Monday, November 3, 2008
By Bruce C. Smith
Unnamed man seeks review of ordinance barring him from parks, trails in Plainfield
Convicted sex offender John Doe is continuing his long-running legal battle to be allowed in Plainfield's town parks.
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, representing the Marion County man, have asked the Indiana Supreme Court to hear their latest appeal against a Plainfield ordinance banning convicted sex offenders from the town's parks and trail system.
The ACLU is asking the state's high court to consider further review of a September ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which upheld the town's ordinance.
Under the Supreme Court's procedures, a response to accept or decline the petition to transfer the appeal to the higher court is due by mid-November.
A court ruling has allowed Doe to sue Plainfield and remain anonymous. His real name and criminal history are on the public registry of sex offenders. He has completed a prison term and probation.
The ACLU filed suit on behalf of Doe in 2005, after Plainfield police told him not to return to a town recreation center. Doe had been there with his young son.
In the newest filing, the ACLU is asking the Supreme Court to look at legal issues in the most recent state Court of Appeals ruling because of the potential for statewide impact.
"The question of whether sex offenders can be banned from public parks merely because of their past convictions is important because other communities have similar ordinances," said Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana.
In a 19-page petition for transfer, he wrote to the Supreme Court that more Hoosier communities undoubtedly would be prompted to enact similar ordinances.
Plainfield's ordinance, passed in 2000, has survived challenges in Hendricks Superior Court and the state appeals court. Lafayette and Michigan City enacted bans against individual sex offenders that have withstood court review.
Greenwood enacted a ban similar to Plainfield's two years ago. An ACLU suit is pending on similar issues about a ban enacted in Jeffersonville.
In Indianapolis, courts have struck down a broadly worded ordinance that attempted to ban sex offenders for 1,000 feet around parks, schools and other places. The size of the prohibited area was considered unworkable.
Plainfield officials have defended the town's ban as necessary to keep the parks safe for children.
"There has been no hesitation among the Town Council members about defending their ordinance to keep convicted sex offenders out of the parks," said Plainfield Town Manager Rich Carlucci. "We feel in a good position because of the rulings at the trial and appeals court levels. We'll see it to the end because we feel that strong."
Falk and the ACLU claim that permanently denying access to a part of the community after a convict has completed prison and probation is excessive punishment.
Falk wrote to the Supreme Court that the lawsuit now centers on the potential for a sex offender to commit a crime again.
He warned that appeals court rulings leave open the possibility that Plainfield and other communities could expand "sex offender bans to any places where children or other persons could possibly be present."
Call Star reporter Bruce C. Smith at (317) 444-2803.
View the article here
By Margaret McHugh/The Star-Ledger
A 53-year-old mother today admitted having sex with her son's 15-year-old friend in her Morris Township home.
Josette Taylor faces up to five years in prison for her guilty plea to sexual assault. She told a judge she carried on a sexual relationship with the teenager between May and December of last year.
Taylor, dressed in a watermelon-colored zip-up sweater and black slacks, quietly answered her attorney's questions, confirming that she had intercourse with the boy more than once. Authorities have said the two had sex numerous times in Taylor's $1.2 million Hawthorne Court home.
- What does the price of her home have to do with it?
Police began investigating in January after one of the boy's parents found a handwritten note among his belongings signed by "Mrs. T" that was "of an intimate nature" and suggested they had had a physical relationship, the arrest affidavit said.
When confronted, the boy admitted he and Taylor had a sexual relationship, saying it had evolved from a platonic one, the affidavit said.
In a taped phone call between one of the boy's parents and Taylor, she admitted writing the note and hugging and kissing him, but denied having sex with him. Taylor had given him the note while he was at her home with her son in December.
The stay-at-home mom initially told investigators she and the boy were very good friends, but eventually she admitted having sex with him.
The boy's family already has filed a lawsuit against Taylor. Her bid to get into a pre-trial intervention program to avoid a criminal record was opposed by the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.
Under her plea deal, she faces up to five years in state prison, but defense attorney Peter Gilbreth intends to argue for a 3-year sentence. She will have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law and will be under parole supervision for at least 15 years.
Taylor's physician husband filed for divorce on grounds of adultery two days after her arrest. Their divorce was finalized in May, and while they have shared legal custody of their 16-year-old son, he lives with his father, according to their divorce decree. Their 20-year-old daughter is a college student.
Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan will sentence Taylor Jan. 23.
By Betsy Z. Russell
BOISE – Steve Groene, father of two North Idaho children murdered by Joseph Duncan, said today that he’s against trying Duncan for an additional child murder in California.
“I’m going to head down there myself to put an end to that,” he declared. “There’s no reason to spend the taxpayer’s money, and there’s no reason to drag Anthony Martinez’s memory through the crap like they did Dylan’s up here.”
Groene said if officials won’t listen to him, he’ll make a public appeal.
