Wednesday, September 1, 2010
By Kelly Davis
Registered sex offenders on parole in L.A. County will no longer be subject to Jessica’s Law’s (PDF) residency restrictions, per a ruling yesterday by L.A. County Superior Court Supervising Judge Peter Espinoza.
In his ruling (pdf), Espinoza points out that the court’s received 300 petitions asking for relief from the law and “dozens of parolees continue to file new petitions every week.” The petitions argue that in L.A. County, there’s virtually no affordable housing that complies with Jessica’s Law’s requirement that registered sex offenders—regardless of offense—reside at least 2,000 feet from parks and schools.
“It is now abundantly clear to the court that the question of the constitutionality of Penal Code Section 3003.5(b) ‘is a recurring problem important to other parolees and CDCR,’” Espinoza writes.
Espinoza argues that because filing a petition requires the assistance of legal counsel, “In the interests of equity and judicial economy, the Court now deems it appropriate to consider the procedural rights of all similarly situated parolees….” In other words, if some parolees have been able to get a stay of enforcement, all parolees should be granted a stay.
In this week’s CityBeat, I wrote about a five-block section of San Diego that’s become home to an unknown number of homeless sex offenders on parole. Laura Arnold, a deputy public defender, is doing what lawyers in L.A. County have been doing—filing petitions with the court on behalf of parolees who would have a place to live if not for the residence restrictions. Experts on sex-offender management have said repeatedly that there’s no connection between where a person lives and whether that person will re-offend. For a good overview of the issue, see the California Sex Offender Management Board’s 2008 report, “Homelessness Among Registered Sex Offenders in California (PDF).” Espinoza sits on the board.
The L.A. ruling doesn’t apply to any other county in the state and, Arnold told me, the California Attorney General’s office has the option of appealing Espinoza’s ruling. I’ve put in a call to the California Department of Corrections to get a response.
The videos for this rally, which was in December of 2007, was originally posted on YouTube, but was removed for some reason. So I am posting it here for those who are not aware of it, and may have missed it. The video is about 1 hour and 56 minutes long. The video is brought to you by SOClear Media.
By Lyndsay Levingston
BROKEN ARROW - A warning for you and your family.
Your next door neighbor could be a sex offender, but under an Oklahoma law, police officers have no authority to kick him or her out of the established residence.
Under the grandfather clause, if a person has established residence, prior to a sex offense conviction, he or she is allowed to return to that residence.
- Grandfather clause? No, it's called the CONSTITUTION, maybe you should read it some time. Any added punishment or restrictions added to a person, once they are convicted, is ex post facto, and is against the constitution.
This means that the registered sex offender could live near a school, park, or daycare.
- Oh the horror! The state is obeying the constitution (some what), time to panic!
By Kelly Davis
How a state law increased California's homeless sex offender population by almost 6,000 percent
Laura Arnold is standing by her car, shivering in a white hooded sweatshirt, jeans and sandals. It’s just past 8:30 on a chilly July evening, and the fog’s starting to roll in.
“I’m cold and I’m tired,” she sighs. She’s ready to head home. A San Diego County deputy public defender, she has to be at Donovan State Prison early the next morning. As she starts to climb into her car, two guys approach; they’re looking for her. And, a few minutes later, two more. They’ve shown up hoping Arnold can help them—quite literally—get out of here. She pulls out a yellow legal pad and starts with the same questions she’s been asking other men for the last hour.
When were you released on parole? Who’s your agent? What’s your most recent felony conviction? What’s your 290 offense?
A 290 is a sex offense; the guys Arnold’s talking to are all registered sex offenders who, each night, return to this place— the exact location of which, as well as the full names of the men who camp here, CityBeat agreed not to disclose. They say their parole agents pointed them to this five-block area because it’s one of the few parts of the city that’s not too close to schools or parks. It’s near public transportation and public-storage units, and it’s a relatively safe place for men who, for the most part, never experienced homelessness until the day they were released from prison.
In 2006, when voters approved Jessica’s Law (PDF), the ballot measure that, among other things, bars sex offenders on parole from living within a 2,000-foot radius of schools or parks—and allows cities and counties to implement further restrictions— there were only 88 sex offenders in the state who claimed to be homeless. Now that number’s up to 5,064 (as of Aug. 1), more than a 5,700-percent increase in less than four years.
