Sunday, November 29, 2009

CO - Louisville considering sex offender residency restrictions

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By Amy Bounds

City would become first in Boulder County to impose such rules

LOUISVILLE  -- This city could become the first in Boulder County to ban sex offenders from living near schools and other places where children congregate.

Louisville staff members are asking the City Council at Tuesday's meeting if there's interest in pursuing sex offender residency restrictions.

"We're looking for direction from council," City Manager Malcolm Fleming said.

Colorado is not one of the two dozen states where sex offender "exclusion zones" have been approved, leaving the decision up to individual communities. So far, no Boulder County communities have enacted residency restrictions, which can limit registered sex offenders from living near schools, libraries, playgrounds and other locations frequented by children.

In other states, the issue has proved contentious, drawing protests -- and sometimes lawsuits -- from the American Civil Liberties Union (Contact). The ACLU has asserted that creating sex-offender-free zones does little to protect the public, instead driving sex offenders underground -- they often avoid registering with local police because it's too difficult to find a place to live.

Louisville's Fleming said one reason to consider limiting where sex offenders can live is the possibility that more offenders could move to Louisville because of restrictions in other communities.

Neighboring Lafayette also has started talking about excluding sex offenders from certain areas, while Erie is scheduled to take up the topic in the coming year.

Lafayette Mayor Chris Cameron said the city attorney is still investigating the issue and nothing has been formally proposed.

She said she hasn't yet formed an opinion and wants more information on whether there's a problem that could be addressed by imposing restrictions.

"It's a complex issue," she said.

In Louisville, staff members said issues for consideration in drafting new rules could include the age of the offender, nature of the offense and the impact on offenders living with immediate family.

Broader questions include whether restrictions would hinder the reintegration of offenders into society, along with whether restrictions would prevent sex crimes.

Louisville currently has six registered felony sex offenders living within city limits, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Fleming said there are typically about a dozen registered sex offenders living in the city.

As far as Louisville police could determine, no registered sex offenders have reoffended while living in the city, he said. Louisville's sex offender registry list also has never included a "sexually violent predator."

"That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King - United States Constitution | Bill of Rights

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues, All Rights Reserved

NY - Residents want sex offenders banned from town

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You can't just up and ban someone from living in your town because you don't like them, you can't for any reason.  This will surely be knocked down.


By Dayelin Roman

LAKE LUZERNE  -- Residents on Davern Drive want sex offenders out of their neighborhood and away from the town.

This is what they told town officials when they stood up at the last Town Board meeting and a recent Town Board workshop.

Residents Thomas Condon, Joseph Catoggio and Clinton Freeman spoke at the last Town Board meeting, according to unofficial minutes, and said they learned of a Level 3 sex offender living at the Bayview Motel on Davern Drive.

Level 3 is assigned to offenders with the highest risk of repeat offense and who are deemed a threat to public safety.

The sex offender was paying for the accommodations with funds received from the Department of Social Services, residents said.

A petition signed by some 15 neighbors was also presented to officials, urging them to pass legislation limiting sex offenders from moving into town.

But Town Supervisor Eugene Merlino said he’s not sure the town can do that.

"There’s not much the town can legally do," he said, adding that the district attorney’s office told him if sex offenders they have served their time, they can live anywhere.

The minutes from the Nov. 9 Town Board meeting point to discussion of a local law in Colonie that was thrown out by the courts after it was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (Contact).

But Catoggio told the board that Colonie had recently adopted a new law that requires businesses to get a license from the town before they can house sex offenders. That way, they are regulating businesses rather than the offenders themselves.

Catoggio asked the town’s attorney to look into a similar law for Lake Luzerne.

Merlino said he would work with Department of Social Services to ensure that neighbors don’t find out about sex offenders after they have moved into a neighborhood.

"We don’t want to find out after the fact," he said.

In the case of Davern Drive, the Level 3 sex offender is the first resident at the Bayview Motel since it was purchased and renovated in 2006.

The 1950 motel on the Hudson River had been empty for years before that, Merlino said.

"As a hotel owner, I would never take them in my house," he said. But for business owners struggling to survive, he continued, providing lodging for a sex offender can pay the bills.

"This is income for them," he said. "But it hurts the surrounding neighborhood."

"That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King - United States Constitution | Bill of Rights

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues, All Rights Reserved

Federal judges argue for reduced sentences for child-porn convicts

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By Felisa Cardona

In a nationwide series of hearings, members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission have heard from federal judges seeking reduced sentences for a group of defendants one would think unlikely to get sympathy from the bench: possessors of child pornography.