Groene’s son Dylan, 9, was kidnapped, abused and murdered by Duncan in 2005 in an attack on the family that only Dylan’s little sister, Shasta, then 8, survived. Groene also lost his 13-year-old son, Slade, to Duncan’s murderous rampage, along with ex-wife Brenda Matthews Groene and her fiancé, Mark McKenzie.
Groene repeatedly objected to the graphic evidence that was presented at Duncan’s death penalty sentencing trial, in which the 45-year-old sex offender received three death sentences for his abduction, torture and murder of Dylan.
Groene said he fears the same type of evidence could be on display if Riverside County, Calif., seeks a fourth death penalty against Duncan for the 1997 abduction and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez.
He accused officials in California of wanting to hold another trial to boost their political or career interests. He said he’d shared his concerns with the Riverside County district attorney, to no avail.
“This guy’s doing it for personal reasons, not to get any kind of closure to the family or anything,” Groene charged. He said he visited with Anthony Martinez’s stepfather and brother when they came to Idaho to testify in Duncan’s federal sentencing trial. “I spoke to them and they agreed,” he said. “He’ll never spend time in a California prison. There’s no point spending that type of money … so that somebody can fulfill their political aspirations.”
Groene said he’d also been in touch with Anthony’s mother, “and she agreed also.”
Ryan Hightower, spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s office, said this afternoon, “We are already in the process of extraditing the defendant to California to stand trial, and our case will go forward as planned.”
Hightower said of Groene, “We really do sympathize with him … as we sympathize with the victim’s family here in Riverside County, with the loss of their child. We want every family to have the chance to have their day in court.”
Duncan, Hightower said, “will stand trial for the vicious kidnapping and murder that was committed and he will see justice. He has seen justice there, and he will see justice here in Riverside County as well.”
Groene said although a slip of paper with his name and phone number were found in Duncan’s vehicle after Groene’s daughter Shasta was rescued from Duncan in July 2005, the killer never called him or left him any message. “That was my one hope the whole time the kids were gone – I knew they knew my phone number,” he said. “They would call me every day at work.”
Groene said he hoped, while Dylan and Shasta were being held for weeks by Duncan, that they’d somehow slip away and get a chance to call him.
He’s angry that people view him as “some kind of an absentee dad” because the children were with their mother at the time of the crime. “When we separated in ’98, I had all five kids for over a year,” he said.
He said he always paid child support, “up until the time of Brenda’s murder.”
Four female jurors from Duncan’s federal sentencing trial returned to the courtroom today and exchanged hugs with Groene afterward. “I thought it was very nice,” he said. “I still feel sorry for all of ‘em, that they had to view the evidence the way it was presented.”
The jurors, who declined to comment, talked with Groene about possibly working with him on a monument to his two lost sons. Groene said there are two memorials already to Dylan, one at his school in Coeur d’Alene and one at the remote scene of his murder in the Lolo National Forest. But he’d said he’d like to have a local memorial to both boys.
“Slade kind of became the forgotten kid,” Groene said. “He was a 13-year-old kid that was brutally murdered for no reason.”
Groene said he appreciated the jurors’ sympathy. “They just said that my family and Shasta are still in their thoughts and prayers, especially Shasta,” he said.
He hopes his family’s case will lead to new laws. “We have to change this justice system,” he said. “All the time I had to be down here, I could’ve been home with what’s left of my family. … It’s not right.”
Groene said what he’d most like to see come out of the case is a change in laws on sexual predators. “There needs to be a one-strike law,” he said. “You do it once, you’re history.”
By Jim Wallace - bio | email
ALBANY, GA (WALB) - An Albany registered sex offender is asking for help after he was ordered to move by his probation officer.
Roy Bolton says he must move in the next 30 days from his South Albany home, because he lives only 280 feet from a church that has a daycare center. Bolton was convicted of child molestation in 1985, and served 7 years in prison.
He has lived with his Mother for six months, as her only caretaker. Bolton says state law is too strict, if it makes him leave his Mother alone.
Bolton said "My responsibility is here, to take care of my Mother. For 11 years I have kept my nose clean, stayed out of trouble. Done what I am supposed to."
Bolton says Georgia law for registered sex offenders is too arbitrary, saying he has the right to attend church, but can not live too close to one.
Dougherty County Sheriff's Office officials say they do not make Georgia law, but must enforce it.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which mandates a national registry of people convicted of sex offenses and expands the type of offenses for which a person must register, applies to both adults and children. By July 2009, all states must comply with SORNA or risk losing 10 percent of the state’s allocated Byrne Grant money, which states generally use to enforce drug laws and support law enforcement.
