Wednesday, January 16, 2008
View the article here
This is a very well written article, IMO. Video available at the site.
Convicted child sex offenders can expect a wide range of sentences in prison along with treatment in a program that makes them accountable and helps them change their behaviors.
Regardless of the severity of their crime, most released sex offenders can plan to spend a lifetime on the state’s sex registry. The controversial practice of publishing registered sex offenders’ names, addresses, photos and information about their crime has been upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, research raises questions about the registry’s effectiveness in keeping children safe.
Sex offender lists include a wide range of sex crimes and do not take into account whether the person has been through — or is continuing — treatment, said Dr. Jeannie Thies, a professor at Lindenwood University in St. Charles whose expertise includes sex offender treatment and management, offender risk assessment and criminal thinking errors.
Just because a person is not on a sex offender list, it does not mean he or she does not sexually abuse children.
“They’re not all caught,” Thies said. “You have to be vigilant and realize the system can’t do it all.”
Wide range of sentences
Child sex exploitation charges may be on the state or federal levels. Increasingly, offenders caught with child pornography are charged in federal court rather than state, because federal sentences are higher on that charge.
A person convicted of a federal charge of possession of child pornography can be imprisoned up to 10 years for the first offense and for 10 years and up on the second offense. Also, federal prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their time, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Costantin of the Eastern District of Missouri. State child pornography charges are class D felonies, which carry a sentence of two to four years in prison, or a year or less in jail or a fine not to exceed $5,000 — or any combination of the three.
On the other hand, state sentences are longer than federal sentences for child molestation.
In December, Gov. Matt Blunt (Email) proposed the death penalty as a possible sentence for rape and sodomy when the victim is younger than 12. Ste. Genevieve County Prosecutor Tim Inman said he is not sure how he feels about that. While it might provide prosecutors with extra leverage against offenders, some children already are reluctant to speak out against an offending parent who will go to prison if convicted, Inman noted.
“It’s a lot of burden to put on the victim, and a lot depends on the support they have from other family members,” he said. “A lot of time you see these knee-jerk reactions and you see this might not be the best thing.
“I know we’ll be talking about it at the prosecutor’s convention in March,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1977 ruled that the death penalty was a disproportionate sentence for the rape of a 16 year old. Last week, the Court agreed to look at a case of a Louisiana death row inmate who was given the death penalty for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. The Court will determine whether a death sentence for raping a younger child also is unconstitutional.
Inman does support legislation that would tighten a loophole in the laws that requires child sex offenders who were convicted in Missouri to stay away from schools and day care facilities. As written, the law does not specifically require the same restriction for offenders whose conviction was in another state.
“I called attention to that in April,” he said. “They tried to get it passed last year and they’re going to try again this year.”
Families do time
When a loved one is sentenced to prison, even for sexually abusing a family member, the punishment sometimes carries over into the family.
When a child’s parent goes to prison, the child sometimes feels it is his or her fault and struggles with guilt over getting the parent in trouble. That is reinforced in cases where the non-offending parent blames the child for the resulting loss of income and tells them that “we will have no place to go,” several prosecutors said.
In some cases, non-offending spouses find themselves threatened with a prison sentence of their own.
After she learned her husband had molested her two young grandchildren, Lindsey Smythe was in also in jail.
Lindsey had gone to high school with Matthew Smythe, but lost touch with him for many years. After they reconnected and fell in love, Lindsey learned that Matthew had been convicted of inappropriately touching a child in another state 20 years earlier.
“Where I grew up, what people did in the past stayed in the past,” she said. “I didn’t have any children in my home, and it had happened so long ago. I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
Matthew had lived with his daughter and his grandchildren. The daughter told Lindsey repeatedly that he had never attempted anything with her, so Lindsey thought he was “safe” to marry.
Circumstances changed after the couple married and Lindsey’s two young granddaughters moved in with them. To be on the safe side, Lindsey never left the girls home alone with her husband, and rarely left them alone with him while she was in the house.
Lindsey took precautions. When she was working in her home office and Matthew was home, she did spot checks on him and the girls. Even so, he managed to find times to molest the girls. Matthew was eventually arrested and charged with sexually abusing both girls.
“I would get up every 10 minutes and check them when he was home,” Lindsey said. “The girls never said anything, and I had no idea anything was going on.
“I was devastated.”
Lindsey was embarrassed and ashamed by Matthew’s arrest and subsequent confession.
“It was all over the news,” she recalled. “I look back and wondered how I survived. I remember sitting there and just staring out the window.”
Three weeks later, police told Lindsey that she should have known what her husband was doing, and they arrested her. She was charged with child endangerment, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors told her they believed her husband was lying to protect her when he said Lindsey knew nothing about the abuse.
She spent a night in county jail and was marched to the courthouse in chains and handcuffs. The experience was humiliating and traumatic, she said.
Church members put up part of the $5,000 bond, and a bondsman agreed to take the rest in payments.
“I came close to committing suicide several times in the next three or four weeks,” Lindsey related. “I couldn’t sleep most nights, and when I did sleep, I didn’t want to wake up. I stayed in the house and wouldn’t go anywhere.”
Prosecutors told her that she could spend up to eight years in prison. Her lawyers advised her to divorce her husband, which she did. Smythe’s husband currently is doing a 20-year sentence in prison. She accepted a plea bargain and was put on probation for one year.
Treat to release
In Missouri, 95 percent of all offenders, including those with child sex abuse crimes, have paroleable sentences, meaning they will be released from prison. To help prevent sex offenders from re-offending, the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) offers the Missouri Sex Offender Program (MOSOP).
Offenders who want to be released early on parole must first successfully pass the 9-12 month program. Those who refuse MOSOP or do not complete it must serve their entire sentence.
Offenders on probation or parole are supervised. Those who serve their entire sentence are released without any supervision.
Thies, who served as a psychologist with the Department of Corrections (DOC) from 1985-1994 said people who think treatment is coddling criminals are short-sighted.
“They’re in our community and there is a higher chance of success if we help them early on,” she said. “Prison incapacitates, it doesn’t change behavior. The non-intercepted offender goes on offending.”
- Not all the time, but most of the time. This makes it appear as if all those who do not get treatment, reoffend, and that is just false.
Society needs to support intervention programs that have been successful, not to “let people off the hook,” but to prevent future offenses, Thies pointed out. She believes better screening methods and tools are needed to determine which offenders have a better chance of being successful.
Juvenile courts can work effectively with young sex offenders by including a focus on intervention, Thies said.
“They (effective courts) are very vigilant and they act quickly with a vigorous course of treatment,” she said. “They intervene aggressively and appropriately, not punitively.”
The same focus should be applied in adult courts, Thies contends.
Adults in the correctional system are not able to take the intensive MOSOP program until they are about 18 months from their earliest possible parole date. When the program first began, the enticement of earlier parole drew some people who otherwise might not have enrolled, Thies said. The result was surprising.
- What? IMO they should be getting treatment from day one!
“These people became committed and engaged in the process,” she related. “People we initially had judged not suitable did better in the program.”
The MOSOP program requires offenders to admit guilt. Anyone who was wrongly committed can benefit from the program by seeing how their behaviors indicated problems that led to their conviction. Regardless of guilt or innocence, once society has judged someone as guilty, that person has to live his or her life as a sex offender.
Typically, a series of events leads to an offender ending up in prison. Treatment helps an offender look at his or her decisions, lifestyles and associations. Some offenders so heavily rationalize their behavior, they nearly convince themselves the offense did not happen, Thies said. Treatment tears down that rationalization. Participant offenders chip away each others’ defenses as well as their own.
