Democrats for stronger sex offender laws

This month, Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a sex offender who was not being monitored closely enough by the state.  She was then buried in a backyard across the street from her distraught and heartbroken parents.
That the state of Florida lost track of a convicted sex offender shouldn't be a surprise.  From DCF losing track of foster children, to probation officers neglecting to resquest warrants for violations (a situation like this might have prevented a recent massacre in Deltona, Florida), the state seems to have neither the funds nor the inclination to perform one of its most basic responsibilities: To Protect the public.

Did Jessica Lunsford have to die?
A recent USA Today article documented a distubing trend among Florida and several other states:

"Prompted by an Associated Press investigation that revealed California had lost track of at least 33,000 sex offenders, Parents for Megan's Law contacted all 50 states by telephone to ask about the accuracy of their registries.

It found that states on average were unable to account for 24% of sex offenders supposed to be in the databases. And 19 states, including Texas and New York, said they were unable to track how many sex offenders were failing to register, or simply did not know.

Federal law requires the addresses of convicted sex offenders to be verified at least once a year."

This is an appaling gross neglect and you can bet that this is due to not only human error, but to poor funding and lack of attention to the matter.  It doesn't have to be this way, and for a party that faces poor poll numbers in the family values category, this would seem like a perfect (and noble) cause for any democratic candidate to seize upon.  

If I were a democratic candidate for office, I'd propose more funding for the enforcement of Megan's law, more oversight and bimonthly reviews of the sex offender databases, and for more stringent punishment for offenders who abscond from supervision or neglect to maintain regular therapy.  The oversight would promote enforcement, the funding would help pay for it, and most studies I have read show that though offenders may not be "cured permanently", the reoffending rate can be seriously cut by the implementation of ongoing sex offender therapy.

All of these would promote accountability and might help to create an environment that would better protect young girls like Jessica.

But once again, where are our democratic leaders on this?  I don't know any progressive or liberal that would object to better tracking of convicted rapists and child molesters.  Present it the right way and it would also help put another crack in the lie that democrats don't care about family values.

Oh, and it's apparently a pretty serious problem in the Red States, too:

"The survey said Oklahoma and Tennessee had the highest rates of noncompliance, both at 50%."

What do you think?

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Tricky issue
I don't really think that somebody who has done their time and paid their debt to society should have to go through the rest of their lives registering with the state, being barred from voting in some states, being barred from juries, facing lifelong employment discrimination etc.  They should be able to completely re-integrate into society and get on with their lives.

Further I see this as a core liberal issue.

Why should sex offenders be any different?

by ACSR 2005-03-30 03:22PM | 0 recs
It is tricky
but if you do some research, it's very clear that, at the least, continued therapy can help to curb recidivism.

I agree once most criminals have done their time, they should be reintegrated with as many rights restored as possible.  Unfortunately, the urge to rape a small boy or girl doesn't stay behind in the jail cell once the offender is released.

by Sam Loomis 2005-03-30 03:28PM | 0 recs
Re: It is tricky
I do think that we need much stronger programs to treat sex offenders, both during and after incarceration.  I'm not completely knowledgeable about the psychology aspects but the goal should be to cure them - if it's possible.  But rape and child molestation could be compared to many other crimes, arson for example, in that those who have done those things need psychological help.

I have opposed Megan's Law from the beginning.  It's taking a post-incarceration rights restriction approach to what should be treated, once the criminal justice matter has finished and the person has paid their debt, as a mental illness problem.  Plus, what kind of precedent does Megan's Law set - will drug offenders have to eventually register too?  (They already do have to in Nevada and maybe one or two other states.)  

by ACSR 2005-03-30 03:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Tricky issue
Because sex offenders are different. I don't know what the treatment ratio is for sex offenders, but unless it is over 60%, which is unlikely, a very large number of sex offenders are going to commit one of the vilest acts immaginable. These are seriously twisted individuals.

In California this problem is out of control. Our laws limit the number of sex offenders who can be housed in the same residence. I think it's three or four. The probation department violates that law all the time because of how difficult it is to find housing for them. The result is what they call "clown houses", with up to a dozen sex offenders in the same house, with very little supervision.

How would you like to have a "clown house" with a dozen sex offenders in your neighborhood? An undeniable problem is that sex offenders are more likely to commit ther crime again than probably any other offender. When you link the type of crime they commit with equally violent or heinous acts, they are probably have the number one recidivist rate.

