Policy Failure of Colossal ProportionsFebruary 5, 2007
Let’s consider the merits of our current state and national sex offender registry system, along with all state and local proximity (safety zone) laws.
When Megan’s and Jacob’s Laws were originally passed, there was a decided lack of empirical evidence to support or question the effectiveness of these laws. We now find state and local governments, for easy political gain and against the advice of experts in criminal justice, behavior therapy, and law enforcement, attempting to a write harsher law than their neighboring cities or states.
This trend is now banishing an entire class of people as we find new laws that exclude EVERYONE on the registries, regardless of charge, from living within in these supposed safety zones.
The overwhelming evidence and statistics, as provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, state correctional studies, local law enforcement, and treatment experts, show that residency restrictions or safety (proximity) zones have not proven to enhance public safety and in fact have let to unintended consequences for communities and the innocent family members of offenders.
I ask you to consider the following:
1. The FBI-UCR, National Crime Victimization Survey reveals that only 23% of sex crimes are against someone under 18; and the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that predators represent around three percent of all sex offenders and child killers are less than one percent of all offenders. Furthermore, studies by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services show that less than twenty-nine percent of sex offenses are against children under age twelve.
2. According to all reliable resources, around 90% of all child molestation cases involve someone who is a family member, or someone who is close to or trusted by the family. Additionally, in 95% of the cases presented for indictment, the defendant had no criminal history; in other words, they were not Registered Sex Offenders.
3. Continuing with the myth of “stranger danger”, a study was published in June 2000 in the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Juvenile Justice Bulletin, says 24 percent of all kidnapping cases are “stranger-kidnapping” compared with 49 percent family kidnapping and 27 percent acquaintance kidnapping. Meaning in 76% of the cases, the child knew their abductor. It also says, the child was returned unharmed within 48 hours. It based its findings on reviewing 1,214 cases from 1997 in the National Incident-Based Reporting System, written in part by David Finkelhor, a sociology professor who heads the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Center.
4. Over 40% of sex crimes committed against someone under 18 are by a juvenile; most are consensual sex by teenagers, others are older siblings acting out against a relative. Additionally, a study by the DOJ showed the 19% of online teenagers who were solicited for sex, were done so by other teenagers around 70% of the time, NOT adults.
5. With regards to recidivism, DOJ and other studies done since 1994, shows sex offenders commit another crime, of any kind, at a rate of just thirteen percent, while those convicted of property theft reoffend at an average of 75%. People convicted of drunk driving will reoffend at a rate of 51%, while a convicted murderer will reoffend at a rate of 41%. Ex-convicts with a non-sex offense charge are 87% more likely to commit a sex offense than a convicted sex offender in therapy is.
6. Using the Bureau of Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice own figures, over the past 16 years, sex offenses have declined around 35%. However, from 1998 to 2001, Georgia saw a 280% increase in its SOR, Alabama a 659% increase, and Washington a 993% increase. A direct result of more “crimes” like public urination being classified as a sex offense.
7. Sex offender treatment cost is exponentially lower than incarceration and has proved to be an effective way to monitor sex offender activity. The statistical average nationwide of incarceration is around $22,000 per year per inmate. The cost for treatment and community monitoring is less than $5,000 per year per offender. It is just more fiscally responsible to treat low risk offenders different, and it preserves tax revenue for government treasuries.
8. Sex offenses are as varied as the people who commit them. It is irresponsible to cast a broad net and classify all sex offenders equally. Categorizing all offenders, the same is a miscarriage of justice and impacts society adversely by wasting law enforcement resources on low risk offenders in place of a concentrated effort to track high-risk offenders and predators.
In a statement regarding the effectiveness of Iowa’s Sex Offender Registry and Proximity laws, Sgt. Bryce Smith, who has charge of monitoring the registry in Scott County (Iowa) said; “If the 2,000-foot rule had been in effect 10 years ago, I can’t think of a single case from our files that would have been any different.”
The SOhopeful International report to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee offers these solutions; they include a common sense approach to low-risk intra-familial offenders:
• Treatment of high-risk separately from that of low-risk offenders.
• Civil commitment for high-risk offenders and predators.
• Treatment programs for low-risk offenders and victims.
• Prevention programs for teens and young adults to prevent sex abuse through development of successful coping skills and through understanding of appropriate boundaries.
I advocate these measures and in taking them a step further. To insure we protect all families we should also:
• Employ standardized national reporting and risk level guidelines making monitoring easier for law enforcement.
• Implement a five-tier risk level; to include NO (or Negligible) RISK, LOW RISK, MEDIUM RISK, HIGH RISK, and PREDATOR.
• Immediate removal of community notification for NO (or Negligible) RISK and LOW RISK offenders (teenage consensual sex, one time intra-familial and former offenders who have lived offense free for more than 10 years) increasing its effectiveness to law enforcement, state corrections, and the courts.
