Monday, February 9, 2009

NY - Sex offenders: looking at the numbers

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By Noreen O'Donnell - Journal News columnist

"No Easy Answers," is the title of a Human Rights Watch report on sex-offender laws in the United States and here's one question.

How well do residency restrictions protect children?

One statistic from the report jumped out at me: 87 percent of people who were arrested for sex crimes had not previously been convicted of such an offense, according to a 1997 study.

No residency restriction would have hindered their ability to abuse children. It couldn't. They hadn't been caught yet.

Here's another statistic - one that is even more uncomfortable to consider. Just 14 percent of all sexual assault cases involved strangers, according to the the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

For children under 18, the vast majority knew their abusers -nine cases out of 10. One-third of the cases involved relatives, and for children younger than 6, the number is even higher. Nearly half of the offenders were family members.

These are people who, until they are caught, are in the child's home, not across the street or lurking at the park fence.

Late last month, a state Supreme Court justice struck down Rockland County's pedophile-free child-safety zone. Justice William A. Kelly declared the law unconstitutional.

New York state placed residency restrictions on sex offenders in 2005, he noted. Serious offenders and those whose victims were children may not enter within 1,000 feet of any school.

"New York has one of the strictest sex offender residency laws in the nation," he wrote.

Further, he found that the state Legislature did not intend for municipalities or counties to enact their own laws regarding sex offenders. And he wrote: "Sex offender residency restrictions are multiplying throughout New York state, as local legislatures scramble to outmaneuver each other with highly restrictive ordinances designed to banish registered offenders from their communities."

And he noted that the ordinances interfere with parole and probation officers' efforts to find suitable housing for offenders.

The ruling risks invalidating all of the 80 child-safety zones across the state. As a result, state Sen. Craig Johnson from Long Island has proposed prohibiting any registered sex offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school building, park or day care center. He has the support of the Senate majority leader, Malcolm A. Smith.

You can empathize with a parent who does not want a sex offender anywhere near a school. Or a park. Or a day care center. Who has much sympathy for an adult who molests children?
- Well, you mentioned sex offenders, then you said "who molests children!"  Not all sex offender molest children, get that through your thick skull.

But if the state is to enact such a law, it must make sure it is not doing the opposite of what it intends. For instance, does it want to cluster sex offenders together? Will that make them more dangerous in the future? Are the laws having the effect of pushing offenders out of the system, away from parole officers or therapists whose work may protect children?

In the end, if a molester is so dangerous why is he or she out of prison at all? One answer is harsher prison penalties in the first place. Another may be to put more focus on determining who will reoffend.
- Again, not all sex offenders are molesters!

One study found that the recidivism rate for all sex offenders averaged 24 percent, the Human Rights report noted. No one is saying this is insignificant. But as the Human Rights report stated, three out of four sexually-violent offenders do not reoffend.
- Well that was one report.  A majority of the reports out there, say the recidivism is lower than 10%, just check the ones I have links here and here.

We need to make sure we are concentrating on the quarter who do.

NM - Sex Offender: Registry Laws Ineffective

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By Joline Gutierrez Krueger - Journal Staff Writer

He rushes into the conference room at his office, all smiles, arms full of data, head full of talking points, ready to explain what he says is the idiocy of legislation that would add more heft to the state's sex offender registry laws.

It's hard to find someone who champions the causes of convicted molesters.

But here he is, the rapid-fire voice of reason and rights for the men and women on the New Mexico Sex Offender Registry.

Because he's one, too.

When he shuts the conference room door, he closes the connection between the two worlds he has had to straddle since his conviction 21 years ago for sexual assault.

His employees on the other side don't know they work for a registered sex offender.

Only once in the more than 10 years his construction business has been in operation has a client discovered his past.

His neighbors might suspect, he says, thanks to the frequent visits by Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies who check up on him with the dramatic, overwrought flair of a SWAT callout. I'm not using his name to protect his livelihood and, he says, his life.

Yet, last week, he sat in the Roundhouse ready to speak out publicly against House bills 24 and 433, both which seek in varying degrees to make sex offenders provide phone numbers, pager numbers, e-mails, screen names and any other "electronic identities."

Currently, sex offenders are required to register their names, addresses and where they work.

The hearing was postponed, but he expects to be back in the Santa Fe glare when the issue resurfaces, likely this week.

"It takes a lot for me to do this," he says with the animated cadence of a driven, and perhaps anxious, man. "But I've got so much to lose if I don't get involved."

He has lost too much already, he says, because of a youthful indiscretion.

He was 16. The girl was 12.

"We were both kids," he says. "It was just touching, not rape, not something criminal. I am not a danger to the community."

He turned 18 by the time his case had meandered through the Texas system. He has never since been charged with another sex crime.

There are lots of people like him on sex offender registries who have "offended" once and never again but who live from then on in the shadows of secrecy and shame, who long ago paid their debt to society but continue to serve a sort of endless prison term by remaining on ever-invasive — and, he argues, ineffective — sex offender registries.

"The registry has been diluted, and nobody knows anymore who is dangerous and who is not," he says. "And you know what else? It isn't solving the problem."

He points to several studies that suggest sex offender registries, enacted under Megan's Law, have not had the desired effect.

"Despite wide community support for these laws, there is little evidence to date, including this study, to support a claim that Megan's Law is effective in reducing either new first-time sex offenses or sexual re-offenses," concluded one from the New Jersey Department of Corrections funded by a Department of Justice grant and released in December.

Of the 195 men featured on the popular NBC series "To Catch a Predator," only five were registered sex offenders, concluded another.

The stigma of being identified on a registry has led many budding offenders to shun the help they need lest a therapist turn them in, he says.

Family members conceal a loved one's burgeoning deviance for fear that his or her name will go public — and thus so will the family's, he says.

"To be put on one of these lists for years and years offers no hope," he says. "Where is the incentive for rehabilitation?"

Yet proponents of Megan's Law and the even more draconian Adam Walsh Act continue pouring efforts into registries, such as the "electronic identities" bills now up for debate.

"We need to do everything we can to ensure these predators are not living in secret," Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, a major proponent of the bills, recently told KOAT Channel 7. "They know what they are doing, and, most importantly, we know what the Internet means to them."

That, despite a 2008 ruling by Utah courts tossing out similar legislation, citing a violation of offenders' First Amendment rights to free speech.

"We're at the point now when sex offender registries and laws are unconstitutional," our convicted sex offender says. "We're at the point where the only good a registry does is to make politicians look good, like they are doing something. And meanwhile we're wasting our time, needlessly destroying lives and not looking at real solutions to prevent sexual offenses."

There are monsters out there, he knows. But he is not one of them. He knows.

He has formed a group called Citizens for Change New Mexico, with a membership so far of 15 offenders and their families who want something better.

None of them is ready yet to give their names.

UpFront is a daily front-page opinion column. You can reach Joline at 823-3603 or