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Just the Facts…

September 28, 2009 Comments off

No other group of citizens in our nation since the witch trials of Salem has faced such draconian punishment as do “sex offenders”.

A small population of online basement-dwelling Internet posters spout out about hanging or castrating sex offenders when they do not really understand who is included in these categories. Any one of us could wake up tomorrow morning to learn that someone we love is now a sex offender. How would our views change once that happens?

The numbers are astounding: an estimated 660,000 sex offenders are registered nationally, and that number grows each and every day. And a large number of those labeled as “sex offenders” are juveniles, children themselves, and those who did something really stupid, rather than the rare “predator monsters” you hear about through the media. According to independent research, approximately 90% of sex offenses are committed by someone the victim knows. This percentage is higher as the age of the victim decreases. And while the media often espouses falsely high recidivism rates for sex offenders, the actual official US Department of Justice statistics for recidivism is 5.3%.

Those who believe sex offenders are not treated harshly enough, or that they deserve such punishments after they have served their time in prison or probation, should study the facts. All our statistics are linked to their official sources at http://www.constitutionalfights.org.

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GA Sex Offenders Driven to Living in Woods

September 28, 2009 Comments off

Google/AP : Homeless Ga. sex offenders directed to makeshift camp.

In an astounding apparent attempt to emulate the disaster of Florida’s sex offender laws, Georgia is now pushing registered sex offenders to live in the woods.

Marietta, Ga. — A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up camp in a densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park, directed there by probation officers who say it’s a place of last resort for those with nowhere else to go.

Nine sex offenders live in tents surrounding a makeshift fire pit in the trees behind a towering “no trespassing” sign, waiting out their probation sentences as they face numerous living restrictions under one of the nation’s toughest sex offender policies.

The muddy camp on the outskirts of prosperous Cobb County is an unintended consequence of Georgia law, which bans the state’s 16,000 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and other spots where children gather.

It’s not the only place in Cobb County where offenders can live — there are hundreds of other sex offenders throughout the county living in compliance with the law. But Ahmed Holt, manager of the state’s sex offender administration unit, calls the camp a “last resort” for homeless offenders who can’t find another place to live that complies with the law.

He said probation officers direct them to the outpost if other options fail, such as transferring to another county or state or sending them to a relative’s place that meets the requirements. Homeless shelters and halfway houses are often not an option, he said, because of the restrictions that bar them from being near children.

Critics say it’s an example of how laws designed to keep Georgia’s children out of harm’s way create a hazard where penniless sex offenders live largely unsupervised at the government’s urging.

“The state needs to find a responsible way to deal with this problem,” said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights who represents another man living in the camp. “Requiring people to live like animals in the woods is both inhumane and a terrible idea for public safety.”

The tent city is similar to one in south Florida, where dozens of sex offenders moved under a remote bridge because it was among the few places that complied with local ordinances. Florida officials say the sex offenders found the bridge on their own, while some residents of the camp dispute that.

In Georgia, however, Holt said state probation officers have directed homeless offenders into the woods.

“While having an offender located in a camp area is not ideal, the greater threat lies in homeless offenders that are not a specified location and eventually absconding supervision with their whereabouts unknown,” he said.

Update Sept. 29, 2009 : Camp closed by Georgia Officials, sex offenders ordered to leave camp.

Man Responsible for Fla. Sex Offender Debacle.

September 28, 2009 Comments off

Newsweek : A Bridge Too Far – Residency restrictions have forced child sex offenders in Florida to camp out under a causeway. Now the man who helped put them there is having second thoughts.

Ron Book, of Plantation, Florida, mounted a legislative onslaught on sexual offenders. Among the many measures he championed, the most significant were local residency restrictions that barred registered sex offenders from living within a certain radius–usually 2,500 feet–of places where children gather, like schools, parks, and playgrounds. By the time he was done, Book had helped pass such ordinances in some 60 cities and counties throughout Florida and beyond.

The impact on the offenders was severe. Entire cities were suddenly off limits to them. They became pariahs, confined to remote and shrinking slivers of land. The most egregious example is a colony of predators camped out under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, which spans Miami’s Biscayne Bay—a place so surreal and outlandish that it has become a lightning rod in the debate over America’s treatment of sex offenders. For a long time, Book was unrepentant about having helped create that community of outcasts. But eventually his fury began to subside, and was replaced by something Book isn’t accustomed to having: doubts.