• Develop better training and standardized investigative techniques, creating an accurate litmus test to determine false allegations (the American Psychological Association estimates this around 30 to 70% where custody dispute is involved in a divorce) from factual sex abuse cases.
• Provide separate sex offender correctional facilities and mandatory ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) approved therapy prior to release.
• Assess risk level prior to reentry into society, implement GPS monitoring and bi-annual assessment of medium risk offenders until their determined risk is lowered.
• No parole life sentences or civil commitment for second (non-technical) offenses and deliberate absconders.
• For NO (or Negligible) RISK and LOW RISK offenders, provide education programs and skills training, to increase employability making re-entry back into society more certain.
I support a 5 Tier Risk Level System, constructed along these guidelines:
1. NO-RISK – (can also be termed negligible-risk) someone who has completed their sentence and therapy successfully, had no technical violations, and is waiting for the required time on the statue to expire. Not required to be on Registry or included in banned locations or proximity laws.
2. LOW-RISK – someone who is on probation, or parole, or supervision, with a single count non-aggravated charge and intra-familial victim, is in good standing in therapy, no failed polygraphs, and no technical violations for two years. Not required to be on Registry or included in banned locations or proximity laws.
3. MEDIUM-RISK – someone who is on probation, or parole, has passed polygraphs, but may continue to exhibit red flags to therapist, or someone who has had a technical violation within the past two years, or someone who has been granted probation or released from prison with a non-aggravated charge and intra-familial victim. Must pass two polygraphs per year. May be required to wear GPS monitor if deemed a higher risk to re-offend based on assessment tests, can be removed from GPS when determined risk level is lowered to LOW-RISK. Is on Registry and included in banned locations until risk level is lowered. Primary level for offenders entering the system, allows for lowering risk based on initial psychological assessment or positive results in therapy.
4. HIGH-RISK – someone on probation, or parole or someone who is just being released from prison with aggravated charges, or has red flags to therapist, and has had an extra-familial victim or multiple victims. Required to wear a GPS monitor until risk level is determined to be LOW-RISK. Must pass three polygraphs per year, is on Registry, and included in banned locations for up to 15 years after successful completion of therapy.
5. PREDATOR – someone convicted with multiple victims, or someone who is not responding to therapy, or has exhibited themselves to be a danger to society or has had a second offense. The predator is put in civil commitment until they prove they are no longer a threat. Predator is required to wear a GPS monitor if released. Must pass four polygraphs per year, is on Registry, and included in banned locations for life.
A five-tiered risk level system allows offenders to earn the right to return to society. It separates risk level in an understandable fashion, making enforcement more efficient and community notification more understandable. It allows jurist to consider the merits of each individual case and rule appropriately. Additionally, parents (notice the onus is on the parents not the government) will know how safe their neighborhoods are and better able to educate their children who to avoid.
I favor returning control of criminal justice to the courts, correctional officials, and therapists. I support overturning or amending current laws that go beyond the original intent of monitoring the most dangerous and high-risk individuals. We need to set right these egregious laws that obviously usurp the Constitution and violate:
• The Ex Post Facto Clause
• The procedural component of the Due Process Clause
• The substantive component of the Due Process Clause and the right to family privacy
• The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
• The Free Exercise Clause and the right to freedom of association
• The Takings Clause
• The right to interstate and intrastate travel
• The Eighth Amendment by imposing cruel and unusual punishment and by impermissibly punishing registrants based upon their status
Recognize offenders will feel the need to abscond to keep their jobs or their families together. Victims, spouses, and parents of intra-familial offenders will be reluctant to report abuse, fearing decades or a lifetime on the registries and progressively more repressive banishment laws. Please remember, the victims and offenders of unreported intra-familial offenses, who do not receive therapy, create opportunities for more offenses and victims. This will not create a safer society, and indeed, has the opposite affect.
Recognize these laws are morally, ethically, and legally wrong, and put us on a very slippery slope by banishing an entire class of people along with their wives, children, parents, and siblings from our cities, towns, and villages, making them pariahs. Acknowledge we are creating a group of second-class citizens and that alone is dangerous ground. Is this the legacy we want to leave?
Join me in calling for a National Sex Offender Policy Forum. This would help state and local governments formulate workable, cost effective laws that protect the rights of all citizens. Forums should include mental health professionals, jurist, law enforcement and corrections personnel, victims and their families, offenders and their families.
I invite you to read The Impact of Residency Restrictions on Sex Offenders and Correctional Management Practices: A Literature Review; by Marcus Nieto, Senior Research Specialist and Professor David Jung, Public Law Research Institute, Hastings Law School. Additionally, pick up a copy of Failure to Protect – America’s Sexual Predator Laws and the Rise of the Preventative State, by Eric S. Janus, Vice-Dean, William Mitchell College of Law.
At the end of the day, it is up to parents to educate themselves, then protect their children. For the sake of their future, support real solutions, don’t depend on the government or the media to do it for you.
Learn more at the Sex Offenders Solutions Network