Archive for April 20, 2009

A Reader Writes…

April 20, 2009 Comments off

One of the many emails we receive from readers of our blog:

“Some things that are not always raised about these laws that our politicians pass for their votes into office:

These laws remind me of the tracking and incarceration of the Jewish people during Hitlers rule over Germany. Discrimination also comes to mind, which by the way, we do have laws in this country against discrimination in all forms. What about my rights to privacy, which the privacy act was passed in this country so we can maintain our privacy. I answer my door several times a year between my annual registration date by any and all law enforcement offices (seems like it’s over supervision). I don’t have a social life. The only thing might be an occasional night at the movie theater. I feel very uncomfortable at times even going to the store. I don’t mean to cry, but I did my time and the punishment should be finished, but it doesn’t end. It is a constant mental battle to maintain a normal way of life. The policy makers are making that even more difficult for us out here living through these laws, and I am not alone feeling this way. A lot of us feel like we are targets as well to any kind of vigilant(e) individuals. I like hearing the good news you have on your web site, it gives us (Registered Sex Offenders) hope that there are people out there with down to earth common sense. Thank You!”

Parental Control is Best Prevention

April 20, 2009 Comments off : Parental control is best prevention against sex predators.

Expect a tidal wave of anger from politicians over a federal judge’s ruling that one of those oh-so-popular sex-offender residency laws has been ruled unlawful. The judge ruled that a restriction set up in Allegheny County amounted to “after-the-fact punishment” and runs contrary to state laws designed to reintegrate and rehabilitate sex offenders. But not all anger is created equal, and beware of those who are using your fear and outrage as a tool for political gain.

The Allegheny County ordinance is not that different from many that have popped up in our region, with registered sex offenders not permitted to live within one-half mile of schools, community centers, public parks and licensed day-care facilities. Those local ordinances now face repeal or lose-in-court scenarios. Frankly, it was only a matter of time.

Such residency laws, while well-intended by some, were obvious constitutional losers.

Before you start to wonder if I am siding with sex offenders, think for a moment if you are not the one being exploited here. I am a father of three sons, and their safety is foremost in my life.

But bad law is bad law
– except that in this case, bad law makes for good political traction even though it does little in the way of public safety. Worse yet, it erodes your best weapons in this battle:

Vigilance and education.

Let’s say a sex offender can not live near a park. He can, however, live far away and show up there. He can live away from a elementary school, but buy a ticket to the school play or go to the public pool.

Do you really think these ordinances mean there are no registered sex offenders at the grocery stores, the shopping malls, the movies, hockey games, concerts, playgrounds or parks where our kids gather?

I realize this offers little solace for my fellow parents concerned for the safety of their children. My advice to you is to stay close to your kids in such places and talk to them about the dangers and what to do if approached.

That is a real line of defense – not some silly ordinance meant to grab a headline.

Good laws make sense, can be enforced and truly offer an improvement to the public welfare.

Residency restrictions on sexual predators just do not pass that test. They do, however, grab a headline or two and make the political predators among us salivate because of the public approval they will get for stopping these monsters, even though they know their weapon in this battle is an illusion.

Here is another fact you need to keep in mind when considering the real worth of these restrictions: Most children who are abused know their abuser. They trust their abuser.

More than one tortured parent has wrestled with the thought that maybe they should have known that the person who hurt their baby was not some stranger at the playground but a friend or relative who was willingly let in the front door.

Instead of knee-jerk residency ordinance restrictions, how about council funding information packets on signs of abuse in your kids and give them to parents? How about demanding that the state send in an expert or two, and have a seminar free of charge for families? Maybe ask the hospitals, or local abuse experts and the district attorney to hold public forums on what to look for and how to report your concerns?
Has your local police department worked with your school to talk to kids about what to do if approached or touched? Do you know how to use the existing Megan’s law Web site?
These are meaningful efforts.

Someone willing to take your child into the back of his or her van and do unspeakable things is not worried about a borough ordinance.

