Saturday, April 11, 2009

UK - Am I right to keep my neighbour’s monstrous secret?

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Notice in the picture, they show a shadow of a man near the child. Come on, give me a friggin' break! Leave your comment here.

04/11/2009

After discovering that she was living next door to a convicted paedophile, our writer, a mother of one who wishes to remain anonymous, was faced with a moral dilemma

I’ve never written anything anonymously. But under these circumstances it feels right. The reason? I live next door to a convicted paedophile.

Since finding out that our 71-year-old neighbour Alan (not his real name) had pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a minor, for which he was given a two-year prison sentence and is now on the Sex Offenders’ Register, my husband and I have been thrown into a moral maze.

Do we tell friends about Alan and risk him being lynched (in December 2008 a 52-year-old convicted paedophile was mutilated and stabbed to death in his London home) or do we keep quiet, risk-assess the situation and handle it ourselves?
- See, even this lady knows what could come of her telling all the neighbors.  And from what I've seen in the UK and the US, this would occur.

David Wilson, professor of criminology at the Centre for Criminal Justice Policy and Research at Birmingham City University, says: ‘Having this information can cause real dilemmas. The key is to work out what to do with it so that you don’t cause mass hysteria.’
- I think it's up to each individual to learn the facts themselves, not the neighbors telling everyone and risk someone being killed.  You have a registry, so if they do not look at it, then it's their fault, not yours.  There have been tons of arsons, murders, beatings and other harassment issues of sex offenders, all across this world.  This is why the registry info needs to be taken offline, and used by police, who are more responsible than the general public, who tend to start witch hunts and lynch mobs to exact their own vengence, which is morally and ethically wrong.  We might as well go back to the stone age, if this is how we treat our fellow man.

In the UK, there are around 31,300 registered sex offenders (it’s estimated that an additional 110,000 are not on the list), and in our borough alone there are about 100, although as a member of the public you can only be told how many there are, not their names and addresses.

The register is for professional use only, not public access, unlike in the US where Megan’s Law allows parents in a number of states to enter their postcode or a convict’s name to check if anyone on the register has moved in nearby.

The UK government is reluctant to give in to campaigns to introduce something similar, for fear that people would take the law into their own hands, as has happened more frequently in the States. Instead, key figures in the community – head teachers, employers, landlords, etc – are often given details of local sex offenders, and ‘controlled disclosure’ gives agencies a right to share information if someone poses a serious risk.

But for most people the only way of finding out if you have a paedophile living next door is if the case is written up in your local paper. In the absence of official guidance, people like us are left to work things out and manage the situation for themselves.
- Once again, not all those on the sex offender registry are pedophiles.  And yes, it's up to you to determine how to protect YOUR children, not the who neighborhoods.

We moved into our house in 2003 and Alan was the first neighbour we met. He seemed pleasant and offered to put our bin bags out on collection day. We saw him as a well-meaning busy body who knew lots about people living nearby, including who had children of what age.
- Well, like most people, I'm sure, that last statement is kind of scary.  I do not know who this man is, nor what he has done, but if he is a true pedophile, then why would he need to know that?

The woman we’d bought the house from had four sons, and Alan would often regale us with the story of how one of them fell off a wall into a spiky bush in his garden and he helped to get the prickles out.

He wore a baseball cap, which is apparently commonplace for child sex offenders – ‘to make them look like a hip granddad’, says Paul Roffey, director of RWA Child Protection Services and an expert in risk assessment.
- What kind of statement is that?  So are you assuming all those who wear baseball caps are pedophiles?

We joked about Alan and privately called him ‘Peter File’, but never thought that the nickname would turn out to be frighteningly appropriate.

Then in early 2006, when I was pregnant with my son, he started talking about a 30-something ‘godson’ who had now banned Alan from visiting him and his family of two children.

As the months passed, the story mutated into him being arrested and charged for an offence against the godson, dating back some 20 years to when he was a teenager and Alan was, in clichéd fashion, his Scout leader.

Whenever we got more information from him, chatting over the garden fence a few times a week, I just felt more confused. I remember a conversation in which Alan said, ‘I’ve been accused of doing things but I didn’t do them.’ Then he confessed he would plead guilty – but only because a trial would ‘do him in’.
- And again, I do not know this person, or if he did this, but yeah, he does have a point.  If you or someone you know is accused of a sex crime, your life is pretty much over, and no court is going to not convict someone in this situation.