From New York to Chicago, and recently in Denver, federal judges have testified before the commission, which sets federal punishments, that the current sentencing structure for possessing and viewing child pornography is too severe.

The commission has made reviewing child-pornography sentencing guidelines a priority of its work, which will end in May and could include a change to the guidelines to allow shorter sentences for future offenders.

Judges, for the most part, have based their argument on a belief that some of the defendants who view child pornography have never molested a child or posed a risk to the community and may be better served by treatment rather than prison.

As federal guidelines now stand, the number of images and the way the contraband is obtained enhance prison terms. A first-time offender with no criminal history can be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

In the Colorado case of _____, federal agents found 1,627 photos and 23 movies depicting prepubescent children being sexually abused by adults.

_____ admitted he downloaded the contraband and pleaded guilty, and now prosecutors are seeking to lock him up for six to eight years.

But the 50-year-old Parker man is fighting for a probationary sentence below the guidelines set by the commissioners and Congress.

_____ will learn the outcome of his case Feb. 4 when he appears in U.S. District Court in Denver for sentencing.

His attorney, Matthew Golla, says there is no proof his client is a risk to the community and that he has some physical and mental impairments that make prison an unsuitable option for him.

"Throughout the course of this case, whenever discussions arose surrounding the potential advisory guideline ranges, Mr. _____ at times crumbled into a ball on the floor of counsel's office unable to communicate," Golla wrote in a motion for a lesser term.

Precedent for probation

Golla also argues that _____ did not molest a child and there is no evidence he intends to do so.

"For at least one year and possibly longer, the defendant, in the privacy of his small condominium, used a single computer to download child pornography," Golla wrote. "He never chatted with anyone on the Internet regarding the images he possessed, never used the material to entice a child, nor did he produce, distribute, or trade any of the images. Mr. _____ has never had inappropriate contact with a child."

U.S. District Judge John L. Kane, who is presiding over _____'s case, has previously granted two defendants in similar cases probation rather than incarceration, drawing the ire of prosecutors.

Several medical problems

_____ and _____ got probation — with lifetime supervision — because both men suffer from severe medical impairments and the judge felt placing them behind bars would be unreasonable and detrimental to their survival.

_____ was awaiting a kidney transplant, and moving him to the Bureau of Prisons may have knocked him off the list. _____ is a paraplegic with limited use of his arms, and Kane had similar concerns about the quality of health care in the prison system and the expense.

"We do not see producers (of child porn) or the parents who sell their children or the stepfathers who attack them," Kane told the commission in October. "What we see are the men on dialysis confined to a wheelchair who spends all of his time confined already and no economic analysis of what it would cost to keep this man in prison."

Kane testified there is no empirical research referenced in the sentencing schemes to indicate whether long prison sentences will stop defendants from re-offending or help them overcome their compulsions by the time they get out of prison.

And Kane is not alone. Federal judges from Hawaii, New York and Oklahoma have made similar gripes to the commission.

"It is too often the case that a defendant appears to be a social misfit looking at dirty pictures in the privacy of his own home without any real prospect of touching or otherwise acting out as to any person," U.S. District Judge Robin J. Cauthron of Oklahoma City said in her testimony to the commission. "As foul as child pornography is, I am unpersuaded by the suggestion that a direct link has been proven between viewing child porn and molesting children."

Federal prosecutors in Colorado declined to comment on the _____ case or the testimony of federal judges.

But Colorado U.S. Attorney David Gaouette criticized Kane's decision in the _____ case when he testified before the commissioners.

Gaouette also said that the Bureau of Prisons has medical facilities to care for defendants like _____ and _____ who have impairments when they enter the prison system.

"Cases like this suggest that the current state of the federal sentencing system increasingly favors judicial discretion over uniformity, consistency and certainty," he said.

In 1995, federal defendants convicted of possessing child pornography were sentenced to an average of 15 months in prison, _____'s attorney wrote in court documents. By 2007, first-time child-pornography offenders were receiving 102 months in federal prison.

Crime fight targets Internet

In the early 1990s, the U.S. Justice Department established the Innocent Images initiative to combat the emerging availability of child pornography on the Internet.

Before online access, purveyors of the contraband relied on sending the images through the postal system, which meant there was limited access to the material.

Ernie Allen, president and chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said some judges don't realize possessing the images revictimizes the children in the photographs and fuels a growing online business.

"There are too many judges who continue to provide token sentences for what we consider to be serious crimes," Allen said. "These are images of prepubescent children, growing numbers of them infants and toddlers, and they trade with each other for purposes of arousal and breaking down the inhibitions of other children."