In the last two years, some states have extensively analyzed the financial costs of complying with SORNA. These states have found that implementing SORNA in their state is far more costly than the penalties for not being in compliance. JPI’s analysis finds that in all 50 states, the first-year costs of implementing SORNA outweigh the cost of losing 10 percent of the state’s Byrne Grant. Most of the resources available to states would be devoted to the administrative maintenance of the registry and notification, rather than targeting known serious offenders. Registries and notification have not been proven to protect communities from sexual offenses, and may even distract from more effective approaches.
Given the enormous fiscal costs of implementing SORNA, coupled with the lack of evidence that registries and notification make communities safer, states should think carefully before committing to comply with SORNA.
Ohio determined that the cost of implementing new software to create a registry would approach a half million dollars in the first year. The total estimated cost for complying with SORNA exceeds the Byrne funds Ohio would lose if it did not comply.
- Installing and implementing software alone would cost $475,000 in the first year. The software would then cost $85,000 annually thereafter for maintenance.
- Certification of treatment programs based on new standards and providing a description of a person on the registry to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation would cost another $100,000 annually.
- Ohio also lists other factors that would increase the cost of implementing SORNA, including salaries and benefits for new personnel, new court and administration costs, and costs to counties and municipalities. These costs are in addition to the $475,000 needed for software, but have not yet been quantified by the state.
- If Ohio chose not to implement SORNA, the state would lose approximately $622,000 annually from its Byrne funds. However, the total estimated cost of software, certification of treatment programs, salaries, and benefits for new personnel would exceed the lost Byrne funds.
Virginia determined that the first year of compliance with the registry aspect of SORNA would cost more than $12 million.
- The first year of implementing SORNA would cost the Commonwealth of Virginia $12,497,000.
- The yearly annual cost of SORNA would be $8,887,000. Adjusted with a 3.5 percent yearly inflation rate,4 Virginia would be paying more than $10 million by 2014.
- If Virginia chose to comply with SORNA, the state would spend $12,097,000 more than it would if it chose not to implement SORNA and forfeit 10 percent of its yearly Byrne grant, a loss totaling approximately $400,000.
As evidenced by these summaries, states can expect to incur significant costs as they attempt to comply with SORNA. States should consider all possible areas in which increased expenditures will occur.
- New personnel
- Software, including installation and maintenance
- Additional jail and prison space
- Court and administrative costs
- Law enforcement costs
- Legislative costs related to adopting, and crafting state law
By NORM PATTIS
We all have parallel lives, fantasy lands in which we get to play roles for which we are not suited. In mine, I am well-coifed and discrete, a quiet diplomatic sort given to saying just the right thing. I am rewarded for a lifetime of discretion by a seat on the state's Supreme Court. In reality, it ain't gonna happen.
I just returned from arguing a case in that court and I am sulking. The five justices made it pretty clear that they aren’t siding with my client. And I cannot understand why. Oh, to be a justice. I'd show them.
Here's the issue. A client pleaded to some misdemeanors in a case involving allegations of inappropriate conduct with a minor. He got no jail time. In fact, the judge even told the fellow at the time the plea was entered that he would not have to register as a sex offender. It seemed like a good deal, so the client took it.
It turns out the judge was wrong. So was the man's lawyer; so was the state. The legislature requires that the client register as a sex offender. Almost one-and-one-half years after the plea was entered, the trial judge finally told the man to sign up for scorn.
“But wait,” the man said. “The statutes require that before the court accepts a plea in which registration is required that I be advised I am to register, and that the court make sure I understand it. The court never did so.”
The justices agree the client should have been canvassed about registration. But the Supreme Court seems poised to forgive the mistake.
At argument, justice after justice asked why the man had not moved to vacate his plea. But why should he make such a motion? His lawyer, the state and the judge all told him what his plea involved. The judge flat-out told him no registration was required. Why should he be required to ask for his plea back simply because every legal professional involved in his case made a mistake? If he moved to vacate the plea, the state could insist that he face felony charges. At trial he could be convicted and sentenced to many years in prison.
The legislature wants all persons convicted of certain crimes involving children to register as a sex offender. Lawmakers have also made clear that a defendant must be informed of that before the court accepts a plea that will yield the registration requirement. My client was not so informed. It seems clear enough to me that as a result of that failure he ought not be required to register.
The client is not seeking an exemption from the registration requirement. He is simply asserting that the law should be applied in all its rigor to him. Because he was not asked if he understood the registration requirement would flow from a plea, he should not be required to register.
But the justices appear to want otherwise. Through no fault of his own, the client stands to benefit from what amounts to a legal blunder by the trial judge, the state's attorney and defense counsel. This seems to bother the Supreme Court. It would rather have him seek to undo the plea to avail himself of the rule of law. This would require him to voluntarily expose himself to greater harm. That is a result that seems contrary to logic and common sense.
The law is not common sense, I am reminded again and again. My client must register as a sex offender. No sympathy for this man.
