply could lose 10 percent of their U.S. Justice Department's Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program grants, she said. West Virginia's projected share for 2009 was about $2 million, DeLong said. So the state could be out $200,000 if it isn't in compliance.
Compliance will be difficult, said Delegate Bill Wooten, D-Raleigh, a chairman of the joint judiciary subcommittee studying the issue.
Defendant's conviction for failure to register in accordance with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) is affirmed where SORNA does not exceed Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause because it forbids sex offenders from using the channels of interstate commerce to evade their registration requirements.
Read US v. Whaley, No. 08-10951 (or here)
Filed July 21, 2009, Opinion by Judge Benavides
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The USDOJ SMART (misnomer) office posts occasional updates on case law across the nation. It is a good idea to follow these updates. Here is the most recent update:
Sex Offender Registration Law Update #27
July 7, 2009
1.Doe v. Keathley, 2009 Mo. LEXIS 131 (June 16, 2009)
•SORNA directly applicable to state offenders
Petitioners were all convicted of sex offenses prior to any sex offender registration
requirement for said convictions. The court held that 42 U.S.C. §16913(d) applies directly to
these state-convicted petitioners (and at least one military-convicted offender) and directly
imposes a registration requirement on them. Because of this direct application of federal law,
the court held that there are no State Constitutional concerns, and that the petitioners were
required to register. A previous decision from the Missouri Supreme Court, Doe v. Phillips, 194
S.W.3d 833 (Mo. 2006), had prohibited registration for anyone convicted for conduct prior to the
enactment of Missouri’s sex offender registration scheme based on Missouri’s Constitution.
2.Doe v. Massachusetts, 2009 Mass. App. LEXIS 724 (June 5, 2009)
Doe was convicted of two sex offenses in 1984 and was incarcerated for a year. In 2005
he was classified as a level two sex offender based exclusively on those two convictions. The
court held that he was entitled to a hearing as to his level of current dangerousness, so as to
determine if he should be required to register as a sex offender.
3.State v. Germane, 2009 R.I. LEXIS 68 (June 2, 2009)
In rejecting Germane’s challenges (due process, separation of powers, and ex post facto) to
the registration and notification law, the Rhode Island Supreme Court engaged in a lengthy and
helpful discussion of the legal issues at hand, including how the state utilizes the STATIC-99.
4.State v. Durrett, 2009 Wash. App. LEXIS 1285 (June 1, 2009)
Durrett was a homeless sex offender who was required to report weekly to the sheriff’s office
for registration purposes. There were two separate weeks where he failed to register. He could
only be prosecuted for one count of failure to register, as they constituted only one unit of
5.White v. Dexter, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46360 (May 20, 2009)
Making some factual distinction between this petitioner in this case and the one in
Gonzalez v. Duncan, 551 F.3d 875 (9th Cir. 2008) (holding an imposition of a “third-strike”
sentence as cruel and unusual punishment for a failure to register conviction), the court denied
White’s Habeas petition.
6.People v. Ranscht, 173 Cal. App. 4th 1369 (May 15, 2009)
•Mandatory vs. Discretionary Registration
Ranscht was convicted of one count of sexually penetrating a minor. Because he was
similarly situated to an offender convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse—the only
distinguishing factor between the offenses being the nature of the intent which must be proven—
it was a denial of equal protection to require him to register as a sex offender. An ‘unlawful
sexual intercourse’ conviction in California makes the requirement to register discretionary,
rather than mandatory.
7.State v. Payan, 765 N.W.2d 192 (Neb. 2009)
Nebraska has a procedure by which a person can be deemed to have committed an
“aggravated offense”, which requires lifetime registration. That determination is one that is
made by the trial court judge. The court held that the Court’s determination is sufficient for
making a determination regarding registration, as that is civil in nature. However, relying on the
Apprendi case (Apprendi v. N.J., 530 U.S. 466 (2000)), the court held that the determination
regarding community notification was punitive in nature and required a jury determination that
an offender, in fact, committed an “aggravated offense.”
Regarding Senate File 340 (Iowa's Adam Walsh Act), which went into effect on July 1: Instead of having the 2,000-foot residency restrictions for all sex offenders, that restriction will be gone for many of them. In its place come the exclusionary zones.
The whole law is ridiculous. Iowa was informed to comply with the National Adam Walsh Act or probably lose some federal stimulus money.
You will never keep children safe as long as politicians care more about getting re-elected than they do about the constitutional rights of all people.
Bureau of Justice statistics show the recidivism rate for sex offenders is between 3 percent and 5 percent. Sex offenders have a re-arrest rate 25 percent lower than for all other crimes.
Only 10 percent of sex abuse is done by a stranger. This law won't do a thing to change this. Fear of having a loved one put on the sex-offender registry has the misguided effect of lowering the reporting of these crimes.
Get rid of the sex registry. If you are an administrator who decides on hiring someone, take the time to call your local authorities.
Give law-enforcement personnel the information they need, but not the public. The public does not know what to do with this information sanely.
Monday, July 27, 2009
This horrible app is back again.
brainstormtech.blogs.fortune.cnn.com : It simply removed California’s data from the for-profit version.
By Sunday, Offender Locator was back on the iPhone App Store
UPDATE AUG.6, 2009-
Appmodo.com : Apple pulls popular Sex Offender app from store
Apple has pulled another popular app from its App Store. The app that had consistently held its own on the top 10 paid apps for weeks, is now completely gone. “This app is not legal, at least under CA law. Selling the personal information of people (even ex-criminals) for profit is forbidden.”
So why did this app get accepted in the first place?
Strangely, the (we will not name this app) costs $0.99 to purchase, even though the information is includes is all freely available on the Web already. But that hasn’t stopped the app from making its way into the top 10 paid iPhone apps.
This obviously raises some serious questions as to the nature of this app. Firstly, is it right for a company to be making money from selling personal information? This is legally questionable in some states, and morally questionable in all right-thinking states.
Then there’s the bigger question as to whether having this kind of personal information being made available on an iPhone app is right or wrong. Not all registered sex offenders are pedophiles or rapists, with some having been charged with much more minor offenses. But this app doesn’t differentiate between the levels of crime committed, instead lumping everyone in together.