One goal for each participant is to discover the “triggers” that lead to his or her deviant behavior. That can be risky, because to do that, they must take a close look at the facts of their case. Sometimes, that close look reveals past abuses that were unreported.
“There were no secrets about what they were accused of,” Thies said. “Anything said that identified other victims, we would have been obligated to report.”
MOSOP is provided for men at the Farmington and Bonne Terre correctional centers, and women take it at the facility in Vandalia, said Dr. Mariann Atwell, acting director of the Division of Offender Rehabilitative Services and chief of Mental Health Services for the DOC.
Offenders housed in other correctional centers around the state are transferred to one of the three MOSOP facilities when they become eligible for the program.
The first phase lasts 30 days and focuses on orientation and evaluation. The second phase, about 260 days, is the treatment component. Topics include appropriate social, work, education, and family relationships; relapse prevention; “triggers” and appropriate responses.
After an offender completes the program, a report is sent to the Parole Board to help them make a decision about whether parole should be granted. If the offender is released early on parole, Probation and Parole can order him/her to participate in a sex offender treatment or relapse prevention group in the community. Offenders may also be subject to polygraph tests.
If an offender is terminated from MOSOP for any of a variety of reasons, that report also would go to the Parole Board.
At any given time, 250 to 275 offenders are actively involved in treatment, Atwell estimated.
MOSOP is not without its critics. John Lafond, a Washington lawyer who specializes in sex offender laws, does not think treatment is sufficient in the prison system. The retired University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor believes more state-of-the-art treatment should be available in prison to sex offenders who want it, and the treatment should be a condition of parole.
More sufficient treatment would be a wise investment in preventing potential victims, Lafond said.
- So why do you say the existing treatment is not sufficient? What proof do you have of this? Or is this just a "hunch?"
Effects on recidivism
The ultimate goal of MOSOP is to provide treatment so the offender won’t offend again, thereby reducing recidivism (return to crime) rates.
- Recidivism is committing another sex crime, not any crime. You cannot based sex offender recidivism on any crime, if you do that, then of course the recidivism rate is going to be high, same as with any other criminal.
As of late December, 282 offenders had competed MOSOP in 2007. Since it began in 1984, 3,617 sex offenders have graduated from the program, according to David Oldfield, researcher for the DOC.
Research figures for the DOC show that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is lower than for those with drug, DWI, nonviolent and violent crimes. Based on a study of 50,218 first-time offenders from fiscal year 1998 to fiscal year 2007, only 13.4 percent of those with sex and child abuse cases had any type of new conviction within five years of release.
- See, they say any NEW conviction. What about any new SEXUAL conviction? Then the 13.4% would be down around 5.3% or maybe less.
The other four categories had higher rates of new convictions: Drug crimes, 25.2 percent; DWI, 29.2 percent; nonviolent crimes, 30.7 percent; and violent crimes, 26.6 percent.
Oldfield also compared recidivism rates between released sex offenders who had completed MOSOP and those who had failed or refused to take the program. The comparison looked at new sex abuse convictions in a five-year period for offenders released from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 2007.
After five years, 4.8 percent of those who had not successfully completed MOSOP had been convicted of a new sex crime, while only 2.3 percent of those who did complete the program had been convicted of a new sex crime.
- Exactly what I said. When they look at only new sex crimes, recidivism is VERY LOW!
In 2006 and 2007, 757 sex offenders were released. As of December, no new sex offenses had been recorded for any of those offenders.
A 20-year study of MOSOP graduates, done by Beth Huebner of the University of Missouri - St. Louis, indicates that sex offenders who commit crimes after release are more likely to commit non-sexual offenses. The percent of new sex crimes for all released sex offenders from 1984 to 2007 was .4 percent, compared to 1.2 percent for other crimes in the first year. By 20 years, 14.4 percent of released sex offenders had new sex convictions, compared to 18.8 percent with other offenses.
Sex offenders who were given probation instead of going to prison also had fewer new convictions within five years than those on probation for the other four categories. The highest percentage of recidivism was for drunk drivers (25.4), followed by those with violent crimes (24.8 percent), those with nonviolent crimes (24.4 percent), those with drug crimes (23.2 percent). Sex offenders and child abusers on probation had a new conviction rate of 12.6 percent.
- And drunk drivers kill thousands, if not millions of people per year, including kids. And yet they do not have to have such draconian laws and punishment. Why?
Currently, the department supervises about 1,867 sex offenders who are on probation or parole. In St. Francois, Washington, Iron, Madison and Ste. Genevieve counties, there are a total of 45 sex offenders on probation or parole.
Sex offenders who have been released from prison are required to be on the sex offender registry, maintained on the Missouri Highway Patrol site. Currently, there are about 456 registered sex offenders in the five counties, including some who are incarcerated or are civilly committed as a sexual predator, and a few whose names no longer have to appear on the registry.
The Highway Patrol posts the names, aliases, work, home and school addresses of each person who is required to register as a sex offender. It even offers a map which shows how close their home or workplace is to your home.
The list includes offenses; when they were convicted or pleaded guilty to the charge; and ages and gender of the victims. You can click on the offense to find the definition of that crime according to Missouri Revised Statutes.
- But even the definition of the label doesn't show the true dangerousness of the individual. To see the full dangerousness of an offender, everything done and leading up to the crime should be displayed. If that is not done, a simple label will not let you know how dangerous a person is. Just because something says "child molestation" that does not mean what you may think. Some have not even touched a child or had sex with a child, as in my case. I accidentally exposed myself and thus have this label, and that was back in 1989.
The list also tells people what vehicles the offender drives, their height and weight, date of birth, hair and eye color, and if they have any scars, marks or tattoos. In most cases, due to 2005 legislation, a photo accompanies the information. The Web site also lists whether a person is complying with the sex offender registry.
Gov. Matt Blunt recently said he would like to see e-mail addresses of offenders placed on the registry as well.
- Why, so they can be harassed by vigilantes out there, or worse, sent child porn, which they did not ask for, by some vigilante, so they go back to prison?
Maintaining the registry
Registration in Missouri currently is a lifetime requirement unless the offense has been reversed or the person has been pardoned.
Sheriff’s departments compile the information and enforce the registry. Kathy Tenholder handles most of the work in St. Francois County.
When a sex offender moves or is released from prison, he or she has 10 days to register with the sheriff of the county of residence. Offenders must register in person semi-annually in the month of their birth and six months later with their local sheriff’s department. Offenders also must go to the sheriff’s office any time they change vehicles, jobs or move.
If a person has been registered as a “sexual predator” or “persistent sexual offender”; had a victim less than 18 years old; or has been found guilty of failing to register as a sex offender or submitting false information, he or she must register every 90 days.
Tenholder said the 90-day law applies to most of the sex offenders in St. Francois County. She said there are fewer than five people who only have to register semi-annually.
“Some are pretty angry that they have to do this,” she said. “They don’t think they should have to do this their whole lives.”
- And they are right. No other criminal in HISTORY has been punished for life, except murderers! And by this I mean on a registry and face humiliation for life, and constantly being told to move anytime a daycare or school opens near by, even if they were there first.
If no information has changed, offenders can fill out a form at the front counter in the sheriff’s office. They provide their name, date of birth, social security number and the date.
If there is a change, the offender has to speak to Tenholder, who takes the new information.
Courtesy letters are delivered by deputies to offenders’ last available address to remind them they have to register. It also is a way to make sure the offender is really living there.
If sex offenders don’t register when they are expected to, and the department can’t locate them, they are listed as non-compliant on the registry.