The defendant in this case should not have to act against his own interests to vindicate his rights. The trial court erred. Period. There is no principled reason why the defendant should not benefit. Defendants, and not the state, should be given the benefit of the doubt. Or so I would say were I on the court.
By J.D. SUMNER (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Officials tasked with prosecuting and keeping tabs on child molesters and rapists say the number of reported sex crimes committed by juveniles is rising; a trend they say may not be indicative of a spike in crime itself, but an increase in society’s sensitivity to the issue and legislative efforts to increase the ease of reporting sexual abuse.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Cohilas and Dougherty County Sheriff’s Lt. Rebecca Williamson are both cogs in a judicial machine that has increasingly shined a spotlight on sexual abuse, particularly when it involves children.
But one statistic that seems to slip by unnoticed, is the observable upward swing of sexual crimes committed against children by other children.
Williamson, who helps maintain Dougherty County’s official sex offender registry, says that it’s difficult to really gauge how big the juvenile on juvenile problem is because agencies are required to keep juvenile court records confidential.
“We really don’t have anyway to see how many times a juvenile may have committed sex crimes because their records are kept confidential,” she said. “There really is no way to track them.”
In the state of Georgia, a juvenile can be charged with a crime that is so egregious that the legislature has deemed it possible for them to be charged as an adult. These so-called “Seven Deadly Sins” statutes included offenses like aggravated child molestation and murder.
In 1994, the Georgia General Assembly passed the bill that would allow district attorneys to charge juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17 as an adult for committing these heinous crimes.
According to Cohilas, if a juvenile is tried and convicted as adult on an offense that would ordinarily land an adult offender on the registry, that juvenile would also be placed on the registry. But if the juvenile is tried and convicted of a sex crime as a juvenile, the registry requirements don’t apply.
Through her training and experience, Williamson says that one possible indicator lies in the severity of the offense someone commits as a young adult, that may shed light on their previous behavior patterns.
“In my experience, people just don’t suddenly wake up one day and decide they’re going to go commit a sex crime,” she said. “As they age, statistics show that they get more and more aggressive so they may start with something that may not be as heinous, before working their way up to an upper-level crime.”
- So where is the link to these "statistics?"
“I can tell you this,” she said, “they’re getting younger and younger.”
Cohilas, who specifically prosecutes sex offenders and crimes against families, said he believes that a growing amount of offenses involving a juvenile suspect could be a product of what he says is a society that is more socially aware of sexual abuse.
“I think that these victims have always been here, but, fortunately, our society has become more sophisticated and things are in place to make it easier to report these crimes,” Cohilas says.
He believes that a collaborative effort between schools and hospitals and law enforcement agencies has lead to an increase in reports.
“Sex crimes are one of the most under reported crimes in America,” he said. “People just don’t want to confront it and, frankly, the suspects in the cases aren’t the most forthcoming in most instances.”
Both Cohilas and Williamson say that popular belief seems to support a theory that sexual abuse committed by juveniles, especially younger children, is more of a learned behavior; created through the abuse of the suspect or witnessed behavior which creates what the two called the “cycle of abuse.”
“When it happens that young, generally there has been some abuse either involving the suspect or witnessed by the suspect. It is learned behavior. That’s why our main goal is breaking that cycle of abuse so that we don’t have additional victims.”
Cohilas echoed that sentiment.
“What you will find quite often is that the perpetrator has been exposed to sexual deviance, have witnessed abuse or has been abused themselves,” he said.
As an example, Cohilas pointed to one family — five people who were either friends or family who were all indicted and convicted of sexual abuse in 2004 and 2005 — who were described by officials at the time as a “nest of abuse.”
“That is a clear example of how being exposed to that kind of behavior can snowball into a pattern of abuse,” Cohilas said.
So what can parents do to prevent their child from being involved in sexual abuse? Cohilas says its simple, be nosy.
“There has to be open lines of communication between the parents and the children. Look for signs of erratic behavior that may indicate something has happened and if there is any question, contact agencies like the Lilypad Sexual Assault Center, which keeps information confidential while notifying authorities."
- It might help if you provided a number or web site to this place!
By Ethan Thomas
PLEASANT GROVE — A company that wants to operate a treatment facility here for young sex offenders appears poised to take its battle to court.
After canceling a scheduled Board of Adjustments meeting in late October, Alliance Youth Services is apparently moving forward with an appeal of earlier decisions that would have barred the company from operating the facility in a Pleasant Grove neighborhood.
The appeal of earlier decisions by the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustments will likely be settled by a judge.
"I have been informed over the phone by their attorney that they will be bringing this issue to district court," Pleasant Grove City Attorney Tina Petersen said. "I would expect to see their papers in the mail within the coming days."