Then there’s the obvious risk of mistakes and misinformation leaking into the system. Which is really not ideal when there are people all too willing to become bloodthirsty vigilantes if they even suspect someone dodgy is living amongst them.
The (we will not name this app) has trouble written all over it, both legally and morally. Yes, these people are criminals, but if they’ve done their time shouldn’t they have some protection from being ridiculed, shunned, and even hurt by people with a vendetta to carry out? An iPhone app hardly seems the appropriate medium to share this kind of sensitive information.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Authorities said Thursday that four boys ages 9 to 14 took turns raping an 8-year-old girl behind a shed for more than 10 minutes in what Phoenix police are calling one of the most horrific cases they've ever seen.
The 14-year-old boy was charged Wednesday as an adult with two counts of sexual assault and kidnapping, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said. He appeared in court Thursday and is being held without bond.
The other boys - ages 9, 10, and 13 - were charged as juveniles with sexual assault. The 10- and 13-year-old boys also were charged with kidnapping, the office said Thursday.
All four boys will be branded (in some cases for life) as "sex offenders", thanks to the Adam Walsh Act.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A law designed to help law enforcement track convicted sex offenders was passed last year, but some authorities said Friday that the law is taking up more time and costing more money.
Fairfield County Sheriff's Deputy John Baumgardt said keeping the paper trail on the county's sex offenders has been a full-time job since Senate Bill 10 went into effect. "I've had as many as nine, I think, in one day," he said.
The law reclassified tens of thousands of sex offenders, and required many to register more often and for longer periods of time, 10TV's Andy Hirsch reported.
Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said the changes have increased his office's workload, among other things.
"They want to know where these offenders live, and it's a good tool," Phalen said. "But, like everything else, it is labor intensive and it costs money."
Since passage of the law, the number of times sex offenders walk into the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office for registration purposes have more than doubled, Hirsch reported.
The bill has been the subject of legal disputes throughout the state. Critics claim the law's registration requirements are retroactive punishment on thousands of offenders, Hirsch reported.
The Ohio Supreme Court is set to hear the dispute later this year.
An opinion by the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren may rekindle the debate over whether Ohio’s Adam Walsh Act sex offender law is constitutional.
It may be a brief debate, since the Ohio Supreme Court is expected to render its decision on the constitutionality sometime this fall.
A three-judge panel of the district court, which covers Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull, handed down the opinion Monday in a Lake County case in which a convicted sex offender is contesting his reclassification as a Tier III offender.
In a 2-1 decision, the court found the new law that resulted in his reclassification unconstitutional.
Under his original 2002 sentence, Jason Ettenger was required to register annually at the sheriff’s department wherever he lived for 10 years.
Under Ohio’s Adam Walsh Act, Ettenger was reclassified and required to register personally with the sheriff’s office once every 90 days for life. The new law stiffened the penalties for failure to register as a sex offender as well as re-classifying nearly every offender convicted in the past 10 years.
Classification of offenders is now determined by the crime they were convicted of. No evidence is weighed on whether the defendant is likely to re-offend.
When the new law took effect Jan. 1, 2008, hundreds of cases were filed across Ohio (actually nearly 4000), challenging the reclassifications as double jeopardy since they already had been sentenced and classified.
In Portage County, more than 80 cases were headed for reclassification when local judges issued a blanket stay “pending a final decision by the Ohio Supreme Court or the federal district court.”
Judges Timothy P. Cannon and Diane V. Grendell found the new law unconstitutional, but for different reasons. They reversed the Lake County court’s decision and sent the case back for reconsideration.
Judge Mary Jane Trapp, dissented from the judgment and other points by Cannon and Grendell, but concurred on their analysis of the separation between legislative and judicial powers, and due process issues brought up in the appeal.
Even the British have gotten it right before we have...
Sex offenders who no longer pose a threat to society will be given the chance to wipe the slate clean and have their names removed from the police database, the Court of Appeal ruled today.
The Home Office had been attempting to overturn an earlier High Court ruling that placing people on the sex offenders register for life with no chance of review breaches their human rights.
Today's landmark decision comes as a serious blow to the Government as it attempts to keep tabs on paedophiles and other sex criminals.
Three judges at the Court of Appeal in London ruled that the human rights of a two sex offenders, including an 11-year-old rapist, had been violated.
That was because they had been put on the Sex Offenders Register for life, with all the heavy restrictions on their liberty that that entails, without any possibility of review. (...Just like it is here in the USA).
While recognising the vital importance of the Register in the fight against sex crime, Lord Justice Dyson said it was 'disproportionate' to keep an offender's name on it forever, even after it can 'confidently be said' that they pose no further threat to the public.
The court's ruling that placing sex offenders on the Register indefinitely, without any prospect of review, is 'incompatible' with the European Convention on Human Rights will almost certainly force Parliament's hand into changing the law.
Once that happens, thousands of sex offenders will be able to demand reviews of their cases and that their names be removed from the Register and police databases.
Lord Justice Dyson, sitting with Lords Justices Kay and Hooper, said they were sensitive to public concerns and were not putting the interests of offenders ahead of those of the victims.
'All right-minded people would applaud Parliament's objective in establishing the register to help police detect and prevent sexual offending,' he said.
'But a scheme which obliges offenders who are sentenced to 30 months' detention or more to remain on the register for the rest of their lives without any possibility of review, even if they can clearly demonstrate that they are no longer a risk, does nothing to promote that laudable objective and, in our view, it is disproportionate for that reason.'
It was for Parliament to decide 'how high to set the bar' which an offender would be required to cross in order to prove he was no longer a risk.
JF, now 17, was convicted of two offences of rape of a child under 13 and other sexual offences. He was aged 11 at the time of the assaults.
In October 2005 he was sentenced to 30 months' detention by Liverpool Crown Court and released on licence in January 2007. Thompson, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, was sentenced in November 1996 to five years' imprisonment on two counts of indecent assault on a female and other offences of actual bodily harm. Since being released in April 2000 he has not been in any trouble and is now in poor health after a series of heart attacks.