“More comply than not,” Tenholder said.
- So you see, they are trying as much as possible to obey the laws, but when they change and are told to move all the time, that makes it almost impossible.
When the person doesn’t comply within a reasonable time, Tenholder makes a copy of the file, and a deputy writes up a warrant application to send to the prosecutor. The offender may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor or Class D felony for failing to register.
Tenholder said the public helps them with the registry. She said if an offender gives the wrong address, whoever is living there will notify the Sheriff’s Department, because most people do not want others thinking a sex offender lives with them if one does not.
- Yeah, because they are harassed, beaten and sometimes innocent people die, just look on my blog for FACTS about this.
The sheriff’s department works with offenders who have disabilities. One disabled offender is able to call in by phone. Residents of a group home who must register at the sheriff’s department every 90 days are bused there all at once.
Offenders from another state must register with the local sheriff’s office if they have a temporary residence or if they work or attend school or training on a full-time or part-time basis in Missouri. Certain offenders with child sex abuse crimes may not reside within 1,000 feet of any child care facility or any public or private school that has up to 12th grade, unless the offender lived there before the law took effect on Aug. 28, 2004. The offender needs to notify the sheriff if a school or childcare facility is placed within the distance after the offender moves there.
Certain sex offenders may not loiter within 500 feet of school property without permission of the school superintendent or the school board.
State Sen. Kevin Engler (Email), R-Farmington, has prefiled legislation this month to prohibit sex offenders from being present or loitering within 500 feet of any playground or designated camping area of a state park unless the offender notifies the park superintendent.
Any person under the age of 19 who is guilty of a sex offense with a victim 13 years or older that involved no physical force can petition the court to have his or her name removed from the sex offender registry after two years.
Any offender convicted of a sex offense between 1979 and 1995 is listed on the state’s registry exempt list. State officials said the court exempted those offenders from having to register every year, but it did not say their name had to be removed from the list.
Attorney Lafond is a critic of sex offender registries. He said there is no sound information that the sex offender law has prevented more crimes from occurring or has assisted police. The state is imposing the expense of enforcement on local police, he added.
According to Lafond, research shows that families get upset with police when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood. That makes it difficult for sex offenders to find affordable housing, jobs and participate in therapy.
“It makes it hard for them to return to safe, productive lives,” Lafond stated.
He believes the registry is overly inclusive, and that a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.
The registry should only require the most dangerous sex offenders to register. Instead, it treats all sex offenders as equally dangerous.
The public is overly concerned about sex offenders, Lafond contends. There is a belief that convicted sex offenders spend their whole lifetime looking for future victims.
“And that is not true,” he said.
Lafond believes the government should spend more time, money and energy on the small group of dangerous sexual predators. Just as people who are likely to have a heart attack can be identified, dangerous sex offenders can be identified through a risk assessment that takes into consideration their past history and contributing factors. Dangerous sexual predators typically have a deviant sexual interest, multiple victims, and an antisocial or sociopathic personality. Approximately 50 to 70 percent of this high-risk group will commit another sex offense and they do need close supervision.
“And they are not getting it,” he said. “We simply make them register.”
Lafond said the law should focus on intensive supervision for high-risk offenders as it does in Colorado. There, high-risk sex offenders are assigned to a special team of a treatment provider, parole officer and polygraph operator. The team reviews each high-risk offender’s record, identifies the offender’s pattern and develops a supervision plan that limits the offender’s access to future victims.
The offender must participate in treatment. If during the course of treatment, the provider feels the offender is reverting to abuse, the offender must take a lie detector test. If the team determines increased supervision is needed, they do it by increasing sanctions.
Lafond said if the offender is acting as he or she should, freedoms gradually increase. He added that the offenders are monitored extensively over time and they release the ones who proved they are not dangerous.
Missouri assumes the offender is dangerous the rest of his or her life, and the law does not take into account treatment, Lafond said.
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The boy is accused of having sex with his half-sister, according to Clark County sheriff's report.
SPRINGFIELD — A 10-year-old boy who was arrested on a rape charge last week was arraigned in juvenile court Monday.
The boy denied delinquency — similar to a not-guilty plea in an adult case — and is scheduled to be back in court Jan. 25, said Clark County Assistant Prosecutor Andy Wilson.
The boy is accused of having sex with his 7-year-old half-sister, according to a sheriff's report.
"The arrest is just the beginning of a process of healing for this family," said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly.
H. Owen Ward, a psychologist who is not involved in the case but has counseled young sex offenders and victims, said in other cases in which children commit sex crimes, the causes and motives vary.
"In some cases there are abuse histories and they're perpetrating as they were once perpetrated against," he said.
- And have they questioned the child on whether he was molested as a child?
Other children have acted out or expressed sexual activity they've witnessed, Ward said.
In some instances, Ward said "the context" creates the sexual abuse. "If two children are playing together sexually and one's younger and one's older, if a parent sees this, they make the allegation," he said.
Other factors can include personality disorders, he said.
The 10-year-old is being held in Clark County Juvenile Detention Center.
Wilson said he couldn't guess what sentence the boy could face if found guilty of the charge.
"It depends how the case unfolds," he said. "In juvenile cases, whatever the outcome, the goal is to ensure that the child is rehabilitated," he said.
- This should be the same goal for ALL people, not just children!
Investigators allege the incident occurred between Dec. 21 and Dec. 25 at the home where both children lived.
View the article here
Very good article, and so true!! I'm so glad someone else sees the insanity of the Georgia government.
Yea, and it came to pass that the land of Georgia was ruled by Sonny the Bitter, who seethed in silence while he didst avoid the hard work of governing.
And in the Legislature's 40 days, when the rulers assembled under the Gold Dome in Atlanta, Sonny didst turn his hardened heart even on those of his own party. And the people's problems multiplied – painful injustices and woeful ignorance, droughts and traffic jams – even as Sonny led the lawmakers in wrongful directions, or not at all.
In ancient Egypt, the Lord sent Moses to free the Hebrews. To punish the oppressors, He beset Egypt's people with 10 plagues. In Georgia, there is no Moses, and the plagues have been brought upon us by our own rulers.
1 The waters run dry
The drought of the century exposed something other than tires and beer bottles long buried by Lake Lanier. It also laid bare the inevitable collision between North Georgia's limited water supply and its unfettered development.
For nearly 20 years, the state's leaders frittered away chances to avert a crisis, instead butting heads over water rights with Alabama, Florida and parts of South Georgia. And they always seemed to peddle solutions sure to exacerbate conflict with our downstream neighbors: Dig new reservoirs. Transfer water from one basin to another. Spend billions of dollars to pipe it from Tennessee or the Atlantic Ocean.
God forbid we impose anything that might inconvenience developers, who are, after all, the masters of our political leaders. Conservation? Land-use planning? Fuhgetaboutit.
One hopeful sign was the creation in 2001 of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water District, followed by a 2004 mandate for a statewide water plan. But the district has been a mild-mannered disappointment – backing off an effort, for example, to retrofit existing houses with low-flow toilets. And this winter the state plan, which the Legislature may or may not pass this session, became a power brokers' battleground: Planning districts based on watersheds were gerrymandered overnight to conform instead to political boundaries, with council members handpicked by the governor and top legislators.
This session, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson plan (of course) to push for new reservoirs. Given North Georgia's dire straits, the state eventually may win approval for some of them. But reservoirs also are likely to infuriate neighboring states and South Georgia on the suspicion that metro Atlanta wants to hoard even more of nature's bounty.
More importantly: They're bound to put off the day that North Georgia finally reins in its development machine with slower growth and less wasteful community planning.