Allen said educating the judiciary about the impact of child pornography on victims is key.

"We are not in favor of disproportionate sentencing or disparities, but the problem here is too many judges who simply do not recognize how serious these crimes are," he said.

Looking for treatment

_____, whose son _____ is serving 10 years in prison for possessing a vast child-pornography library, said treatment over incarceration should have been an option for his son.

"I think the thing we really have to do is figure out why. What is different about him that drives him to that? What personality traits? What is the issue here?" _____ said. "To put somebody in jail for 10 years may not be enough if we do not get to the crux of the matter."

"We need the power of the courts to be on our side to help maintain and control the problem to the point where this kid can be beneficial to society."

_____, 33, was working as a network engineer making $60,000 a year when he got caught downloading child pornography.

His father compared his son's compulsion to drug addiction that needs treatment.

"I don't know if sending them to prison is the way to protect children, and I am more concerned about when my son gets out," _____ said.

"I don't think he is getting treated to the point he wouldn't do it again."

"That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King - United States Constitution | Bill of Rights

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues, All Rights Reserved

GA - With no place to stay, he could go to prison

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By John Bailey

He’s a handy, articulate and well-dressed 27-year-old man. Friends say he’s a hard worker with his head on straight — the problem is _____ is also listed as a sex offender.

The crux of the problem is _____ wants to work within the system, and while the restrictions placed upon him chafe, he’s willing to work. But with unemployment rates at more than 10 percent, jobs are scarce. For someone branded as a sex offender, they’re almost nonexistent.

No job equals no residence, and for _____ no residence equals going back to prison.

I have to find a place by the end of this month,” _____ said. “But, right now it’s hard for me to find a place without a job.”

It’s not a matter of wishing to comply. It’s a matter of being able to comply with the stringent legal requirements in harsh economic circumstances.

I did that for a long time. I had a job but then got laid off,” _____ said. “And now no one is hiring, especially me with a criminal record and all.”

There’s no halfway house, no homeless shelter, even the friends who would gladly take him in are bound by the legal restrictions of the registry.

He could remain at his current “temporary residence,” but it is within 1,000 feet of a church, a violation of his probation, and Roger Covington — president of a local prison ministry — agreed to let _____ live in his home, but he’s a convicted felon, and that kind of association is also a violation of his probation.

It makes me upset. I’m trying, but the only thing that keeps me focused is God,” _____ said. “Sometimes I feel like giving up, but I feel like he won’t let me down, and I keep pushing myself every day.”

The 27-year-old said he’s been clean and arrest-free since 2005. Compliance with a job and a residence was difficult, but doable. The problem is after two years of working for a bakery, he was recently laid off.

Since then he’s been applying for jobs and hitting the pavement. But bad decisions made early in life don’t go away.

Changing times

No one is saying _____ is an angel. He’s been in and out of the courtroom — convicted of several other crimes such as drug possession, obstruction and theft by taking.

But his current entanglement with the legal system began at 18 when he pleaded guilty to a statutory rape charge filed against him when he was 17. Although the sex was consensual, the girl was underage.

When the prosecutor offered eight years of probation — he took it. At that time he didn’t have to register as a sex offender. There was some initial counseling but no registration.

A year later _____ was back in court on a drug possession charge.

This time he went to prison, and upon release in 2005 his parole officer told him the law now required him to register as a sex offender.

I talked to them but couldn’t push the issue, I just didn’t have any money — only the $35 they gave me when I got out,” he said.

Since 2006, _____’s particular case would be considered a misdemeanor — with no stipulation of registering in the sex offender database. But that change came too late for _____. He, and many like him, committed what is now a misdemeanor but face a lifetime stigma of being a convicted felon and even worse — a sex offender.

The system isn’t designed to help. I did wrong, I know I did,” _____ said. “But I’m still serving time every day. … By not knowing what I signed up for, I messed up my life.”

The law concerning statutory rape was amended July 1, 2006. It made consensual sex between teens (at least 14 years old) and a person no older than 18 a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison and no sex offender registration.

But the legislature did not make the law retroactive.

The sex offender registry is kept with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and according to Georgia law a person classified as a sexual offender must comply with the requirements of registration for life.

Those laws limit where offenders can live and work.

Those who have completed their incarceration or probation for at least 10 years can petition the Superior Court to be released from the registration requirements, according to Georgia Code 42-1-12 (g).

If the court decides the offender does not pose a substantial risk of future offenses, the court can release the person from registry. But for those in _____’s situation, 10 years as a registered sex offender may mean a life term.

