Sunday, May 30, 2010

NJ - Truth of Residency Restrictions

Video Link | YouTube Channel | Web Site

CA - A broken system: sex-offender oversight

Original Article (Listen)


Parole and probation policies at core of controversy

Earlier this month, a sex offender named Leonard Scroggins took off his GPS tracking device, left Northern California, came down here and in the span of two days attacked four different women. He had been in and out of prison since he was a teenager. Why is somebody like Leonard Scroggins out on parole?

KERNAN: It really illustrates the limitations of both parole and GPS technology. The fact of the matter is, as a law enforcement agency, we adhere to what the court sentences these offenders to, and once they complete their sentence we’re mandated to release them to parole. I know there are many ideas about one-strike and lock them up – Chelsea’s Law. It seems to me the only fail-safe way to keep offenders from preying on our children and on our public is to keep them locked up behind the walls of a prison.
- It seems to me that, since less than 5% are truly dangerous, you should be doing an evaluation on them, before sentencing, and then, if they are deemed dangerous, they should go straight to civil commitment, not prison. Then, the other 95%, who are out of prison and trying to live their lives, you would not need these laws, except maybe for those still on probation and/or parole. But once they are off paper, none of the laws should apply, since many studies have been done to prove residency restrictions do nothing to prevent crime nor protect anybody, they only make people homeless, which makes them more of a potential danger to the public. Stop acting on emotions and listen to the facts and experts!

Are you endorsing Chelsea’s Law?

KERNAN: The governor has indicated that he would sign Chelsea’s Law. The department doesn’t have an official position.

The one-strike provision of Chelsea’s Law is based on the premise that sexually violent people cannot be rehabilitated. Do you accept that premise?

KERNAN: The department struggles with these terrible cases and monsters like John Gardner (who pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Chelsea and Amber). Certainly, I understand the public’s questioning of whether these guys can be rehabilitated. It’s our charge, once they are under our supervision, to try to rehabilitate them.

JENKINS: The key is identifying who those individuals are – those individuals that may have been assessed, either through a psychological evaluation or from their history, that would fit the description of a sexually violent predator. I think there’s a lot of literature that says their behavior doesn’t change.

One of the mistakes that frequently gets made in the conversation about sex offenders is that we use the term too broadly. A predator is different from one who flashes. But a predator, somebody who has been identified and shows a history of that behavior, those are the ones that the system should be focused on most. I think there’s a lot of literature about pedophiles who have a primary interest in underage children. There’s a lot of literature that says that those individuals never lose those proclivities.
- Amen! People hear sex offender and immediately think the person is a child molesting, pedophile predator who is out hunting for kids to molest and kill. Sex offenders is a term that covers all those who have committed sex crimes. Predator is someone who hunts people to harm. Pedophile is someone who prefers children. Use the terms correctly, and that alone will help a lot, but, for ratings purposes, the media likes to interject the "predator" term, so it gets more viewers and ratings, and for politicians, it makes them look better, and as if they are "tough" on crime.

O’BRYAN: These are people. These are brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, friends. These aren’t just mad, wild animals running around the streets. The containment model is supervision, medication and therapy. And those three things can really do a wonderful job. You have to have educated, experienced and dedicated parole agents to be working with these people and that is something that I think CDCR, or the parole division, has really failed. So, yes, you can work with a lot of sex offenders if you do it the correct way.

Where in the John Gardner case did the system break down?

KERNAN: The fact that he got a plea bargain and was only in prison for the short period of time that he was, certainly, is probably a great breakdown in the system. When he paroled, his supervision, certainly there were errors as we look back. I don’t think it was agent errors and I certainly don’t think it was intended. I always struggle to not sound defensive when I hear people critical of parole because I think my agents are out there every day in tenuous circumstances working with law enforcement and probation and the district attorneys to protect public safety, and so it’s always difficult for me to hear people throwing them in this bucket of bad supervision. I think in the Gardner case, certainly the system failed. The agents didn’t fail, I failed. If somebody’s going to take responsibility, it should be the policymakers that have limited resources, a limited budget, a number of other challenges to try to implement policies in our state that will do what I think everybody in this room would hope, and that is that we stop people like Gardner or Scroggins.

JENKINS: In Gardner’s case, certainly the system failed in its primary objective of public safety because Gardner was able to kill two girls after he came through the system. But with regard to where it broke down, if the system broke down, I think when you look at it in hindsight what appears to have happened with Gardner is that, at his contact with the system in 2000, he wasn’t identified as the predator that apparently he is.
- I get so tired of hearing this "system broke down," argument. Nobody can predict, except by criminal history, if someone is really dangerous. If they have a history of violent crime, then more than likely they are dangerous, but, if they do not have a history of it, then there is absolutely no way you can tell if someone will or won't commit another related crime. We cannot predict the future, and need to stop trying!