I was perplexed – why plead guilty if you’re innocent? It was when he said, ‘I’m in court next week,’ that I realised things were serious. By now it was April 2007, and our son was six months old. But my husband and I thought that the trial would come and go without event.
- There is many who are now rotting in prison because of something they did not do, but pled guilty because there was no way they could prove they were innocent.  The court system is backwards now.  You are guilty automatically, and must prove you did not do something, which is almost impossible!

The next week, Alan’s landlord paid us a visit. ‘You know what’s happened, don’t you?’ he said. ‘He’s been sent to prison for two years. I’m telling you because you’ve got a son and he was found guilty of assaulting a boy.’ He also said that after prison Alan would return to his flat: he had a regulated tenancy and couldn’t be evicted, despite his conviction.

In an instant our whole perspective changed. From now on we had to contemplate how Alan’s presence might affect our family life.

That summer, we spent long days in the garden with our son, vaguely relieved that Alan wouldn’t be popping his head over the wall, as he had often done in the past three years.

But before we knew it, it was April again, and there was Alan, haunted-looking from his time in prison, having served only a year.

Part of me freaked out that he was back. The local police were useless when we consulted them on whether or not to tell friends about him: clearly, there’s no strategy in place.

‘I wouldn’t like to advise you one way or another,’ said a WPC. ‘It’s really up to you. I think you have to judge how your friends would handle it.’ We realised then that our journey through this moral maze was to be an unaccompanied one.

Part of me understands where hysteria about paedophiles comes from – if the police and probation service won’t work with the public, they can’t be surprised when they end up thinking the worst and taking action themselves.
- Most comes from the media telling lies and disinformation, not the true facts, so they can sell a story and get more viewers.  Same with the politicians.  I am not saying this is always the case, but a majority of the time, it is.  Just look around on the Internet for studies, and also contact therapists who work with sex offenders, and ask them the questions you have.  Those who treat sex offenders, are usually less biased than the media and politicians, who will tell you some statistic, without backing it up.  Therapists, for the most part, will tell you the truth and facts.

I’ve since learnt that if Alan had posed a ‘direct risk’ – for instance, if we were sharing a house with him and he was known to be a predatory paedophile – the police would have paid us a specific visit, reassuring us that everything was being done to ensure that our family was safe, and I wonder if a similar visit would have been helpful to us anyway.
- So did he get any treatment in prison?  Is he getting treatment outside of prison?  Have you talked to him about all this, and your concerns?  It will probably help.  Instead of fearing the man, be an adult, and go talk to him.

'I believe it’s the paedophiles I don’t know about that are more of a concern'

I think Alan benefits from the fact that part of me feels sorry for him. Before he got sent down, he went to rally-driving meets with friends. He told me recently: ‘I don’t go any more. I’m not welcome.’ He also told me that he was put up for adoption as a baby and was himself abused in care.

I see him as a tragically lonely person whose recent history has isolated him further.
- Anybody, even without a criminal past, if you are convicted of a sex crime, you cannot get a job, home, frieds, and you are constantly harassed by ignorant and hateful neighbors, who are letting their emotions get the best of them, instead of trying to understand the issue and facts.

I am aware that paedophiles tend to be experts in gaining people’s sympathy.

‘“Poor me” is a big part of their character,’ says Paul Roffey. ‘Nevertheless, a high proportion of those who exploit children have suffered a childhood trauma, not just about sex but about rejection, too.’ So I vacillate between pity and concern.

I haven’t told anyone apart from our parents. I’m not even sure other neighbours know about him, including the family with a boy and a girl next door. It amazes me that it’s not common knowledge – I suppose it wasn’t reported in the local press.

Most importantly, I haven’t told the mums who come to my house, mums whose children (mainly boys) are my son’s age.

What about the times when they played in the garden, with Alan, newly released from prison, next door? Might the parents feel that I played russian roulette with their children’s safety? If I were to tell them it probably should have been at the start – it’s too late now.

Alan’s conviction has definitely affected how we live. I wanted to buy a paddling pool last summer, but I’m reluctant because of Alan’s proximity.
- You are letting his conviction ruin your life and your childrens.  Get the pool and protect your children.  Do not ruin their lives because of some neighbor.  Also educate them on Alan, and what is a good touch and bad touch.  Educate yourself and your children!

I won’t let my son run around the garden naked (an innocent pleasure), I stay in the garden with him if Alan is in his, as I don’t want him striking up a conversation ‘unchaperoned’, and we’re going to put up a higher fence.

Yet it has never occurred to us to sell our house, as some people might have done if they’d found out they had an Alan next door. We bought it as our ‘for ever’ house.