2 Wailing and gnashing of teeth over taxes
Taxes may be unpleasant, but they're not the real problem here. The problem is Richardson's political ambition, which he's tethered to his ill-considered and still murky GREAT tax "reform" plan.
In short, the speaker would replace stable property taxes with a 4 percent levy on services and products now exempt from taxes. Although he initially planned to rid Georgia of all property taxes, stiff resistance from cities forced Richardson to target just school levies, which still account for the lion's share of property-tax bills.
Perdue, Cagle and other critics charge that, in addition to its practical faults, GREAT isn't a tax cut. Rather, it's a shift to a less predictable form of taxation that falls heaviest on poor and middle-class folks, who must spend a high percentage of their incomes. Plus, it amounts to a power grab for local purse strings, giving the Statehouse near-total control over school spending.
Richardson is attempting to add "tax reformer" to the résumé he's beefing up for a future run for governor. But in doing so, he's unleashed a pack of competing tax bills from other ambitious politicians up for re-election this year. Among them: Sen. Majority Leader Eric Johnson's proposal to freeze property taxes until a homeowner sells his or her house.
According to legislators on both sides of the aisle, the General Assembly probably will devote a sizable share of its semivaluable time this year grappling with Richardson's ego – er, we mean, proposal – and its legislative offspring.
Good thing we don't have any actual problems to solve around here.
3 No pity for the mentally ill
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's stellar reporting on Georgia's dysfunctional mental-health system revealed something startling but sadly not surprising. One hundred and fifteen people died in seven state hospitals from 2002 to 2006, and there were nearly 200 substantiated cases of physical and sexual abuse against patients.
The exposé started a cascade of action, including an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, a state review of the entire system and a flurry of bills in last year's legislative session. Yet during and even after all that, 21 more suspicious deaths occurred.
Riding the momentum of heightened awareness, mental-health advocates are pushing this year for more money and oversight. The chief complaints: Employees are overworked and underpaid; cash-strapped and undermanned hospitals have to shuffle patients because of lack of beds; and an ombudsman's position created in 2000 to oversee the mess still lacks funding.It's not just the hospitals that are underfunded. Community groups that often are the sole resource for discharged patients are even more starved for resources.
If lawmakers don't gather the will to solve the crisis, the state's mental-health system seems ripe for a federal court order – not often the most economical way to solve such a problem. It wouldn't be the first time the feds forced Georgia to treat its citizens like human beings. Just add mental health to a list that began with slavery and ran through civil rights, voting rights and our perennial mistreatment of prisoners.
Let's just state the obvious: Georgia has lousy schools. Our children isn't learning. And none of the minor fixes over the past few years have brought about much improvement.
Last year, GOP legislators crowed over passing a bill that gives vouchers to disabled students, but fewer than 1,000 took advantage of the program, and many parents complained the vouchers were of little help. Mucho hype for meager results. Again.
Many Democrats contend Georgia could improve its schools by funding laws already on the books. But Perdue's repeatedly put off a mandate for reduced high-school class sizes. And he's managed to withhold more than $1 billion promised under the Quality Basic Education Act. (If a lawsuit by Joe Martin, a one-time state school superintendent candidate, finds its way before a judge, the state may be forced to pony up for QBE regardless of lawmakers' wishes.)
Money isn't always the answer. Radical policy changes may be needed to kick-start our schools. Among them: an overhaul of the way teacher raises are doled out, increased local control within systems and, that big bugaboo, reforming the tenure system. At the same time, conservatives in the Legislature seem set to sideline any serious debate about fully funding or truly reforming public schools with their perennial call for vouchers to subsidize private schools.
It seems that this year, again, the main initiative will be of the small-fix variety: a bill to allow individual schools to petition the state for charter status, circumventing local authority. More promising is a GOP-backed measure to beef up vocational training to stem Georgia's sad 30 percent high-school dropout rate.
Meanwhile, this year's QBE shortfall has already been projected at $140 million.
5 The wrath of automobiles
Plenty of ideas have been floated for solving metro Atlanta's transportation problems: streetcars, commuter rail, bus lanes and, of course, a 22-mile ring of transit circling the city.
None has gotten very far because none has received more than token funding. Rural legislators and even some suburban ones argue – contrary to the experience in other states – that mass transit's a boondoggle. Instead, they've sent the state on a wild goose chase to solve the crisis (and to enrich contractors) with privately funded toll roads and Popular Mechanics-style visions of double-decker tunnels that would bypass the inner city by going under it.
The result: a stalemate. Last year lawmakers were confronted with a choice between a road-builder-backed push for a statewide sales tax that would fund highways while giving lip service to alternatives, and a Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce proposal to give the region a chance to raise money for a more balanced mix of projects. They settled on neither.
The state's delay in answering the funding riddle already has cost us millions of dollars in matching federal money for such projects as commuter rail and a downtown "multimodal" station. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Dallas are among the cities gaining on Atlanta by paying for light rail with regional sales taxes.
Perdue and Cagle spent a lot of time at a pre-legislative-session press conference predicting that the governor's new commissioner will put the Transportation Department on the road toward ending the crisis, and she's taking many of the right steps by digging into the agency's dysfunctional bureaucracy. But only funding will unclog the pipeline of overdue projects.
The regional-sales-tax plan – being pushed again this year by the Chamber and advocacy groups – is the most promising live proposal. By allowing two or more counties to vote to tax themselves and to decide what transportation projects they want, the metro area could avoid rural complaints about tax dollars going to metro-only projects. One good sign: Cagle recently told the Marietta Daily Journal he favors allowing such a regional approach.
In an election year, however, when talk about new taxes scares the bejesus out of politicians, it seems unlikely that legislators will arrive at a consensus. Commuters may instead spend another long year stuck in traffic – with no sign of an end to the gridlock.
6 Scapegoats and false idols
How big a problem was the threat of gay marriage in Georgia? Certainly nowhere near as big a one as the nanny-state meddling a few years back of lawmakers on a homophobic tear.
Sadly, Georgia is still a place in which fear-mongering and political demagoguery can pay off like a slot machine – and create a lot of collateral damage. We saw that two years ago when House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons, was able to spook colleagues into passing draconian restrictions on where convicted sex offenders could live and work. In early December, the state Supreme Court overturned the residency restrictions (which sheriffs said were unenforceable); a federal lawsuit could scuttle the rest of Keen's law (which civil-liberties groups say is unconstitutional).
None of that will stop the majority leader from coming back this session with a slightly toned-down rewrite, allowing some offenders to keep their homes. But he's kept up the overheated rhetoric, accusing the High Court of "inviting [sex offenders] to come to Georgia and live anywhere they want to."
Expect lawmakers to try again this session to win popularity by outdumbing each other. Last year, the House came within a whisker of voting on a bill to outlaw adoptions by gay couples; this spring, it could become reality. And right-wing Christians are rallying around a new bill to proclaim a just-fertilized embryo to be a person possessing a right to life.
The biggest culture battle this session will likely be an internecine duel among pro-gun groups. The increasingly fringey NRA is gunning for a law barring employers from telling workers they can't bring shootin' irons to work, while Georgia Carry, a homegrown Second Amendment group, is backing a "compromise" bill to allow motorists to conceal guns in their cars.
In wacky Georgia, there's an ever-present threat that the culture wars will rear up to divert time and attention in the midst of a legislative session.
7 Grady, heal thyself!
After complaining for years of funding crunches, Grady Memorial Hospital finally caught the state's attention this summer when it announced it was almost broke. The hospital ended 2007 $55 million in the red. Another $200 million or so is needed for capital improvements.
