Thursday, February 26, 2009

UT - Lawmakers pass 2 bills on sex-offender laws

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers have unanimously supported two bills to tighten sex-offender laws.

House Bill 29 would require registered sex offenders to have written or verbal consent of parents before accompanying a child younger than 14. If the offender does not have parental permission, the penalty would be an additional five years as a registered sex offender.

House Bill 41 would require a sex offender to notify officials within five days upon moving so the registry can be updated.

The bills have been passed by both houses unanimously and will require one more formal vote by the Senate before being sent to the governor.

NY - Sex Law Squashed - Donaldson Rules Sex Offender Law Unconstitutional

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By Paula Sirc

KINGSTON – Minority Leader Glenn Noonan (R-Gardiner) is hopping mad. His proposal to schedule a public hearing for the sex offender law he's advancing was denied following committee reports of its enforceability and questions of legality. The law, modeled on Rockland County's 2007 law, seeks to establish sex offender-free zones within Ulster County. It seeks to establish zones prohibiting registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, church, or day-care center.

Reached by phone after the February 11 meeting, Noonan said, "I hope every [Ulster County] citizen calls his or her legislator and asks if he or she supports sex offender legislation."

In January, Noonan proposed a public hearing on the legislation after it was discovered that Rockland County had located a Level 3 (high risk) sex offender in a motel in the Ulster County town of Kerhonkson. At the time, his proposal was tabled to allow the Criminal Justice Committee a chance to review the law.

Frank Dart (D-Kingston), chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, met with various experts on the matter in late January. Citing the findings of the meeting, as well as a recent New York State Supreme Court ruling on Rockland's law, Ulster County Legislature Chairman David B. Donaldson ruled the legislation out of order, saying the law was both unenforceable and unconstitutional.

"We cannot allow emotions and politics to get in the way of common sense and reason," Donaldson argued, "because the latter is what produces good policy and resolutions, not the former."

He noted that the legislation had failed, "not only in two committees," but also when reviewed by various experts, including Ulster County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum, who deemed the law "unenforceable."

Donaldson said that mental health and probation officials also do not support the law, with officials from both departments contending that it would be "counterproductive" if enacted. Most importantly, said the chair, is that "the law, as written, has been found to be unconstitutional."

Rockland's law was recently annulled in an 8-page decision written by Supreme Court Justice William Kelly. Released on January 22, the decision in the Peo. v. Oberlander case contends that state law, which already accounts for sexual offenders, supersedes county law and renders it invalid.

New York state law currently prohibits Level 3 sex offenders and offenders whose victims were under 18, who are on parole or probation, from living near or frequenting "any school grounds … or any other facility or institution primarily used for the care or treatment of persons under the age of 18 while one or more … are present."

Kelly's ruling sets precedence on the issue and stands to invalidate 80 similar laws that establish sex offender-free zones across the state.

Rockland County Attorney Patricia Zugibe said she hasn't made a decision on whether to appeal the decision. She said that while Kelly's ruling seems to be based on solid law, other judges could decide differently on similar cases.

Echoing Zugibe's sentiment, Noonan said, "This is Ulster County; a decision in Rockland has nothing to do with us."

During the legislative session, Noonan challenged Donaldson's decision, saying the proposal simply called for a public hearing on the matter. Legislator Jeanette Provenzano (D-Kingston) motioned to overrule Donaldson's decision, saying, "I don't think we should be against a public hearing on this law," she said.

Donaldson said, "It's kind of foolish for us to have a public hearing on a resolution that's illegal."

When put to a vote, the motion was defeated and Donaldson's ruling held. Noonan lamented the vote, saying it was a political ploy on the part of the Democratic majority to avoid going on record. "They believe in the 'hug-a-thug' theory of governance — they never see a criminal they don't want to help."

Copyright © 2009, Electric Valley Media Corp., All Rights Reserved.

MA - At corrections’ cutting edge: Mass. native studies how to handle sex offenders

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By Susan Parkou Weinstein - GateHouse News Service

Raynham - With a string of academic accolades to her credit, Rebecca Jackson could have enjoyed the ivory tower of college life.

Instead, the Raynham, Mass., native entered a field many would have shunned.

Jackson studies and teaches about pedophilia disorders, including criminal forensic evaluation, competency to stand trial and assessing the risk for sex offenders before they are released from prison.

“When I tell people what I do, the reaction I get is distaste,” Jackson, a 1991graduate of Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School, said in a phone interview from her home outside San Francisco. “But we are trying to balance individual rights with public safety.”

As director of the Forensic Psychology Program at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto and as Director of Forensic Program at Washington State University in Spokane, Jackson teaches mental health professionals how to safely move sex offenders back into society. She also trains workers at sex offender commitment centers.

As a consultant in Spokane, she helps the Department of Corrections assess the risk of re-offending based on the type of offense committed.

Despite public perceptions, the recidivism rate is only 13 percent, she says.
- There are many studies which show recidivism, and you cannot just use one figure as the fact.  Many studies are lower than this, down to 3.5%.  See here.

“There are definitely sex offenders who do not re-offend – most do not re-offend,” she says. “This is why a lot of policies don’t work. We lump sex offenders together.”

For example, her research shows that older offenders tend to be less risky than younger ones and men who abuse boys are more dangerous than those who abuse girls.

“An older man who commits one act of molestation on a young girl is a statistically a lower risk offender,” she says.

The field is moving toward civil commitments, external controls like bracelets and teaching offenders ways to stay out of trouble and live safe and productive lives.

Jackson recalled a man in his late 50s who returned home to his wife after 18 years in prison.