My husband points out that as Alan is 71 we’ll probably be around longer than him. If we did sell, and to someone with a young family, I don’t know if we’d feel obliged to say anything.

Professor Wilson says: ‘This is morally difficult. There are no simple solutions. My alarm bells would ring if he were asking to babysit or teach the piano. But he’s 71, his offence was a long time ago and against a teenager, so the risks to your son are not great.’

As the charge was only made quite recently, it has crossed my mind that perhaps Alan is guilty of other crimes, too, perhaps against youngsters who haven’t thought of bringing charges.

I think, ‘My son will be a teenager soon,’ but then reason, ‘at least I know who and where Alan is.’

I believe it’s the paedophiles I don’t know about that are more of a concern. As Professor Wilson says: ‘Your neighbour on the other side could be downloading child porn.’
- And studies show that 90% or more of all sexual crimes, occur in the victims own home or family.  So you need to be weary of everyone who comes in contact with your children, not just strangers.

Alan has just bought a camera and volunteered the information that what he can photograph is restricted by the terms of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order. If it comes near our son and his friends, we’ll report him and I think he knows it.

I’ve talked to him about his conviction, though I haven’t probed too much as I’m scared he’ll put up barriers. ‘The important thing is that you are aware of what he did, and he’s aware that you are aware of what he did,’ says Professor Wilson. ‘That’s a huge deterrent when it comes to reoffending.’

Our interaction with Alan is minimal, but as experts say that social isolation often makes offenders reoffend, I feel it’s important to keep talking to him.

In Canada, a scheme called Circles of Support and Accountability actively includes released sex offenders within the community, and offers support from the public to alter their behaviour. The reoffending rate has been cut by more than 70 per cent (compared to the UK Prison Service’s sex offender treatment programme which, on average, leads to reductions of just ten to 15 per cent).

Working with the statutory services, trained volunteers meet the offender each week and find out how they are, if they’ve spoken to their probation officer and taken their medication, and discuss how they’ve avoided falling back into offending behaviour.

It’s also being implemented in the UK, with local projects linked by a new national charity, Circles UK. Its chief executive Stephen Hanvey says: ‘We are keen to research it more, but we are seeing trends which seem to replicate the Canadian studies.’

Before I lived next door to a sex offender, I would have thought this scheme was crazy, but now I don’t.

I worry most when Alan says he’s lonely, because that’s when I think we’re all at our most vulnerable. My hope is that our informal chats, rather than giving him inroads into our lives, are helping him stay on the straight and narrow.

Paul Roffey says: ‘When you found out about your neighbour you probably thought your risk increased, but it’s lessened because you know. And once a crime has been committed, measures are taken to manage that risk.’

Alan now has visits from the police and probation service, and has to notify them of any changes in circumstance, for example, if he wants to move. But the risk management is also about letting him function in society, something most of the public have a real problem with.

So for the moment, I think I’m going to let Alan keep his anonymity, and we’ll have ours, too.

Others may feel we’re playing God with people’s lives, but I agree with Professor Wilson’s assertion that it’s a case of ‘keeping our enemies close’ – something we’re all likely to benefit from.

Is our writer doing the right thing by keeping quiet? Tell us what you think by adding your comments below.


IL - Many teens display risky behavior on MySpace: study

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01/05/2009

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - More than half of teenagers mention risky behaviors such as sex and drugs on their MySpace accounts, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

They said many young people who use social networking sites such as News Corp's MySpace do not realize how public they are and may be opening themselves to risks, but the sites may also offer a new way to identify and help troubled teens.

"We found the majority of teenagers who have a MySpace account are displaying risky behaviors in a public way that is accessible to a general audience," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children's Research Institute, whose studies appear in the journal Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

In one of two studies, Christakis and Dr. Megan Moreno of the University of Wisconsin analyzed 500 randomly chosen MySpace profiles of 18-year-olds in 2007.

Overall, 54 percent of the publicly available accounts they checked contained information about high-risk behaviors: 41 percent mentioned substance abuse, 24 percent sexual behavior and 14 percent violence.

Christakis said many teens are unaware of how public and permanent Internet information can be, while parents often do not know what their kids are up to.

"No one says, "Whoa! Why are you putting that up there?'" Christakis said.

In a second study, the researchers identified 190 individuals aged 18 to 20 whose MySpace accounts displayed multiple risky behaviors. Half were sent a message from "Dr. Meg" from Dr. Moreno's MySpace profile.

The message warned about the risks of disclosing personal details online and offered a link to a site with information about testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Three months after this single message, many of the young people had withdrawn references to sex and substance abuse and tightened security controls.