The Home Office said it would seek to challenge today's judgment in the Supreme Court, which takes over from the House of Lords as the UK's highest court in October.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state Court of Appeals has thrown out a lower court order that a McComb man be banished from Mississippi once his completes a 25-year sentence for a sex crime conviction.
Richard A. Simoneaux pleaded guilty in 2004 in Pike County to spying on and assaulting nursing home residents. Simoneaux pleaded guilty to attempted burglary, two counts voyeurism, sexual battery, sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult and burglary of a dwelling.
The trial judge sentenced Simoneaux to 30 years without parole with five years suspended. The judge also ordered Simoneaux to leave Mississippi once he is released from prison.
The Appeals Court rejected Simoneaux claims his pleas were not voluntary, that his attorney could have done a better job but agreed banishment was too harsh.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Naomi J. Freeman, Ph.D.(New York State Office of Mental Health) and Jeffrey C. Sandler, M.A.(University at Albany)
-subscription required to view document.
With the enactment of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA), states are required to standardize their registration and community notification practices by categorizing sex offenders into three-tier levels in the interest of increasing public safety. No empirical research, however, has investigated whether implementation of the AWA is likely to increase public safety. Using a sample of registered sex offenders in New York State, the current study examined the effectiveness of the Adam Walsh-tier system to classify offenders by likelihood of recidivism. Results indicated that the AWA falls short of increasing public safety. In fact, registered sex offenders classified by AWA as Tier 1 (lowest risk) were rearrested for both nonsexual and sexual offenses more than sex offenders in Tier 2 (moderate risk) or Tier 3 (highest risk).
The current study tested the ability of the tier system, as stipulated in SORNA, to predict sexual recidivism among a group of registered sex offenders in New York State. The results cast doubts on the ability of the SORNA provisions of the AWA to increase public safety. More specifically, results showed that those offenders classified as Tier 1 (lowest risk) were rearrested for both sexual and nonsexual offenses more quickly than both Tier 2 (moderate risk) and Tier 3 (highest risk) offenders and were rearrested for sexual offenses at a higher rate than Tiers 2 and 3 offenders. Moreover, as shown in Table 3, the results indicated that many other risk factors supported by empirical research would be better predictors of future sexual offending than the SORNA tier level. Given the results of the current study, the enactment of SORNA may give community members a false sense of security. That is, community members may believe they are safe if no Tier 3 offenders are residing in their neighborhood when, in fact, Tier 3 offenders are not at increased risk to reoffend. As such, SORNA appears unable to accurately identify high-risk offenders and, therefore, increase public safety.
This lack of any observed association between crime of conviction and sexual recidivism may be due to the fact that crime of conviction may not be an accurate indication of the type of offense that was committed. Because convictions in sexual offenses are often elusive—whether as a result of lack of evidence, victim’s hesitation to testify, credibility of the victim, or characteristic s of the defendant—prosecutors may be more likely to offer a plea bargain in sexual offense cases to secure a conviction. As such, it is possible that crime of conviction does not accurately reflect the offense that was committed and, therefore, may be a poor predictor of future risk of reoffending. Thus, it is unsurprising that, as the current study found, other easily obtainable risk factors would be better predictors of recidivism and offer a more accurate risk criterion for the classification of sex offenders.
States had until July 2009 to fully implement the regulations outlined in the AWA.7 Yet, a recent analysis conducted by the Justice Policy Institute (2008) noted that, in all 50 states, the costs of implementing SORNA far outweigh the costs of losing 10% of Byrne funding. In fact, the Justice Policy Institute estimates that in 2009 alone, New York State would spend US$31,300,125 for the implementation of SORNA, whereas forfeiting 10% of its Byrne funding would only result in a loss of US$1,127,984.
Given the large fiscal implications of implementing SORNA, as well as results of the current study which indicate that the tier system does little to accurately predict which offenders will reoffend and which will not, perhaps states should reconsider the implementation of SORNA. Rather, if states are wedded to registration and community notification practices despite the empirical research that indicates the ineffectivenes s of such laws to impact rates of sexual offending (e.g., Petrosino & Petrosino, 1999; Sandler et al., 2008; Walker et al., 2005; Zevitz, 2006; Zgoba et al., 2008), then perhaps the public would be better served if the scarce resources surrounding sex offender management were limited to the offenders who pose the greatest risk to the public’s safety (Harris & Hanson, 2004). Given the results of the current study, which indicate the lack of ability for the tiered system under SORNA to accurately identify offenders at high risk of sexual recidivism, the AWA would, in fact, target the strongest sanctions against those least likely to recidivate, while giving lesser sanctions to those most likely to recidivate (i.e., Tier 1 offenders).
Currently, the provisions outlined in SORNA do not discriminate between those sex offenders who can be rehabilitated and those who may continue to sexually offend. Yet, in recent years much has been learned about risk factors related to sexual recidivism, and a growing number of actuarial risk assessment instruments have been developed to identify those high risk sex offenders who pose the greatest threat to public safety. The two most well-known risk assessment instruments used for the prediction of sexual recidivism among male sex offenders are the Static-99 (Hanson & Thornton, 1999) and the MnSOST-R (Epperson et al., 1998), both of which have been shown to have moderate predictive accuracy in numerous international samples of sex offenders (Knight & Thornton, 2007). Although these risk assessment instruments do not account for all factors that could be associated with recidivism, they provide a moderate prediction of recidivism and allow for a means to distinguish sex offenders based on risk (usually into categories of low, medium, and high risk). In fact, results of the current study suggest that individual items found on these instruments are significantly associated with recidivism for a group of sex offenders in New York State. Specifically, the presence of prior sexual offenses, the number of previous sentencing dates, having male victims, and being younger (all items on the Static-99) were all related to an increase in the likelihood of sexual recidivism. Although some sex offenders are extremely dangerous and pose a threat to public safety, others present a low risk and can be effectively managed in the community with appropriate levels of supervision and treatment. Thus, the registration and community notification provisions of the AWA may be more effective if actuarial risk assessment instruments that measure both static and dynamic factors are used as a way to identify those most at risk to reoffend (see Levenson & D’Amora, 2007) instead of the currently proposed three-tier system based solely on crime of conviction. Not only would this approach prevent low-risk offenders from receiving the same sanctions as high-risk offenders, it would also conserve resources and allow registration and community notification practices to be directed at those most at risk to reoffend. Targeting intervention programs and legislative initiatives to specific types of sex offenders will more effectively reduce the likelihood of recidivism, ultimately increasing public safety, and will conserve the limited resources aimed at sex offender management strategies.