These aren't insurmountable problems for a state with an $18 billion budget. But they do require a political will that's long been lacking. Some GOP legislators – Richardson, and Sens. David Shafer and Cecil Staton, most prominently – have adopted a reassuring bedside manner, promising to rescue the state's largest indigent-care provider and top trauma center.
Each may have heartfelt reasons for wanting to protect Grady. But, as the epitome of compassionate conservatism, it's also a shrewd career move: The hospital's savior would earn vast reserves of goodwill in metro Atlanta. And the very act of resuscitating it would confer bragging rights for reforming a dysfunctional quasigovernmental institution – and for prying it loose from local Democratic control.
Lacking leverage, the besieged Grady authority agreed in November to hand control (mostly) over to an independent board. Most details of the hospital's new governing structure may be hammered out within weeks. And, if the Legislature makes good on a pledge to provide grants to the state's cash-strapped trauma centers, Grady surely will benefit.
But Grady's not yet out of intensive care. Its defenders fear that cost-cutting conservatives hanker to jettison some indigent services, notably dialysis and HIV care. Religious fundamentalists are appalled that the public hospital has performed abortions and may seek to curtail its family planning clinic. Other, more cynical pols would like to use Grady's future as a bargaining chip for loosening up state rules to allow private medical centers to compete with intown hospitals (that means you, Emory) for high-profit patients.
And, as the session begins, it's not entirely clear that Grady will avoid the political land mines that could close the doors of the vital hospital.
8 Citizen, insure thyself!
In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney backed and signed into law legislation mandating that all residents be insured. When it comes to solving Georgia's health-care crisis, our government's gone fishing.
Around a fifth of the state's population now lacks health insurance, placing us near the bottom when it comes to coverage. Even opponents of universal care must realize that the more uninsured people fall through the cracks, the greater the burden on emergency rooms and public hospitals. But ideology has a way of trumping pragmatism. Medicaid, PeachCare and other programs associated with the "welfare state" have had targets on their backs since the Republicans took over the Gold Dome. Even Perdue's modest proposal to offer $50 million in state subsidies for employer-based coverage already has been attacked by leading lawmakers as an entitlement.
After the PR thumping President Bush took last year for vetoing expanded funding for SCHIP, the state-based programs that subsidize insurance for lower-income children, one might think the governor would think twice about cutting more kids off PeachCare. Currently, there are about 275,000 children from low-income Georgia families covered by PeachCare and another 300,000 who are uninsured.
On the other hand, with federal funding now in a holding pattern, conservatives may feel emboldened to make a run at trimming the program's eligibility – and expanding the ranks of uninsured children. Certainly, Richardson has few qualms about being the bad guy, as he showed last year when he openly, albeit unsuccessfully, attacked state PeachCare funding.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill to replace PeachCare with state-sponsored universal health coverage for all Georgians under 21 has been languishing in committee since last year. Hmm, what's the likelihood the Gold Dome crowd will even get a chance to vote on that idea?
9 Blessed are the moneylenders
Last session, House Rules Committee Chairman Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, tried to revive payday lending – the practice of making temporary loans carrying astronomical interest – two years after it had been outlawed in Georgia. Now, with the bottom falling out of subprime mortgages and thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure, surely no one would have the chutzpah to back another push to expand exploitative lending.
Dream on. Ehrhart knows no shame when it comes to carrying water for his favorite industry (and among his biggest campaign contributors). In the distorted world of payday lobbyists, the downturn provides a rationale for loosening lending regulations. In these hard times, they can argue, folks teetering on the edge of a financial precipice need easy access to temporary cash – triple-digit APRs notwithstanding.
Georgia has a horrid record of protecting residents from sleazy lending practices. We're the birthplace of the title-pawn industry, and lending rules designed to turn families out on the street in as little as a month have made us the Reno of quickie foreclosures.
When we do make progress, we tend to backslide. Two years after Gov. Roy Barnes passed his Georgia Fair Lending Act, the state's new GOP majority gutted the nation's strictest mortgage-lending law, thereby setting the stage for the current foreclosure crisis. (Don't believe us? A recent Wall Street Journal investigation connects the dots between the mortgage mess and campaign donations by subprime lenders.)
At the very least, lawmakers could lengthen the foreclosure process to give borrowers more time to work out their problems. The chance of that happening is a lot slimmer than that of Ehrhart getting his payday bill passed. Even before the mortgage crisis hits rock bottom, he'll be working to dig us a deeper hole.
10 Heat forever lasting
Just outside Macon, a coal-fired power plant bellows more carbon dioxide than does Brazil's entire power sector. That's troubling. Perhaps even more troubling is that legislators last year conducted a "study" panel simply to promote fatuous doubts about global warming.
Legislators from Florida to Alaska and California to Maine have taken steps to reduce climate change's impact, be it by setting greenhouse-gas reduction goals or starting statewide incentive programs for residents. But Georgia's leaders remain mired in a debate that most intelligent people have settled by now.
The mere question of whether lawmakers will do something about climate change is met with laughter – as if you're a kook for daring to ask whether they'll address the issue.
For serious policy makers, however, the big question no longer is whether global warming is happening, but what we can do to lessen its impact. Aiding and abetting new coal-fired plants, like one the state Environmental Protection Division recently approved in southwest Georgia, and banking on more roads to solve transportation woes don't bode well on the preparation front.
Until legislators get their heads out of the asphalt, the burden of doing something falls on your lap. If you want to cut your greenhouse gases, you have to ride on poorly funded public transit or dig deeper into your pocket to buy a more energy-efficient refrigerator.
There's talk of legislation that would ease that burden – think an extended sales-tax holiday for Earth-friendly products or tax incentives for installing solar panels – but those are baby steps compared to the brisk pace of change in the other parts of the country.
Continued inaction by the General Assembly leaves the responsibility at your feet. Pretty daunting. Especially when that carbon-belching monster is wheezing outside of Macon.
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A former Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced Wednesday morning to three years and eight months in prison, the maximum possible sentence, for lewd and lascivious acts on a 15-year-old girl.
Jon Holm was convicted last month on the charges in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria.
After a month and a half of trial, a Santa Maria jury on Dec. 13 found Holm, 33, guilty of two counts of lewd and lascivious acts on the girl, who lived with her grandparents in Vandenberg Village.
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Feds raid home for computer child porn
A longtime Greenlee County Sheriff’s dispatcher and a deputy are subjects of separate investigations involving possible sexual misconduct and have been placed on administrative leave.
Greenlee Sheriff Steve Tucker confirmed that federal agents served warrants on dispatcher Ron Starr’s home in Loma Linda on Jan. 11. Starr is also the department’s computer systems security officer. In an unrelated matter, deputy Michael Andazola is the subject of a probe by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Andazola, 34, is alleged to have sent sexually explicit text messages to a teenage girl.
No charges have yet been filed against Starr or Andazola. The allegations against Andazola came to light two weeks ago. The sheriff said he immediately asked the DPS to handle the investigation.
Starr, 60, is the subject of an investigation by federal authorities for allegedly using his home computer to log on to one or more child pornography Web sites. Tucker declined to comment on what led authorities to investigate Starr.
He also declined to discuss any details of the agents’ search, citing the fact it is a federal investigation.
Starr has been a sheriff’s office employee since May 1990. When he was hired by Greenlee, Starr was still on probation for conviction on a 1988 Pinal County drug charge involving possession of a dangerous drug, cocaine. His probation ended in 1991.
- Why wasn't he fired?
