Saturday, May 22, 2010
By Helen Ubiñas
You know what's worse than bad legislation or no legislation at all?
Feel-good legislation that makes politicians look good, his or her constituents feel good and then sends everyone home to exactly the same problem.
Congratulations, Hartford state Rep. Kelvin Roldan (Contact).
Roldan is proposing a bill that would make it illegal for registered sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of a public or private school or day care facility in the city. Which translates into almost anywhere in the city.
Sounds good, right?
Hartford has more registered sex offenders within its 18 square miles than any other Connecticut town or city — more than 500 as of 2009. It'd be nice for other towns to share the burden. But then that can be said for just about every problem that the city is saddled with.
And sure, it'd be great to exile sex offenders to a place where they can never harm a child. But that's not going to happen. What likely will happen is exactly what critics who testified before the judiciary committee Monday said: They'll go underground. And an unmonitored sex offender you can't find is far more dangerous than a registered offender. At least you know where they live.
Besides, here's another reality: Despite all the stranger-danger after-school specials people in Roldan and my generation grew up with, that's a myth. Statistics show that many more children are molested, abducted or killed by people they know than by strangers.
In explaining his logic, Roldan said the law would help keep registered sex offenders out of situations that might cause them to commit another crime.
- Yeah right, it's just something he can do, to attach his name to, to "look tough" on crime, while doing nothing, see here.
"This is all about the safety of our children," Roldan said.
- No, it's "for the children politics," and a way for you to look good and exploit the issue for your own personal gain, period!
No, it's not.
This bill doesn't amount to much more than legislative low hanging fruit that makes for a nice sound bite. Sounds good, but totally unrealistic.
And worse than being ineffectual and self-serving, it's the kind of counterproductive legislation that doesn't deal with real solutions. That might actually take some work.
There has to be more monitoring of sex offenders — not less. If there are specific issues or dangers in a given neighborhood, they should be addressed.
- Why do we need more monitoring? If someone is such a threat to society, why aren't they sentenced to move time in prison in the first place? Monitoring for life cost tax payers a ton of money, and doesn't prevent any crime or protect anybody, it's more of the "for the children" BS that doesn't work.
And right now, Hartford's children are in more danger from what's not going on inside city schools than from what may be lurking outside of them.
By Deanna Dewberry
INDIANAPOLIS - Thursday night, 24-Hour News 8 brought you an I-Team 8 special report called Wake-Up Call. It revealed that child molesters, rapists and sexual predators are living next door to families in hotels across the state while the Indiana Department of Correction is picking up the tab.
A child molester we'll call “Jack” spoke openly to I-Team 8 about his experience following his release from prison in 2008.
"No one is brought up looking to be or wanting to be a child molester or a rapist," said “Jack”.
But that's what “Jack” is.
He molested 15 children as a church youth director in northern Indiana. After he got out of prison, returning to northern Indiana was not in his best interest. “Jack” had no place to go, the quandary faced by so many newly-released sex offenders.
- You see, when they want an interview, they pick the worst person they can find at the time, and make it "appear" as if all sex offenders are like this, which is not true.
So the Indiana Department of Correction did as they often do in cases like his. They got him a hotel room and picked up the tab. Housing sex offenders is a source of revenue for hotel owners, a source they're often reluctant to acknowledge.
But I-Team 8 confirmed 15 sex offenders are staying at the Always Inn at 21st and Shadeland in Indianapolis.
A snapshot of surrounding states reveals that, while Indiana and Michigan provide housing for newly released sex offenders, Kentucky and Illinois do not.
Julie Walburn, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Correction, says she doesn't know if her state puts newly-released sex offenders in hotels, but I-Team 8 could find no evidence that it does.
However, Ohio does have a non-profit group called The Exit Program that provides group housing for newly-released offenders.
Department of Correction leaders in every state admit finding housing for newly released sex offenders is challenging.
Adam Deming is the Director of the Indiana Sex Offender Management and Monitoring program. He says while hotels do not provide the ideal environment, "our goal is to annually decrease the number of sexual offenders that return to the community that end up committing new crimes."
He says the program does that by requiring sex offenders to take regular polygraph tests and attend group therapy. And he says providing assistance to help them transition from prison to the community is critical.
“Jack” insists the program works.
"My inner thoughts change through the counseling through truly understanding the damage that I caused," he said.
But he acknowledges that assuring that he doesn't re-offend is a lifelong journey.
"I am not exempt from going back into that lifestyle choice of victimizing innocent kids," said “Jack”.
KALAMAZOO – More and more prisoners are being released onto West Michigan streets.
Each month, 20 to 30 prisoners return to Kalamazoo County, and as Michigan makes a clear effort to shut down prisons to save money that means everyone from sex offenders to petty thieves will be on the streets again.
Community leaders are looking to make sure those released don't revert back to their lives of crime. It is an issue that effects every community and on Friday, a forum hosted by Kalamazoo County's Prisoner Reentry Initiative made it clear that public safety is more than just a corrections issue.
That forum took place at KVCC's Arcadia Campus on Friday.
