Wednesday, April 22, 2015

For sex offenders, not the way

Is the New York Post on a vendetta against those on the sex offender registry who are not breaking the law or in violation of requirements but are trying to find a place to live and get their lives back together?

On April 19 they printed an article about the Bellevue Men’s Shelter and the registered citizens living there. Possibly they were using some degree of restraint--they were into the second sentence before they resorted to using pejorative language to describe these citizens.

"Degenerates." "Perverts." "Sex fiends."

The incorrect information the headline conveys seems almost benign after reading those words.  Does the Post know that those on the registry do not have restrictions placed upon their residency choices once their sentences, including probation and parole, are completed unless they have individual conditions imposed at sentencing? This is not a loophole in the law; it is the law.

Then, in an attempt to top themselves, on April 24, this appeared criticizing yet another city shelter for housing registrants. This time the gloves were off; restraint is thrown out the window with the opening sentence. The rhetoric is the same as the previous article; only the epithets are different.

"Filth." "Creeps." "Criminals." "Deviants."

Everyone, even media outlets and those who write for them, are entitled to their opinions. And there are places for expressing those opinions--the editorial section or a blog, like this one. However, that is not where these articles appear. They are in the metro section--city news. Are the days of fair, unbiased news reporting slipping further and further into the past?

Every state values the rehabilitation of felons. Is the Post trying to make New York an exception? Even though sex-offender laws and practices are seldom based on facts and evidence, those who make and administer these laws, and those who report on these laws, know that society is safer when former offenders are successfully assimilated into the wider, law-abiding community. Does the Post not agree with this goal? Or does it believe that the way to accomplish this is to belittle, degrade, and insult those most in need of help, acceptance, and a feeling of worth? Does the Post believe that citizens who feel shunned, ridiculed, and worthy of being called the vilest of names will be more inclined to embrace the values of the society that makes them feel that way?

Based on the frequent state of flux that registered residents of these and other city shelters experience, this is quite possibly not the best situation for those in need of stability and continuity in their lives. It may well be that to maximize the rehabilitation of this portion of New York’s citizens and to improve public safety for all that alternate situations should be sought and budgeted for. But first those responsible for shaping public opinion must recognize that they are dealing with human beings, flawed as all humans are, but fellow citizens who deserve to be recognized as such. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

To Save One Child--Again

It has happened again. An airplane has crashed, killing everyone on board, including quite a few children. This has happened too many times in the past and must not be allowed to continue. Clearly
it is time to ban all air flights and destroy all airplanes. Appropriate legislation will need to be proposed and passed, but if it saves one child, it will be worth it.

Furthermore, with this latest incident and the innocent lives that have been lost on everyone’s mind, we should include automobiles as well. Statistics show that more children’s lives are lost in car accidents than plane accidents, so a complete outlawing of automobiles should have occurred long ago. Think of the children that would still be alive today had that been done.

And guns—that most sacred of subjects; I can hear the yelling about constitutional rights, and logically I agree. I am a strong supporter of our Constitution and the rights and protection it offers, but this has moved beyond that. We simply must be willing to sacrifice some of our rights in order to protect our children.

Knives should be included, and swimming pools, and even bathtubs. How many precious lives are lost yearly by drowning?

More children die each year by any one of these methods, many, many more, than are killed or even harmed by someone on a sex offender registry. Yet the notion of eliminating travel by air or auto had those of you who thought I might be even half serious shaking your heads in disbelief.

Yet let a legislator or any other individual suggest making something else illegal for those on the registry in order to save one child, and most of America jumps on it even though research and law enforcement show clearly that such legislation is a waste of resources because it does not address the very real issue of child sexual abuse. Studies show that approximately 96% of newly reported sexual crime is committed by those not already registered for a previous offense. Law enforcement knows that virtually all sexual crime against children is committed by those in the children’s lives in close and trusted positions, namely: 1) relatives; 2) authority figures; 3) peers.

Why are we so willing to put our children at risk by putting them in cars and planes, by housing them in proximity to guns and knives and sometimes killing them ourselves with those same instruments, yet when it comes to reforming a system that offers nothing in the way of protection against sexual harm to them, we defend that system with every breath in our bodies? We close our eyes and cheer on the laws that blind us to the truth and turn us in the wrong direction, and in so doing, we are taking the greatest risk of all.

I owe thanks to Larry for giving me the idea for this post. Thanks, Larry.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What do you do when everything you do is predicated on fallacies?

A sheriff in Graham County, North Carolina, has made national headlines by sending letters to the twenty registered sex offenders in his jurisdiction telling them they were not allowed to attend worship services at any of the counties’ houses of worship and citing a state law having to do with places where children were supervised.

Fallacy number one: “To all sex offenders…” [letter from sheriff; emphasis mine].

Fact: All designated as sex offenders, based on a requirement to register, did not offend against children. This is overkill; with only twenty registrants, could not case-by-case individualization be managed? A blanket restriction against “all” will encompass sexually active and sexting teens, those with adult victims, and those whose behavior falls in the "public nuisance" or "college-boy stupidity" categories--and of course those who are innocent and were wrongly convicted.

Fallacy number two: “I don’t like them around little children…” [a local minister]. In addition to violating fallacy number one, it assumes that anyone who has previously offended, even against children, will not be able to resist pouncing on any child who comes into his range of vision.

Fact: Almost all child sexual offense is against children with whom the offender has a close relationship and takes place in either the victim’s or the offender’s home, not with random children in public places. Additionally, very few registrants living in the community will commit an additional offense. In fact, specific to North Carolina and according to the North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry, based on searches performed as of May 6, 2007, “Manual searches (by county) using the new criteria yield some of the lowest recidivism rates ever disseminated by any law-enforcement establishment. In the entire state of North Carolina there are only 71 recidivists shown on the registry, if incarcerated offenders are included. Per-county results for "registered"-status offenders (compared with "recidivist"-status offenders) on the North Carolina registry yield actual convicted recidivist percentages ranging from zero to a fraction of one percent.”

Fallacy number three: “ ‘You are not permitted to attend church services,’ the letter read, citing a law that prevents offenders from being within 300 feet of premises where minors are supervised” [letter from sheriff].

Fact: Proximity restrictions, along with residency restriction, are totally unsupported by any study or any empirical evidence. The idea that a 300-foot barrier creates a “child-safe zone” is ludicrous. If a child safe zone that was effective were to be created, it would have to separate the family members, the peers, and the authority figures from the child to be protected.

Fact: Until we are willing, as a society, to demand that all legislation is grounded in facts and evidence, we will continue to be bombarded with ineffective laws that eat up our resources but do nothing to work toward public safety or toward the betterment of our society.