The idea behind the enactment of the AWA, to standardize registration and notification procedures nationwide, appeared to address limitations of the current system. In reality, however, the three-tiered system, as outlined in SORNA, fails to increase the effectiveness of current registration and community notification practices. In fact, as indicated by the results of the current study, the system proposed in SORNA actually decreases the ability of states to predict which sex offenders will sexually reoffend and which ones will not. More specifically, the use of almost any empirically based risk factor would yield more accurate predictions than the SORNA tier level, which is based solely on crime of conviction. Although no risk prediction system can accurately predict sexual recidivism 100% of the time, the results of the current study indicate that SORNA is almost completely ineffective at categorizing sex offenders based on risk of sexual recidivism. As such, it appears enactment of the AWA (and, therefore, SORNA) would not only cost states more money than they would lose if they were not to enact it, but also that such enactment would unlikely increase public safety.
There is, however, a broader question surrounding the ability of any sex offender registration and notification law to increase public safety. Specifically, several recent studies (e.g., Petrosino & Petrosino, 1999; Sandler et al., 2008; Walker et al., 2005; Zevitz, 2006; Zgoba et al., 2008) have found registration and notification laws to be ineffective methods of reducing sexual victimizations . Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that these types of laws are increasing recidivism, as the unintended consequences of these laws may aggravate stressors known to be associated with sexual reoffending (Freeman, in press). Winick (1998) argued that by denying them [sex offenders] a variety of employment, social, and educational opportunities, the sex offender label may prevent these individuals from starting a new life and making new acquaintances, with the result that it may be extremely difficult for them to discard their criminal patterns. (p. 556)
Given that the SORNA provisions increase the reporting requirements as well as the public distribution of housing and employment information, it is possible that the enactment of the tier system, as outlined in SORNA, may actually increase reoffending rates of convicted sex offenders. As such, perhaps it is time to replace these wellintended, yet ineffective, public policy initiatives (e.g., registration, community notification) with ones that are scientifically supported.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Randy Young calls himself ''a Robin Hood'' for Florida's sex offenders. Neighbors say he ruins communities.
For about three years, Young has been buying and renting houses, condos and trailers throughout the state and leasing them as ''habitats'' for registered sex offenders.
He targets properties, often in foreclosure, within the few remaining zones where convicted sex offenders can legally live in Florida.
''I am providing a service people need,'' said Young, 53, a registered sex offender himself. ``In the world of sex offenders, it's either a mattress inside a room with other offenders, or living under a bridge.''
For nearly three years, Habitat For Sex Offenders has been regarded as the leading provider of housing for registered sex offenders. They specialize in the placement of registered sex offenders and understand the need of today's registered sex offender tenants. They accept Designated "Predators" at some locations.
Call (407) 925-4471. They can find a home for a registered sex offender just about anywhere in Florida and are working on other states.
Habitat For Sex Offenders has placed many men, from under the bridges of Miami and the palm trees of fort Lauderdale, in safe homes!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Court of Appeals Richland County, Ohio, 5th Appellate District reversed the trial court decision which held that, the changes made by SB-10 (Adam Walsh Act) were unconstitutional.
In a decision June 30, 2009, the appellate court, on four assignments of error, reversed the trial court decision and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The full decision by the Ohio Court of Appeals is here.
However, the Ohio Supreme court will be the ultimate arbiter.
By the end of the month, Missouri should have thousands more sex offenders back on its registry.
That means more offenders for authorities to keep in compliance. A longer registry for residents to pore over and use.
And then there’s the logistics of finding all 4,300 offenders — close to 600 in Jackson County alone — who haven’t had to register since 2006, but must now after a state Supreme Court ruling last month.
“Some of these people may be at different addresses, some may have moved out of state,” said Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri Highway Patrol. “Everyone is coming together to find the best way to get everyone back on there.”
The Highway Patrol has sent letters to offenders across the state. Once they received a letter, they had three days to register or make an appointment.
In the end, if everyone who needs to re-register does, the Missouri list will include about 11,600 people. That’s a nearly 60 percent jump from the past three years.
“This could be a lengthy process,” said Sgt. Gary Kilgore, of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. “The primary task will be making sure offenders know they are required to register now.”
If offenders don’t re-register, the Highway Patrol will determine if authorities have a current address for them and if they were notified about the Supreme Court ruling. But that’s as far as authorities go. Offenders who don’t re-register could face a felony charge.
In late June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Constitution didn’t allow for laws to be enforced retroactively. So only offenders convicted after the law took effect in January 1995 had to comply.
What the state judges didn’t know at the time was that a federal law, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, would go into effect the next month. It required all sex offenders, regardless of when they were convicted, to register. The Missouri Supreme Court last month ruled again, this time making it clear that the federal law must be obeyed.
States across the country are trying to come in compliance with the federal law, also known as the Adam Walsh Act. Some advocates say it requires too many offenders to register and doesn’t educate communities on how to use the lists.
“People rightly are trying to get information out there (about sex offenders), but absolutely there is an opportunity for overload,” said Suzanne Brown-McBride, board member for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “We’re concerned registries are getting flooded with people".
The faces of child sex offenders are startling. "Those are not the people that we're walking around terrified of," says Michele Deitch, a University of Texas law professor.
The inclusion of children as young as 10 on the state's public sex offender registry is a little-known policy – even to juvenile justice experts such as Deitch.
"I'm absolutely a little bit shocked that kids that young can be on the list," says Deitch, who teaches juvenile justice policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
She's stunned because public registration contradicts the purpose of juvenile justice: to give kids a second chance. In the case of some juvenile sex offenders, their criminal records are off limits, but information about their crime is easily accessible on the Internet.
