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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - One-time thief Heber Nixon Jr. has filled out his share of futile job applications. All said being a felon wouldn't stand in his way - but the promised calls from managers never came.
He finally got a second chance when he showed up at a construction site looking for work and found a sympathetic builder.
Now, the city of Philadelphia is making a concerted effort to encourage the hiring of ex-convicts amid a renewed interest nationwide in dealing with high recidivism, growing crime rates and exploding prison populations.
Philadelphia averaged a murder a day the past two years and has been sued to reduce its overcrowded, record-high jail population.
So on his 100th day in office last month, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a program, being headed by an ex-offender, that gives $10,000 a year in municipal tax credits to companies that hire former prisoners and provide them tuition support or vocational training.
"This is one of the best crime-prevention programs we'll ever have," he said.
Initiatives to help former prisoners re-enter society have become a renewed priority across the country as new data shine a spotlight on staggering rates of incarceration and recidivism.
For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, a study released in February found. Federal data show about 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year.
Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said the level of interest in finding ways to keep ex-prisoners from repeat offenses is unprecedented. "It's really quite extraordinary," he said.
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and San Francisco are among cities with agencies already dedicated to ex-offenders; states including Oregon and Oklahoma established councils last year to study re-entry policies.
In April, President Bush signed the "Second Chance Act," which authorizes more than $330 million over two years to help government agencies and nonprofit groups lower recidivism.
"The spending on corrections is consuming a larger and larger percentage of state and local budgets," Thompson said. "When you're spending it on this, you're not spending it on other government priorities."
Philadelphia spends about $30,000 a year to house each of its more than 9,000 inmates.
"You don't have to be a CPA to do the math," said Ronald Cuie, director of the mayor's Office for the Re-entry of Ex-offenders. "The investment on re-entry has a hard-dollar return."
Cuie himself is an example of successful re-entry, having served more than three years in prison for an aggravated assault fueled by drug and alcohol addiction. Now clean and sober, he still reports to a probation officer.
The scope of the ex-offender problem in Philadelphia was detailed in a report last fall that showed about 40,000 former inmates return to the city annually from federal, state and local incarceration.
At any given time, according to the study by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice, the city of 1.4 million is home to 200,000 to 400,000 ex-cons, many in need of not only jobs but also education, health care and addiction counseling.
The study cites federal statistics showing nearly two out of every three inmates released from state or federal prison are expected to be rearrested within three years.
"The overwhelming majority want to start a new chapter in life," said lead author Ram Cnaan, a professor and associate dean of the school. "But it's difficult."
Former inmate Nixon, 51, of Philadelphia, said it was frustrating to be told repeatedly that he would be considered for a job, when he knew he wouldn't.
"They say, 'Well, you can sign the application, the manager will call you,"' Nixon said. The calls never came.
Ronald Birkmire Jr., 37, of Philadelphia, said he had the same experience because of his assault record.
"You might come in with a great resume ... (but) it's still a struggle sometimes to get a job," Birkmire said.
Both men found employment in recent years with Gensis Group construction company in Philadelphia. Owner Bill Reddish said he has been hiring ex-offenders for years because of what he described as a feeling of obligation to his community. He now intends to apply for the tax credit, which is good for up to three years.
"Growing up in Philadelphia, in an urban environment, you have friends that you've grown up with that have maybe made some bad decisions," Reddish said. "And the stigma of being a convicted felon stays with them throughout the rest of their lives."
Philadelphia has set aside money for at least 500 potential new hires under the city program, but it's unclear how many businesses will take advantage.
Some don't like to publicize their employment of former prisoners. Others, including banks and child-care centers, are restricted from hiring them.
Cuie's office is also working with the city prison system to start planning for convicts' re-entries as soon as they are sentenced, rather than waiting until six months before their scheduled releases, as is current practice.
"This city government has a responsibility to extend our hand and make sure that we're giving people that second chance," the mayor said.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008
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Sex offenders were the topic of discussion at Tuesday morning's Supervisors meeting. The question was: Where should they live?
Last month, Supervisors created a rule that prevents sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of daycare facilities.