The causeway colony may be an extreme example, but sex offenders have been similarly uprooted across the country, as lawmakers have seized on residency restrictions in recent years. Thirty states and hundreds of cities and counties—162 in Florida alone—have adopted them in some form. In Iowa, thousands of offenders were displaced, which forced many into shabby motels around Des Moines and others onto the streets. In Suffolk County, N.Y., those left homeless were crammed into a trailer that periodically moved around until finally settling on the grounds of the county jail. Such accounts dismay most experts on sexual crimes. “This very-well-intended policy is making the public less safe,” says Susan Brown-McBride, chair of the California Sex Offender Management Board. It “destabilizes [offenders] by making them homeless.”

Even some staunch supporters of residency restrictions have expressed misgivings after witnessing the chaos the ordinances sow. Florida state Sen. Dan Gelber, whose district is home to the Julia Tuttle camp, is adamant about the 2,500-foot rule. A father of three, he recently learned, to his dismay, that a registered sex offender who lived six doors down from him was arrested for masturbating in front of some children. Despite his hardline stance, however, Gelber was aghast at what he observed in his first visit to the bridge in early July–the density of the encampment, the sordid conditions. “There has to be another way,” he says.

Before long, however, the unintended consequences of these laws became apparent. Though some cities and counties passed the measures enthusiastically, just as many enacted them defensively, to prevent castaways from a neighboring jurisdiction from settling in theirs. Janice Washburn watched that happen in her unincorporated enclave of Broadview Park in Broward County, Fla. As one nearby city after another enacted residency restrictions, predators poured in. In August 2007, Broadview Park had four registered offenders. A year later, there were 39. A few months later, there were 106. “It was multiplying like crazy,” says Washburn, who now sits on a county task force to address the matter. In response, Broward County approved an emergency 2,500-foot restriction in April and is now studying whether to pass a formal ordinance. “It is ‘not in my backyard,’ and not a good solution,” says County Commissioner John Rodstrom. But “what are we left with?”

This disorder might be tolerable if the residency policies were effective. But “there is no evidence that [they] protect children,” says Jill Levenson, a professor of human services at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., who has examined the issue in depth. In Iowa, for example, there was no reduction in the number of reported sex crimes after the restrictions took effect, she says. Moreover, a 2006 National Institute of Justice report found that only 11 percent of female victims under age 12 and 16 percent of comparable males were raped by strangers; most were assaulted by relatives, teachers, and other people they knew. If anything, the residency statutes make things worse, some activists say. In Iowa, the number of offenders who absconded doubled in the six months after the restrictions took effect. “If an offender ends up with no residence, that shouldn’t make any of us feel safer,” says Patty Wetterling, whose son’s abduction prompted the creation of the first federal sex-offender registry in 1994. “What they need is stability, support, counseling, and treatment.” (Studies have shown their recidivism rate is typically 10 to 15 percent (actually 5-6% according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics here) , and treatment often proves more effective with certain groups, like juveniles, says Richard Wright, asso-ciate professor of criminal justice at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts.)

Earlier this year, Book began reconsidering his position—spurred by lawmakers on both ends of the spectrum who’d begun questioning the wisdom of the ordinances. “I had to take stock and ask myself, ‘Am I in the right place or not?’ ” he says. In an interview with a Newsweek reporter in June, Book admitted, “I was wrong”—three times. A few days later he had dinner with Levenson, the Lynn University professor, who’s critical of residency laws. “Five years ago, I thought of you as a predator sympathizer,” he told her. “I didn’t see the bigger picture.” He concluded the evening by assuring her,?”I will be part of the solution.”

With characteristic tenacity, Book is now trying to undo the bridge fiasco. The battle over the settlement’s fate has recently escalated. In early July the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County, alleging that its residency restrictions interfere with the state’s ability to monitor offenders. Shortly thereafter, Miami officials sued the state, arguing that the colony should be removed since it lies within 2,500 feet of a tiny island that the city claims is a park (the governor’s office replied in a letter to the city that the Department of Corrections doesn’t place predators under the causeway and that released prisoners bear responsibility for finding housing that conforms with the law).

We must be very careful to not allow Ron Book to now be held up as a ‘hero’ , just because he finally realized how wrong he was in creating this debacle. He is still responsible for inflicting tremendous pain and hardship into the lives of thousands of people and their families. And this pain still continues every day for them.

We have just become aware of a 1995 Miami News article about Ron Book’s multiple violations of campaign finance laws in Florida