“The police department and parole office, they can't keep us safe alone,” said Rev. Milton Wells of the Mich. Prisoner Reentry Initiative (Contact).
“You've already had about 15,000 people coming back to the community from our prisons every year,” said Carl Williams of the Michigan Department of Corrections, “so they're already here.”
It was clear many who attending the forum want former prisoners to make it on the outside, including Alice Taylor.
“They paid their debt to society, I think they deserve an opportunity,” said Taylor.
However, there are those who may not agree and push back against reintegrating, especially if it means transitional housing for violent and sexual offenders, but Taylor says we have to trust the system.
“I believe there are laws in place to protect citizens and make sure everybody fits back in,” said Taylor.
Recent high-profile incidents have highlighted the failures of ex-offenders trying to reintegrate, including a homeless sex offender who froze to death after being turned away from shelters that were too close to schools.
“No one in America should have to freeze to death,” said Rev. Wells.
In Grand Rapids a parolee recently struggled with a police officer, ran and pulled a gun. The officer was forced to shoot and kill the man.
Friday's panel acknowledged that incidents will happen, and communities will resist efforts at reintegration, but say they hope to change minds.
“My biggest job is I'm one of the people that tries to get out and educate the community first,” said Williams, “because when you really explain the reentry initiative to people, it makes sense.”
The Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative says nearly 50 percent of prisoners will go back to prison in two years, at a cost of $112 million, so making reentry smooth will save money.
This is why online vigilante cults should be shut down, the police can handle the job, and the vigilantes tend to screw everything up.
By Will Thomas
Det. Wells has made 29 arrests in last three years
STAFFORD - Sexual predators are targeting children across the country and even if the criminal is thousands of miles away in another state or country, they can still chat with your kids online.
Detective Darryl Wells with the Stafford County Sheriff's Office hunts down these predators.
"Through undercover operations we try to seek out these mostly white, adult men who target children," Wells told FOX 5.
The detective's investigations have resulted in 29 arrests in more than three years. Wells has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience and said this is his most rewarding work.
- Wow, the media and everyone else says this is such a major problem, so if that is true, why only 29 arrests in three years? Seems like it's not much of a problem to me. Also, see this study, which said this was all blown out of proportion.
We need more people like this man! We need folks to do the job they were hired to do, get off the bandwagon of "lock em' up and throw away the key," and do what is right!
By A. G. SULZBERGER
In his 43-year career as a federal judge, Jack B. Weinstein has come to be identified by his efforts to combat what he calls “the unnecessary cruelty of the law.” His most recent crusade is particularly striking because of the beneficiary: a man who has amassed a vast collection of child pornography.
Judge Weinstein, who sits in the United States District Court in Brooklyn, has twice thrown out convictions that would have ensured that the man spend at least five years behind bars. He has pledged to break protocol and inform the next jury about the mandatory prison sentence that the charges carry. And he recently declared that the man, who is awaiting a new trial, did not need an electronic ankle bracelet because he posed “no risk to society.”
There is little public sympathy for collectors of child pornography. Yet across the country, an increasing number of federal judges have come to their defense, criticizing changes to sentencing laws that have effectively quadrupled their average prison term over the last decade.
Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 20-year child pornography sentence by ruling that the sentencing guidelines for such cases, “unless applied with great care, can lead to unreasonable sentences.” The decision noted that the recommended sentences for looking at pictures of children being sexually abused sometimes eclipse those for actually sexually abusing a child.
Judge Weinstein has gone to extraordinary lengths to challenge the strict punishments, issuing a series of rulings that directly attack the mandatory five-year prison sentence faced by defendants charged with receiving child pornography.
“I don’t approve of child pornography, obviously,” he said in an interview this week. But, he also said, he does not believe that those who view the images, as opposed to producing or selling them, present a threat to children.
“We’re destroying lives unnecessarily,” he said. “At the most, they should be receiving treatment and supervision.”
The man he has spent three years trying to save from a long incarceration is _____, a married father of five who collected more than 5,000 graphic pictures of children. If prosecuted in a New York State court, he would have faced a maximum prison sentence of four years. Instead, in federal court, he faced a minimum of five years and a recommended sentence of 11 to 14 years. Because of Judge Weinstein’s intervention, he remains free as he awaits another trial.
“I don’t see Judge Weinstein as a judge,” Mr. _____ said during an interview as tears rolled down his face. “I see him as my father. He helps people. He doesn’t destroy lives the way the prosecutor has. He’s the one who is going to set me free from the court.”
The child pornography industry has flourished through the Internet; the number of federal cases grew from fewer than 100 annually to more than 1,600 last year. As the number grew, Congress increased the recommended prison terms and established a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for anyone convicted of receiving child pornography. According to the federal defenders’ office, the average sentence was 91 months in 2007, up from 21 months a decade before.
But the tough penalties have chafed at many judges, echoing previous battles over drug cases. Last year, judges imposed sentences below the recommended range in more than half of all child pornography cases.
“What has caused concern in courts across the nation is that we have a lot of relatively law-abiding individuals sitting in the basement downloading the wrong kind of dirty pictures facing not just prison sentences but incredibly long prison sentences,” said Douglas A. Berman, a professor at Moritz College of Law of Ohio State University, who studies sentencing issues.