That brings up the question of whether Starr should have ever had access to the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System or the National Crime Information Center, which are used by law enforcement agencies to obtain or disseminate information ranging from motor vehicle and driver’s license data to sensitive law enforcement information.
Tucker said he was not aware of Starr’s criminal background. Starr and Andazola were both hired by the county prior to Tucker becoming sheriff in 2004.
The sheriff said criminal background checks are conducted on all jail and dispatch staff. Dispatchers are also detention officers, or jailers.
Polygraph tests and state certification for detention officers were not mandated by Greenlee until 1993 or ‘94.
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So why are they not releasing this mans identity?
TACOMA -- A Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of rape and burglary, reported KIRO 7 Eyewitness News.
The 27-year-old man was booked into the Pierce County Jail. His bail is set at $150,000.
Department spokesman Ed Troyer said the deputy, who has been on the force for about a year, is suspected of having sexual contact with an intoxicated woman after giving her a "courtesy ride" home last week.
According to KIRO’s partner, the News Tribune of Tacoma, the deputy is alleged to have had sexual contact with the woman at least two times while on duty.
Troyer said the deputy's account and the woman's account of what happened did not exactly match, but detectives were able to corroborate some parts of the woman's story.
The investigation is ongoing.
The deputy is scheduled to be charged Wednesday afternoon.
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A 17-year-old girl told investigators she was impregnated by a Weld County sheriff's deputy who has been charged with sexually assaulting her.
Landon Greatheart, 32, is being held at the Weld County jail on a $50,000 bond for allegedly molesting the girl, Weld County Undersheriff Margie Martinez said.
The girl recently learned that she was pregnant, Martinez said.
Weld County authorities have placed Greatheart in protective custody at the jail, Martinez said.
Greatheart was placed in protective custody because of the nature of his alleged crime and his position, Martinez said.
"Certainly there could be people in jail that he arrested," she said.
- Yeah so. You protect your own, but the average citizen you throw them in with general population. He should not be treated any different.
Greatheart and two women living with him had agreed to act as guardians for the girl in July, Martinez said. The girl was at the home for three weeks that month, she said.
"A consensual relationship developed between the victim and Greatheart while Greatheart was in a position of trust," according to Sheriff John Cooke.
The child has since returned to live with her mother, Martinez said.
Cooke learned of the incidents from an employee last week. Greatheart was placed on administrative leave without pay, Martinez said.
"If there were improprieties we wanted to deal with them quickly," Martinez said.
Sheriff's investigators worked through the weekend on the case, she said.
Investigators found evidence that Greatheart sent obscene photographs of himself with his phone, Martinez said.
The Weld County District Attorney's Office will decide whether to file formal charges, she said.
Greatheart has been employed by the sheriff's office since July 2003. He could be charged with sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust and an obscenity charge.
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This is a good idea, but it should be based on facts.
John Kish surveyed 200 middle school students and 80% have had online discussions on the computer with a stranger.
- This is misleading. Who has used the Internet and have not had some discussion with someone they did not know? There is tons of forums, chat rooms, social networking, news articles, and others. And when you say stranger, are they adults or other kids? More disinformation, IMO.
According to the Michigan Attorney General, 89% of all sexual solicitations of youth are made through chat rooms or through instant messaging.
- And again, how many by adults and other children?
In response to the issue, the Imlay City Community Schools will host Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's Cyber Safety Initiative the week of Jan. 21. Part of that program will occur during the day at Imlay City Middle and Borland Elementary schools, with age appropriate presentations for all students.
The second part of the program will be an evening presentation at the middle school that is free for parents and open to the public at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 23. The evening session will teach parents how to access Internet usage/history, become familiar with chat room acronyms and language, how to modify the home computer to make surfing safer, and how to access Michigan's Sex Offender Registry.
Kish, a technology teacher at Imlay City Middle School, filled out the paperwork to get CSI to come to the school. He said his school uses twin computer filters to prevent students from getting on inappropriate Web sites, but that still doesn't stop them from having access. "Kids are very innovative," Kish said. "They walk out of this building and don't have a filter at home."
Borland Elementary School Principal Bill Kalmar said the need for cyber awareness is there.
"To me, anything that helps make parents aware is valuable," Kalmar said. "In an hour the state won't be able to tell you everything, but they'll go over the warning signs so parents know (about cyber dangers). The biggest concern at Borland is we want to teach kids good habits. We were taught not to talk to strangers, but the world has changed. You shouldn't tell your name on the computer. With older kids the message is to be very careful and they're very socially conscious. It makes them gullible. There's a need for education. With parents it's about being pro-active. We want to raise awareness."
Examples of tragedy are easy to find associated with cyberspace. In 2006, a 13-year-old girl committed suicide from a cruel on-line hoax done to her by classmates on a social networking Web site, My Space.
- No it wasn't, it was by next door neighbors who were not classmates, but adults.
Warning signs for parents, according to CSI, are: Kids spending large amounts of time online (especially at night); finding pornography on a child's computer; your child receiving phone calls from strangers or making calls to unrecognizable numbers; your child receiving mail, gifts, or packages from a stranger; your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the monitor's screen when you come into the room; your child becomes withdrawn from the family; your child is using an online account belonging to someone else; and when your child is on-line they are using a Web cam or microphone you didn't know they had.
Kish said Judy Paxson from the AG's office will make the presentations at the middle school. "She will be in the schools talking directly to the kids in age appropriate (sessions)," he said. "The AG's office has done an unbelievably good job at putting this together."
- So why isn't this a class in school which is required of all students? Like drivers ed was when I was growing up?
For more information about the community seminar, contact Kalmar at (810) 724-9813.
Jennifer Decker can be reached at (810) 664-0811, Ext. 8125 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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NEW YORK (AP) - The city's most dangerous sex offenders would be barred from living within 1,000 feet of a school or park, under a new proposal from three City Council members.
- You say "most dangerous" yet this is wrong, it affects ALL sex offenders.
Their plan could make it difficult for the offenders to find housing in a city where residents are stacked in high-rise buildings and crowded neighborhoods.
"The act of preying on children is the most depraved and unforgivable act imaginable," Minority Leader James Oddo said in a statement Tuesday. "We as a government should not be forgiven if we fail to do everything we can to protect kids from these monsters."
- You are assuming all sex offenders have harmed children, and if you'd do a little investigating, you would know this is not the case. Not all sex offenders are "monsters". Nothing you do will protect kids from true predators, nothing. You are ignorant if you think creating a buffer zone (i.e. False sense of security) will protect them.
Oddo and council members James Vacca and Joseph Addabbo introduced the proposal last week. It would affect only Level 3 offenders, who are considered to be at the highest risk of reoffending.
- Ok, so it is for Level 3 only, so I admit I was wrong (above). These buffer zones could be 50 or 100 miles and it will NOT stop a predator from committing another crime, if they are intent on doing so. If they are such a danger, why are they roaming the streets? Stop the BS!
New York State does not restrict where sex offenders can live, but some counties and cities around the state have imposed such rules.
Last year, Putnam County approved regulations restricting sex offenders within 2,500 feet of feet of schools, parks, large apartment houses or any other place where children congregate. Rockland County also established a 1,000-foot "child safety zone."
But in the upstate city of Binghamton, a measure barring sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of a school or school bus stop was repealed after concerns were raised about forcing offenders from their homes.
The New York City proposal's sponsors were unsure how much of the city would be off-limits to sex offenders if the legislation passed.
- All you have to do is get a map and draw a circle around the XXXX feet of the school or place in question.