Parole agents have no discretion over whom the law applies to.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not we agree with the ordinances or agree with the law, and it doesn’t matter whether or not we believe that there’s no nexus between a guy who committed indecent exposure 20 years ago and him being near a park, we still have an obligation to enforce the law,” says Margarita Perez, deputy director for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s adult parole operations.
Homelessness has been described as an “unintended consequence” of Jessica’s Law, even though critics of the ballot measure warned that densely populated urban areas, especially those with a short supply of affordable housing, would see a spike in homeless sex offenders if the law passed (with rare exception, parolees must return to the county in which they committed their crime). In San Diego County, roughly 73 percent of residential areas are off-limits to sex offenders on parole. That may sound appealing to parents and lawmakers, but, experts say, it doesn’t increase public safety.
“When you’re homeless, it’s much more difficult to maintain a stable lifestyle,” says California Deputy Attorney General Janet Neeley, who sits on the state’s Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) and provides the board with regular updates on the number of transient 290 registrants.
“Obviously, you don’t have a place to sleep or shower, so it’s hard to get a job and keep a job,” she says. “Having a steady job and having family ties and living in a place where you have a support person all are factors associated with less risk of re-offense.”
Neeley says that SOMB has advocated for policies that limit where high-risk offenders are allowed to be—like parks and other places where children gather—rather than where they’re allowed to live.
“Where they live is really irrelevant under the research,” she says.
But any changes to Jessica’s Law would require the support of two-thirds of the state Legislature and the approval of the governor. Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, a Republican who authored Chelsea’s Law, the recent legislation that increases penalties for certain sex offenses, says that in crafting the bill, he took SOMB’s recommendations seriously. But, he says, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is opposed to amending Jessica’s Law’s residency restriction, so it was pointless to try to do anything this year. Fletcher says he’s willing to work with SOMB and with the state Senate’s Public Safety Committee on possibly amending the law during the next legislative session.
“It’s hard; these are difficult things, and they’re difficult to change,” Fletcher says. “What I pledged to Mark Leno [a Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Public Safety Committee] is that we’d come back next year and do something that makes sense. I don’t know what it’ll look like, or if we’ll get there, but we’ll try to work on it next year.”
But that doesn’t help a guy like [name withheld]. One of the late-comers on the cold July evening, he’d like to live with his mom, but her City Heights home is too close to a school. He hopes Laura Arnold can ask a judge to grant him emergency relief from the residency restriction, pending the outcome of a larger legal challenge to the law that could take a year or more to resolve. [name withheld] tells Arnold that his 290 offense—rape—dates back to 1995 when he was 21. When she asks if the crime involved a child, [name withheld] responds with an emphatic “No.”
Four years ago, [name withheld] was convicted of marijuana possession with the intent to sell. When he came out of prison, he found out he was subject to Jessica’s Law. This is a situation Arnold says she’s increasingly seeing— parolees whose sex offenses date back a decade or more, prior to Jessica’s Law’s passage. Though they’re currently on parole for a non-sexual offense, they must comply with the residence restrictions.
Only 36, [name withheld] has full-blown AIDS. He goes to his mom’s house during the day to take his medication and shower, but at night, he heads over to this area. He suffers from neuropathy and frequent seizures. “Three days ago, I woke up to one,” he says. “It’s no picnic.”
He’s been able to get hotel vouchers twice—for a week, then for 13 days. “Even my parole officer says, ‘I wish I could do more for you,’ but he says his hands are tied.”
Arnold can only help the people who she can prove, to a judge, would have stable housing if not for Jessica’s Law. Maybe they have a small monthly income that’ll get them a cheap hotel room Downtown or, like [name withheld], they have family they can live with and an illness or disability that makes forced homelessness cruel and unusual punishment. But if the person’s crime involved a minor, they can’t live in a house with a child. Those are the people she can’t help.
“And it’s a shame, because a person who commits a sex crime against a 15-year-old girl, it’s very unlikely that they pose any threat to a 2-year-old boy, or a 15-year-old boy, for that matter,” she says. “It’s kind of this one-size-fits-all treatment of sex offenders by our government at all levels that is causing this misery.”
Other guys, like [name withheld], say they’d rather remain homeless. He has a job, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover rent. He has family who live nearby, but they won’t let him move in because it means their address will be listed next to his name on the Megan’s Law website.
“They’re frightened,” he says. SOMB’s Neeley acknowledges this sort of Catch-22: “People get upset when they find out that [a sex offender] lives next door, even though we want to know where they live,” she says.