In one recent case, James L. Graham, a United States District Court judge in Ohio, sentenced a 67-year-old man who had suffered a stroke to a single day in prison, along with restrictions on computer use and registration as a sex offender. As part of a deal with prosecutors, the man had pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, which carries no mandatory sentence.
“When you have to sit there on the bench and look at someone like my stroke victim and say, ‘I have to send this man to prison for six years,’ it just doesn’t feel right,” he explained in an interview. “It’s not right.”
Child advocates like Ernie Allen, the president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, are upset by such thinking. “Real children are harmed in the production of these images,” he said, “and these same children are harmed every time these images are downloaded and viewed.”
At 88, Judge Weinstein is one of the longest serving members of the federal bench. Supporters praise his taking unusual actions in pursuit of his notions of justice, like for a time refusing to handle drug cases out of opposition to mandatory minimums. Critics say that in the process, he disregards the law.
(On Thursday, he made headlines by refusing to dismiss a lawsuit by a public school teacher removed from the classroom for allowing students to use vulgarities during a lesson on H.I.V. He ruled that she appeared to have followed the spirit of a state syllabus that directed that students be encouraged to use sexual terms they understood.)
“Jack is somebody who will step out and do what he thinks is right and take his chances of being overturned by an appeals court,” said John S. Martin, who cited his disagreement with mandatory sentences when he retired from the federal bench in Manhattan. “He sees the injustice in these things, and he tries to do something about it.”
Both sides point to his efforts in the _____ case as quintessential Weinstein.
In 2005, Mr. _____ signed up for a child pornography Web site. He began obsessively stockpiling thousands of images, mostly of prepubescent girls. When F.B.I. agents arrived with a search warrant, he led them to the two-story garage where he kept his collection behind locked doors, saying, “The pictures of the children are upstairs.”
Child pornography cases almost always end with guilty pleas. But when the case was assigned to Judge Weinstein, Mr. _____’s lawyer recommended that he go to trial. The lawyer used an insanity defense, claiming Mr. _____ had been repeatedly raped as a child and had collected the pictures not for sexual gratification, but in hopes of finding evidence of his own abuse — claims the prosecution dismissed as implausible. When the first of the images were shown in court, Mr. _____ collapsed and was taken to a hospital.
The jury was given the standard instruction not to consider possible punishment during deliberations. After three days, on Oct. 5, 2007, Mr. _____ was convicted of all 12 counts of receipt of child pornography and 11 counts of possession. Then Judge Weinstein broke from the script with a question almost never posed in court: If the jurors had known about the minimum prison sentence, would they have voted to convict?
Five jurors spoke up against imprisonment. Two said they would have changed their votes. Judge Weinstein tossed out the guilty verdict on the more serious receipt counts and ordered a new trial. He sentenced Mr. _____ to a year in prison for the possession counts, which Mr. _____ has served.
Judge Weinstein declared that Mr. _____ had a constitutional right to have a jury know the punishment that would accompany a guilty verdict, a right he said he had violated. He pledged to inform the next jury of the mandatory minimum sentence. That idea, floated by a federal judge in Manhattan several years earlier in another child pornography case but rejected on appeal, would give jurors the option of refusing to convict if the punishment seemed disproportionate, as several jurors had indicated they believed it was in Mr. _____’s case.
“That was quite an unusual way of handling it,” said Amy Baron-Evans, the national sentencing resource counsel for the federal public defenders’ office. “Usually the judges are just stuck with the mandatory minimum.”
The Court of Appeals last year overruled Judge Weinstein’s order of a new trial, but left unresolved whether it was permissible to tell the jury about the punishment. The case was remanded, and Judge Weinstein, after consulting with other District Court judges, again ordered a new trial, though this time on different grounds. And again he pledged to inform the jury of the mandatory minimum sentences. That decision is under appeal.
In the meantime, the cases keep coming.
On Wednesday, Judge Weinstein dealt with a man who had pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography. He imposed the mandatory five-year minimum prison term, though unhappily.
“This is an unnecessarily harsh and cruel sentence under the circumstances,” he said. “The court has no alternative under the statute. This defendant requires treatment and a stable life outside of prison. Prison will only harm him and will do nothing to protect society, since he does not constitute a risk of crime or any acting out towards children.”
“I’m sorry,” he added, “there is nothing I can do in this case.”
South Florida Attorney Faces 100 Counts Of Child Pornography
MIAMI BEACH - A South Florida attorney accused of sending child pornography from his computer bonded out of jail on Tuesday night.
Michael Mora, 56, faces 106 child pornography-related charges.
Investigators said the trading of images began in 2007 when California detectives were chatting online with Mora.
Mora allegedly did not know they were detectives and sent them several pictures.
Three years after the initial contact with investigators, authorities confiscated Mora's computer. They said they found an additional 100 pornographic photos of children.
“It’s really disturbing,” neighbor Mina Sulkowski said. “To know that someone that sick lives here.”
Mora posted a $50,000 bond.