But the psych evaluation did identify him as a predator.

JENKINS: The psych evaluation said he was unamenable to treatment. The psychologist said, based on his interaction with him, that he felt he would be a risk to underage girls for as long a time as he remained in the community. That part was really clear. ...

But one of the points that’s not commonly understood about that process is that that evaluation at that point in time was not really a sentencing evaluation. I’m not discounting the input that the psychologist offered, but the purpose of that evaluation at that point was really to determine whether the defendant was a suitable candidate for probation.
- And the evaluation, should be done before being sentenced, then, if by a panel of experts, is deemed dangerous, that person should be sent to civil commitment, and get the help they need. But, most of the time, people are just sent to prison, do not get treatment in prison, and when they get out, then they are suppose to get treatment. That is too late, IMO!

KERNAN: If we had zero-tolerance policy and we said every time a sex offender violates a condition of parole – gets a red-light violation or a low battery on his GPS – we were going to toss him into prison for four months, which is the average violation term, and not provide any treatment and then throw him right back on the street, some people would say that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with very limited resources.

What changes do you think need to be made? Everybody says the system broke down, but nobody’s taking responsibility for saying it broke down here.

KERNAN: I’ll give you an example – passive GPS. The department used the (Static 99 test) to determine who was a high-risk sex offender. Obviously, Gardner was not identified with that tool as a high-risk sex offender, so he was placed on passive GPS, meaning that staff weren’t reviewing it on a daily basis; they were only looking retrospectively at it. The passive caseloads are 40-to-1, the active cases are 20-to-1. Should we treat all sex offenders, even the indecent-exposure cases, as a potential high-risk sex offender and put them all on active GPS?

HIDALGO: We started rolling out GPS in 2007. And so we’re still learning from it and I think that there is an overemphasis on the people looking inside or outside CDCR at GPS as a preventer of crime, and it really isn’t. It’s one tool of many. It is a device that can be cut off an ankle and it doesn’t instantly flash this person back in to prison, you have to go find him. With Scroggins, we had a warrant for him within 24 hours of him taking that off.

You put out a warrant but did not notify law enforcement agencies that Leonard Scroggins had taken off his ankle bracelet.

HIDALGO: The warrant itself is the notification. Is it the requirement to treat a sex offender who cuts their bracelet off the same as someone who escaped from San Quentin? Where do I stop? It’s not just California, you have to notify the nation, every police agency.

JENKINS: From a systemic standpoint, our obligation is to make sure that we have the most effective tools to see who these individuals are so that those folks who really need incarceration, those folks that might qualify for one-strike types of law, we have them as clearly identified as we can. And that we have a good assessment process so that we know what their risks are, what their deficits are, so that if they are going to return to the community that probation and parole have in place the mechanisms and resources to effectively manage them in the community.

We’re all living with the stresses of budgets. But within the system, are choices being made – expedient choices – that lessen the level of supervision because you don’t have the resources?

KERNAN: No. ... I guarantee you nothing has come from my office or the secretary’s office or the governor’s office that would suggest that.

What is the community not talking about that it ought to be talking about?

O’BRYAN: I have for a long time maintained that it’s that the union has taken over control. We have all these guards that are untrained [who are promoted to parole agent]. They don’t have the insight, the education. They don’t have all of these things that are really necessary to work with extremely violent, dangerous people that are going to really cause a lot of problems and hurt in the community. There’s got to be some laws to stop these unions that are doing nothing to protect the public. The union has done a lot of things to get the employees highly paid – $73,000 a year to start. ... So I advocate we do something with this union. And take parole away from CDCR, make it a whole different department.

KERNAN: I disagree that we don’t have a trained staff and that they’re not doing a good job out there and hard working. I expect it’s like a newspaper. You have some reporters that are going out there and hitting it every day real hard and you have others that maybe not. In human nature you’re going to have those variances, so the criticism is fair, but to blame it on the union doesn’t seem reasonable to me. The union’s representing the employees. Their job is to advocate for them, so to come back and any the union is the problem, I don’t agree.

JENKINS: Another part of the process is us as a system – probation, parole, the courts, even the treatment community – looking at it truly as a system to see what kinds of changes need to be made from a legislative standpoint, and from an operational standpoint. And then what needs to happen to put those changes in place. I think that’s a fair question. ...

We want to have a process in place where every time a probation case ends in a bad outcome, we go and look through that process to see did our system internally work the way that we want it to work? Was the presentence report investigation done in a way that it should have been done? Were the tools that should have been applied appropriately applied? Did the supervision levels meet our own standards? I think that’s part of our obligation as public servants.