The number of men who sleep in this particular area each night is hard to estimate. There are rules against congregating—and against sleeping on private property—so, many of them disperse into the dark when it’s time to bed down. Some, like [name withheld], have asked property owners for permission to sleep there as long as they’re gone by 6 a.m.
“I show my appreciation by keeping the [area] clean,” Don says. “Yesterday, I pulled all the weeds. Twice a day, I pick up cigarette butts and the trash that employees leave.”
[name withheld] is sitting on the ground next to his neatly kept tent—though he’s 69 years old, has arthritis and speaks in a halting rasp, the result of throat disease, he’s insisted that a reporter sit in his folding chair. His most recent offense was selling drugs, which he says he did to help pay for medical expenses. His sex offense, child molestation, dates back to 1994. He claims he was falsely accused of molesting the daughter of a woman living at the rooming house he was managing at the time.
He has a monthly income of $835. When he got out of prison, he tried to get a place Downtown where he’d lived on and off for 17 years, but was told it was off limits to sex offenders on parole because it was too close to the grassy area behind Petco Park known as “Park at the Park.”
“I just want a place to live,” he says. “I don’t know how many years I have left. Once I find a place to live, I’ll spend the whole $835. I’ll get a job. I have a whole list of skills…. If I have to get a garbage can with wheels on it and put a broom and rake in it, I will do that. I will go and ask businesses, ‘Can I clean your area?’” But his goals are tempered by cynicism.
He asks the purpose of this article. “We won’t get sympathy or help from anybody,” he says. “Every day they let out more 290s. I don’t see why they just don’t line us up against a wall and shoot us.”
[name withheld], another 290, estimates that at one point, at least two-dozen guys were sleeping in one spot, their tents and sleeping bags lined up against a wall. He’s been out of prison and homeless for two years. He’s staked out a place for his tent and argued his claim when parole agents said the camp was growing too large. Now, this particular camp’s down to five or six guys.
“I said to myself, The 2,000-foot rule’s not going to go away; things aren’t going to change. Can you live with this? I’ve slept out there under hailstorms, set up in rain, baked in Santa Anas. I’ve put up with the bugs and the car noises and all the crap out there. I can do it, and I will do it. But when they go out of their way to make life more miserable, I just get outraged and I feel powerless to do anything.”
[name withheld], like at least a dozen men CityBeat spoke to, says he’s been told not to remain in any one place for more than two hours unless he gets prior approval from his parole agent.
For [name withheld], this means parceling out his day in two-hour time slots: two hours at a bookstore, where he can discreetly charge his GPS device—transient registered sex offenders, all of whom wear GPS ankle bracelets, are required to spend two hours each day charging the device—two hours practicing his guitar on a picnic bench, two hours at a movie.
“If you’ve ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, the difference between me and that guy is that I’m on the guitar and he’s on the piano. It’s the same thing; it’s just boring as hell,” he says.
Perez, the parole deputy director, said the policy against spending too much time in one place was intended to keep sex offenders on parole from trying to get around the residence restrictions.
“What we found is that the offenders, they would register as transient, they would tell their parole agent that they were transient, but then when we looked at the [GPS] tracks, we found that on a regular basis, they were spending time at address X when, in reality, that was where they were living.”
The policy wasn’t intended to result in an even more transient existence, she says.
“If agents are imposing that kind of very restrictive direction with no discretion, then that’s an error that we need to correct.”
When CityBeat told some of the guys what Perez had said, they shrugged it off—it doesn’t matter, they say; they’re not going to challenge it. Things are different for them, especially since John Gardner, a convicted sex offender, was charged with raping and murdering two teenage girls.
“There’s always that ax at the back of your neck; always that veiled threat,” Robert says.
“You’re always looking around,” says [name withheld], who’s been homeless for a year. “Am I compliant? At the same time, you’re supposed to have some kind of normal life.”
UNDATED (KFVS) - The Supreme Court ruled federal officials can indefinitely hold inmates considered "sexually dangerous" after their prison terms are finished. The High Court on Monday reversed a lower court decision that said congress overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions. It is a ruling that has mixed reaction.
"I hope things like this continue to be upheld," Williamson County Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Kathy Schimpf said.
Schimpf said the high court's ruling is another way to protect children from sex offenders.
"This is not a first time offense," he said. "Usually most of these people have escalated in what they have done to children in causing them to be deemed a dangerous person."
In 2006, President Bush signed into law the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. It authorized the civil commitment of sexually dangerous federal inmates.