"It really provides the opportunity to reach millions of potential at-risk teens and try to modify their behaviors or at least prevent them from disclosing them to the entire world," Christakis said in a telephone interview.

The e-mail was most effective at curtailing references to sex, with 13.7 percent of profiles in the group that received the warning deleting all references, compared with 5.3 percent of those who were not sent the message.

Christakis said displaying sexual information online can expose a teen to advances from sexual predators. Employers and universities may also check those sites.


National Law Journal: Challenges Grow Over Sex Offender Laws

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06/16/2008

By Ron Chapman

The following story (subscription required) appeared in the Monday June 9th edition of the National Law Journal:


Pamela A. MacLean / Staff reporter
June 9, 2008

The creation of complex sex offender registration systems and increasingly stringent limits on where offenders may live has spawned hundreds of legal challenges in state and federal courts throughout the nation.

The actions range from how long electronic tracking devices must be worn to whether juvenile records must be part of public registrations.

Challenges to the new laws — often hastily passed in the wake of a brutal crime — generally center on battles over who must comply, making retroactivity and prospective treatment crucial.

Takings claims under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also weigh heavily when a sex offender is forced from a long-time home by newly imposed bans on living near playgrounds or video arcades.

So far, 20 states hav e laws restricting where sex offenders can live, and hundreds of cities have their own limits, according to Wayne Logan, a criminal law professor at Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee.

The most common laws banish offenders from zones within 2,000 feet of schools and parks.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently struck down a residency restriction on Fifth Amendment grounds, but upheld a portion that barred sex offenders from working in the restricted zones, Logan said. Mann v. Georgia Dept. of Corrections, 282 Ga. 754 (2007).

The California Supreme Court must choose from a raft of theories on how to apply a 2006 voter-approved residency law prospectively. So far, the plaintiffs, the state attorney general, local district attorneys, the governor and state prison officials have all weighed in with different positions. In re E.J. habeas corpus, No. S156933 (Calif.).

Ohio's legal meltdown

But it is Ohio that finds itself in the midst o f a legal meltdown because of a shift in sex offender registration law. Ohio rushed to switch from a long-standing state offender registration program to the 2006 federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act registration system.

More than 26,000 people, including juveniles, were reclassified as sex offenders and ordered to register for a public list for up to 25 years. This spawned a federal class action challenge over timing of public notification, and a limited restraining order issued in Doe v. Dann, No. 8-cv-220PAG (N.D. Ohio). Also, thousands of individual state challenges to reclassifications are pending.

Many of those reclassified are indigent or in prison. Local counties won't pick up the tab for lawyers in what is considered a civil dispute, said Jay Macke, who leads the efforts for the Ohio Public Defenders Office. "We don't have enough indigent defense counsel to cover this," he said. But for those who can afford private lawyers, "this is a lawyer ful l-employment act," he said.

On May 9, a Cuyahoga County judge found that the Adam Walsh Act's retroactive reclassification violated both the Ohio Constitution's retroactivity clause and ex post facto protections. Evans v. Ohio, No. cv-08-646797. Several other appeals are pending, but ultimately the issue will go to the Ohio Supreme Court, the judge said.

The Adam Walsh Act, among other things, creates a national sex offender registry. It also restricts where an offender may live and allows civil psychiatric commitment of offenders.

The act also compels states to enact similar laws by mid-2009 or face loss of federal law enforcement funds. For states that quickly adopt the law, there is promise of a 10% bonus on federal funds.

The financial incentives amount to an "imaginary carrot and an imaginary stick," Macke said. Ohio received no reward for acting early, and now it appears that the money will be slashed from the federal budget anyway, he said.

Most courts have permitted laws restricting where sex offenders may live, according to Corey Yung, an assistant professor of criminal law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, who has written extensively on sex offender law. Battles now center on whom they apply to and under what conditions.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved residency restriction laws in Arkansas and Iowa, but the Iowa law was so onerous that most sex offenders were forced to live in cars, cemeteries or abandoned houses. Once homeless, they stopped registering. This prompted the Iowa County Attorneys Association and Iowa sheriffs in 2007 to petition the legislature to repeal the law as "counterproductive." The legislature refused.

"Legislators did such a good job of selling the idea that the restrictions on residency was a safety measure, people have the false idea it provides safety and politicians fear going against that," said Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa Count y Attorneys Association.

Florida had 60 cities in one year adopt restrictions and in 2005 some banned sex offenders from public hurricane shelters, forcing them to go to local prisons during storms.

