Archive for May 18, 2010

Sexual Offender Shenanigans

May 18, 2010 Comments off Offender Shenanigans.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court has upheld the power of the federal government to detain dangerous sexual offenders even after their prison terms are up.

The mechanism that federal prosecutors use is called civil commitment placing sexual offenders in locked psychiatric units against their will, until they are considered safe. Many states already use civil commitment as an “add-on” to hold sex offenders longer than jails can.

On the surface, this way of dealing with sexual offenders may seem wise. After all, who wants to release dangerous sex criminals to the streets? But I worry about the shell game being played here between the criminal justice system and the medical system.

The theory behind the federal law is that sexual offenders are so sick that they can’t be released to the streets — maybe, ever — because they can’t control their behavior. And this implies that the offenders may well have qualified for verdicts of not criminally responsible (i.e. “not guilty by reason of insanity”) when they were tried. They should have been routed to locked psychiatric units to begin with, not sent to prison and then sent off to another kind of incarceration after they had done their time.

In most states one of the “prongs” of being found not criminally responsible (by reason of mental illness) is the inability to conform one’s behavior to the requirements of the law. Clearly, that is what federal prosecutors are contending — but only in retrospect — about the sexual offenders they seek to commit: They can’t control themselves and never could. They are turning prisoners over to the secure hospitals that should have held them and tried to heal them from the very beginning (and, probably, for just as long).

A beefed-up forensic mental health care system, with the power to enforce outpatient monitoring and medication, is the solution here. That way our society doesn’t find itself in the position of short-circuiting truth and justice in order to protect itself.

The potential for abuse of the federal sexual offender statute is too great. What happens when gang members are deemed too violent to be released after their prison terms are up? What happens when spousal abusers are considered too dangerous to hit the streets? How about those who conspire against the government in any way? Will they somehow find themselves not only sentenced to prison, but also later held without criminal trials in mental health units?

Sound far-fetched? Well, smart, democratic, free societies that hope to stay that way need to see the seeds of authoritarianism when they are planted. The federal sex offender law is such a seed. It blurs the boundaries between punishment for crimes and enforced psychiatric care for sick people (who can’t control themselves). In so doing, it gives the government the power to lie in court and coerces the mental health care system to cover its backside.

Inappropriate government power is best sold to the public when it is said to apply only to the most hated folks among us. It’s funny (actually, it’s scary), though, how quickly that power could be applied to the rest of us.

CA: Animal Abuse Registry Legislation Under Review

May 18, 2010 Comments off (CA): Bill Would Treat Animal Abusers Like Sex Offenders.

State lawmakers are considering some interesting legislation this week, including one bill from Senator Dean Florez that would make California the first state in the country to treat animal abusers much like sex offenders.

If passed, his bill would require any individual over 18 years of age convicted of felony animal abuse to register with police.

An offender’s home address, photograph and place of employment would be posted online for a 10-year period after their conviction.

This is what you get when you allow your legislators to pass laws such as this which brand sex offenders. It becomes a slippery slope and legally allows for other groups of citizens to be branded similarly.

Sex Offenders Living in Clusters in SoCal

May 18, 2010 Comments off Sex Offenders Found Living in Clusters in SoCal.

Los Angeles — A KTLA analysis of the Megan’s Law database finds clusters of sex offenders living in some Southern California neighborhoods, while others have virtually none. When we conducted our research last month, we found one zip code in Wilmington — 90744 — with more registered sex offenders living in it than any other in the region. One block of Flint Avenue in Wilmington was home to 94 registered sex offenders.

Most have done time for victimizing kids. They live in run-down apartments. Thirty of them in this one building, The Harbor Inn, where the manager, who told us his name was Joseph, makes no apologies.

“They have to have somewhere to stay,” he told us. “They are human beings.”

Flint Avenue is an industrial area near the port and a refinery. It’s not close to homes, schools, or parks.
Still, if you took a wrong turn and ended up here, there’s no sign to warn you this is a neighborhood full of sexual predators.

What we found here is typical. Our research on the Megan’s Law database found that the 90744 zip code Wilmington has the most, with 202, followed by a zip code in Lancaster with 157, 137 in a part of Long Beach…. and 118 in a section of Compton.

Sex criminals tend to live in poorer parts of town. You’ll find none in zip codes in Encino, San Marino, Pacific Palisades, and Newport Beach… and only one in Beverly Hills.

The law says they’re not supposed to live within 2,000 feet of a school. Some prosecutors think California needs to get tougher on sex offenders by keeping them in prison longer, monitoring them with GPS for life, or forcing them to live farther away from people. Assistant District Attorney Spitzer thinks confining sex offenders to the high desert might be a good plan. “I don’t think it’s a laughable idea,” he told KTLA.