"It is a terrible situation," Deitch says. "The juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate kids and to make sure that they can change."
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there is no minimum age for inclusion on the state list. But a child must be at least 10 to be handled by the state juvenile justice system, so a judge may order an offender that young to register. No child can be certified as an adult in Texas until age 14.
In some states, children can be registered at age 7, though Nicole Pittman, a Philadelphia attorney who monitors juvenile sex offender registration laws nationwide, says adjudication of children younger than 10 is rare. Only two children currently under 14 are on the registry, but the inclusion of any child that young bothers many, including some victim advocates.
Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault has been working with sexual assault victims for decades and was stunned to hear young children are included.
She worries that sexual abuse may go unreported as a result. "If I found my 10-year-old child with my 7-year-old child, I would be very tempted – even after 30 years in the field – not to report my child just to keep them off the registry."
But not everyone opposes registration of young teens. Dianne Clements, president of Justice for All, a Houston-based victims' rights organization, says the state's current system of judicial discretion with juvenile offenders works. "We don't want to believe that children can do the types of horrible things that they do," she says. "But they do. And whether they're 13 or 23 years old, they can be as dangerous."
Nationally, the Adam Walsh Act calls for mandatory registration of sex offenders ages 14 and older. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says, "Congress got it about right by setting that 14-year level." He does, however, favor judicial discretion over mandatory registration.
Publicizing their names and addresses often leads to social isolation because parents don't want their kids associating with sex offenders. School officials must be notified of the offender's history, and registration makes getting accepted to college or finding work difficult.
"We're stigmatizing children who have a much better chance of success completing sex offender treatment and never perpetrating again," Burrhus-Clay says.
Zimring says the laws allowing juvenile registration are an accidental byproduct of adult policies.
"Nobody is making policy for 12-year-olds in American legislatures," the professor says. "What they're doing is they're making crime policy and then almost by accident extending those policies to 12-year-olds – with poisonous consequences." Zimring thinks it's inappropriate to register anyone adjudicated as a juvenile – which would be anyone under 18 in Texas.
In 1998, 7-year-old Mary was sexually assaulted. That's enough sorrow for a lifetime. It gets worse: Her assailants were her brothers, Billy, 12, and Mark, 10.
Their mother, Carol, says watching her adolescent sons shuffle into court – in handcuffs and oversized orange jail jumpsuits rolled up to fit their scrawny frames – for assaulting their sister "just tore my heart out." But the horror was only beginning.
Following the juvenile justice philosophy that children deserve a second chance, the boys received probation, and their delinquency records remained private. But ostensibly to protect the public, their names were added to the sex offender registry.
The Smith sons, now in their 20s, are due to be removed from the registry next year after the 10-year juvenile registration limitation expires. But Carol says the family will never recover from the boys being branded as sex offenders.
"Even though they were 10 and 12 when this happened ... they'll be sex offenders when they die," she says.
The Smith family – whose names have been changed to protect Mary's privacy – is not unique. According to a Dallas Morning News analysis, about 4,000 people are on the Texas sex offender registry for crimes committed as juveniles. About a thousand of them were younger than 14 at the time of their crimes.
"They see the word 'sex offender' and they automatically see it as some horrible monster that took some little girl out somewhere and raped her," she says. "Nobody really cares what the story is."
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Former Vancouver police officer Clyde Ray Spencer spent nearly 20 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually molesting his son and daughter. Now, the children say it never happened.
Matthew Spencer and Kathryn Tetz, who live in Sacramento, Calif., each took the stand Friday in Clark County Superior Court to clear their father's name, The Columbian newspaper reported. Matthew, now 33, was 9 years old at the time. He told a judge he made the allegation after months of insistent questioning by now-retired Clark County sheriff's detective Sharon Krause just so she would leave him alone.
Tetz, 30, said she doesn't remember what she told Krause back in 1985, but she remembers Krause buying her ice cream. She said that when she finally read the police reports she was "absolutely sure" the abuse never happened. "I would have remembered something that graphic, that violent," Tetz said.
Spencer's sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 2004 after questions arose about his conviction. Among other problems, prosecutors withheld medical exams that showed no evidence of abuse, even though Krause claimed the abuse was repeated and violent.
Despite the commutation, Spencer remains a convicted sex offender. He is hoping to have the convictions overturned.
Both children said that while growing up in California they were told by their mother, who divorced Spencer before he was charged, that they were blocking out the memory of the abuse. They said they realized as adults the abuse never happened, and they came forward because it was the right thing to do.
Prosecutors aren't yet conceding that Spencer was wrongly convicted. Senior deputy prosecutor Kim Farr grilled the children about why they are so certain they weren't abused, and chief criminal deputy prosecutor Dennis Hunter said that if the convictions are tossed, his office might appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Friday's hearing paved the way for the state Court of Appeals to allow Spencer to withdraw the no-contest pleas he entered in 1985 and have his convictions vacated. Both children had previously filed statements with the appeals court, but the judges required the hearing to ensure their new testimony held up under cross-examination.
Spencer, 61, hugged his son and daughter afterward while a dozen supporters cheered.
"For so many years, nothing went right," he said. "When things keep going right, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop." The hardest thing about his ordeal was missing his children, he said. "They were my life, and they were taken away from me," he said. "I could serve in prison. ..."
Friday, July 10, 2009
Memphis, Tenn. - Some Olive Branch residents are outraged about flyers, littering their yards.
The flyers warned of a convicted sex offender, living in the neighborhood, but they were distributed by a group with a racist, violent history toward Jews and blacks.
The flyer notifies homeowners that a convicted sex offender lives on the next street, but take a closer look and you see the flyer was distributed by the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK says it's a public service but an organization that tracks hate groups says that's simply ridiculous. At the bottom is a solicitation for donations.
What does this tell you about all those people who post hateful messages online about wanting to kill sex offenders?
Miami— They used to be invisible, the four or five convicted sex offenders camping out on the Julia Tuttle Causeway connecting Miami to Miami Beach. But for three years now — pushed by local laws that bar them from living within 2,500 feet of where children gather — more and more criminals have moved in.
At least 70 convicted sex offenders live here now, in a shantytown on Biscayne Bay with trash piles clawed by crabs.
