Los Angeles Times
By Richard B. Krueger
Richard B. Krueger is a psychiatrist and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Demonizing sex offenders by passing tough, mindless laws rather than treating them makes little sense.
INCREASINGLY, legislation dealing with sex offenders is being passed that is punitive, untested, expensive and, in many cases, counterproductive — demonizing people who commit sexual offenses without offering any empirical information that the new laws will reduce sexually violent crime.
Last week, for instance, New York became the 19th state to enact so-called sexually violent predator legislation. This legislation provides for the indefinite "civil commitment" of sexual offenders who have served their time in prison and are about to be released.
The legislation was passed despite a lack of evidence that such laws actually reduce sexual violence and despite recent reports of warehousing and chaos in some programs and relentlessly rising costs in others.
It is just one example of the kind of punitive laws being passed across the country. Other measures include increasingly strict residency restrictions (such as those imposed by Proposition 83 in California, approved by the voters in November), more stringent rules for community notification regarding sexual offenders and monitoring by GPS (also mandated under Proposition 83, with cost projections of $100 million annually, according to the state's legislative analyst).
In many states, politicians are eager to pass such legislation, which is enthusiastically supported by the public. Indeed, ask citizens what they think and you're likely to hear that they support laws to "get rid of perverts" who, in the eyes of many people, "deserve what they get."
This is not new. In general, dispassionate discussion of sexuality is difficult, even more so when it comes to sexual crimes. Ebbs and flows of public attention and vilification have often occurred in this country.
In the 1930s and '40s, castration was practiced in California, where sex offenders and homosexuals received this "treatment." Also, the first generation of sexual psychopath laws was passed during this time, mandating indefinite commitment for sexually violent predators. In the 1980s, society was roiled by a series of high-profile day-care-center abuse cases (such as the McMartin case and others that proved later to be unfounded). In the 1990s, there was a media uproar over supposed "ritualistic" and "satanic" sexual abuse.
These days, the pendulum continues to swing further toward the punitive end of the spectrum, with ever more draconian sentencing and post-release conditions. Under the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, signed into law by President Bush in July, all sex offenders will be listed on the Internet, making information on offenders, regardless of whether they belong to a low-, medium- or high-risk category, publicly accessible; this includes people, for example, whose only crime is the possession of child pornography.
Obviously, this makes it increasingly difficult for ex-offenders to obtain residences or jobs — the mainstays of stability — and it subjects them to ongoing vigilantism and public censure. Although notification may make sense for some, it does not make sense for all.
In California, the most recent debate has been over whether Proposition 83, the law passed last year banning registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, can be retroactively applied to the 90,000 offenders who have already been released from prison. (Two federal judges ruled last month that it may not.)
What is being created is a class of individuals that is progressively demonized by society and treated in such a way that a meaningful reintegration into society is impossible.
Yes, sexual abuse is a serious matter. Yes, individuals who commit sexual crimes should be punished. Unquestionably, a small percentage of sex offenders are very dangerous and must be removed from society. What's more, we know that sexual crimes are devastating to victims and their families and that we must do all we can to protect ourselves from "predators."
But demonizing people rather than treating them makes little sense, and passing laws that are tough but mindless in response to political pressure won't solve the problem either.
The reality is that, despite the popular perception to the contrary, recidivism rates for sexual offenders are among the lowest of any class of criminals. What's more, 90% of sex offenders in prison will eventually be released back into the community — and 90% of sexual offenses are committed by people known to their victim, such as family members or trusted members of the community — so rehabilitation is critical. It is not possible, affordable, constitutional or reasonable to lock up all sex offenders all of the time.
Society's efforts to segregate sex offenders are backfiring, resulting in unintended consequences. Homelessness is increasing among sex offenders, for instance, making it harder to monitor them and causing some law enforcement officials to call for a repeal of residency restrictions.
One of the greatest challenges to workable civil commitment programs is that offenders are so feared that, when they are ready to be reintroduced into society, no community will accept them — so instead they remain institutionalized indefinitely, creating ever-increasing costs without an end in sight.
Why has this demonization occurred? One reason is that offenders are hot news, and the more heinous the sexual crime, the more the media focus on it. Thus, our minds create a stereotype of egregious evil with respect to all sex offenders. We no longer distinguish between the most egregious cases and the others, despite the fact that the most terrible crimes represent only a small proportion of all sexual offenses.
