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September 9, 2007

Sunday papers question sex offender laws

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 10:08 am

wrong way smN Sunday newspapers across the nation have major articles today (Sept. 9, 2007) questioning the efficacy, enforceability and negative unintended consequences of residency restrictions on sex offenders. An Associated Press story out of California, by Catherine Saillant for the Los Angeles Times, is appearing in media markets big and small, from the Seattle Times in Washington State [“Strict laws may foil sex-offender tracking“] to the Concord Monitor in Massachusetts” [“No easy answers for housing sex offenders: New laws leave many of them homeless“]. The Schenectady NY Gazette features the story on its front page, with the headline “Sex offender laws questioned in California“. The piece begins:

“Habitual sex offender Ross Wollschlager has bounced from one Ventura County hotel to another in the weeks since his release from a state mental hospital, getting ejected each time the owner learned of his identity.

“Publicity about his release has made it impossible for the 44-year-old convicted rapist to find a rural landlord willing to give him a place to live.”

A social agency has tried for 17 months to find a place for Wollschlager to live. The article continues with a quote from Margaret Coyle, a county prosecutor who opposed Wollschlager’s release:

“It’s harder to protect the public when he is homeless. Were he in a condo or an apartment, we could supervise him more effectively.”

In a related article, the Associated Press is reporting today that “More Than 2,700 Sex Offenders Must Move” (Sept. 9, 2007) in California:

“On Friday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation finished notifying 2,741 sex offenders that they have 45 days to find legal housing, or they will be sent back to prison for violating their parole, said spokesman Bill Sessa.

ExitSignArrow “The department previously estimated no more than 2,100 parolees were violating the law approved by California voters in November. Jessica’s Law, named after a 9-year-old child kidnapped and killed by a molester in Florida, prohibits offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

…. “The department has adopted new policies to deal with sex offenders that wind up on the street, Sessa said. Homeless offenders will be required to visit their parole officer each day to report where they spent the previous night.”

The plight of homeless American sex offenders even made the news in the former Soviet Union today, with Georgian news media picking up the United Press International report : “Sex offender released, living in tent“.

Despite these problems, lawmakers are still responding to public fears by proposing more residency and exclusion-zone laws. [See our August 30th post about Chenango County, NY., where I’ve included links to major f/k/a posting on the topic]. For example, in the Rhineleander Region of Wisconsin, “Crandon Common Council wants to protect children from sex offenders” (Sept. 8, 2007), with a law stating that any lease for a residence in violation of the new 2,000 feet rule cannot be renewed, and that prohibits sex offenders from “participating in holiday events involving children under the age of 18, such as giving candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween or dressing up as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, unless the offender is the parent or guardian of the children involved and no other non-related children are present.”

– lawn sign in Mt. Upton, Chenango County, NY [News10Now; see our prior post]

– “Mt. Upton is United: Sex Offenders Get Out !… & Stay Out !…

In addition, a Wilkes-Barre, PA, councilman insists that he will continue to press for residency restrictions, despite the fact that “Mayor, residents voice doubt over councilman’s sex offender ordinance” (Zwire.com. Sept. 8, 2007). According to CitizensVoice.com:

“Mayor Tom Leighton gave [Councilman Jim] McCarthy a letter at a work session Tuesday from Lauren Taylor, executive director of the sexual offenders assessment board of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, which cites research showing there is no correlation between residency restrictions and reducing sex offenses against children. In fact, ordinances may make children more vulnerable to sexual predators, the letter stated.

“According to the letter, 93 percent of sexual abuse victims know their abuser; 34 percent are family members and 59 percent are acquaintances. Forty percent of sexual assaults take place in the victim’s own home and 20 percent take place in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative.

“Residency restrictions may have the unintended effect of increasing risk and may make supervision and management more difficult, the letter stated.”

The lawmaker, Councilman Jim McCarthy, sounds a lot like politicians in Schenectady County, e.g. Legislature Chair Susan Savage, when he replies to such arguments by stating: “We are an island amidst all of these people protecting these children.”