‘Ghetto pastor’

He’s not without help or friends, there are several who’ve stepped forward asking if they could help _____. But with limited resources, time is running out.

Louise McCluskey, pastor of the Glorious New Jerusalem Church on West 12th Street, said she first met _____ through his grandmother and the self-described “ghetto pastor” said she saw injustice in his plight.

Here was a hard-working man whose faith had made a change in his life, she said, but his circumstances were dire.

That’s never mattered to McCluskey, who has run many prison ministries and is known for walking in among the convicts and making friends.

You’ve got to love people. Jesus hung out with the thugs. Did you know that?” she said. “This church welcomes offenders regardless of what the law says. The church is a haven to set people free and help them to get to know Jesus.”

She found a residence for _____ to stay until the probation office saw a church in the area, invalidating the residence as a permanent place. His probation officer said _____ could stay there temporarily but gave an end of November deadline for him to move out.

Both McCluskey and _____ say the probation office has worked with him repeatedly, letting him stay out a little later to attend church and striving to help him stay out of prison. But the legislators made the law, and probation officers are sworn to uphold it.

He has a good probation officer,” McCluskey said. “It’s the law that needs to change.”

But at this point what he needs is a job. He’s done house maintenance, some construction work and refurbished a home for the church on Harvey Street.

He has worked diligently to restore that house, and it would be a good place to house others like him. But, guess what, there is a church at the corner,” McCluskey said.

He’s not picky at this point. _____ said he’d take any type of job. It’s not money or donations he needs. It’s a job and the ability to live under his current circumstances and hopefully provide for his three children.

For anyone with work available, McCluskey said they can reach her at 706-409-2908.

Although McCluskey said she has faith that God will make changes, she says people must still work for that change.

She speaks with a voice of experience and the surety of someone who has seen miracles happen.

She doesn’t expect people to make a change for the better 100 percent of the time. “When they want to change they’ll change,” she said.

It isn’t about in here,” she said, gesturing toward the church. “It’s about out there,” she said, pointing toward the streets.

"That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King - United States Constitution | Bill of Rights

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues, All Rights Reserved

CA - Jessica’s Law too vague to enforce?

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By Denise Zapata and Kevin Crowe

Most local offenders too close to schools, parks

More than 70 percent of registered sex offenders in San Diego County are violating a state law by living too close to schools and parks.

Jessica’s Law, which was approved by California voters in November 2006 (Proposition 83), toughened sanctions against sex offenders and bars them from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. In San Diego County, 1,266 of 1,731 offenders whose addresses are made public by the state live in those restricted zones, according to an analysis by the Watchdog Institute, a nonprofit investigative journalism unit based at San Diego State University.

That finding surprises virtually no one in law enforcement. They say the law is vague and has holes, making it nearly impossible to enforce.

For example, the law doesn’t specify whether residence restrictions apply to all convicted sex offenders or only to those who were convicted or paroled after it passed. There are no penalties for violating the restrictions.

The initiative itself was so badly written, no one knows how retroactive it is,” said Tom Tobin, a clinical psychologist and member of the state Sex Offender Management Board, an advisory group that includes law enforcement and other professionals who deal with sex crimes.

Four registered sex offenders, two of whom live in San Diego County, have challenged the residency restrictions, and their case is before the California Supreme Court.

The four men were paroled after Jessica’s Law passed, but their most recent crimes were not sex offenses. Parole officers told them they had to move from restricted areas near schools or parks or be sent back to prison.

Ernest Galvan, who represents the men, said the law is retroactive punishment. Laws that restrict a person’s rights must be based on a “compelling state interest,” he said.

Attorneys for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation say voters intended to create “predator-free zones,” so the law applies to all registered sex offenders.

The court’s ruling is expected in February.

Dozens of municipalities across the state that have approved their own ordinances are awaiting the court’s decision before moving to enforce them. In San Diego County, six cities have enacted ordinances that restrict where convicted offenders can live or loiter: San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, La Mesa, Santee and San Marcos. The county of San Diego and the Padre Dam Municipal Water District — which oversees Santee Lakes — also have ordinances. Each makes a violation a misdemeanor.

Nearly all of those cities increased the number of restricted areas, barring convicted offenders from living or loitering near playgrounds, arcades, amusement parks and other places where children congregate. The Chula Vista City Council, however, eased the state restrictions, barring offenders convicted of crimes against children from living within 500 feet of a city park or a school that serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Leonard Miranda, a Chula Vista Police Department captain who helped craft the city ordinance, said a 2,000-foot restriction leaves only small pockets in the city where offenders could live.