It started after neighbors complained about the dozens of sex offenders paroled at two South Union motels.
Many of those same neighbors asked supervisors to toughen restrictions complaining that the State Parole Board isn't doing enough to monitor convicted sex offenders.
Supervisor Michael Rubio wanted to expand the residency restrictions on sex offenders to include all places where kids gather.
The problem is that would make about 75-percent of the county off limits.
Supervisors voted three to two to reject any changes.
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This is insane! Kids are not consider adults until 18 (in most states), but they sure can be thrown in jail/prison for stupid crap like this. What about disciplining the child instead of juvenile?
Police arrested a 12-year-old boy who asked a woman for sex then inappropriately touched her when she declined, police said.
The boy approached the 37-year-old woman in a restroom at Christmas Hill Park shortly before 1 p.m. today. He asked her for sexual intercourse and after she said no, the boy touched her buttocks, police said.
Officers located the preteen at the park. He was positively identified. The boy kicked a police officer while he was being taken into custody. The officer was not injured and the boy was arrested on suspicion of battery on a peace officer and sexual battery and taken to juvenile hall.
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DNA tests have exonerated a South Side man who has served nearly 14 years in prison in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who was attacked in the fall of 1994 as she walked to school, the inmate's lawyer said Tuesday.
Dean Cage, 41, was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 40 years in prison despite his assertions that he was innocent and was home at the time of the attack.
"I have my life back," Cage said in a telephone interview with the Tribune from the Illinois River Correctional Center in Downstate Canton. "It means the world to me. I never had a doubt. I am happy and blessed."
Attorney Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, which investigates wrongful convictions, said he was informed by the Cook County state's attorney's office that Cage's conviction had been dismissed after DNA tests eliminated him as the attacker.
Cage was to be released as soon as Tuesday night.
The exoneration by DNA is the 29th such case in Illinois. The case is another example of an erroneous eyewitness identification leading to a wrongful conviction, said Alba Morales, an Innocence Project attorney who has been working on Cage's case for several years.
More than three-fourths of the wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing have involved faulty eyewitness testimony, she said. And, like Cage's case, many of those involved composite sketches of suspects.
After the assault, the victim provided a description of her attacker and a computer-generated composite sketch was circulated in the neighborhood. About a week later, an anonymous tipster called police and said that a possible suspect worked at a meat-packing house nearby. The victim identified Cage at the business as her attacker.
After a lineup, Cage was charged with participating in a separate rape that took place in February 1994, according to John Gorman, a spokesman for the state's attorney. A 29-year-old woman said that Cage and two other men grabbed her, and that one raped her. She could not identify the rapist.
After DNA tests failed to link Cage to the rape, he was acquitted in 1995 in a bench trial by Circuit Judge Michael Bolan. The next year Cage went to trial before Bolan on the Nov. 14, 1994, rape charge.
The victim in that case testified that she had missed her bus and was walking to a train station about 6:25 a.m. when a man grabbed her, dragged her and sexually assaulted her between two porches of an apartment building near 70th Street and Wabash Avenue.
Cage testified at the trial that he did not leave his home that morning until about 7:30 a.m.
"I had never been locked up a day in my life," Cage said Tuesday. "I was just trying to support my family. But my mother said everything happens for a reason, that it happened to put me closer to the Father, to make me a stronger person."
The Innocence Project began reinvestigating the case in 2004. Initial DNA tests were not definitive, and another round of tests, completed recently , eliminated him as the attacker.
On Tuesday morning, Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel dismissed the case at the prosecutor's request.Cage's mother, Jerley, 63, left her Far South Side home Tuesday afternoon with her daughter, Michelle, to drive to the prison to pick up Cage.
"This is a trip I've been waiting to take," she said. "I was in shock at first. We've been fighting for so many years. I've prayed for this day. Everyone in my church has prayed for him."
Cage's mother is diabetic and has heart problems. She has undergone a dozen surgeries during the last few years.
"I'm fine now," she said. "I can't wait to get him home and cook his favorite meal—smothered potatoes."