It has become what even law enforcement officials call a public-safety hazard, produced by laws intended to keep the public safe. On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in state court to strike them down. The complaint argues that Miami-Dade County’s 2,500-foot restriction illegally pre-empts the state’s restriction of 1,000 feet, creating a situation in which sex offenders are more likely to flee supervision and commit new crimes.
Similar challenges to local residency restrictions in New York and New Jersey have recently succeeded in court, but legal experts say the Florida case will be watched closely because few states have tougher laws, or have drawn as much attention for child abductions — from Adam Walsh to Caylee Anthony.
“Florida is important because they have tested the bounds,” said Corey Rayburn Yung, an expert in sex-offender law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. “If Florida’s courts are willing to say, ‘No, no, you can’t do this,’ then it’s a sign that most other courts would come out the same way.”
The camp is a community no one wants to exist. The first sex offenders here, like Patrick Wiese, 48, who said he served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately, arrived nearly three years ago and would like to leave. Smoking a cigarette under the bridge on Thursday, Mr. Wiese said he wants to move to Homestead. He has money. He has a job at a sandwich shop, but cannot find an apartment that complies with the law.
Jose Diaz — the county commissioner who sponsored the law establishing the 2,500-foot boundary in 2005 — said state corrections officials were to blame for placing sex offenders on state-owned land. He defended the county law by saying, “If I can save some kids from going through this agony, I’ve done my job.”
Gov. Charlie Crist, meanwhile, placed responsibility squarely on local governments, which have “the right to do what they feel is appropriate for the citizens that they serve.”
Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections, put the problem in a broader perspective: “It’s an issue that everybody needs to deal with.”
But as the camp’s continued existence shows, no one has — which is not a surprise, Mr. Rayburn Yung said. “These laws are always universally popular,” he said. “The public loves it.”
Only the courts may force a change. The A.C.L.U. lawsuit argues that extreme residency restrictions contribute to homelessness, and lead sex offenders to commit more crimes because they are “living in filth and squalor, remote from family life.”
For proof, it cites the state’s online list of registered sex offenders and predators, which shows that 236 offenders in Miami-Dade County have skipped out on their probation, including some who used to live under the bridge on the causeway.
Ms. Plessinger said corrections officials shared the A.C.L.U.’s concerns. Noting that living under an interstate was a last resort caused by lack of money and the strict local rules, she said: “It’s not a good situation. It’s not a good situation for probation officers. It’s not a good situation for the offenders under the bridge, but it’s also not a good situation for public safety in Miami-Dade.”
cbs4.com : Lawsuits Fly Over Sex Offenders' Encampment, Miami Sues State To Clear Out Camp By The Bay.
...But the law might change, depending on the outcome of two lawsuits filed Thursday over the hovel of homeless probationers. One lawsuit planned by the City of Miami blames the Florida Department of Corrections. A second suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, blames a local law.
Miami City Commissioners authorized a suit against the Department of Corrections, arguing that the state, which is charged with monitoring the sex offenders, should find them an appropriate place to live -- rather than under a bridge.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Congress found it easy enough to pass guidelines for a national Internet database of sex offenders. Individual states are finding it far more difficult to comply with those guidelines.
Not a single state was ready to meet a deadline set for this month, prompting Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to grant an extension. With a year's reprieve, states are now wrestling with what they can and will do to satisfy the guidelines when they take effect in July 2010.
States that fail to comply will lose a portion of their annual federal justice grant(10% Byrne funding which is a pittance compared to the costs of implementation in every state), but California and Vermont are considering whether that would cost them less than implementing the program.
Maryland and other states will have to enact new laws, but some legislators oppose aspects of the federal guidelines involving the registration of juveniles and unlimited retroactivity. Virginia has legislation pending that would make it impossible to comply. D.C. officials say they are close to compliance but are awaiting further adjustments by Congress.
While some states are having problems with individual issues involving the new guidelines, others see an overall picture of dollars and cents. These states may ignore the guidelines entirely because implementation is too costly.
The California Sex Offender Management Board is urging the state not to comply with the act, which will involve "substantial and unreimbursed costs." To offset the $2.1 million that would be lost in federal funding, the agency suggests using other resources to ensure local law enforcement and other programs are not affected. The board says the state's current registry is sufficient.
Vermont has only one person updating its registry. Officials estimate the costs to implement the law would run into millions of dollars for new technology and staffing.
A new law, which became effective July 1, states sex offenders convicted of a sex offense against a minor cannot be on public library property without permission of a library administrator.
Under the law sex offenders also cannot loiter within 300 feet of the property boundary of a library.
As of July 1, the new law also bans these types of sex offenders from places like play areas, swimming or wading pools or beaches when available to the public and in use by a minor.
The law also requires sex offenders to obtain permission from administrators to enter nonpublic or public elementary and secondary schools or be on school property.
The trustees also discussed that within the law there is no language as to how sex offenders will be identified. They do not have to disclose their status to library personnel.
"The Legislators put it out there and leave it to the rest of us to figure out," Kroesche said.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Some Vermont sex offenders who thought they had paid their debt to society years ago are expected soon to face a new one — inclusion on the state’s online sex offender registry.
A law passed this year expands from about 400 to about 1,600 the number of people included in the registry available for public viewing. Some 740 of the newly listed people will have already completed their terms of probation and parole.
The change is raising questions about whether it’s fair for the state effectively to change the terms of a plea deal a criminal defendant entered into years before Vermont considered creating such a registry.
“The individuals aren’t getting the benefit of the bargain that they entered into years ago,” said Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office represents defendants in criminal cases.
“Some of these folks have not had recent contact with the DOC (Department of Corrections) but are subject to an electronic registry that didn’t even exist at the time,” Valerio said.
Georgia Cumming, director of sex offender treatment programs for the department, said some crimes for which people will be placed on the registry likely date from the 1980s. She could not provide exact dates.
Valerio and Allen Gilbert, director of the Vermont office of the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged that courts in other states and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled that inclusion on a sex offender registry isn’t considered punishment and therefore doesn’t violate the constitutional ban on changing the punishment after the crime. Rather, registries are considered a public-safety tool that enables members of the public to know when a person with a sex-crimes record moves into the neighborhood.