"A lot of these people are becoming homeless — it is becoming a real problem where they can live," said Ronald Chapman, a criminal defense lawyer of West Palm Beach, Fla.'s Chapman Law Firm. Registration now includes putting the sex law violation on the driver's license.

California's voter-approved law also has conflicts with a sweeping legislative reform of sex offender residence limits that the state Supreme Court will have to sort out.

The voters' version, Proposition 83, bars sex criminals from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school, and offenders who complete prison terms must also wear global positioning devices for the rest of their lives.

In two federal court challenges to the same state initiative, one held the California residence restr ictions could not be applied to a prisoner released before the law's passage. Doe v. Schwarzenegger, No. C06-2521LKK (E.D. Calif.). The other held that it did not apply to a sex offender who served 12 years' probation before the act's adoption. Doe v. Schwarzenegger, No. C06-6968JSW (N.D. Calif.).

But those federal rulings are not binding on the state court, said Janet Neeley, deputy attorney general in charge of the sex offender registry in California.

"Nothing is cleared up," she said. "There are no California cases published on the point, and we don't even know who the law applies to," she said. So far the law has not been enforced because of the questions about who is covered under the "prospective" application. The initiative also failed to create a misdemeanor crime for violation, Neeley said. "There is no way to punish anyone, unless they are violating parole or probation."

And the Adam Walsh Act faces federal constitutional challenges. Two federal circuit courts, the 4th Circuit and the 11th Circuit, are now considering whether Congress violated the Constitution's commerce clause in passing the Adam Walsh Act because challengers allege it has no nexus with interstate commerce. U.S. v. Comstock, No. 06-hc-2195BR, and U.S. v. Powers, 07-cr-221KRS.

California Bureau Chief
National Law Journal


Just thought I'd share this heart warming video called "Born Again American!"

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IN - Recidivism rates falling

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04/10/2009

By MIKE FLETCHER - Tribune staff writer

Rehab programs contribute to decrease in repeat offenders

Changing the thinking patterns of criminal offenders is one key to keeping them from reoffending, prison officials say.

From looking at the number of repeat offenders in state prisons, it must be working, as the recidivism rate over the past three years has declined, the Indiana Department of Correction reported.

Officials at the IDOC have studied and monitored Indiana’s recidivism rates for four years and found the overall recidivism rate has gone down for the third consecutive year, falling to 37.4 percent.
- Keep in mind, the above percentage takes into account any arrest, and not just another sex crime.  When determining the recidivism rate of sex offenders, it should be based on another sex crime, not some technicality, etc.  But continue reading!

DOC officials attribute the improving recidivism numbers to their focus on the successful re-entry of offenders.

At the Miami Correctional Facility, offenders are offered multiple programs aimed at rehabilitation, said public information officer Ann Hubbard.

Hubbard said the DOC tries to make its prisons more than just a place to house criminals. If they choose, inmates can work on issues such as substance abuse and anger management. They can take classes on fatherhood and on character and faith development.

“You can see a change in men who get involved in these programs,” Hubbard said. “They change their way of thinking. They realize there is more to life than just themselves, and they realize what they’ve done to other people.”

To ensure an offender leads a lawful life once released, DOC tries to instill the tools needed for success outside prison walls. Hubbard believes that approach is good for all Indiana communities.

We have to do something,” she said. “These people in here, most are going to get out, and if we don’t do something to better their lives and improve the quality of their lives, they’re certainly not going to improve the quality of our lives when they get out.”

The IDOC defines recidivism as an offender’s return to incarceration within three years of their date of release from a state correctional institution. An offender is included in this study when he is released via one of the following avenues — Community Transition Program, probation, parole or discharge.
- And by using the above to determine recidivism, of course recidivism is going to be high, because the system sets you up to fail from the very start.  Most are put back into the system over a technicality.  Again, they should look at only sex crimes, to determine the recidivism of sex offenders, not any crime.

Once released, an offender is verified as a recidivist if he returns to the institutional custody of the IDOC for a new conviction or a technical violation of post-incarceration supervision.

For offenders released in 2005, only 37.4 percent had returned to prison by 2008, which is lower than the 2007 recidivism rate of 37.8 percent, according to the IDOC.

Rates for 2005 and 2006 were 39.2 percent and 38.6 percent, respectively. During those four years, the demographics of the offenders studied remained consistent.

In addition, one statistic regarding a class of offenders stands out — the recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05 percent, one of the lowest in the nation.

In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low, said IDOC’s chief communications officer Doug Garrison.

Garrison added that sex offenders often wind up back in prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, but he said instances of them returning to prison for committing a new sex crime were extremely low.