In August, Alliance Youth Services sought a conditional-use permit from the Planning Commission to house young sex offenders near 500 South and 300 East. After considering the issue, the commission denied the request based on its feeling that the plan interfered with the health, safety and general welfare of the community it surrounded. Alliance appealed to the Board of Adjustments, which found merit in the company's complaint regarding how the decision was reached.
The board suggested the issue go back before the commission, which could either approve or deny the permit, based on factual evidence and not just feelings. The Board of Adjustments was informed, however, that it should be making the decision and the group was set to do so on Oct. 16, when Alliance asked that the meeting be canceled.
At that time, city officials were unsure whether the company would want to pursue the issue any further. That was until they were recently notified of Alliance's intent to appeal the issue in court.
"They went to the Planning Commission, who denied their application for a permit to run this facility," Petersen said. "They are of the opinion that the permit was wrongly denied."
Residents who live in the area turned out in abundance to protest the possibility of such a facility being located in their neighborhood. At a City Council meeting earlier this month, residents presented the council with a large stack of signed petitions and voiced their concerns to their elected officials, while others stayed in front of City Hall protesting and gathering more signatures.
Attempts to contact Alliance Youth Services and its attorney have been unsuccessful.
Decent and stable housing is essential for human survival and dignity, a principle affirmed both in U.S. policy and international human rights law. The United States provides federally subsidized housing to millions of low-income people who could not otherwise afford homes on their own. U.S. policies, however, exclude countless needy people with criminal records, condemning them to homelessness or transient living.
Exclusions based on criminal records ostensibly protect existing tenants. There is no doubt that some prior offenders may still pose a risk and be unsuitable neighbors in many of the presently-available public housing facilities. But U.S. housing policies are so arbitrary, overbroad, and unnecessarily harsh that they exclude even people who have turned their lives around and remain law-abiding, as well as others who may never have presented any risk in the first place.
Exclusions from public housing are among the harshest of a range of punitive laws that burden people with criminal records. Nevertheless, to date they have received scant attention from policymakers, elected officials, advocates for the poor, and the public at large.
Analysis of One-Strike Policies
Policies mandating criminal record exclusions, generally called “one strike” policies, were developed in the 1990s as an attempt to address drug trafficking, violent crime, and disorder in public housing, especially urban high-rise developments. In 1996, President Bill Clinton declared “the rule in public housing should be one strike and you’re out.” Congress subsequently incorporated the one-strike policy into federal housing law.
Today, federal law bans three categories of people from admission to public housing: those who have been convicted of methamphetamine production on the premises of federally funded housing, who are banned for life; those subject to lifetime registration requirements under state sex offender registration programs; and people who are currently using illegal drugs, even those with no criminal records.
The law is unnecessarily harsh and punitive. For example, a man convicted of a sex offense at age twenty would still be banned from a public housing for seniors forty years later, even if he never committed another offense.
Under federal law, local public housing authorities (PHAs) also have the discretion to deny admission to three additional categories of applicants: (1) those who have been evicted from public housing because of drug-related criminal activity for a period of three years following eviction; (2) those who have in the past engaged in a pattern of disruptive alcohol consumption or illegal drug use, regardless of how long ago such conduct occurred; and, (3) the catch-all category of those who have engaged in any drug-related criminal activity, any violent criminal activity, or any other criminal activity if the PHA deems them a safety risk. In practice, these discretionary categories are used to exclude a wide swath of people with criminal records without any reasonable basis to believe they actually pose a present risk to anyone.
Federal regulations advise PHAs to take into consideration in their admissions decisions the nature and remoteness of applicants’ offenses, as well as mitigating factors and evidence of rehabilitation. But they do not require PHAs to do so. As a result, few PHAs provide applicants an individualized evaluation before issuing a rejection. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not review PHA admissions criteria or practices to determine if they are consistent with federal housing policy and goals.
Although PHA criminal record admission policies vary considerably, many reject applicants:
- with an arrest record, sometimes even for a single arrest, regardless of whether they were ever convicted.
- with convictions for minor, nonviolent offenses, including misdemeanors such as shoplifting or writing a bad check , and regardless of whether the nature of the conduct has any relationship to the likelihood of the applicant being a good tenant.
- for excessively long periods of time following an offense. For example, a single drug misdemeanor can trigger ineligibility for upwards of one year; indeed, as long as ten years, depending on the locale. In some places, a person convicted of a violent felony can be ineligible for life—regardless of how exemplary the years following his crime have been.
Moreover, most PHAs automatically deny admission to an applicant with a criminal record without even looking at mitigation or evidence of rehabilitation. Consideration of those factors typically occurs only if an applicant for housing seeks administrative review of the denial. Although those who have lawyers often win such appeals, many applicants for public housing are unable to secure representation.
Balanced, Reasonable Policies
Although advocates for harsh exclusionary policies argue they are necessary to reduce crime in public housing, the experience of many PHAs suggests otherwise.