This is not like cracking down on shoplifting. A convicted sex offender has already hurt a child and gone to prison. You think he fears township supervisors?

But the political predators are about to come rushing forward with moral outrage, declaring that they will fight to keep “some” neighborhoods free of sexual predator residents (who are still free to visit anytime). That is what these ordinances amount to.

Beware those who fight for such rules while not simultaneously offering you real help.
They are running for re-election or planning a run for an even higher office.
Better to do something rather than nothing, you say?

Not so. Not when that something is bound to lose in court, open your municipality to a lawsuit with money going to a sex offender discriminated against while at the same time allowing your children to be tucked into bed under a false blanket of security.

No, I do not want a sex offender living next to me.
But one has a moral obligation to ask that even if such an ordinance could demand that such people live someplace else, where is someplace else and how does it come that there are no children there?

Indeed, our moral obligation is to all children, not just those within a half mile of a licensed day-care center.

Meeting that obligation is a matter of education and awareness, not silly rules that pander to our fears and, in some cases, are crafted to turn that fear into political gain.

Miami’s Sex Offender Dilemma

April 20, 2009 Comments off

Miamiherald : Broward faces knotty issue of sex offenders.

A 2,500-foot rule that would essentially eliminate all feasible housing for registered sex offenders.

The commissioners heard a series of experts warn about the folly of a Draconian residency restriction that force sex offenders into homelessness. They were told that offenders forced into unstable living conditions become more difficult to supervise, more likely to abscond, more likely to re-offend.

Lori Butts, a lawyer and psychologist who runs a South Florida sex offender treatment program, warned that stable housing was necessary for their jobs, monitoring and treatment. Banishing them to live under bridges, she warned, would leave sex offenders with “nothing to live for. Nothing to lose.”

During the two-hour hearing on Tuesday, no one pretended that public safety would be much enhanced if sex offenders were banned from residing within 2,500 feet of a school, park, playground or school bus stop.

And Broward sees the ugly conundrum Miami-Dade County has created for itself with the 2,500-foot radius — 63 sex offenders forced to live in under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

But none of the well-reasoned arguments addressed the peculiar dilemma facing the Broward Commission. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and most of Broward’s municipalities already embraced the get-tough 2,500-ft. restriction. ”I’ve heard a lot said about these laws being irrational and unconstitutional,” Broward Commissioner John Rodstrom said. “Maybe I tend to agree with them. They are probably irrational and maybe unconstitutional.

”But the problem I have is that everyone else has enacted this law,” Rodstrom said. The perverse effect has been to convert the few remaining slivers of unincorporated Broward into havens for registered sex offenders.

Juan Formoso, the president of Broadview Park, an unincorporated Broward neighborhood with about 6,000 residents, told the commission that the number of registered sex offenders living in his community has risen from 30 to 104 in three years.

”I believe [the 2,500-foot restriction] only gives people a false sense of security,” Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said. “But it exists. And it constricts where sex offenders can live. It has concentrated them in our unincorporated areas.”

The commission, reluctantly, enacted its own 2,500-foot rule but only for 90 days, hoping that in the meantime a county task force can come up with a more rational solution. But it’s doubtful that any one city or county commission — however enlightened — can fix this escalating mess unilaterally.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg, the Fort Myers Democrat, might have the answer. He has authored a tough, rational bill creating ”a single, consistent 1,500 foot residency restriction throughout Florida.” It includes ”child protection zones,” prohibiting sex offenders from loitering 300 feet from schools, parks, libraries, bus stops.

Aronberg’s office said his proposal, “backed by law enforcement, prosecutors and child safety advocates, ends the confusion caused by 129 different ordinances and will eliminate the homeless sex offender problem that endangers public safety.”

Aronberg’s bill would also give South Florida a way out of an embarrassing dilemma.

Bill Would Expand Vermont Sex Registry

April 20, 2009 Comments off

Rutlandherald (Vermont) : Bill Would Expand Vermont Sex Registry.
Timesargus : Expanded Sex Registry Sought For Vermont.