These improving recidivism numbers demonstrate the IDOC’s focus on the successful re-entry of offenders in recent years is beginning to pay off.

“Even though conventional wisdom would have us believe that recidivism is inevitable, I firmly believe that the hard work and dedication of IDOC staff has proven that the successful re-entry of offenders is more than possible,” said IDOC Commissioner Edwin G. Buss. “The third consecutive decline in Indiana’s recidivism rate is good for all, offenders, IDOC staff members, and Indiana taxpayers alike.”

Hubbard acknowledged that some inmates will end up back in prison because they never had intentions of stopping their criminal behavior. Because of that and other factors, she said, the recidivism rate will never reach zero.

You’re always going to have your bad apples,” she said.


FL - Mark Lunsford a father again

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Congratulations!!!!

04/11/2009

By Tom McNiff

The child-safety advocate disclosed this week that his son was born in 2007 and shares Jessica's birthday.

Mark Lunsford, who became a national spokesman for child safety after his 9-year-old daughter was murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005, is a father once again.

Lunsford revealed this week that his girlfriend gave birth to a baby boy on Oct. 6, 2007 - 12 years to the day after the birth of his slain daughter, Jessica.

Lunsford, who was being interviewed at his Citrus County home about his recent and upcoming efforts at strengthening sexual predator laws, said he had tried to keep the birth secret until now to shield the infant from the spotlight. He would not reveal the child's name.

Calling the birth a "miracle," Lunsford said the fact that the child was born on Jessica's birthday was a clear signal to him that God had given him a second chance at being a father.
- Amen!  This is just wonderful!

"There's a message [from God]: 'Here's another one, Mark. Don't let anything happen to this one'," he said. "I don't think it's a reward or anything. But it's like God was saying, 'OK, Mark, I hear you complain about how much you miss Jessie every day. So here's another one. Take care of him.' "

Lunsford was thrust into a searing national spotlight when 9-year-old Jessica was snatched from her bedroom on Feb. 24, 2005. Police later found her body buried in a trash bag behind a nearby home where convicted sex offender John Couey was living.

Couey told investigators he kept Jessica in his room for several days and raped her before burying her alive. He was convicted of her murder in 2007 and sentenced to death.

Mark Lunsford, a truck driver who laughingly refers to himself as a redneck, went on to become an unlikely national advocate for improved sexual predator laws.

Lunsford said his advocacy has become a full-time job. A motorcycle enthusiast, he participates in charity rides to benefit child advocacy centers and speaks to citizen groups. His work has frequently taken him to Washington - where he has testified before Congress - and to Tallahassee.

When he's not on the road, he's home with his young son, who he says bears a striking resemblance to a young Jessica.

"I could show you two pictures, one of him and one of Jessie at that age, and they are identical," he said with a chuckle.


GA - 880 Fulton inmates still await trial a year later

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04/10/2009

By STEVE VISSER - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Court system, state funding, other factors blamed for backlog

_____ is charged with raping three women, but he has sat in the Fulton County jail for four years without a trial at an estimated cost to local taxpayers of more than $100,000.

_____ may be one of the worst cases of justice delayed but it is far from an isolated one. The Fulton county jail currently has a backlog of about 880 prisoners who have been awaiting trial — most for felonies like murder, rape or armed robbery — for more than a year, according to county figures.

Chief Jailer Riley Taylor, who says it costs about $70 a day to house a prisoner, says that means the county is paying more than $22.5 million in the course of a year to feed, clothe and guard prisoners who should be the state’s responsibility.

“That is assuming the $70 is not a low figure, which it may well be,” Taylor said. “It costs us a lot more to care for an inmate than it does for a prison. They have more rights in jail because they haven’t been convicted.”

There are a number of contributing factors: The case backlog is blamed on various reasons: a fragmented and largely unaccountable court system, lack of state funding for enough judges, wily defense lawyers, mandatory sentencing that makes it difficult to plea bargain and the failure of Superior Court judges to manage their dockets and set cases for trial.

_____’s case touches on most of those factors. Last May, _____ asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to void his indictments on the grounds his constitutional rights have been violated for lack of a speedy trial. No ruling has yet been handed down.

“He has been failed by the court system, the prosecutors and his defense lawyers,” said his former lawyer Scott Dawkins. “He was in front of a judge … who didn’t move cases very well. He kept getting bounced from attorney to attorney and the prosecutors kept switching.”

The Superior Court has been taking steps to address the backlog to eliminate jail overcrowding and develop a more efficient court system. It’s a tall order in a system in which the 19 judges are independently elected with little accountability, answerable only to voters. They generally run unopposed.