According to today’s Associated Press article, “A report, ‘No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the United States,’ scheduled for release this week by the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch, is expected to be critical of such laws and policies and urge state and federal overhaul, including the elimination of residency restrictions.”  A Human Rights Watch op/ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Banishment is Not the Answer” (by Corinne Carey, Jan. 31, 2005), very likely foreshadowed this week’s Report, when it argued that “Communities will be safer when sex offenders are able to re-integrate, receive support for behavior change, establish new adult relationships and face effective mechanisms for monitoring and accountability.”

For another interesting perspective on the problem of housing sex offenders, see the opinion piece in the Ventura County [California] Star,”Where will sex offenders live?” (Sept. 9, 2007), by Scott Monroe, a certified property manager and president of the California Apartment Association. In the thoughtful piece, Monroe says “The California Apartment Association position would be to list only the high-risk sex offenders, and not those individuals who might have been convicted of less-harmful offensives such as nude sunbathing or urinating in public. By reducing the list to only high-risk sexual offenders, we can better understand the magnitude of the problem and begin to create long-term solutions.”

In addition, here in the New York Capital Region, the Albany Times Union published a major original piece of journalism about sex offender residency laws today: “Efforts to protect kids often carry own risks: Regional laws restricting residency for paroled sex offenders can be counterproductive, some officials say” (Sept. 9, 2007; article goes into for-pay archive in two weeks). Veteran reporter Carol DeMare notes:

“Parole officers understand the obstacles, but they have to work within the laws. ‘We think these laws are counterproductive to the rehabilitation of sex offenders and can put communities at risk by, in some cases, driving sex offenders underground,’ said Mark Johnson, spokesman for the state Division of Parole.”

The article collects some very useful information, which I have reproduced below the fold, such as a description of the various laws in six local counties, and a chart showing how many sex offenders reside in each county as of September 4, 2007, broken down by their designated risk level. It also has quotes from a variety of persons in the community and local politicians.

The Times Union quotes Albany County Legislator Christine Benedict saying “It’s going to end up not just cities against towns but counties against counties.” Benedict also told the TU, “If I had my druthers … I would like a facility where they can live and go to work and a have a life but away from a residential area. They committed a crime, and they need to color inside the lines now.” The article notes:

Benedict has been in the vanguard of efforts to manage where sex offenders live. “I don’t know what the answer is, but it lies in the hands of state government and they need to do something.”

Benedict, the legislature’s Republican minority leader, and Democratic Majority Leader Frank Commisso are working to develop a county master plan for housing sex offenders.

Work groups discuss “what would be the model, what would be the right approach for us to be looking at in relation to housing for sex offenders,” Albany County Social Services Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin said.

The notion that you might solve this problem by housing sex offenders in some form of group facilities seems unworkable and possibly unconstitutional. Despite Benedict’s assertion, the sex offender can hardly be expected to “a have a life” (i.e., a family and a healthy stable relationship within the community) living in an SO facility.

You might recall our f/k/amini-editorial” on August 24, 2007 [which the Schenectady Daily Gazette printed as a Letter to the Editor, on Sept. 5, 2007 ], in which we noted that Ms. Benedict showed up last month at the Schenectady County public hearing on changes to our sex offender residency laws. Benedict, who had voted for the Albany County 1000-feet exclusion zones, warned Schenectady County that it better rescind its laws, as her constituents live right across the County line, and she would do everything she could to make sure that sex offenders do not move from Schenectady County to Albany County. Her remarks became a justification for some Schenectady “leaders” to keep our restrictions on the books.

p.s. Meanwhile, the treatment of juvenile sex offenders is also in the news today: For example: “Questions linger over treatment of juvenile sex offenders” (Yakima Herald, Sept. 9, 2007) “Sex offenders going on record: Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act requires names of juvenile offenders to appear on federal registry” (News-Herald, Cleveland, OH, Sept. 9, 2007); “Juvenile exemption weakness in law” (Altoona [PA] Mirror, Sept. 9, 2007)

Don ‘t forget, the Gatehouse two-part series, Sex Offenders: A Flawed Law, published in several newspapers, including the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, MA — Part One and Part Two, August 25 & 27, 2007)

……………………………………………………………….

The following information was collected in the Albany Times Union article “Efforts to protect kids often carry own risks: Regional laws restricting residency for paroled sex offenders can be counterproductive, some officials say” (Sept. 9, 2007):

Six counties, six restrictions Six Capital Region counties that have adopted laws restricting where sex offenders can live, and in some cases, work:

Albany County: Levels 2 and 3 can not reside within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility.