The issue before the Supreme Court on Monday is the constitutionality of federal civil commitment for sex offenders who are near the end of their prison term or are considered too mentally incompetent to stand trial.
SIU Law Professor William Schroeder said the court's vote to reverse a lower court decision is reflective of society's fear of sex offenders.
"They are so big on the news when they happen and everybody wants these people off the street," Schroeder said.
Still, Schroeder questions the decision of the high court and where it may lead in the future. He said since this deals with civil issues, the rights Americans have under criminal law do not apply.
"Here where holding you not because of what you have done, you did some under lying act to get into the system, but we're continuing to hold you because of our fear of what you might do in the future who can predict future behavior with 100 percent accuracy," Schroeder said. "A vast majority who go to prison for this type of offense usually re-offend and re-offend pretty quickly."
- Not true. See the studies we have here.
The lawyer who argued the government's case is Elena Kagan. She is now a nominee to the Supreme Court.
By Michelle Anselmo
Ed Smart's Daughter, Elizabeth, Has Been Found, So Many Others Have Not
ST. LOUIS (KTVI-FOX2now.com) - Stopping sex offenders before they strike. Ed Smart whose daughter Elizabeth was taken from their Utah home, joined local parents Tuesday night to push for tougher laws. Ed Smart and Ahmad Rivazfar are on a cross country bike tour to encourage lawmakers to throw the book at convicted sex offenders. Both Ed and Ahmad speak from the heart and from experience...so why didn't anyone go to Kiener Plaza to listen?
Ed Smart replied "Sometimes we don't like hear about these stories."
- And sometimes people are sick and tired of your lies and disinformation!
But for nine months the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart captivated the country. Elizabeth was found but the faces of those who haven't been were displayed in Downtown St. Louis.
Ed Smart is now on a crusade to stop the suffering.
"We are pushing to try and keep other families from going through the same nightmare," said Smart.
- Well, that is something that will never happen. Just look at history.
But the crowd at Kiener plaza was so small for such a powerful message.
"The abuse, the molestation and these other horrible things that our children went through happen everyday and all the time," said Smart.
Ahmad Rivazfar knows the pain.
"The bad guys are all over," said Rivazfar.
- Yeah, that includes murderers, gang members, DUI offenders, thieves, drug dealers, etc, whom also harm children and adults. So why aren't you pushing for an all criminals registry?
A sex offender raped and killed his 6-year-old daughter.
"If I could bring my daughter back I would ride around the globe," said Rivazfar.
- Who wouldn't?
Instead Ahmad and Ed are riding across the U.S. They're on a one month 35-hundred mile bike tour speaking to anyone that will listen.
Shannon Tanner said, "Everyone has to take this seriously. We are not the only ones whose kids will be lost. The mayor and lawmakers their kids are not safe from predators."
- Neither are you. You are not safe from murderers or any other criminal either. But I don't see you going after them. You are just playing the "For the children politics," to get money for your business!
Tanner's daughter Bianca Piper vanished five years ago.
Theda Thomas's son Christian Ferguson has been gone for 7.
"All I can do is stand up for the memory of my son and others," said Thomas.
Mark Lunsford said, "My daughter was raped and murdered and buried alive 150 feet from her bedroom."
- And your son also molested a 14 year old female, and it was also said that child porn was found on your computer when Jessica went missing, but it was never investigated!
Lunsford's daughter Jessica was killed by a convicted sex offender in Florida. 42 states have passed "Jessie's Law."
It's a no nonsense bill that locks sex offenders up for 25 years on a 1st offense. Lunsford is still waiting for Missouri and Illinois join in.
- No nonsense? It has nothing to do with sense! It's all about ignoring facts and running on emotions!
Look into the facts for yourselves! A sex offender registry, nor residency restrictions will protect you, if a person is determined to commit a crime, nor do they prevent crime. But, it does invite vigilantism, creates homelessness, and ostracizes the families and children of sex offenders as well.
I guess the children of sex offenders don't matter, apparently!
You heard the lies, now hear the truth!
Original Article (Listen)
By Martin Kaste
The Justice Department says there's been an "explosion" in the trafficking of child pornography, and it's pledged to step up investigations of people who download the illegal images.
But the government has hardly been neglecting the problem: Since 2000, the number of federal prosecutions has almost tripled. This has caused some people to ask whether more couldn't be done to prevent people from downloading the illegal images to begin with.
Microsoft is voluntarily developing technology that makes it harder to stumble upon child pornography on Internet searches, but officials question whether or not it will actually curb abuse of the children used in the photos.