"I think people have a right to know that the area surrounding the schools where their children go is safe," Vacca said. "It's going to make our children and our school areas a safe environment."
- But it's not safe, it's just a false sense of safety.
An unsuccessful 2005 proposal would have required Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders in the city to live at least a quarter-mile away from schools and parks.
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Javarious Broxton was 17 years old when he met her. She said she was 17, too. They started dating.
One day, Broxton and the girl spent some time together at the home of a friend. He left, and she stayed, Broxton would later recount in a letter to the court.
Later that day, the girl accused some guys who stayed behind with her of trying to force her to have sex. Police ended up talking to Broxton, who admitted to a consensual sexual relationship with her.
Only then, Broxton said, did he learn the girl was 15 — not old enough to consent to sex.
Broxton was arrested in 1997 on a charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act. He pleaded no contest and was placed on probation for three years.
Since then, Broxton, now 29, has had to register as a sex offender, meaning his photo, address and the cars registered to him appear on the state's online sexual offender and predator registry.
Broxton's is just the type of case that the Legislature had in mind when it enacted the so-called Romeo and Juliet law that gives circuit judges authority to remove from the list an individual who had consensual sex with a teenager under certain criteria.
Last week, Circuit Judge Frank Bell approved Broxton's removal from the registry, and the paperwork to complete the removal is in progress.
Broxton could not be reached for comment. However, in his motion for removal, he said his inclusion on the list made it hard for him to maintain employment and caused psychological problems.
- Amen! Same thing applies to ALL sex offenders.
He also said he was being ostracized along with those who deserved to be on the registry.
"It's the scarlet letter," said his attorney, Christopher Rabby.
Adapting to guidelines
Broxton is one of two local defendants to be removed from the list since the law went into effect last July. Joshua Hutson, 32, also of Pensacola, was removed in December. At least one other defendant has filed a motion seeking removal.
Kelly McGraw, Hutson's attorney, said inclusion on the list without consideration for extenuating circumstances was unfair.
"It just subjects people to harassment because there is no discernment as to the level of the offense ... whether you are a horrible, terrible rapist or you had sex with a girlfriend when it was consensual," McGraw said.
Hutson pleaded no contest in 1995 to two counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act after allegations he had sex with a 15-year-old girl he met at the beach when he was 19. He was placed on probation for 10 years and later forced to register as a sex offender.
Hutson could not be reached for comment. However, McGraw said the registry had become a burden for him and his wife.
"This is quite a relief to them because this basically gives him his life back," she said.
McGraw said Hutson wanted off the registry for several reasons.
"No. 1, the registry guidelines and standards are constantly changing," she said. "So, he and his wife, every time they got a letter from FDLE (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement), they were like, 'What's changing now?' "
- Amen! And how can anybody be expected to obey the law when it is constantly changing? This violates the Constitution of ex post facto punishment and punishment without due process of law. Many people signed a "contract" when they were convicted, and that is what they should live by. The state cannot just tear up a contract like this, it's illegal!
If Hutson's motion had been denied, he would been required by law to get a driver's license that indicated he was a sex offender. Florida's sex offenders and predators have until Feb. 1 to get a marked license or identification card.
- And this is more cruel & unusual punishment, another Scarlett Letter. When will this injustice stop?
Hutson also travels a lot, and each time he left town, he had to check in with the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. He also had to check in with law enforcement when he arrived at his destination and when he returned home, McGraw said.
'I didn't know any better'
Joseph Yokom, 28, of Jacksonville has filed a motion saying he does not believe he belongs on the registry.
The State Attorney's Office is contesting Yokom's motion, saying the age gap between him and the victim is too great for the Romeo and Juliet law to apply.
Yokom said he was 20 and dating a 15-year-old girl when he was accused of putting his hands up the girl's shirt. Yokom, who was living in the Pensacola area, pleaded no contest to a charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act and was placed on probation for three years.
Yokom and the girl later married and had a son together. They've since divorced.
He said he doesn't want to be on the registry because he doesn't want to be characterized as a pervert.
- In today's society, who isn't a pervert in one way or another?
"I am nothing like that," said Yokom, a car sales manager. "There are people out there who are like that. I'm not saying there aren't sicko people out there like that. I just don't feel like I fall in that category."
- I am so sick and tired of hearing the "sicko" term.
Yokom said he realizes he made a mistake by dating a 15-year-old when he was 20. But he questions whether he should still be punished for it.
"I didn't know any better," he said. "I didn't think about it. I was just out of high school. It didn't seem like that big of a deal to me."
State Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said there was plenty of discussion about the law when it was pending in the Legislature. Among the things discussed were the different ways offenders can get on the registry.
Wise described one scenario as a man meeting a girl with a fake identification at a bar, having sex with her and the man later being arrested for having sex with a minor.
"It doesn't really make a lot of sense to put a person like that on a registry when in fact you had no idea that person was underage," he said.
- In today's society, you basically have to do a complete background check on everybody, and ask to see their drivers license, and even then, people can and do get fake id's.
Benjamin Stevenson, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Florida's Romeo and Juliet law helps to show that all convicted sex offenders should not be treated the same.
"Kind of grouping in the more minor crimes with the serious sexual predators is probably not in the best interest of society," he said. "It gives you a false sense of security and also makes people have to go through all this registration when probably they are not as much a threat to society as people think that they are."
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I am willing to bet he is a sex offender. And this goes to show you, a buffer zone is nothing but a false sense of security that will do nothing to stop a person from committing another crime. You'd have to be an idiot to believe otherwise.
A man walked right into a Centreville school Tuesday afternoon and walked out with an 8 year old girl. Police said a neighbor saw the suspect lying on top of the girl behind Lalumeir Elementary School in the 6700 block of Bond Avenue about just before 3:00 p.m., about an hour before school lets out. Police said that neighbor yelled at the suspect to stop what he was doing; the suspect ran off; the girl ran home. Police said school authorities didn't realize the girl was gone.
Lalumeir is part of the Cahokia School District. The superintendent tells Fox 2 the school's security team is investigating. Security changes will be made. All school doors, except the front door, are supposed to locked to the outside. The front door is situated where office staff can keep an eye on it.
"We're looking into the situation to find out how this person gained access to the building," said Jana Bechtoldt
Cahokia Schools Superintendent: "I'm very, very concerned about how this person entered the building...we will take whatever steps are necessary to make this never happens again. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our children."
"There are so many sickos out there," said Centreville Police Detective Kiwan Guyton, who was one the officers who arrested the suspect, not far from the school. "[This] cannot happen again. When your kids go to school they're supposed to be safe from everything...you don't know what's going through their minds from day to day. We're just glad this incident didn't go any further than what it did and we have this, I want to call him a predator, off the streets."
The suspect is 20 years old. He remained locked up at the Centreville Police Department Tuesday night. Police said he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet when they caught, a sign he was already on probation for another offense. Police were checking to see if he was a registered sex offender Tuesday, but did not release the suspect's name.
Police said the girl was shaken up, but not physically hurt; not sexually assaulted; the alert neighbor, police said, helped keep that from happening.
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Tier classification spells extra work for courts
NEWARK -- Clarence Williams strikes an imposing presence with his large build and tattoos. Despite that, the father of three lives in fear of an everyday occurrence: the mail.
Two years ago, Williams was living in an apartment on South 40th Street when he received a letter telling him he had to move.
He was forced to leave his home of six years because, as a registered sex offender in Newark, Williams was not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a new day care center.
On Dec. 1, Williams, who now lives on the 200 block of Central Avenue with his family, opened his mailbox and pulled out a letter that potentially could affect the rest of his life.