But back on Flint Ave. in Wilmington, there’s a different attitude.

Joseph, the manager of an apartment building that houses 30 sex offenders, told KTLA, “People have to open their hearts and forgive.”

IL to Add Tens of Thousands of Names to Sex Offender List

May 18, 2010 Comments off Under Measure, No One Convicted Before Registry Took Effect Would Be Able To Skirt Requirement.

Springfield, Ill. (CBS) ―The names of tens of thousands of sex offenders may soon be added to the state registry. These are offenders who have come off the list or were never put on it because they committed their crimes prior to 1999.

State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago.) created the bill. Martinez doesn’t think there should be any grandfather clause when it comes to sex offenders.

The legislation would require all adult sex offenders to be registered no later than five days after the bill goes into law. The bill — which was also sponsored by State Rep. Deb Mell — is now headed to the governor’s office.

Penalties for Sex Offenders Out of Step

May 18, 2010 Comments off (AL): Penalties for sex offenders out of step.

At the suggestion of a friend, I recently became a volunteer at the Shiloni Transformational Ministry for Homeless Sex Offenders. Shiloni is a faith-based program in Birmingham founded five years ago by Bill and Barbara Grier to help sex offenders after they get out of prison by providing them a temporary place to live while they try to find a job. The ministry addresses their spiritual and physical needs. All offenders are difficult to help, but sex offenders are more so. Shiloni is the only program of its kind in the entire state.

Recently, the Legislature unanimously passed and the governor signed into law a bill affecting where sex offenders may live. Already, under a prior law, sex offenders cannot live or work less than 3,000 yards from a college, school or day care center.

Along with other ill-conceived requirements, the new law says no more than one adult criminal sex offender and one unrelated juvenile sex offender can live in the same house, and only one sex offender may live in an apartment complex within 100 yards of the residence of another sex offender.

Basically, the thrust and intent of the law are that sex offenders may not live anywhere.

However Draconian and unfair it may be, it is easy to pass a law in Alabama affecting sex offenders. I believe that if a bill were proposed to brand offenders on the forehead with the letters “SO”, it would pass the Legislature unanimously.

Like other people, I thought I knew all I needed to know about sex offenders: Put them in prison and throw away the key. Case closed.

It is not that easy. We think we know what a sex offender is, but we do not. What do a 17-year-old boy having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, a streaker, and a drunk, naked frat boy rolling around on the front lawn of his fraternity house shouting “Roll Tide” have in common?

According to Alabama law, they are all “sex offenders.” Once arrested and found guilty, they are branded for life.

The streaker and the drunk frat boy are easily dismissed, but the two teenagers are not. Alabama law holds that a girl under the age of 16 cannot agree to consensual sex with a boy older than she is; therefore, the boy is a rapist and a sex offender.

Ridiculous? Think again. I know such a boy in the Shiloni program. Mom and dad get mad, and the boy gets jail.

Or, consider “Brad.” Brad’s father left when he was 1 month old. He was later molested by his half-sister’s husband. When he was 14, his mother suddenly died. Brad was alone and an emotional wreck.

He then started acting out sexually. He was arrested and sent to the state juvenile detention center at Mt. Meigs, where his life was saved. However, when Brad was released at age 18, he was branded as a sex offender.

One person I will never forget was a 53-year-old man who had consensual sex with an underage girl. Having been a missionary and a pastor, he was stricken with guilt at his sin and turned himself in to police. He knew it was wrong in the sight of God.

None of his past life’s goodness and his deep remorse was taken into consideration at his sentencing. He was given 30 years.

When sex offenders are released, if they have not found a place to live within three days, they are arrested and put back in jail. This is not morally right. They have served their sentence and committed no additional crime. They are in a catch-22 situation.

What we should be concerned about are real sex offenders — the predators, the pedophiles and the serial rapists who cannot be rehabilitated.

The biggest barriers sex offenders face when they are released are finding a place to live and finding a job. The Shiloni ministry helps with these two needs. Providing a place for sex offenders to live is a huge problem because, understandably, no one wants them in his backyard.

Without a lot of fanfare, well-intentioned people representing the city, the county and their respective police forces should be able to work together to find an appropriate place for a shelter.

Bill and Barbara Grier have put their hearts and souls into helping sex offenders. They have spent endless hours and thousands of their own dollars to sustain their ministry. They are what I call “special people” who have been tapped on the shoulder by God. They need help both in goodwill and in financial support.

Shiloni is just one program. There should be more like it.