Rensselaer County: Levels 2 and 3 cannot reside within 2,000 feet of a school or child-care facility.

Saratoga County — All levels cannot reside or work within 1,000 feet of a school, child-care facility, park, playground, youth center or public swimming pool.

Schenectady County: Levels 2 and 3 cannot reside within 2,000 feet of schools, public parks, pools, playgrounds and day care facilities.

Warren County: Levels 2 and 3 cannot reside or work within 1,000 feet of a school or child- care facility, public parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and youth centers.

Washington County: All levels cannot reside or work within 1,000 feet of schools, child-care facilities, parks, playgrounds, youth centers, public swimming areas, libraries, the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and the Warren-Washington County ARC. Offenders must remain at least 150 feet from school bus stops.

Risk levels Risk levels as assigned under the state sex offender registry that took effect in January 1996. As a general rule, an offender’s risk level is assigned by the sentencing judge based on the expected risk of re-offending and on a recommendation by a state board of examiners.

Level 1 — low risk of repeat offense

Level 2 — moderate risk of repeat offense

Level 3 — high risk of repeat offense

Source: State Division of Criminal Justice Services

Registered sex offenders by county as of Sept. 4, the latest update. These six counties have enacted laws restricting where convicted sex offenders may live.

ALBANY COUNTY

Level 1 — 149
Level 2 — 115
Level 3 — 74
P category — 8*
Total — 346

RENSSELAER COUNTY

Level 1 — 91
Level 2 — 80
Level 3 — 62
P category — 9*
Total — 242

SARATOGA COUNTY

Level 1 — 113
Level 2 — 98
Level 3 — 32
P category — 3*
Total — 246

SCHENECTADY COUNTY

Level 1 — 64
Level 2 — 88
Level 3 — 49
P category — 2*
Total — 203

WARREN COUNTY

Level 1 — 49
Level 2 — 72
Level 3 — 38
P category — 2*
Total — 161

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Level 1 — 68
Level 2 — 64
Level 3 — 33
P category — 2*
Total — 167

*P category pertains to offenders who have registered, but their levels have yet to be determined by the courts. State total: 25,570

Source: State Division of Criminal Justice Services as of Sept. 4.

1 Comment

  1. more sex offender laws is just more ignorance.The laws now are over board. what people should do is get informed and not allow any more stupid laws be imposed that dont do any good and causes your taxpayer dollars to be wasted.
    dept of justice website shows true statistics
    not just hype from uneducated ignorants on a witch hunt. what is the next witch hunt you or your family when you molest a kid or pee on a wall and have to register for life? the ignorant people dont realize rediculous knee jerk reaction laws for politicians to gain office only does harm to america. its dirty and vile to protray such ignorance. anyone can be a sex offender with laws the way they are. and what about the people who are supposed to be protecting you like judges and district attourneys who molest children or any law they break and get away with it because they are above the law. look at these men who worked for dept of homeland security being charged with luering children for sex. this has been a social problem for ever and if it wasnt illegal as it isnt in some places it wouldnt be thought as sick. most men we all know look at young girls sexually even at boys. even the people criticizing others because they feel guilty about what they think about. common sence is needed here because until the next ignorant person gets caught for doing it himself and he or his family member to be ostracized as today this whole witch hunt will get stupider by the day. what then when you get caught. The way the laws are now it is worse for someone to do a sex crime than it is to kill a kid and not molest them, they dont have to even register, how does that look? so the hype and sensationalism train everyone flocks to when one more kid killing happens need to be proportionate and focused on that person. the witch hunt has to stop. more and more people are agreeing every day that the witchunt and scarlet letter has to stop and registration put to a halt with offenders addresses bieng put on websites as it does no good and harms the PEOPLE that dont deserve it anymore. or where innocent all together. some offenders where minors themselves or barely adults. i do agree with high risk offenders get the shaft but not all of the people who ever did a sex crime. after all people are people and make mistakes. doesnt god forgive everyone? even sex offenders, yes he does. People need to stop mutating the label pedophile as a pedophile is a offender who preys on little kids. not every one who does a sex offence. when you or a family member is entrapped into a plea bargain for peeing outside lets say then you will be labeled a pedophile.

    Comment by joe — August 27, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

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