I don't know what the solution is, but any solution that threatens people's children is going to meet a very emotional reaction. I'm certainly not going to stick up for them. This is the only category of crime where I am willing to condemn them to permanent ankle bracelet supervision.

I cannot justify taking a stand on general principles on this issue. Sex offenders are different from any other offender.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-03-30 04:30PM | 0 recs
sex offender laws
I have heard insanity defined as expecting the outcome to change without changing the input. The recent sex-offender legislation may make you feel good, but it is based on misinformation and rage and fails to address empirically demonstrated psychological factors and failures of our criminal justice system that directly contribute to convicted sex-offenders kidnapping, sexually abusing, and murdering children. Talk tough on sex-offenders if it makes you feel better, but remember that every time the legislature passed more stringent sentencing and management laws, the results have always been the same – children continue to be sexually abused.  Perhaps it is time we tried something different. If we don’t, the outcome of this new legislation, which is a more intense version of past legislation, will not change the outcome: there will be more children psychologically injured from sexual abuse, and there will be more funerals.  
Most of the laws designed to manage sex-offenders are based on the false premise that 98% of sex offenders, particularly child molesters, will re-offend even after prison (ATSA, 2001). Additionally, there is a prevailing belief that therapy is ineffective for these people (ATSA, 2001). I have heard those dogma from the media, DCF and FDLE officers, and even from some therapists. Please allow me to address those issues.
Those perceptions have come from research conducted prior to the current laws that mandate life-long registration and tracking, when the only offenders available for study were those incarcerated. That left out almost every first offender that never re-offended and entered the criminal justice system a second time (Gebhard, 1965). They are perpetuated by a media that, as with the airlines, only reports the crashes, never the flights that land without incident.
Current research of tens of thousands of cases, that includes those who did not re-offend, demonstrates the average recidivism rate for sex offenders at 13.4% (Hanson and Bussière, 1998).  Other researchers continually and consistently report similar results (Cann,, 2004; Falshaw,, 2003; Sample and Bray, 2003).  Even within the category of sex offender, the choice of victim affected the re-offense rate. Incest offenders re-offended at a rate of 9%; 18% of offenders who chose extrafamilial females re-offended, and 35% of those who chose male victims (Quinsey, Rice and Harris, 1995). Research to the contrary, if read rather than taken at face value, most often contain indices of bias or cite immeasurable data (i.e.: “not all crimes are reported”).
 The general persuasion regarding treatment is equally inaccurate. A study published in 1999 by M.A. Alexander found 17.6% of untreated offenders rearrested compared to 7.2% of offenders completing treatment (CSOM, 2001).  Ten percentage points may not seem significant, but a 59% reduction is – especially from such a small starting point.  And no one would consider such a reduction in the number of victims insignificant. Again, other researchers consistently replicate these results (Craissati & McClurg; 1997; Hanson, 2002; Nicholaichuk, 2000; Zgoba, Sager & Witt, 2003).  One such study conducted by the Jackson County (Oregon) Corrections and Southern Oregon University from 1985 through 1995 demonstrated a 0.6% re-offense rate (Aytes, 2001). Of 170 sex offenders successfully completing treatment during that 10-year period, only one was subsequently convicted of a sexual offense. Those numbers could be improved if the public knew the truth and were therefore more willing to fund needed research.
Having established that treatment is effective in reducing subsequent offenses against children, enhancing treatment and eliminating detrimental influences should receive a high priority as a means of protecting the public, children in particular. There is, however, a great deal of evidence that public notification laws inflict a negative influence on an offender’s behavior.  It doesn’t take a great deal of time researching news media databases to find stories about offenders unable to obtain or keep employment or housing.  Stories about arson, shootings, vandalism, harassment, threats and assault against sex offenders are not uncommon – and most are just not reported in the media (see appendices 5 – 9). Public notification creates a tremendously stressful environment that is more conducive to the offenders relapse than their control.

 “Sex offenders do not simply decide to sexually offend, but instead react to one or more emotional triggers that result in a heightened level of anxiety, which in turn can result in a worsening pattern of poor decision making leading to a relapse event. . . .
“Clearly, community notification laws are likely to radically increase a newly released offender’s level of stress, isolation, shame, feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, and negative emotional states in general.  Stress impairs one’s ability to maintain good judgment and maintain emotional equilibrium and a realistic perspective on the situation at hand’” (Schwartz (1995b) as cited in Edwards & Hensley, 2001).