For example, neither the New York nor the Los Angeles city housing authorities consider arrest records and both limit the types of offenses that warrant exclusion, as well as the length of time applicants with criminal records are excluded. Yet officials at both PHAs told Human Rights Watch that they believe they combat crime just as effectively with their policies as PHAs with far harsher ones. They also have acknowledged the importance of including consideration of prisoner reentry needs in developing public housing policies. “We try to have an enlightened, balanced policy, recognizing that people do have the ability to rehabilitate,” the general manager of the New York City Housing Authority told Human Rights Watch. “Understanding the role of probation, parole, and treatment, we try to balance the interests of residents and applicants.”
Additional evidence that highly restrictive criminal record policies are not responsible for reduced crime rates in public housing developments comes from the comparison of PHAs located in the same geographic area, but with radically different admissions criteria. For example, the Salt Lake City Housing Authority uses automatic exclusion policies that restrict access to housing for long periods of time and for minor offenses, while the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake undertakes an individualized review of each applicant. Yet officials in both PHAs believe they have achieved increased safety and reduced crime.
The Consequences of Exclusion
Denying people the only means of securing safe and affordable housing results in consequences as obvious as they are tragic. People denied public housing live on the streets, in overcrowded shelters, and in squalid transient or SRO hotels. In the best of circumstances, they are crowded into the homes of family or friends for short periods of time, or live in apartments they are not able to afford the following month. Many of them have no housing options other than those that, as they themselves recognize, are rife with domestic abuse, violence, crime, and harmful drug and alcohol use.
Transient living disrupts a child’s education, emotional development, and sense of well-being. Lacking stable housing, children can be removed from their parents’ custody, and parents returning from incarceration are often unable to regain custody of their children. Women may be forced to consider returning to an abuser to avoid homelessness or find themselves having to exchange sex for a place to stay.
People who are inadequately housed, especially those living on the streets or in homeless shelters, are at higher risk for communicable diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. For those fighting to remain drug free, relapse is almost inevitable. And the homeless face criminal penalties for living “private lives in public places,” for example, when they sleep and relieve themselves on the street.
Recidivism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when offenders are released from incarceration with scant survival options. As one substance abuse treatment provider in Birmingham, Alabama, explained, exclusionary policies need to be changed “not just because it’s the humane thing to do, but because it’s the smart, public safety thing to do.”
The United States must recognize that all its residents—even those with criminal records—have a right to decent and affordable housing. Specifically, Human Rights Watch recommends that:
The U.S. Congress
- Repeal federal laws that impose outright bans on public housing for certain types of offenders.
- Pass federal legislation that requires PHAs to conduct an individualized evaluation of each applicant with a criminal record before making a decision on the application.
- Ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and acknowledge the right of all residents of the United States to adequate housing that is decent, safe, and affordable.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Adopt policies that require individualized consideration of each applicant with a criminal record, prior to making a decision on an application, to determine whether he or she will pose a risk to existing housing tenants. Require the following factors be included in the consideration: (1) evidence of rehabilitation, either during incarceration or in the community; (2) the effect of denial on minor children and efforts to reunify families; and (3) whether denial will render the applicant homeless.
- Require PHAs to adopt admissions policies that ensure:
- criminal records that are more than ten years old do not prevent admission, absent extraordinary circumstances;
- offenses upon which denials are based are relevant to being a good tenant; and
- consideration of a criminal record is limited to convictions, absent a pattern of continuing arrests.
- Monitor denials of public housing to ensure that they are not arbitrary, that they are based on reasonable and individualized determinations of risk, and that they do not have a disproportionate and unjustifiable impact on applicants from racial and ethnic minorities.
- Require PHAs to compile and make public on an annual basis the number of applications made for public housing, the number of applicants denied because of negative criminal history information, the number of those denied who appeal, and the number of those challenging their denials who prevail following administrative hearings.
- Conduct expert and ongoing evaluations of whether policies excluding people with criminal records from public housing have an effect on crime patterns, public safety, and quality of life in public housing.
- Provide guidance and training to PHAs about how to conduct individualized evaluations of applications for housing assistance.
- Research the feasibility and design of expanded alternative housing programs for people with criminal records who cannot be accommodated in existing public housing models because of their criminal histories.
Public Housing Authorities
- Adopt policies that require individualized consideration of each applicant with a criminal record, prior to making a decision on an application, to determine whether he or she will pose a risk to existing housing tenants. Ensure that the following factors be included in the consideration: (1) evidence of rehabilitation, either during incarceration or in the community; (2) the effect of denial on minor children and efforts to reunify families; and (3) whether denial will render the applicant homeless.
- Adopt criminal record admissions screening polices that consider:
- only criminal records that are less than ten years old, absent extraordinary circumstances;
- only those offenses that are relevant to being a good tenant; and
- only convictions, absent a pattern of continuing arrests.