She said she has soured on the justice system.
"I don't believe in the justice system no more," she said. "They let the bad guys run, and they got the good guy locked up."
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County Supervisors will examine sex offender residency restrictions Tuesday morning.
It started with complaints from neighbors about the dozens of sex offenders paroled at two S. Union Avenue motels.
Supervisor Michael Rubio wants to expand the residency restrictions on sex offenders to include all places that kids gather.
That would make about 75 percent of the county off-limits to sex offenders.
Rubio said, "That's our effort. What can we do to protect the citizens of Kern County and that's the way I look at it. We found 75 percent of the county where these sex offenders should not be."
Supervisors also want to standardize the way the distance from the sex offender's home is measured.
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Metro-area vice officers now patrol cyberspace, too
Scantily clad prostitutes stopping cars at intersections or waving from the doorways of cheap motels are becoming a thing of past.
Instead, more and more are advertising their wares on the Internet. Besides being a lot easier than walking the streets and cheaper than having a pimp, going online allows them to reach wider audiences and work on their own schedules, police say.
In response, metro-area vice officers are putting as much effort toward patrolling cyberspace as they are toward patrolling the streets.
"We know prostitution is a nucleus for all types of criminal activity," said Capt. Nick Clark, commander of the Hinds County Sheriff's Department's Street Crimes Task Force. "Often, you'll find it is connected to drugs, and illegal narcotics drive most of the crime in Jackson."
Within the last few years, Clark and his officers realized that more prostitutes were using Web sites to attract clients.
"I arrested this woman in a sting, and I asked her, 'Where have you been? I haven't seen you in a while, and I know you didn't stop hooking,' " Clark said. "She told me she had been on the Internet."
The sites used to get customers also are those normally used to advertise community yard sales or to keep in touch with faraway friends.
Craigslist, a nonprofit online bulletin board, is monitored almost daily by a member of Clark's task force. Last week, several people advertising on the site were arrested on prostitution charges in Hinds County during an operation in which Clark and several of his deputies posed as potential johns and set up meetings at a local motel.
One of those arrested was 26-year-old Michael Lee Hargo.
Hargo was contacted by The Clarion-Ledger through a Craigslist ad under the name "Tempress." The ad shows a man deputies say is Hargo in a suggestive pose wearing women's underwear.
"I do sensual body massages," he said. "I do it to make a little extra money because times are hard. I do not perform sex."
He also said the undercover officer was the one who initiated the "sex talk."
Hargo was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled for a hearing in June.
Clark said prostitutes often pose as masseuses.
"They may come to your hotel room with a little squirt bottle of oil. But they don't know massage. And they're not licensed," he said. "Massage is an art. It's something people go to school for. What we're dealing with is sex."
Clark didn't have data on the number of arrests that have come from scouring the Internet for prostitutes, but said the department has made been more than 1,000 prostitution and prostitution-related arrests since 1995.
Besides prostitution, the Internet has been a fertile environment for all sorts of crimes.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood created a statewide Cyber Crime Unit almost a year ago. Hood said he has realized since then how much crime has evolved with technology.
"There is so much the Internet brings us. There are great research capabilities and so many opportunities for crime," he said.
Child pornography, identity theft, financial scams and sales of counterfeit goods are all types of cases that have landed in the hands of the Cyber Crime Unit.
Prostitution, whether found on the street or online, is a misdemeanor. That's why Clark says often his task force officers will "trade up," meaning they will negotiate with suspected prostitutes to drop or lighten charges in exchange for their help in catching felons - namely drug dealers.
"We'll get them to call somebody they know who will sell us drugs," he said. "And we'll keep following the chain up."
Hargo said police told him that if he called somebody who would sell drugs to them, they would let him go. "But I don't know anybody who does drugs. So they took me to jail," he said.
Clark said he feels for women and men who are in the business of selling their bodies. Many are young and hooked on drugs.
"They are slaves to crack cocaine," he said. "It's a horrible life. And I can't tell you how many times I have found one of them in a ditch, stabbed, shot, with their throat cut."