Additionally, neurological studies provide inarguable support for the above observations (Arnsten, 2004; LeDoux, 1996; LeDoux, 1997). There are, however, no studies that demonstrate public notification laws to be effective.  Of the few that have been conducted at all, only one (Schram & Milloy, 1995) found a difference, though it was statistically insignificant (Howard, 1997).  Of those subject to public notification, 19% re-offended while 23% not subject to public notification re-offended
The adverse consequences of public notification very often extend as well to the offenders’ families.  Spouses are harassed, ostracized and vilified, children are persecuted and provoked by their classmates, and, most egregious, incest victims are identified by implication and re-traumatized.  “Additionally, these are not concerns that can be discounted or explained away as reasonable trade-offs when weighing the rights of society against the rights of the offender, as non-offending relatives are both indirect victims of the offender’s past behavior as well as citizens with rights (Edwards & Hensley, 2001).”
It is my personal opinion, based on my own experience and review of research reports, that most sex-offender management laws are misdirected.  If known risk factors so indicate, or upon a second offense, the offender should be permanently removed from society.  Otherwise, treatment should be allowed to change the offender. Public notification and criminal consequences were not deterrents while I chose my behaviors based on distorted perceptions of reality that enabled my abusive behavior, and neither are they a deterrent to those currently abusing children.  If it were, why then are so many still being arrested for sexually abusing children? Edwards and Hensley also point out that “recent reports from New Jersey as well as Colorado suggest a decrease in the reporting of both incest offenses and juvenile sexual offenses by victims and by family members who do not want to deal with the impact of public notification on their family (Freeman-Longo, 1996).” They also suggest that offenders can use public notification as a threat to secure the silence of victims and family members.
Florida discontinued funding an inmate pedophile treatment program in 1989, just over a year before Mark Schwab was released after serving less than half of an eight-year sentence for molesting an adolescent boy.  In April 1991, two months after his release, he kidnapped, raped and murdered 13 year-old Junny Rios-Martinez.  Mark wanted treatment but it was not provided  (Sellers & Lancaster, 1991).
That was that same year John Couey was arrested for molesting a little girl – he too asked for treatment (UPI, 2005). There was no treatment for sex-offenders in prison, and after his release his substance abuse and other research proven risk factors were ignored, and now he has been charged with the kidnap, rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford.
Between 1985 and 1995, a treatment program in Jackson county Oregon, similar to Florida’s discontinued program, produced 170 “graduates”, only one of which re-offended by possessing child pornography (Aytes, 2001).  That’s a 0.6% recidivism rate.
When a local radio talk-show host interviewed Senator Argenziano about the latest sex-offender legislation, she scoffed and ridiculed the idea of including any provision for treatment while the offender is in prison.
Prison life is an environment of external controls and does nothing to teach the offender the internal management skills necessary to avoid reoffending once those external controls are removed (Aytes, 2001; Freeman-Longo, 1996).  The Florida legislature has passed several measures aimed at controlling sex-offenders, like public notification, but psychiatric treatment remains the offenders’ responsibility and isn’t offered in prison (Buchanan, 2002). “Although it may be expensive, the alternative of not providing treatment during incarceration is even more costly when offenders return to the community” (Aytes, 2001; Donato & Shanahan, 2001).
It is irrational to expose the public to an offender without the internal controls that therapy develops, and predispose their environment to failure through public notification, and then expect the public to be safe.  If Mark Schwab and John Couey had received psychiatric treatment, and thereafter routinely evaluated for known risk factors, Junny Rios-Martinez and Jessica Lunsford would have had a better chance of being alive today.  There needs to be an initiative mandating in-prison treatment for sex offenders!
Two web sites: CSOM - Center for Sex Offender Management (US Dept of Justice) and ATSA - Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

Arnsten, Amy; in Stress Impairs Thinking Via Manic-Linked Enzyme; National Institute of Mental Health press release, 29 October 2004

ATSA (The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers), Reducing Sexual Abuse Through Treatment and Intervention with Abusers, Public Policy Statement, Adopted by the ATSA Executive Board of Directors on November 6, 1996 Ó 2001