What do you want the public to know about what you’re doing that would offer some assurance that the system doesn’t break down again, and to minimize the chance that there will be another Gardner?

HIDALGO: We are constantly working to see if we can improve and prevent the next one. We are putting together some parole agents and parole administrators to look at the GPS system to see how we can improve it. We’ve made some improvements along the way. We are dedicated to improving our system every single day.

JENKINS: What I would want the public to know is that the Probation Department here in San Diego County is committed to its mission, and those aren’t just words. What that means is that even before the editorial came out from the U-T that was highly critical, we were looking internally at the process to see if the policies, procedures and actual performance of the officers involved met certain standards.

O’BRYAN: It’s always resources and we can’t do this and we can’t do that. Well, we’re all in that boat now. Nobody has any resources. What resources we do have, what money we do have can go into some change. You need to have qualified, supervised, educated people doing the work. You can have every policy in the world, you can have all the new tools, you can have everything, but if you’ve got people that are not doing the job, then that is the major problem.

CA - Sex offenders falling through cracks

Original Article (Listen)


By Nancy Pasternack

The men who check in Tuesday and Thursday mornings with Lynda Cummings at the Marysville Police Department are not unlike sex offender registrants in other cities and towns across the United States.

Some of them have been convicted of and have done time for crimes that involved children; others, for offenses involving only adults. Some have offenses dating back several decades and have convictions for non-sex-related crimes as well.

But unlike registrant lists in surrounding jurisdictions, Cummings' list includes no parolee addresses.

Proposition 83 (PDF), better known as Jessica's Law, forbids any registrant on parole or probation from living within 2,000 feet of a school, park or playground. And because Marysville is so densely concentrated, there is not a single foot of space within the city limits that is legal for registrant parolees to reside.

"If you're a sex offender on parole," Cummins spells out plainly, "you can register in Marysville, but you can't live in Marysville."

On the face of it, this distinction is good news for the town's residents, especially those who voted for Jessica's Law in 2006 because of its residency restrictions. It means, theoretically, that no one in Marysville has to live next door to, or even down the street from, a person recently released from jail or prison for a sexual offense.

But in reality, says Cummings — the Police Department's crime scene investigator, also tasked with sex offender registration — sex offenders are around us every day.

"They're at our Walmart, they're at our park, they're at our swimming pool," she says.

The law's expanded residency restriction simply makes people think they're not around. It also makes more of them homeless, and therefore tougher to track, Cummings says.

Before Jessica's Law went into effect in 2007, California had only 88 registered sex offenders who were homeless.

Now, according to the California Sex Offender Management Board, the number hovers between 2,200 and 2,300.

"If they're living in a house, at least we can keep an eye on them," Cummings says. "How hard do you think it is, though, to monitor the guy who lives under a bridge, or 500 feet south of the dump, or in a thicket by the river or whatever?"

A transient registered in Yuba County, who spoke with the Appeal-Democrat on condition of anonymity, said he thinks that fact alone makes communities less safe than before.

"The homeless lifestyle leads to depression, and that leads to more drug use and stealing to get food — and the crime levels are going to go up," says the 47-year-old, whose original offense involved fondling a teenage girl.

And the instability of living outdoors can trigger an offender's worst impulses.
- So basically, the laws are creating more dangerous people!

"When you don't have a bed or roof — a place to shower, do your laundry, keep your laundry — your susceptibility to re-offend is there," he says.

Jack Wallace, coordinator for the California Sex Offender Management Board, says this fact, widely accepted by criminologists, creates yet another in a series of bad side effects of Jessica's Law.

"Research says sex offenders who don't have stable employment and stable housing re-offend more," he says.

Furthermore, the notion that keeping sex offenders from having an address near a park or school will cut down on sex crimes involving children, he claims, is false.

"Gardner murdered in a park," he says, referring to John Albert Gardner III, the registered sex offender convicted and sentenced to life in prison earlier this year for killing two teenage girls in San Diego County. "Nothing kept him out of that park in the daytime."

The worst predators, Wallace says, "are going to find people to assault regardless of where they live."

Cummings says that parents should be vigilant, as always.

"You can't be paranoid," she says, "but you have to be smart."

A false sense of security

Few law enforcement agencies in California have the resources to check routinely on housed registrants, says Wallace, whose panel advises the Legislature on sex offender supervision. In most jurisdictions, checking transients is nearly impossible.

"I'm basically yelling people's names out the window of a truck down in Thorntree," Cummings says of the trips she makes into a wildly overgrown area in the Feather River bottom on the northwestern fringe of the city.

But many who register as transient are not, in fact, sleeping out in the elements.

"Folks sleep in their car, if they have enough money to have a car," says Wallace. "And that car can be parked anywhere. Once someone is transient, you really don't know where they are."