But there are less serious crimes, and we should acknowledge that. Possession of child pornography is categorically different from a sexual assault. So is exhibitionism. The wife of a man who committed a hands-off crime involving possession of child pornography put it this way: "Each of these horrendous crimes drives another nail into our coffin."
Another reason for the demonization is that society has failed to fund research on the treatment and management of people convicted of sexual crimes — despite the fact that states are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on unproven programs for treatment and containment.
The current public discourse on sex offenders is, therefore, without a base of empirical studies. Psychiatry, psychology and our national research institutes have eschewed involvement with such research.
No one is suggesting that sexual crimes should go unpunished or that some of the newer approaches — such as medication, intensive community supervision or even carefully considered civil commitment — are without value. What is becoming clearer, however, is that the climate in the United States makes reasonable discussion difficult.
What can be done? Some scholars, in an effort to interpose rationality between public fear and legislation, have suggested the concept of "evidence-based legislation." This is analogous to "evidence-based medicine" and would call on legislative bodies to inform their proposed laws with the best available scientific evidence — something that is rarely done now.
What is happening now with individuals who have committed sexual crimes is the modern-day equivalent of a witch hunt. Our images of the worst determine what we mete out to all sex offenders. It is time to reexamine our approaches and develop empirically based, scientifically sound measures and treatments to bring rationality back to this discussion.
Los Angeles Times
Parsons Sun, N.Y.
The safety of children in school has become a top priority for districts across the nation in recent years.
Magnetic door locks, cameras inside and out, visitor check-in and IDs, officers on campus and emergency crisis plans have been implemented.
Students in many schools are still exposed to danger, said Oswego USD 504 superintendent Terry Karlin. Only a handful of schools in the nation have adopted plans to protect children from sex offenders, he said.
While some states (Kansas excluded) have laws stating that sex offenders cannot live within 500 to 1,000 feet of a school, most states, including Kansas, have no laws keeping sex offenders from entering schools or attending school events.
Because some sex offenders are parents, creating laws that do not disenfranchise them from their rights as parents is a concern. But so is protection of other children, Karlin said.
Idaho adopted laws limiting sex offenders' access to schools, protecting both offender parents' rights and students' rights.
Labette County has 44 registered sex offenders living inside its borders, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and 15 of those list an Oswego address, although nine are residents of the Labette Correctional Conservation Camp. Because of this, the USD 504 board voted this week to implement a policy restricting sex offenders' access to school property.
"Obviously, we have known sex offenders that live in the district and obviously we have some that have children," Karlin said. "Coffeyville school district has a similar policy."
Although not every person required to register as a sex offender poses a threat to students, Karlin said, by law the district is not allowed to isolate or distinguish between one offender or another based on their violations, so the district had to make its policy all encompassing.
"If they are going to be on our grounds, it will be under the supervision as outlined," Karlin said.
The policy states: "The board prohibits registered sex offenders from entering any district school building, being on the grounds of any attendance center or in any district-owned vehicle used to transport students to and from school or to and from any school-related activity unless such registered sex offender is a parent or guardian of a student enrolled at a particular school and fulfilling responsibilities as follows:
"1. Attending a conference at a school with school personnel to discuss the academic or social performance and/or progress of his/her child.
"2. Participating in a student review conference wherein decisions may be made with respect to his/her child's needs regarding special education services; or
"3. Attending a conference to discuss other student issues concerning his/her child such as discipline, retention or promotion.
"When it is necessary for a registered sex offender to be involved in parent responsibilities as stated above the offender will first notify the superintendent to request permission to be on school property. If permission is granted, the superintendent will inform the building principal who will then schedule the time and place as appropriate for the conference or meeting," the policy states.
"If a sex offender desires to be on school property or enter any school building for any reason other than stated above, including attending programs, concerts or school activities, the offender must first notify the superintendent to get special permission. Each such request will be considered individually and permission granted or denied based on the nature of the offender(s) conviction(s), the age of the students involved, and the district's ability to provide adequate supervision during the time the offender will be on school property.
"Upon entering any building, the sex offender will report directly to the principal's office to sign in and be recognized as a visitor to the building.
"If such conference or meeting is during school hours, the offender must always remain under the direct supervision of a school official.
"Any sex offender that violates any terms or provisions of this policy will be immediately referred to local law enforcement for prosecution."
To ensure it knows exactly who is registered as a sex offender, the district visits the KBI Web site frequently.