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Why are parents and schools allowing cell phones in school anyway? If a parent needs to get in touch with a child, they can call the school, like in the old days. Now these sex offender laws are sweeping them up into the large draconian nets and labeling them sex offenders for life, thus basically ending their chances at anything of a normal life, before it even begins.
Police say devices distracting, are used to facilitate crimes
If a person goes to see a movie or play, there is normally a gentle reminder at the start for audience members to turn off their cell phones.
The problem is that text messaging and placing or receiving calls is a huge distraction to others.
Local police would like the same rule to apply to teens at school. Not only can cell phones be distracting to other students and teachers, but now police are coming across a growing number of incidents where the communication devices are also being used to help facilitate crimes.
From recording after-school fights to text bullying to teens sending nude photos of themselves to other teens, law enforcers say they're seeing cell phones used in ways that were never heard of several years ago.
"They're a huge hinderance to the educational process. Teachers go off about how disruptive phones are all the time," said Jordan School District spokeswoman Melinda Colton. "Based on the number of e-mails from teachers we've received the past few weeks, it's on the rise."
One Jordan School District official estimated 75 percent of students in middle and high school have cell phones. And the district fears cell phone companies will start focusing their marketing efforts on elementary school children.
For educators, most of the problems range from simple disruption to students texting answers to tests, taking pictures of tests and distributing them, to storing cheat sheets on their phones.
"(Cell phones) allow us to distribute information at a rate that has never been experienced before. Now society is going to have to adjust to this," said Cal Evans, executive director of compliance for the Jordan District.
But there have been several examples in recent weeks of cell phones being used for more than just violating school codes.
The problem of teens taking sexually explicit pictures with their cell phones and sending them to the cell phones of other teens received big media attention earlier this year in Davis County when the county attorney announced 28 teens from five junior highs and three high schools were being investigated.
Officials from several districts, however, say the problem is everywhere, not just in Davis County.
"We're seeing it more ... racy pictures going back and forth," said West Jordan Police Sgt. Greg Butler.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old West Jordan High School student was charged with a felony for sending nude photos of himself to the cell phones of female students who didn't want them.
The problem of nude pictures and cell phones does not surprise Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
"I've been warning parents for three years about 'porn in a pocket,"' he said.
Also in West Jordan, 24 students who recently witnessed an after-school fight were charged for encouraging the fighters. At least one of the students recorded the fight on a cell phone and showed it off to students at school the next day, Butler said.
Cell phones have "just created an atmosphere" for schoolyard brawls, he said.
"If they're recording criminal behavior for their entertainment or to post on YouTube, it's a problem," Butler said.
There are some Internet sites dedicated to nothing but people posting home videos of street fights.
"I've been hearing from people all over the state in every county (about similar problems)," Shurtleff said.
The attorney general said he agreed with the decision to charge the students who encouraged the West Jordan fight.
"It's sending a message there are consequences," he said. "At least make the kids think about it."
Another problem for educators is text messaging. Evans said some students send on average 200 to 400 text messages a day. Some students are so good at it that they can text while holding their phone under their desk without looking at the keys.
Where text messaging becomes a problem for law enforcers is when it escalates into text bullying, another serious issue that Shurtleff has been warning young people about for the past couple of years.
As technology advances, the problem is only going to get worse, Evans said. One area of concern is remote-controlled cameras being placed in locker rooms or classrooms, he said.
To battle these problems, law enforcers and school administrators say parents need to strictly monitor their son or daughter's cell phone activities and students need to be educated about the dangers and possible penalties.
"If you're going to let your kids have a cell phone with a camera, it's a huge temptation," said Shurtleff who noted a parent would be hard pressed to find a phone that didn't have camera or internet capabilities.
"Parents can say, 'Hand me your phone now' at any random time to check the latest activity on the phone. (Teens) need to know you're monitoring, otherwise there's all the temptation in the world."
Without accountability, Colton said teens view their phones as being more of a toy than a communication device.
Many school districts in Utah have policies that students cannot have their cell phones on during class. But banning cell phones from school altogether would not work, Evans said.