In September 2004, a family in Northern California became the subject of a child pornography investigation, prompting a visit from the FBI.
"I get a call from my wife, she's crying and upset, and so I went home, and there were several agents going through my house, who stated that there was ... child porn on one of the computers," says Dave, who asked to have his last name withheld to prevent jeopardizing his job.
In this case, the images were on a computer used by his 20-year-old son. His son is now in prison, serving a three-year sentence for one count of possessing child pornography. Dave still can't get over how much damage was done by some computer files.
"You have a young kid that has no criminal history ... is not a pedophile, is not a child molester, and he's going to be labeled as a sex offender and have to register as such every year, on his birthday, for the rest of his life," he says.
Of course, these aren't just any computer files. Jeff Fischbach, a forensic analyst who works with this kind of material, says he's seen what happens when these images are shown to juries.
"You can watch the expressions change. I saw one gentleman in the front row of the jury, I think it was number three, and I saw him lurch forward toward the defendant," Fischbach says.
Defendants almost never risk going to trial; lawyers usually recommend they take a plea bargain. It's Fischbach's job to analyze the hard drives in these cases, and when he does, he follows strict protocols — as if the hard drives contained plutonium.
"It is handled like it's radioactive," Fischbach says.
He keeps the drives in special locked boxes, and never connects them to the Internet or other computers, for fear of cross-contamination. He knows the legal jeopardy that can be caused by even one stray thumbnail image. And yet, he says, the very same files can be found on the open Internet quite easily.
"Right now, anybody is just one search term and a click on Google away from most of the same files that I have seen as part of my work," he says.
Fischbach believes the easy-to-find images are a kind of public hazard.
He worked for one defendant who went to prison because of one night of ill-advised Web surfing. The easy-to-find images are also tempting weapons in messy custody battles and divorces — he's convinced that in some of the cases he's worked on, one spouse has been framed by another. All of this makes Fischbach wonder why more isn't done to block some of the more obvious sources of these "radioactive" files.
"It's the same thing as any other public nuisance. Part of the government's job is not just to go out there and stop people from doing bad things, but to stop good people from having to fall victim to that," he says.
It's probably not constitutional for the government to block offending Web sites outright, but Fischbach says Internet service providers and search engines could volunteer to filter the images that reach their customers, just as e-mail providers filter out known viruses.
He's been suggesting this idea for years, and now somebody is trying it.
John Scarrow is general manager for Safety Services at Microsoft, which is developing technology called PhotoDNA.
In a recent demonstration at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., Scarrow uploaded a dummy child porn photo to Microsoft's cloud computing service called SkyDrive. The numeric value of that photo — something called a "hash value" — is checked against a master list of known child porn photos maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. If the photo matches one of those, the account is disabled and an error message appears.
- So there lies a problem. You have to know about the image beforehand to stop it from being displayed on someones machine. But what is to stop new porn from being created and other kids from being abused to make the new porn? Since the hash code is not known, it will spread.
Microsoft is using a more flexible version of traditional hash values, so it can ID an image even if it's been cropped or resized. This flexibility takes some heavy math — and that means it can't be used to filter the whole Internet because it would take too much computing power.
But Scarrow says filtering everything was never the point.
"Somebody that's smart enough that really wants to traffic in the material will figure out how to circumvent these. But ... the person that is getting a hold of it because it's pretty easy to get a hold of, you know, is just looking around, whatever ... we believe, this will have a pretty substantial impact on them," he says.
The filtering system is already running on the Bing search engine — if someone's search finds a site with known child pornography, those links are suppressed.
Microsoft is planning to expand the filter to its other online services, and it's offering to share PhotoDNA with other online portals for free. And the project has the tentative support of the Justice Department.
Drew Oosterbaan, who runs the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, says the filtering isn't the final solution.
"I think it's fair to say that it may be part of an answer," he says.
Oosterbaan says file-blocking could become, in his words, "another front in the battle," but he says there could also be unforeseen consequences. One possibility, he says, is that the filtering could work too well.
If child pornography became too hard to find, he says, it might create demand for new images and cause more children to be abused.
- My point exactly!
"That's why this is a very, very challenging area of law enforcement, where, in the past 10 years, I've never found any real simple solutions," Oosterbaan says.
For now, filtering images with PhotoDNA is a pilot project — and it's purely voluntary. One thing its developers insist on is that they don't want to see it evolve into a filtering system that's mandated by the government.