Chief Judge Dee Downs says that courts can move cases if judges are disciplined enough to set a realistic trial calendar and stick to it. She noted that defendants don’t accept plea bargains that demand serious jail time until faced with the reality of a trial.

Three years ago the court developed a plan to hear drug and property crime cases — such as auto theft and burglary — by getting specific judges to handle them all, and established strict case management standards in which the defendant has a certain trial date within a few months of arrest. Those cases now are resolved within nine weeks of the arrest, which helped reduce the total backlog from 10,000 to 6,000, Downs said.

District Attorney Paul Howard helped move the cases by having a prosecutor handle each case from indictment to trial — rather than dividing those tasks up among his staff, the judge said.

“The problem before was the larger cases got put in front of the smaller felony cases so they just sat around and gathered dust,” she said. “That is not happening any more.”

The Superior Court is trying to implement uniform court standards for all its judges, which would help move cases involving serious felonies — assuming they agree to the standards. But Downs noted many defendants have little incentive to accept a plea because Georgia law mandates life imprisonment if a person commits a second serious felony such as armed robbery.

If the district attorney doesn’t agree to downgrade the robbery to a lesser offense, it will usually mean a trial. That means even if all judges — three of whom are assigned to divorce court — would have a criminal trial a week, it would take almost a year to handle all cases already a year old.

Such a trial schedule would be an impossibility even for an efficient court system, much less in Fulton, where some judges don’t conduct a trial a month. It would also leave no time for divorce or civil cases and little time for working out pleas and handling pretrial motions — which in all likelihood would mean a backlog.

Court officials say even if all judges adopt a tough court management system, the Superior Court will still need more judges to handle the volume of serious cases that comes its way each year.

The Legislature this year agreed to fund a 20th judge for Fulton but it also has eliminated funding for retired judges who helped conduct trials when other judges were booked. The Superior Court has applied for a $1.2 million federal grant to fund two more judges, their staffs, three more public defenders, two more prosecutors and three investigators to address the backlog of serious felonies.

“The blame lies across the board but it also lies with a shortage of manpower and staffing,” Downs said. “Good case management practice with standards in place and a sufficient number of judges, prosecutors and public defenders will resolve any backlog.”

Taylor, the chief jailer, would welcome any improvement. He remembers having a prisoner in jail on a murder charge for seven years. The prisoner eventually hung himself in his cell, Taylor said.

We feed a guy for seven years only to have to carry him out on a stretcher,” he said. “I can’t imagine waiting for a trial that long. … You have to wonder if he had a faster trial, would it have turned out the same.”


CA - Jessica's Law puts kids at risk

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04/11/2009

Your series of articles highlighting the difficulty in placing James Lamb in Monterey County confirms The Herald's editorial view of Feb. 5 that sex offender laws are wholly impractical. The court has little choice but to comply with the ill-conceived Jessica's Law. That law, passed by uninformed voters, has proved not to protect our children, but put them at risk.

However, in this paranoid placement circus, which has been front-page news for too long, there is not one word of reason. The fact is that studies over many years have shown that sex offender treatment drastically reduces recidivism, and that such treated offenders have practically the lowest re-offense rate of any group.

Let's face it, Lamb has had the benefit of extensive treatment, and with his monitoring system he is not going to show up in any front yard. He has to be more afraid of encountering a child, which would land him back in prison, or to be gunned down by some crazy vigilante.

Eduardo Garcia


CO - Is Your Teenager Sexting?

View the article here

04/10/2009

By Rosie Barresi

Is your teenage son or daughter sexting? In case you don't know, sexting is when underage kids exchange nude photos or videos of themselves or other consenting teens through their cell phones.

It's illegal and the 4Th Judicial District Attorney Dan May says it's becoming so widespread he expects to see more cases. So far there's only been one case in Colorado Springs.

The charge is sexual exploitation of a child which is felony. So, if you're convicted, even as a teenager, you'd have to register as a sex offender. However, D.A. Dan May Says he's only interested in prosecuting real predators. "But, that doesn't mean we're not open to certain cases where we really do have a sexual predator that's involved," said May.

"It is child pornography," said Robyn Czyz who caught her son sexting.

The inappropriate material on cell phones are catching on like wild fire. "All of a sudden our kids are using the technology in inappropriate ways," said May.

They seem to be using their cell phones more and more to take and record nude photos and videos of themselves and their underage partners. "I was totally unaware about what my son was doing until I happened to look at his pictures on his phone," said Czyz who is a mother of three. She said she put an end to it immediately knowing what could happen if she didn't. "I told my son, I said, you know, you could be labeled a sex offender for the rest of your life," said Czyz.