Proposed legislation would quintuple the number of people on Vermont’s Internet sex-offender registry and add the home addresses of residents convicted of certain crimes.

The bill, which passed through the Senate last week and is set for debate in a House committee today, expands the list of crimes that make sex offenders eligible for the Internet registry. Vermont currently has about 2,400 sex offenders on its statewide registry, but only about 400 meet the threshold required to land on the more public Internet registry. The Senate bill would add another 1,600 names to the Web. The bill also would revise the registry to include the home addresses of registered sex offenders. The existing registry lists only the offenders’ hometowns. (This only serves to promote vigilante violence against these people)

The committee did add certain crimes – such as lewd and lascivious conduct, second-offense voyeurism, and all sexual assaults – to the list of crimes that would land offenders on the publicly accessible Internet database.

Allen Gilbert, head of the Vermont ACLU, said there’s no data to support a link between bigger registries and better public protection. He points to a 2005 legislative study, conducted months after Vermont first implemented its Internet registry, that found “no studies or statistics regarding a correlation between the establishment of sex offender Internet registries and rates of recidivism.”

“We’ve always contended that Internet registries are a bad idea, mainly because there’s no evidence that they work,” Gilbert said. “They provide an illusion of public security, and we also think they stigmatize offenders, thereby making it difficult for them to be assimilated into society again.”

Gilbert also opposes the inclusion of home addresses on the online registry. In 2006, two men were gunned down in their Maine homes by a 20-year-old Canada man who reportedly targeted them after finding their names and locations on the state’s Internet sex-offender registry. Gilbert said the practice of including offenders’ home addresses risks similar vigilantism in Vermont. “We think it’s a really bad idea,” Gilbert said.

Retroactively applying new Internet registry protocols to previously adjudicated cases, according to Gilbert, could be constitutionally questionable. “We think it is indeed a punishment and should not be applied to people who were convicted prior to the time when the provision goes into effect,” Gilbert said.

Adding so many more offenders to a sex offender registry is not better ; it dilutes the purpose of the registry by including many people who are not at-risk of re-offending, and it raises the public hysteria while actually giving them a false sense of security

NCAA Football Sex Offender Cannot Leave State

April 20, 2009 Comments off (Minneapolis): Dominic Jones’s appeal scheduled for Thursday.

Dominic Jones, the former Gopher football player was convicted of criminal sexual conduct. Jones was released from the Hennepin County workhouse last month after serving eight months for a sex crime against a woman at a party in 2007. Also in March, a judge denied Jones’s request to leave Minnesota for one day to try out for the NFL. Prosecutors argued that as an ‘untreated sex offender,’ Jones should not be allowed to leave the state. (The point of this posting is to demonstrate that there are thousands of people on sex offender registries who are not only the “monsters” you hear about on your local news.)

Iowa Legislators Deal on Sex Offender Measure

April 20, 2009 Comments off : Legislators reach deal on sex offender measure.

A new version of Senate File 340 given Wednesday to The Des Moines Register would create work restrictions and “exclusionary zones” for child sex offenders, prohibiting them from being in several places – schools, libraries, child care sites – where children are gathered.

Sex offenders also would be required to submit more information for placement on the state’s sex offender registry, such as the address of their employers. “It will get us closer, but we won’t be completely in compliance” with the Walsh Act, said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield. (not one state has been able to comply)

The bill would also call for a higher, $250 fee that offenders must pay in order to bolster registry maintenance and help finance a court technology fund. (Forcing people to pay fees is punishment!)

Sen. Pat Ward, a West Des Moines Republican who is serving on a bipartisan subcommittee crafting the bill, said the measure amounted to a big improvement of existing law. It does more to restrict where sex offenders go, not necessarily where they sleep, she said.

The new measure would require any child sex offender who wants to visit a school, library or child care center to first obtain written permission from administrators. It would also prevent them from loitering or sitting in cars near those places. (So if you’re a sex offender and your child gets sick or there is a family emergency, you are legally prohibited from picking them up without written permission)