Aytes, Katherine England; Olsen, Sam S.; Zakrajsek, Todd; Murray, Paul; Ireson, Randall; Cognitive/Behavioral Treatment for Sexual Offenders: An Examination of Recidivism; Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2001  

Becker, Judith V.; Limited funding; Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 14, No. 2, April 2002

Buchanan,Debra; Florida Department of Corrections Public Affairs; e-mail reply ( Sep 2002

Cann, Jenny; Falshaw, Louise; Friendship, Caroline; Sexual offenders discharged from prison in England and Wales: A 21 – year reconviction study; Legal and Criminological Psychology (2004), 9,
1 – 10

Craissati, Jackie; McClurg, Grace; The Challenge Project: Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse in South East London; Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 20, No. 11, 1067-1077, 1996

CSOM (C e n t e r F o r S e x O f f e n d e r M a n a g e m e n t, U.S. Dept. of Justice); Recidivism of Sex Offenders; May 2001  

Donato, Ron; Shanahan, Martin; The Economics of Child Sex-Offender Rehabilitation Programs: Beyond Prentky & Burgess; American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71(1), January 2001

Edwards, William; and Hensley, Christopher; Contextualizing Sex Offender Management Legislation and Policy: Evaluating the Problems of Latent Consequences in Community Notification Laws; International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45(1), 2001  83-101

Falshaw, Bates, Patel, Corbett and Friendship, Assessing reconviction, reoffending and recidivism in a sample of UK sexual offenders, Legal and Criminological Psychology (2003), 8, 207–215

Freeman-Longo, R. (1996a); Feel Good Legislation: Prevention or Calamity; Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 95-101

Freeman-Longo, R. (1996b). Prevention or problem? Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 8, 2. in Edwards, William; and Hensley, Christopher; Contextualizing Sex Offender Management Legislation and Policy: Evaluating the Problems of Latent Consequences in Community Notification Laws; International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45(1), 2001  83-101

Gebhard, Paul H.; Gagnon, John H.; Pomeroy, Wardell B.; Christenson, Cornelia V.; Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types, Harper & Row, New York, 1965

Hanson, R Karl; Risk Assessment; Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers Informational Package, 2000  

Hanson, R. Karl; and Bussiere, Monique T.; Predicting Relapse: A Meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism Studies; Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1998, Vol. 66 No.2, 348-362

Hanson, R. Karl; Gordon, Arthur; Harris, Andrew J.R.; Marques, Janice K.; Murphy, William; Quinsey, Vernon L.; Seto, Michael C.; First Report of the Collaborative Outcome Data Project on the Effectiveness of Psychological Treatment for Sex Offenders; Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 14, No. 2, April 2002

Howard, 1997; The John Howard Society of Alberta; Community Notification

Lardner, Richard; and Tunstall, Jim; Couey Operated Below The Radar; The Tampa Tribune  March 24, 2005

LeDoux, Joseph; The Emotional Brain; Touchstone; New York, New York, 1996

LeDoux, Joseph; in the 24th Mathilde Solowey Lecture in The Neurosciences at the National Institutes of Health in May, 1997.

Marquez,  Myriam;  IF FLORIDA WANTS TO PREVENT THE CRUEL DEATH OF ANOTHER JUNNY . . .; The Orlando Sentinel, May 22, 1991

Nicholaichuk, Terry; Gordon, Arthur; Gu, Deqiang; Wong, Stephen; Outcome of an Institutional Sexual Offender Treatment Program: A Comparison Between Treated and Matched Untreated Offenders; Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2000

Quinsey, V.L.; Rice, M.E. & Harris, G.T.; “Actuarial prediction of sexual recidivism;” The Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 10,85-105. 1995

Sample, Lisa L., Bray, Timothy M., Are Sex Offenders Dangerous?, Criminology and Public Policy, Nov. 2003, Vol. 3, Issue 1

Schram, D.; Milloy, C.; Community notification: A study of offender characteristics and recidivism; Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 1995


UPI; Accused molester asked for help in 1991; (World News) Inverness, Florida, 2005

Zgoba, Kristen M.; Sager, Wayne R.; Witt, Philip H.;Evaluation of New Jersey’s sex offender treatment program at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center: preliminary results; The Journal of Psychiatry and Law 31/Summer 2003  

by aldenpowell 2005-05-29 08:53PM | 0 recs


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