"It's not possible to totally enforce it. There's no use in establishing a policy that's impossible to maintain," he said.
Furthermore, many of the problems involving students and cell phones don't happen on school property. If a student takes a nude photo of him or herself at home and sends it to another student, it's not necessarily a school issue since it did not happen on school property.
Cell phones can be useful for teens when used properly, he said. They're good to have in emergency situations.
"We have to educate students on what is appropriate and inappropriate use of cell phones," Evans said. "The potential (to get in serious trouble) is certainly there."
But Evans admitted it was also "incredibly difficult to police all this stuff."
Butler, however, said once a student is caught, the evidence is almost foolproof because it's right on their phones — something teens may want to consider the next time they think about sending an explicit photo or recording a fight, he said.
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Registered sex offenders in the state will be required to register any e-mail address, user name or instant message screen name, along with their given name, place of residence and any crime for which they’ve been charged.
Gov. Phil Bredesen (Email) signed legislation requiring that information after the bill passed unanimously in the General Assembly. The law is effective July 1.
Rep. Doug Overbey (Email), R-Maryville, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it significantly improves online safety for children. It will make the e-mail addresses and user names public through the sex offender registry, allowing parents to monitor whom their children are talking to, he said.
“The reason I think it’s important is I’ve seen statistics that say one in five teenagers who regularly log onto the Internet have received unwanted sexual advances,” Rep. Overbey said.
- But by who? Other children or adults? This study seems to say this is blown out of proportion and mostly other children (here and here). And here is an article about the "One in Five!" Once again, they hear someone throw out some statistics and they believe it without further investigating it. These studies prove it's a load of fear-mongering!
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s legal counsel revised and upgraded previous legislation so it could meet standards mandated by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. That federal act integrates information from state sex offender registries so all law enforcement officials have access to the same information.
The state had until next year to meet the requirements, many of which it already complies with, she said.
“Tennessee is actually above the minimum requirements,” Ms. Helm said. “These were some of the things we needed to come into compliance with. It’s just another field that (sex offenders) have to report.”
While the TBI will not monitor e-mail addresses and screen names, officials may use the data during sex offender registry roundups, Ms. Helm said.
- What? How is an email address going to be used for roundups?
During such roundups, law enforcement officials check listed residences of offenders to ensure they have provided current information, she said.
The legislation will make Tennessee — already known as an unfriendly state for sex offenders — even tougher, said Sen. Jamie Woodson (Email), R-Knoxville, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. Some sex offenders are prohibited from using the Internet for certain types of activities and can be checked to see if they violate terms of their parole, she said.
“That’s something that their parole officer will have an opportunity to check against,” Rep. Woodson said.
Law enforcement officials need another tool to combat the rising number of online predators, and the bill will make that possible, said local defense attorney Robin Flores, who handles many sexual offender cases.
But he wonders whether the requirements infringe upon privacy and if new legislation will continually punish sexual offenders.
- Of course it does and of course it will. That is obvious!
“After a while, we’re going to have to start thinking, ‘How far will that go?’” Mr. Flores said. “Simply because someone is convicted and served their time doesn’t mean they’ve given up their rights.”
- You are right, if the constitution meant anything, then these laws would be shot down as unconstitutional, but everybody in office apparently lied when they took an oath of office to uphold the constitution.
Claris Networks, an information technology company, recommended the legislation because the company thinks the bill will serve as a deterrent to those thinking about preying on young people online, said Claris spokesman Brooks Brown.
- It's because they are a business, and this exploitation makes them more money!
It also helps law enforcement officials find sex offenders with an unregistered address who talk to minors, he said.
- How in the world is an email going to help find unregistered sex offenders? Give me a break! People sure are gullible and stupid if they believe this.
“We’re hoping that it will curb the desire and the thought by sex offenders that would go online and talk to children,” he said. “They’ll think, ‘It seems a little more risky to me than it did before.’”
- True predators are not going to think about this, they will just register another email address in a matter of minutes and go about their business. How are you going to track them then? This is nothing but more shaming and punishment, nothing more.