The letter was from the state and informed him that as of Jan. 1 he no longer would be considered a sexually oriented offender, the classification with the least registration requirements, but as a Tier III offender, the classification with the strictest registration requirements.
- Thus ex post facto and punishment without due process of law, thus violating the Constitution of the state and US!
"These laws are getting ridiculous," he said. "I didn't kill nobody."
- Yet all sex offenders are treated as if they are John Couey!
Ohio implemented the tiered structure of the Adam Walsh Act, known in the state legislature as part of Senate Bill 10, on the first of the year. This transformation of the established registry removed the familiar labels, such as "sexual predator" or "sexually oriented offender", and replaced them with Tier I, Tier II and Tier III, from weakest to strongest conditions for compliance.
Where once a judge was presented evidence before deciding the level of a sex offender, now no classification hearings are conducted and those guilty of a sex crime automatically are designated into one of the three tiers based on their offense.
Perhaps the most controversial provision of the law is its retroactive nature, meaning it applies to an offender convicted this week as well as an offender, such as Williams, found guilty almost a decade ago.
- Yep, a direct violation of the Constitution on passing ex post facto laws and punishment without due process of law.
Williams, who was sentenced to community control as an 18-year-old for non-forcible attempted rape of a 12-year-old girl, said he was preparing for his final annual check-in with the Licking County Sheriff's Office in April and was ready to move on sans the sex offender label next year.
Now Williams said he can expect to forever be looked at as a sexual predator whom other parents should be fearful to have their children around. As a Tier III offender, Williams will have to register his home and work address at the sheriff's office every 90 days for the rest of his life.
"There's other people that want to go out and stalk these kids ... and it makes me look like a bad person because I made a mistake years ago," he said.
A WAY TO FIGHT
Offenders have a way to fight their new classification, said Amy Borror, public information officer for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.
"What (the Adam Walsh Act) allows them to do is file a petition to have a hearing to challenge," she said.
- Yeah, you can do this, but how many have successfully one their case? I am willing to bet it's 0%.
Of the 22,000 offenders statewide who were reclassified by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, Borror said she thinks hundreds already have petitioned their local courts to review their designations.
The statute that allows an individual to contest his or her classification likely was intended solely for the correction of errors, such as if a convicted voyeur improperly was placed as a Tier III offender.
The public defender's office has opposed the retroactive nature of the law since the beginning and thinks that wording in it allows for people to challenge it as a violation of their rights, Borror said.
"The way the law is written is that a person can contest what the (attorney general's) office says is error correction," she said. "How we read that language is that people can raise constitutional issues."
Despite their directions for offenders to challenge, Borror said there is no authority in the law for a judge to adjust the tier classification of an individual.
Williams filed a petition Friday with Licking County Common Pleas Court and included an affidavit of indigency, meaning he cannot afford a lawyer. Depending on how the challenges are treated, either as a civil matter -- which is how Williams' was filed -- or as an extension of the related criminal case, petitioners might not be entitled to a court-appointed attorney.
- WTF??? I thought all who could not afford a lawyer were entitled to a court appointed lawyer, this is also part of the Constitution. That is why the miranda rights say "if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you!"
The same day Williams submitted his challenge to the court, Licking County Common Pleas judges Thomas Marcelain and Jon Spahr placed a stay on answering individual challenges.
"It was just becoming a management issue to some extent," Marcelain said Monday. "(The petitions) were coming in every day."
- You passed an insane law, so now you must deal with it! Everybody, IMO, should take it to court, flood the system... Don't just sit there and take this BS!!!
At that point, the county was aware of 20 offenders who were challenging their new classifications, according to the judgment entry.
A March 24 hearing has been scheduled for discussion on issues relating to the constitutionality of the Adam Walsh Act and its enforceability, the entry states.
Marcelain said two other court proceedings likely would be conducted beforehand to concentrate on the questions of whether the challenges were filed in the proper venue and if the petitioners should be afforded court-appointed attorneys.
Marcelain and Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said they expect higher courts to weigh in on the statute in the future.
While this is being sorted out, Oswalt said the top priority is to make sure no offender falls off the list and the judiciary later decides he or she still should be classified.
During the interim, Marcelain said all offenders who have filed with the county will be expected to comply with the old rules, known as Ohio's Megan's Law. Those whose term of registration expires between now and the March hearing will be expected to continue with their commitment under the pre-2008 rules, he said.
Williams said he hopes to lose his classification before he receives another letter forcing him to uproot his family.
"I understand they look at me as a bad person," he said. "I just wish they'd leave me alone."
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01/16/2008 Plans announced by Web site to combat predators
- You mention in the title "sex offender" but here you say "predators!" Which is it? They should be going after predators who are looking for children, but just because a sex offender is using MySpace doesn't mean they are looking for children to molest. This is the kind of BS reporting I cannot stand. Are you going after PREDATORS or ALL SEX OFFENDERS? And if you are going after ALL then why?
More than 1,800 MySpace profiles have been created by Illinois registered sex offenders, according to a report from the Illinois attorney general's office released Monday.
- Yeah, so? How many are trolling for kids and are true predators? That is what I want to know.
The report came after repeated subpoenas to the networking site revealed 1,843 profiles created by sex offenders, said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in a press release. The information came with an announcement that 48 other states and the District of Columbia reached an agreement with MySpace to initiate new measures to ensure the protection of its underage users. Texas was the only state exempt from the agreement.
- Ok, you mention above 1,800, then you mention 1,843, so which is it? How are you going to "ensure the protection" of these people? I'd love to hear your magical plan!
Some of the measures would include setting the default profile setting to "private" for 16- and 17-year-olds, as well as allowing parents to submit children's email addresses in order to keep them from creating profiles.
- So what about people under 16? Why don't you just make ALL profiles private automatically when they are first created? Kids do lie about their age, and I'm sure you will find tons of them there who are under 16, if you'd check. They should not be able to create a profile without parents permission anyway. And anyone under 16 should be kicked off the site.
According to the Illinois State Police Web site, registered sex offenders could have been convicted of a variety of crimes, including possession of child pornography, criminal sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a child and criminal sexual abuse. In Illinois, criminal sexual abuse can include any sexual conduct with a person younger than 17 but older than 13.
- What? I think criminal sexual abuse covers ALL age groups. Why are you zeroing in on 13 - 17? Sexual abuse is sexual abuse, regardless of the age.
Sgt. David Stewart of the SIUC Police Department works with a cyber crimes task force with the FBI.
Stewart said students who believe they may have met a sex offender could perform an online search to determine the nature of the offense. The Illinois State Police Web site, allows users to search by name and location for sexual offenders.
Shanel Strange, a junior from Chicago studying administration of justice, said she sets her MySpace profile to private.
- And everyone should do this, that is why it should be done automatically.
Though she restricts access to her account, Strange said she would supervise her younger sister's page if she had one.
"(My sister is) 10 years old, going on 20," Strange said. "If she had a MySpace, I would definitely check her profile often."
- And how would you do that without her password?
Azizat Danmole, a graduate student from St. Louis studying creative writing, said she disabled her MySpace account years ago. Danmole said she found the site's open distribution of information to be creepy.
"It's too much easy access," Danmole said. "It's not restricted. It's open to more people."
- Yeah, so is the entire Internet and free world? If you give that info out, you are stupid, IMO. Would you give a total stranger your social security number? Then don't give out other personal info.
She added that she hoped MySpace would institute more restrictions to keep users' information out of unwanted hands.
- The only way to do that is to not publish your personal info. Why are you shifting the blame over to MySpace when it's your fault for giving that info??