Lisa Menard, deputy Corrections commissioner, said nearly one-fifth of the 740 people who are no longer under her department’s supervision but are eligible for inclusion had asked for the paperwork by Thursday, the second day the law was in effect. She expects the number to grow by Oct. 1, when the expanded registry is set to “go live” online.
Sears and Gilbert said they expect the fairness issue to end up in court. Gilbert said the legal question likely would be not whether the constitutional ban on ex post facto punishments was being violated, but whether the state was violating contracts struck in plea agreements. He said more than 90 percent of sex-crime cases are resolved by plea agreement. “Each side is supposed to honor the terms of a contract,” Gilbert said.
Sometimes bad laws have a way of coming back to bite the people most responsible for enacting them. That's the case with state Sen. George Runner, the principal sponsor of Proposition 83, the 2006 initiative popularly known as Jessica's Law, which voters approved overwhelmingly.
Among other things, the law severely restricts where sexual offenders can live after being released from prison. Under its provisions, those convicted of rape or child molestation or even misdemeanor indecent exposure cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or a park.
As critics of Proposition 83 pointed out, such tight restrictions have the unintended effect of forcing paroled sex offenders either into homelessness or into rural and suburban communities where law enforcement is thin and jobs and counseling services that many offenders need to remain crime-free are virtually nonexistent.
This was not mere conjecture. Law enforcement officials in other states that had enacted similar restrictions reported those results. Because of that, many states sought to repeal or modify their versions of Jessica's Law.
Runner was fully aware of these concerns. Nonetheless, the Republican from Lancaster continued to press the case for passage.
But even before voters approved Jessica's Law, The Sacramento Bee's Andy Furillo reports, Runner had taken exceptional care to see that as few parolees as possible, including ex-sex offenders, would be sent to his suburban Los Angeles district.
Because his district is home to a state prison and has a large supply of affordable housing, Runner says, a disproportionate number of released felons were being housed there.
So, he cut a deal with the Department of Corrections, 10 months before the ballot measure was voted on, to reduce the flow of parolees there.
Under what Runner called a "side agreement," the Department of Corrections pledged to assign only parolees with "historical ties" to his north Los Angeles County district.
But the deal turns out to have been illegal. State law requires that parolees be returned to their county of origin but does not allow the prison system to direct them to or away from specific communities.
Last year, the department suspended the agreement. So now, Runner's constituents are in position to experience the full brunt of Jessica's Law along with the rest of the state. Because the suburban district Runner represents is less populated, its parks and schools more spread out, it means that more sex offenders will likely wind up there.
A special board set up to monitor the effects of Jessica's Law thinks homelessness among parolees poses a significant public safety threat. Since Runner's initiative went into effect, the number of homeless sex offenders has jumped from 88 to 1,000.
The costly, dangerous mistake that is Jessica's Law hurts all of California. Now it will be felt in full force in Runner's home district -- as it should be.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Salem News - Ohio : Judge hears first sex offender to offer challenge.
Lisbon, OH - The first sex offender to challenge new classification requirements last year finally had his case heard by a judge, who said he should be designated Tier I, the level with the least requirements.
Brendan McClaskey, who lived in the Salem when he filed his case, received notification from the state in December 2007 that he was being reclassified as a sexual oriented offender and that his reporting requirements were being extended beyond the time of his original classification. According to the document, he was convicted of corruption of a minor and attempt to corrupt a minor in Erie County, Ohio. The notification from the Ohio Attorney General said the offense under the law was unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.
In a recent entry filed by Judge David Tobin of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, he found the McClaskey didn't actually get served with a letter from the state designating his Tier level, but he felt he should be designated Tier I, which means he has to register once a year for 15 years.
If he wants to contest that, Tobin said he could do than in the county of his residence.
In another case, Tobin ruled that the new registration requirement didn't apply to Randall Culler Jr., 29, of East Palestine, in the manner specified by the state. He was reclassified by the Ohio Attorney General as a Tier III sexual offender, meaning he would have to register his address every 90 days for the rest of his life and the community would have to be notified.
Tobin disagreed and said he should have been designated Tier I considering the facts of his case. He was convicted of sexual battery involving an adult female victim.
Besides Tier I and Tier III, there is the classification of Tier II, which requires an offender to register twice a year, every 180 days, for 25 years, with no community notification required.
Indianapolis - Convicted sex offenders who lived near schools or other places frequented by children before a state law restricting their residency was enacted in 2006 would not have to move under a ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court.
The court ruled this week that the residency law violated the Indiana constitution by retroactively punishing Anthony W. Pollard, a Blackford County sex offender who died in December.
Pollard had owned his home in northeastern Indiana for about 10 years when he was convicted of a sex offense against a child in 1997. He was then charged in January 2007 with violating the 2006 law that prohibits convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, public park or youth program center.
The state Supreme Court decision said the residency law prevents a sex offender from living in his home even if he bought it before the law took effect and even if a school or youth center moved within 1,000 feet of a home where he already lived.
"Although the statute does not affect ownership of property, it does affect one's freedom to live on one's own property," Justice Robert Rucker wrote. "A sex offender is subject to constant eviction because there is no way for him or her to find a permanent home in that there are no guarantees a school or youth program center will not open within 1,000 feet of any given location."
Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, which handled the appeal, said a staff attorney interpreted the ruling to apply only to offenders who were charged, convicted and sentenced before the residency law was enacted.
The decision was the latest by the state Supreme Court to find that certain laws regarding state oversight of sex offenders violate the Indiana constitution's ban on laws punishing people for acts that were legal when they were committed.
In April, the court overturned a man's conviction for not registering as a sex offender because he had already completed a sentence for child molestation before the state's Sex Offender Registration Act was passed.
Read decision here.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Providence – Lawmakers introduced at least 14 bills dealing with sex offenders this session. With the General Assembly in recess, five have made it through either the House or Senate, but not both.
The bills would:
•Require registered sex offenders who temporarily live in the state for at least 14 days to register with police in the community where they are residing. The Senate approved it Tuesday.