- Provide an administrative appeal process for those deemed ineligible for public housing that ensures the full range of due process rights including: adequate notice of the reason for denial; the opportunity to appear with representation, to question witnesses and present evidence and testimony; a written and publicly-available decision setting forth reasons for the administrative decision; and a meaningful opportunity to appeal the administrative decision to a court of law.
- Advise applicants who are denied eligibility for public housing of the availability of local legal assistance to represent them should they choose to challenge their denials.
- Ensure that applicant criminal records are obtained from a reliable source.
No Second Chance - Report, November 18, 2004
U.S.: Broad Range of Offenders Denied Public Housing - Press Release, November 18, 2004
Criminal Sentencing and Drug Laws - Thematic Page
The Wrong Sex Offender Laws - Although popular, California's residency restrictions and registries do little to protect children
Published in Los Angeles Times (09/18/2007)
Politicians and the public love sex offender laws. Everyone wants to protect children and reduce threats to public safety. Trouble is, the laws may do more harm than good.
The right to live free of sexual violence is fundamental. But two years of intensive research into sex offender laws in the United States has convinced us at Human Rights Watch that politicians in California (and elsewhere in the country) failed to do their homework when enacting such popular laws. Many bills are passed in response to truly horrific crimes -- like the murders of Polly Klaas, Megan Kanka and Jessica Lunsford -- but sadly, they are often based on misconceptions that make them less effective in preventing violence.
The laws we studied cover three main categories -- residency restrictions, community notification and registration. Although promoted as ways to protect children, they are not limited to people who have abused children and are likely to do so again. Instead, they typically apply to anyone who has committed any kind of sex-related offense and can include teenagers having consensual sex, streakers and others committing nonviolent crimes. Those convicted as juveniles -- some as young as 10 -- are also subject to these laws.
But is public safety really served by such legislation? There's a lot of evidence to suggest that these laws don't protect children and may even increase the risk by exacerbating the factors that lead people to re-offend.
Let's look at why residency restrictions, for example, aren't effective. Under California's Proposition 83 -- also known as Jessica's Law -- sex offenders released from prison after the law took effect are barred from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park. Given the density of schools and parks in many areas, the residency restriction effectively banishes them for life from living in many cities and towns, often far from their homes, families, jobs and treatment. That makes it nearly impossible for offenders to re-integrate into society successfully and hinders their supervision by police.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation notified 2,741 sex offenders that they have less than 45 days to comply with this restriction. One man, unable to find anyone who would rent to him, is reportedly living in a tent in the Ventura River bottom. Turning former offenders into outcasts puts a tremendous burden on law enforcement and diverts resources that could be better used.
If California had done its research, it could have learned from the experiences of other states that residency restrictions don't enhance public safety. For example, in Iowa, after two years' experience with a residency law similar to California's, law enforcement officials decry the restriction for forcing registrants underground and driving them away from supervision.
Furthermore, the restrictions are relatively meaningless. For example, a recent study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that residential proximity has little effect on the choice of victim -- repeat offenders usually knew their victims through social and familial relationships. And prior to Proposition 83, existing parole and probation laws already permitted police to place restrictions and conditions on former offenders when appropriate.
Online registries, which are very popular with the public, may not be sound measures either. They are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and contain personal details of offenders. The registries identify the law under which an offender is convicted, but the legalese doesn't give the average person a clue as to the actual offense, or whether an offender remains dangerous. And it's one thing to ensure that parents know if someone who poses a threat moves in and quite another to let anyone browse the registries, regardless of any need to know. Registries are not necessary because police have the authority to notify neighbors.
Supporters of registries are not able to point to evidence that the registries have reduced sexual violence. But there is ample evidence, as documented in our recent report, that unfettered access to registries can and does lead to extensive harassment and sometimes violence against former offenders.
Sex offender laws are often based on and perpetuate two popular myths about child abusers: that "stranger danger" is the greatest risk our children face and that once a sex offender, always a sex offender. In fact, the evidence shows that family members, friends or acquaintances are responsible for more than 90% of sexual abuse cases involving children.
As for repeat offenses, most convicted sex offenders do not have a lengthy history of repeating the crime. The U.S. Department of Justice reported a recidivism rate of 3% to 5% three years after release. A longer study found that three out of four did not re-offend within 15 years. These laws offer no protection against first-time offenders, who are responsible for 87% of reported sex crimes against children.
Children deserve laws that work. And former offenders need laws that allow them to rebuild their lives because when they succeed in safely rejoining their communities, we are all safer. Politicians in Sacramento need to work across the party divide to reform these laws, and a first step would be to repeal the residency restrictions in Proposition 83. And the public needs to understand that focusing so much attention on convicted offenders distracts us from developing effective and fair responses to the complex reality of sexual violence.
Jamie Fellner is director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch.