Perhaps worse off is that those photos and videos could end up in the wrong hands, end up on-line and in the hands of a real sex offender.

May says he is doing three things to help the community. He said he is trying to educate them, track and destroy any inappropriate photos that are out there and try to figure out what to do with the teen offenders.

"I think it's stupid, personally," said Ania Czyz who is a high school junior in Colorado Springs.

"You should have enough self-respect," said Stephnie Shrden who is a high school sophomore in Colorado Springs.

"If somebody sends something to you then you should, it should stop there," said Greg Armatraden who is a high school junior in Colorado Springs.

After all, the law is the law. "They're very harsh laws," said May.

May says it's because those laws are meant to prosecute legitimate adult sex offenders. Which is why May says he's handling each case individually and offering counseling to any teenager involved.

As for Czyz, this is her message to other parents. "Check your kid's phone," said Czyz. She said you may just be surprised what you uncover.

Czyz also called her discovery a blessing in disguise. She said it gave her an opportunity to talk to her son about sex.


How to protest on the right side of the law

View the article here (PDF)

More links below.  Keep in mind, the linked PDF above, and the notes below, are apparently from the UK, which has different rules.  If anyone finds more good articles, that should be linked below, then feel free to respond to this blog item with the link.


You may have heard about new laws and new police powers that restrict the right to protest. You may have concerns about how these affect your ability to use public protest in your campaigns. Eduardo Gill-Pedro is a former Rights and Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth now working full time for Liberty. Here he gives you some essential information and practical tips for effective peaceful protest protest on the right side of the law

Peaceful protest is not extreme or unlawful; it is a vital part of a democratic society and has a long and respected tradition in this country. Many of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today were gained because people were prepared to go out on the streets and protest – ranging from women's right to vote, the rights of gay and lesbian people, and workers’ rights to be part of a trade union.

Peaceful protest can be an effective campaigning tool. A well-organised peaceful protest is a powerful way of raising the profile of your campaign, and because it is so visible it can be great for building networks and alliances by bringing your campaign to the attention of others who may share your views and concerns. This guide will hopefully help you gain the self-confidence to exercise that right with much more confidence and effectiveness.

The big picture
In recent years, the Government has introduced new criminal laws to deal with a whole range of threats, from terrorism to anti-social behaviour, and from animal rights extremists to stalkers. While these problems are real and the Government is entitled to legislate to protect the public from them and give the police the appropriate tools to do their jobs, these new laws do also give sweeping powers to the police that are not always used in the way Parliament intended. The upshot is that the space for public protest has been restricted, and there is a feeling that public protest is somehow a suspect or extreme activity


More Articles of Interest:


WA -Teen mother of dead newborn arrested; baby's father also booked

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04/10/2009

FEDERAL WAY - Police have arrested the 14-year-old mother of a newborn baby girl that was found dead in her bedroom Thursday. Also arrested was the baby girl's alleged 20-year-old father.

The 14-year-old mother was booked into juvenile detention in Seattle for investigation of second-degree murder. King County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Dan Donohoe says that she will likely have her first appearance in Juvenile Court on Monday afternoon.

The father, _____, 20, of Federal Way, was also arrested on suspicion of second-degree child rape, due to the young age of the mother. Police said the father is not suspected of being involved in the baby girl's death in any manner.

_____ is being held at the Regional Justice Center in Kent and is scheduled to have a bail hearing Saturday afternoon.

The dead newborn girl was given the first name "Ballard" by the King County Medical Examiner's Office. The name of the newborn's mother is being withheld because she is a juvenile.

The investigation of this case is ongoing.

Officers were called to the scene, at the Club Palisades Apartment Complex, 2211 S. Star Lake Road, at about 11 a.m. Thursday.

While en route, police were notified that medics were on scene and performing CPR on a recently born infant baby found in the 14-year-old's bedroom. The baby was later pronounced dead.

Earlier in the day, the baby's 14-year-old mother, a resident of Federal Way, said she had been bleeding heavily and needed to go the hospital.

While family members were taking her to the hospital, another family member at the apartment discovered the baby on the bed inside the girl's room.

Police were contacted and the girl returned to the apartment.

The girl's family members said they were not aware she was pregnant.

Federal Way police said the case serves as a reminder that there are alternatives available for women who give birth to an unwanted child.

Newborns may be brought to the emergency room of a hospital or to an open and staffed fire department without any kind of criminal penalty.