In recent months, Cummings has worked to pin down a couple of these. One usually registers in Marysville, and another registers elsewhere but frequents a Marysville motocross track.

In the first case, a registered sex offender with a job as a truck driver is out of compliance with requirements that he register with law enforcement every 30 days.

"He registered 63 times as a transient," Cummings says. "All of the sudden, he disappears."

In the second case, a man who travels regularly throughout the region and approaches children at motocross tracks has proven to be very slippery for law enforcement, according to Cummings.

"This guy is bad, and nobody knows he's out there," she says.

Even Megan's Law, which receives some good reviews from law enforcement officials and users of the popular online databases, falls short in some ways, say Cummings and Wallace.

The original sex offense charge of one of Cummings targets did not meet requirements for inclusion in the database. Cummings has found a long string of restraining orders against him dating back to 1988.

And because Marysville's postal ZIP code extends south and east of the city limits, the Megan's Law site lists skewed numbers of registrants for that and many other jurisdictions.

The website, Cummings said, misleads in other ways too.

"Megan's Law includes most sex offenders — not just child molesters," she says. "I mean, there's registrants, and then there's predators. Not everyone on Megan's Law molested a child. People are confused by this."

Side effects

In any given month, Marysville's official list has 50 to 55 names.

There would be more, Cummings says, but Jessica's Law — which, because of ongoing court battles is far more limited in practice than originally intended — pushes sex offender registrants to other nearby communities.

Yuba County registers about 180 each month, and most registrants live in either Linda or Olivehurst, where things are a bit more spread out than in Marysville.

"The law puts a greater burden on certain jurisdictions like Yuba County," Cummings says of the side effects to Jessica's Law.

Yuba City registers just over 100, and doesn't create quite the same problem for Sutter County.

The same sprawl for which Yuba City is often criticized provides sufficient land for registered sex offenders to establish an address outside Jessica's Law's quarter-mile requirement.

Sutter County, therefore, does not get much in the way of resulting spillover, says Capt. David Samson of the Sutter County Sheriff's Department.

"We don't really have that many," he says. "I guess we're relatively lucky."

In a much bigger parallel universe, San Francisco's density of schools and parks has forced it — like Marysville — to push much of its sex offender population to its outskirts through Jessica's Law.

When Philip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were arrested and charged last year with abducting, imprisoning and sexually abusing Jaycee Lee Dugard over an 18-year period, the law came under fire from all sides, including the media.

"Tools such as GPS and parole supervision can fall tragically short when jurisdictions don't work together …" reads a Sept. 3 editorial from USA Today. "This tragic case (Dugard) highlights the need for systemic changes that will promote collaboration between agencies and the community at large."

Because the law's application targets only registrants on parole or probation, Garrido, whose previous crimes date back to the 1970s, was not subject to its restrictions.

Also, Antioch, the blue collar city where he lived and kept his alleged victim, fell under scrutiny when it was discovered that more than 100 convicted sex offenders live in Garrido's neighborhood.

In September, a newspaper in Britain published an article under the headline "How Jessica's Law turned Antioch into a pedophile ghetto."

The story argues that poor communities with limited resources for law enforcement have become magnets for sex offenders under the legislation.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that an encampment of 30 to 40 homeless paroled sex-offenders was recently disbanded in Anaheim by Orange County parole officers.

Not everyone is as down as that on Jessica's Law, however.

Nancy Nelson, crime analyst for the Yuba City Police Department, is unhappy primarily with the way it has been implemented.

"Jessica's Law was supposed to be put in place for all registrants," she says. But, "if they're not on parole right now, we can't tell them where to live. We'd like to maintain tight control to protect our community, but it's difficult when the law has no teeth."

Still, she says, "We're safer now than we were before that, and Megan's Law."

What's next

The legislation that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006 mandated lifetime monitoring by way of Global Positioning Satellite devices for California's 66,000 registered sex offenders. But financial realities allow law enforcement to track less than 10 percent with GPS.

State funding allows local jurisdictions the devices and monitoring systems only for parolees.

Reliance on GPS is unwise anyway, say critics of Jessica's Law.

"GPS can tell you where someone has been and where they are," George Hinkle, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told the North County Times newspaper recently. "But it can't tell you what they're doing."

It also can't predict what a registrant will do in the future.

Gardner wore a GPS ankle bracelet until the end of his parole, shortly before he killed 17-year-old Chelsea King.

A resulting bill expected to go before the Assembly soon calls for mandatory life sentences for forcible violent sex crimes against children and would require lifelong GPS tracking for certain kinds of sex offenders.

Cummings says she'll gladly take all the help she can get.

"We're all trying to accomplish the same thing, which is to supervise these people," she says. "The fact is, they do get out of prison, and we've got to find a way to live with them."