"If a parent or guardian has a record, we are generally aware, and we take precautions," Karlin said.
All those listed on the site living in the district or with children attending school in the district will be sent a copy of the district's new policy, Karlin said.
"We will rigorously enforce this policy," Karlin said, "We take our responsibility for the security of our students and staff seriously."
Although the majority of sex offenders in the county have registered addresses in Parsons (25 of the 44), USD 503 superintendent Deb Perbeck said the district has no board policy in place prohibiting sex offenders from participating in their child's education.
The board also has no policy preventing any other sex offender from visiting the building or going to school events, but Perbeck said, "We have quite a bit of security at our buildings and strong adult supervision of our students at events so we know where they are and what they are doing."
[Ed: Obviously, this law is essential to prevent the thousands of children who are abducted from school buildings each year. What's that? There have been NO abductions from school by stranger pedophiles that anyone can recall? Well then, it's still essential to SEND A MESSAGE that we will be lying in wait for the first pedophile who attempts to do this! And we can never have too many laws on our books.]
A California State Prison inmate, who as a Rocklin teenager was convicted of strangling his mother and keeping her in a back room while he partied, is suspected of fatally stabbing another inmate Thursday. Steven Matthew "Matt" Schultz, now 28, is suspected of stabbing Shannon Lee Graling, 53, in the neck with a homemade weapon at the Folsom facility, according to a prison representative. Graling was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was serving 400 years plus 25-years-to-life for child molestation offenses. In 1999, a Placer County jury found Schultz guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his mother, 40-year-old Barbara Schultz, two years earlier. Schultz was 17 at the time. His mother’s body was found chained to a propane tank and weighted down in a rock quarry. Schultz was sentenced to 25-years-life in prison.
[Ed: One more murder of one more sex offender whose blood is on the California Department of Corrections' hands. The C.D.C. remains indifferent and unconcerned at the suffering and violence suffered by those convicted of sex crimes, particularly those involving children. In this, as well as many other respects, they closely resemble the more savage of those whom they imprison.]
N.Y. Senate passes legislation to require more information from sex offenders about how they use the Internet
The New York State Senate has passed legislation to require more information from sex offenders about how they use the Internet, said Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie.
The Senate passed the Electronic Security and Targeting of On-Line Predators Act that would provide a number of protections so the public, especially children, can use the Internet more safely.
“Throughout my career I have made the protection of children one of my highest priorities. I passed similar legislation in the Senate last year and I am pleased the attorney general recognized the importance of this issue by putting forward this omnibus bill to help make the Internet a safer place and give parents more peace of mind when their children are online,” said Saland.
The bill would extend current laws regarding how the State tracks sex offenders from geographically to also tracking their Internet usage. For example, the current Sex Offender Registration Act requires sex offenders to register their Internet accounts – this bill requires them to register all their Internet accounts including all their chat names and screen names, and requires them to notify the Division of Criminal Justice Services whenever they change their identifiers. The information would then be available to social networking sites, such as MySpace.com or Facebook.com so they can take steps to prevent convicted sexual predators from accessing certain online services.
Just as convicted sexual predators are restricted geographically, such as not being allowed near schools, e-Stop would restrict predators from using the Internet under many circumstances. It would also authorize courts to impose Internet restrictions on sex offenders on probation.
“It is no longer enough to keep convicted sexual predators away from schools and day care centers, and track where they live and work. We must now protect children in the virtual world too. Young people can be trusting and have no idea their Internet ‘friend’ could be a convicted sex offender trolling the Internet looking for his or her next victim. As it stands now, anyone with a computer can instantly have access to millions of trusting children and these children need the best protection we can provide. The Internet may be a virtual world but this bill puts real protections in it,” Saland said.
The bill has been sent to the Assembly for consideration.
[Ed: Just in case any of our readers hadn't been reading the tea leaves in recent months, passing laws to require sex offenders to divulge all of their email addresses, i.s.p.'s, instant messaging accounts, etc. is the new, new thing in legislative heroics. Lawmakers have adapted what has by now become a tried and true method for grabbing headlines as well as the moral high-ground: Inventing a danger (Internet predators) then inventing myriad "remedies" (more laws) to determine the most effective way to... raise their poll ratings. That it does nothing to stop any crime and does cost huge amounts of money to taxpayers, strips sex offenders of what little is left of their civil liberties and privacy and diverts law enforcement attention away from actual crimes, seems not to occur to many of their constituents. ]