I wonder if he knows how they have targeted innocent people, and harassed them, posted lies, defamatory comments, threats, etc? Maybe Senator Orrin Hatch should check out Corrupted-Justice.com! And this law suit, which is one of many. I guess he needed to look "tough" on predators and sex offenders, to get votes or something.
By Marshall Zelinger - email@example.com
COLORADO SPRINGS - After our report Thursday night, you may have checked the registered sex offender registry near your home and even your neighborhood school. What about your child's school bus stop?
- So move the bus stop!
Just like we did with 13 southern Colorado school districts, NEWSCHANNEL 13 checked for registered sex offenders living near school bus stops. We requested a list of bus stops from Colorado Springs School District 11, Academy School District 20 and Pueblo City Schools (District 60). D-20 and D-60 provided a list, D-11 refused. D-11 did not want us to have a list for the exact reason we were asking for it, to research bus stops near the homes of registered sex offenders. In little time, we found a bus stop in both D-20 and D-60 that dropped kids off right outside or near the home of a registered sex offender. Without a list from D-11, we followed one bus and watched it drop off kids within half a block of the home of a registered sex offender.
"It's very scary," says Pam, a Foothills Elementary (Academy District 20) parent. "Let's set some type of goal on rectifying where the bus stops are or something to help with the safety of the children."
We met Pam while watching a Foothills Elementary school bus drop kids off directly behind the home of a registered sex offender.
"I think that was a great example, they could have just moved in a week or two ago and it can be that quick that something happens," says Pam.
NEWSCHANNEL 13 contacted the registered sex offender who lives behind the bus stop. He was convicted of a sex offense against a family member 15 years ago. He spoke with NEWSCHANNEL 13off-camera and provided this statement:
- So media vigilantism. Why don't you stop harassing registered sex offenders? I'm surprised they even talked with you!
"Just because someone's a registered sex offender doesn't mean they're dangerous. Especially those whose crime was committed within their home, to someone known to them. I could never intentionally harm any child every again. I was not aware of the damage and the degree of it."
"If a sex offender has completed their sentencing, their probation, their parole, etc., then they're free to live wherever they may," says Colorado Springs Police detective Sgt. Bill DeHart. "Many of the sex offenders, they haven't been convicted of a crime against a child. They're not necessarily a danger to a child, however that's where we always place the emphasis, is on children."
Police monitor registered sex offenders at least yearly. Those still on parole or probation may be required to check in with police more often.
"Working with these individuals everyday, I don't have a problem with (registered sex offenders near bus stops) because I know how to monitor them," says Pueblo Police Detective Jeff Shay. "We not only monitor the sex offenders, we will also go after the vigilantism."
Colorado is not one of the 27 states that have certain restrictions on where sex offenders can live in proximity to a school, day-care center or playground.
"I'm sure there should be, I can't really tell you exactly what the distance should be, but I think that definitely the district should look into that," says Pam.
"I think it's going to be real difficult for law enforcement to dictate that they need to move," says Sgt. DeHart.
"There's been some reports coming back that when (other states) put on the tighter restrictions, some of the sex offenders aren't registering," says Detective Shay.
"They're not registering and by not registering we're not holding them accountable for their actions. More importantly, you don't know that your next door neighbor is a registered sex offender," says Sgt. DeHart.
When we showed Academy School District 20 what we found about the Foothills Elementary bus stop, the chief of security asked for more of our information.
"It's just not simply possible to go in and research the sex offender database for a thousand bus stops," says Academy School District 20 Chief of Security Larry Borland.
Many factors go into moving the location of a bus stop, according to Borland, and our research alone wouldn't necessarily be enough. The district needs to see how many kids would be affected by a bus stop location change. A driver would also need to have enough line of sight with the bus stop location, meaning the stop couldn't be moved near a hill or curve.
"It's not a cut and dried answer, yes we would or no we wouldn't," says Borland.
"Would a registered sex offender have to move every time we move a bus stop? I think that would be hard to mandate," says Pueblo City Schools (District 60) Assistant Superintendent Kathy West.
NEWSCHANNEL 13 found another example of a bus stop near the home of a registered sex offender in Pueblo City Schools District 60.
"Let's move the bus stop elsewhere. Always, always err on the side of safety for children," says West. "This information certainly needs to be brought to the forefront for everyone of our schools."
NEWSCHANNEL 13 also found an example of a bus stop half a block from the home of a registered sex offender in Colorado Springs School District 11. We followed a bus from Taylor Elementary. One of the bus stops drops kids off half a block from the home of a registered sex offender.
"If a parent is concerned, I would think that would just make them be even more watchful," says Detective Shay. "What I would do is just do my very best to watch my kids, watch other people's kids and report anything suspicious."
- Yeah, be a parent!
"I don't think the district has any control over where someone lives," says Pam. "Parents need to take the responsibility as well, making sure that their child is safe getting off the bus."