It was impractical,” he said.

More than 90 percent of convicted sex offenders listing addresses in Chula Vista are in violation of the state residence restriction, while none violate the municipal ordinance.

Glenn Isaaks, an agent in the department’s sex-offender-registration unit, said few police or sheriff’s departments have the resources to enforce a 2,000-foot restriction.

We’re budget-strapped as it is,” he said. “It would be a burden to have to do that.”

While the legality of Jessica’s Law is debated, law enforcement experts are examining the larger question of whether residence restrictions reduce crime. About 7 percent of sex offenses against children are committed by someone already convicted of a child-sex crime, according to a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice. That means that in most cases, child-sex offenses are being committed by someone who isn’t on a registry.

And while residence restrictions are aimed at keeping strangers away from children, strangers commit a small percentage of child-sex offenses. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office doesn’t track how many child molestations are committed by strangers, but the Justice Department study found that 93 percent of offenders are related to or know their victims.

Often, we’re horrified when we hear about children snatched off the street,” said Phyllis Shess, director of sex-offender management in the District Attorney’s Office. “That is statistically very rare.”

In one aspect, Jessica’s Law has increased concerns about public safety. Since it took effect, more registered sex offenders have identified themselves as transient and are harder to track.

Among California parolees — the only population of sex offenders for whom the residence restrictions have been consistently enforced — the number listed as transient has gone from 88 in November 2006 to 1,056 in June 2008, an increase of 1,100 percent, according to a Sex Offender Management Board report in December 2008.

Tobin said sex offenders in an unstable environment, such as homelessness, are more likely to commit another crime.

Why would we want to, with no apparent good reason, increase the risk of re-offending?” he asked. “The reality is we’re pushing people to the brink.”

In January, the Sex Offender Management Board issued recommendations, including one to “rethink residency restrictions.” It stated, “The vast majority of evidence and research conducted to date does not demonstrate a connection between where an offender lives and recidivism.”

Some officials in other states agree. Iowa legislators this year revised the state law banning convicted sex offenders from living near schools or day-care centers after law enforcement officials complained that it was difficult to enforce and increased the number of transient offenders. Now, only violent sex offenders can’t live in those areas.

State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, who sponsored California’s initiative, said the law improves monitoring because it requires all registered felony sex offenders to wear a GPS device. However, only sex offenders on parole — about 15 percent of registered offenders statewide — are wearing the devices.

Local law enforcement agencies are supposed to take over GPS monitoring after sex offenders are off parole, but none has done that, said Lindon Lewis, a San Diego County GPS unit supervisor with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Local officials are waiting for the state Supreme Court ruling, and they say they need funding before they can start monitoring, he said.

The law requires sex offenders to pay for GPS monitoring, but if they can’t, the state pays. For the 6,782 sex offenders on parole statewide, it cost $10.2 million to activate the devices, plus $14.9 million a year for monitoring.

Runner said the law shouldn’t be scaled back because of cost.

How much does it cost when a child gets raped?” he asked.

Most officials who handle aspects of sex offenses say changing the law is a politically charged proposition.

Who is going to stand up and say something that can be construed as, ‘Let’s go easier on sex offenders’?” Tobin said.

It’s not clear what may happen after the court issues its ruling, but if law enforcement agencies begin enforcing residence restrictions, that could launch another logistical challenge: where to put convicted sex offenders, especially in urban areas. A San Diego County District Attorney’s Office study in 2007 concluded that residence restrictions eliminated 72 percent of the residential parcels in the county.

The Watchdog Institute found that in San Diego, where more than one-third of the county’s convicted sex offenders list addresses, 85 percent are in violation of the state’s residence restrictions. The city ordinance adds further restrictions, barring registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of day-care centers, arcades, playgrounds, libraries and attractions that include the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld. It also bars them from loitering within 300 feet of those places.

The city hasn’t enforced its ordinance, passed in 2008, because of the pending case. Officials in the City Attorney’s Office also wouldn’t discuss enforcement plans because the case isn’t resolved, said city attorney spokeswoman Gina Coburn.

Moving the registered sex offenders who violate residence restrictions isn’t a simple solution. Finding housing for convicted sex offenders still on parole is difficult, state corrections officials say.

Residence restrictions have a “kind of intuitive appeal,” said Tobin, of the Sex Offender Management Board. “But if ‘not in my backyard,’ then where?

"That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King - United States Constitution | Bill of Rights

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues, All Rights Reserved