“He has been successfully managing his life for several years now,” she said.

The 2006 “Adam Walsh” Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act has added another layer of protection by making it a federal crime for convicted sexual predators to fail to register as a sex offender and relocate from one state to another.

While some consider her field “worthless, fruitless work,” she says, Jackson firmly believes she is safeguarding the public from those who commit the most heinous crimes.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a society without some outlaws and individuals who break the law or hurt other human beings. But between science and good policy, we can reduce the numbers,” she said.

The daughter of Elaine Jackson of Raynham and the late Jeffrey Jackson, Rebecca Jackson entered the field after earning the highest honors in college and beyond.

She graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University and was named outstanding doctoral student at the University of North Texas.

She won awards for her clinical psychology residency in public behavioral health and justice policy at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Most recently, she received the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Foundation’s Theodore Blau Award for Outstanding Early Career Contributions to Clinical Psychology.

Despite all her scholarly success, Jackson said she was not a high achiever in high school and might not have gone on to college if not for the coaxing of a teacher back at B-R.

“She encouraged me to push my potential. I am very grateful to her for that,” Jackson says of Kathy O’Toole.

Jackson has published 25 articles in professional journals, including Learning Forensic Assessment, the first in a series on International Perspectives on Forensic Mental Health.

She has also conducted workshops in forensic evaluations at the Department of Corrections in California and Nebraska, the El Dorado County Mental Health Department in California and the San Francisco Jail Psychiatric Services and Napa State Hospital.

VT - Senate passes sex offender bill

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By Terri Hallenbeck - Free Press Staff Writer

MONTPELIER -- With a few tweaks, the Senate approved sex offender legislation Wednesday and sent it back to the House, which could sign off on it as soon as today.

That will put the much-anticipated bill on the governor's desk before the Legislature breaks for town meeting. The legislation, designed to strengthen Vermont's sex offender prevention, prosecution and punishment, comes in response to last summer's death of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett of Braintree.

Her uncle, Michael Jacques of Randolph, is suspected of raping and killing her. He had a lengthy record that raised an outcry over why he was free and launched a call for tougher laws.

As the bill reached its likely final form, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said he believes it creates among the toughest sex crimes laws in the country. "Quite frankly, I don't think you'll find any tougher," he said.
- Yeah, we've heard this a million times.  But, it won't prevent any crime, just look at the latest case in Washington, where a sex offender was made homeless by the laws, and was on GPS, and still wound up killing a child, because he found it difficult to live and wanted to go back to prison.

The bill draws praise from victims' advocates and prosecutors, but skepticism from the state's public defender general about whether it will really achieve the results that many expect.

"We're giving the legal system more tools to hold offenders accountable and supervise them well," said Sarah Kenney, public policy director for the Vermont Network Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

She pointed to prevention and education programs outlined in the legislation as particularly important, along with improvements in probation supervision and expansion of specially trained investigators throughout the state.

"The biggest complaint we hear from the public and victims is that offenders had more rights than they had and that they were released too early with too little supervision," Kenney said.

Catherine Metropoulos of Charlotte, the mother of a sexual assault victim who has followed the legislation closely, said she thinks it is a good bill, particularly in providing for specialized training for investigators, prosecutors and probation officers. Sex offenders are different than other criminals in their ability to manipulate the system, she said, and this will help prevent that.

Defender General Matt Valerio said, however, that past efforts to toughen sex offender legislation suggest that this one might not do everything that's expected. After a 2006 law took effect to lengthen some sex crime penalties, the number of cases dismissed around the state went up, Valerio noted.

Citing statistics assembled by the Vermont Center for Justice Research, Valerio said that those who were convicted went to prison for a longer time, but a lower percentage of cases were making it that far. In aggravated sexual assault cases, dismissals increased from a rate of 55 percent to 86 percent, the center said.

The center warned that the statistics included only one year, which did not provide enough cases to draw firm conclusions. Kenney said that makes her leery of the statistics.

Valerio said his clients are following a trend that victim's advocates had feared -- that increased penalties would prompt more defendants to challenge the charges rather than accept a plea agreement, and because sex cases can be difficult to prove, more cases end up being dismissed.

Sears said this year's legislation provides funding for specially trained investigators, a move he thinks will give prosecutors better evidence and reduce the number of cases dismissed. He said something else has changed with the public outrage surrounding Brooke's death: Judges are less apt to let offenders go free.
- So now, they are going to be biased, and sentence offenders, based on what someone else did?  Is that what you are saying here?  Sounds like it to me.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said he has not seen an increase in cases being dismissed. "We've been hitting home runs," he said. Chittenden does have one of the few specially trained investigative units, he noted, which helps build better cases.
- So tell me, what exactly is "a home run?"

Donovan said as long as there's funding for the investigators and prosecutors, he sees this year's legislation as beneficial. The bill includes $1.7 million that will help start expanding those units.

All told, the legislation is expected to cost $2.8 million, taking every aspect into account from increased Corrections caseloads to running background checks on school employees, according to the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office. About $1.8 million of that was not included in the governor's proposed 2010 budget and must be absorbed as lawmakers craft the budget. The cost of the changes is expected to increase to $3.3 million in 2011.

The Senate on Wednesday made several changes to the House version, most notably restricting the use of deferred sentences -- something the Senate had included in its original bill but that the House had changed.

Sears said he questions whether deferred sentences are ever appropriate in a felony sex assault case. The senate amended the bill so that after 2014, when sex-crime investigative units are expected to be established throughout the state, deferred sentences would not be allowed in certain sex crimes against children.