(So if you vacation in Rhode Island for 14 days or more, you must register with police).Update: this law has now passed and is completely unenforceable. The state has no means to determine when someone visits their state for more than 14 days - it's simply a "feel-good" law with no teeth.
•Make it a felony for convicted offenders to knowingly enter playgrounds, daycare centers and schools. The House over the weekend recommitted the bill for further study.
(Discarding the fact that this law is virtually unenforceable - what are they going to do; station a police officer at every park and playground with sex offender profiles on their laps? - is this really constitutional? Banning citizens whose taxes go toward paying for these parks and playgrounds? And what about the parent who has a child in the school?)
•Require convicted offenders to be monitored by wearing global positioning system devices while they appeal the level of their sex-offender classifications. Bill supporters say appeals last months or years and public notification about an offender is prohibited during appeals. The bill is on the House calendar.
(This one is astonishing: a sex offender who committed a crime 10-20 years ago may be forced into appealing their re-classification if they challenge the Adam Walsh Act. And as a result, they are forced into GPS monitoring?)
•Landlords registered as sex offenders would have to disclose their status on leases to prospective renters. The House passed the bill June 26.
(There is simply no reasonable purpose to this bill. Landlords provide housing to renters as a business venture. This bill is just another way to "stick it" to those so-called 'monsters' who once made a mistake in their past)
•Reimburse communities for the costs of public notification about sex offenders. The Senate approved the bill June 11; it last surfaced before the House Judiciary Committee.
(Yeah, they want those who are being publicly shamed to pay for the privilege of being branded)
Rep. Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, sponsor of the House bill barring offenders from playgrounds, schools and daycare centers, said “neither the House nor the Senate version” of the bill, “as they are presently constructed” will pass. He said he was “very hopeful” a proposal that will pass can be drafted later this month, but he was concerned that supporters will run out of time.
Several proposals have drawn constitutional and other concerns from some lawmakers and the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
We encourage all readers to contact legislators in the Rhode Island General Assembly.to remind them how stupid they are.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Javier is one of almost 80 sex offenders living like castaways beneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway, which connects Miami to Miami Beach across Biscayne Bay. He says he was convicted 17 years ago of sexual contact with a girl, 13.
The offenders are exiled under the six-lane overpass because a 2005 Miami Dade ordinance prohibits people convicted of sex crimes involving minors from living within 2,500 feet of schools, playgrounds, or, in some cases, school bus stops.
Ostracized and squeezed out of all affordable housing in the crowded county, it has become impossible to find anywhere else to live legally.
Before 2005, state law applied, which dictates that offenders live at least 1,000 feet away from such sites.
But about 100 Florida cities - including some in Palm Beach County and all of its unincorporated area - have also expanded their buffer zones and state officials fear the "homeless sex offender" problem will spread.
"Terrorists, members of al Qaeda, live better at Guantanamo than we do," says Armando Martinez, 49, convicted in 1999 for attempted sexual battery against a child.
Despite the conditions, few people sympathize with Javier, Martinez and their neighbors. A sexual offender is often an outcast to everyone except, possibly, his own family members.
And Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who is trying to help get them out from under the bridge, isn't asking the public for sympathy.
"People have to realize that making them live under that bridge has created a more dangerous situation," he says. "Because of the conditions, some of these individuals are absconding, evading supervision. These ordinances interfere with the Department of Corrections ability to keep track of them. This is a crisis situation."
Gretl Plessinger, Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson, agrees.
"Our concern is for public safety," she says. "If they are homeless there is more of a chance they will abscond. There are already 91 homeless offenders around the state, mostly in South Florida, and the problem is getting bigger."
The "residents" bathe in the bay and relieve themselves in compost toilets or in the underbrush.
The sleeping spots most protected from the elements are tucked about 20 feet up the concrete wall, under the bridge arches. Those spaces are just tall enough for tents. Long time residents have rights to those spots and live like cave dwellers.
On ground level, the inhabitants are crammed together in tents, plywood shacks, a camper. A noisy generator powers light bulbs, fans, microwaves, phone chargers, and the GPS receivers many offenders must carry everywhere so they can be tracked by probation officers. Cooking is done on grills. The crowded, gerry-rigged conditions resemble the Third World.
Almost all residents are men, although sometimes girlfriends sleep over.
One woman lives here, convicted of exposing herself to minors.
The expanding of buffer zones around Florida was provoked by a horrible event: the abduction, rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford, 9, by convicted sex predator John Couey in February 2005. Couey has been sentenced to death.
But most the bridge dwellers are not considered "predators," men who have committed violent sexual acts or acts with children under 12. Most are sex "offenders," and say they had sex with girls between 13 and 17.
Elliott Bloom, 31, says he was 19 when he had sex with a girl, 15. The offenders call those couplings between teenagers "Romeo and Juliet" cases and believe they are sometimes punished too harshly. Simon says the residency laws should distinguish between "offenders" and violent "predators," but they don't.
"Lot of things about these ordinances don't make sense," he says.
Dr. Jill Levenson, associate professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, agrees.
Statistics show that the majority of reported sexual offenses against minors are committed by adults they know well, including relatives, and not strangers who stalk them, as in the Lunsford case.
"And according to the research there is no difference in the recidivism rate if sexual offenders live 1,000 feet away from schools and playgrounds or 2,500 feet," she said. "If the idea is that the kids be out of sight of the offender, 1000 feet is more than three football fields."
But Levenson says other elements of the restrictions make even less sense.
"From 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. these men can be anywhere they want to be," she says. "They could sit on a park bench across from a school if they wanted. But at night, when kids are home safe sleeping with their parents, these ordinances are ordering the offenders to be at a distance."
In 2008 State Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, presented a bill in the legislature that would have made the state-wide buffer zone for living restrictions 1,500 feet, to go along with a 300-foot buffer zone during the day. It failed.
Simon says the ACLU is preparing litigation to try to force the state to alleviate the situation. Meanwhile, hurricane season has started. A severe storm will almost certainly destroy the camp.
"They say they are going to take us to a prison if one hits and then bring us back here," says Troy Dumas, 32. "This is crazy."