Saturday, August 29, 2009

Retort to recent Wendy Murphy article

This morning, Wendy Murphy, TV commentator and law professor, released an article entitled "WENDY MURPHY: Sex offender laws flawed but critical" in the Patriot-Ledger [] . Below is my response, which I had to post in pieces at the site. But I DID sent it to her via e-mail.

Wendy Murphy was the one who famously said during the Duke Lacrosse/ Nifong case, "I never met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak the truth." []. It ended up being a case of malicious prosecution. There are many flaws in this article that needs addressed.

The Dallas Morning News found over 4000 people on the Texas registry who were minors at the time they were added to the sex offender registry, some as young as age 10! A recent article stated Michigan had over 2000. There are many websites dedicated to these cases as well [see for many examples].

In regards to recidivism rates amongst registrants, even the most negative studies state recidivism rates much lower than Murphy is claiming.

US Department of Justice, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released into the Community in 1994.”

* Three-year follow-up period
* 9,641 sex offenders released in 15 states
* 262,420 non-sex offenders released in same 15 states in 1994
* 517 sex offenders (5.3% of all sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime within 3 years
* 3,228 non-sex offenders (1.3% of all no-sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime within the same three year
* 3.5% of sex offenders re-convicted

A more recent study found similar results after 10 years:

* Recidivism after 1 year of release: 2.21%
* Recidivism after 2 years of release: 2.94%
* Recidivism after 5 years of release: 3.3%
* Recidivism after 10 years of release: 3.38%
* NOTEWORTHY FINDINGS: The total of sexual recidivists is lower than some might have believed. Most re-offenses and parole violations occur in the initial period of reentry after release. Sex offenders are more likely to commit some other type of offense than to commit a new sex offense.

Sex offenders have hundreds of victims is one of the biggest myths in the issue. It was a misread of an outdated Gene Abel study which relied on self reporting, which is highly inaccurate, and even so, Abel did not determine number of victims but lifetime acts of "paraphilias," which included certain acts once considered deviant but no longer, such as consensual homosexual relations. [see:].

Vigilantism is a very real threat, as studies have shown up to 40% of registrants and and equal number of their loved ones, such as their spouses and their own children, have experienced threats, assaults, property damage, and murders. In fact, there is a blog dedicated to murders of sex offenders [] and on vigilantism against registrants and families [].

In regards to time served, in the Department of justice, the average sentence length was 8 years, but other states report longer sentences, which will only increase with mandatory minimums. As with other mandatory minimums, there are worries of abuses and loss of discretion with relatively minor cases (such as a "Romeo and Juliet" case), and may even deter reporting of sex crimes [see for opposition to mandatory minimums for drug cases, which were once the great stigma of society].

It is time we revisit the registry and really determine its true value. Two recent studies from New York and New Jersey have shown the registry is no deterrent for crime, and the New Jersey study pointed out that 95% of sex crimes were committed by first time offenders. Even Maureen Kanka admitted the intent of the registries is not to reduce recidivism. [see:].

Lets tell the truth here. The real intent of the registry is to name and shame those who committed sexually deviant acts. The registry does not promote healing, neither for the offenders nor for the victims. Instead, the public registry is a tool for social ostracism and vigilante violence. In our zealousness we have thrown caution to the wind and have passed laws based on what feels good rather than what works. The result has been disastrous. The result of one law has formed a camp of registrants living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami []. The result of one law has placed a 16 year old on the registry for consensual relations with another teen, listed as a "sexual predator" [see www.rickyslife .com]. The registry led Stephen Marshall to gun down to registrants in Maine. One of his victims was convicted at 19 for consensual sex with a girl just weeks from her 16th birthday []. And now we're trying to make it worse by forcing the Adam Walsh Act upon society-- mandatory minimums, placing more people on the registry for life, civil commitment, increased federal jurisdiction, immunity and millions to the NCMEC, GPS, and a public non-sex child abuse registry. None of these will work. Treatment and rehabilitation works. So does a truthful education and prevention program such as Stop It Now! and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. Anything less is a sugar pill for a cancer patient.

The Mess in Miami: The consequences of ill-fated legislation

Below is an article I posted up on Oprah's community blog and Author's Den regarding residency restrictions and the situation under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. You can read more about the Julia Tuttle Causeway at
Oprah films at the homeless sex offender camp at Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami, which has become a national symbol of the excesses of ill-fated sex offender residency restrictions.

The Mess in Miami: The consequences of ill-fated legislation

Posted on Aug 21, 2009 1:52 AM on my personal blog on the Oprah Winfrey site.

In my five years as an advocate for the Former *ex Offender, I have heard the same suggestions over the years as to what to do with released *ex offenders -- Kill them, castrate them, banish them, and so on. At the least, we support an increasing number of laws against them, from public registries to civil commitment to GPS to residency restrictions. After over a dozen years of retributive measures, we are starting to see the negative consequences of laws written in response to social panics rather than proven fact.
Unless Oprah changes her mind, there will be a report on the registrants forced to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway (JTC) in Miami in a future episode of the Oprah show, as a film crew was recently filming at the JTC. For three years, those convicted of *ex offenses are required to live under the JTC because more than 99% of south Florida is off limits thanks to a 2500 foot residency restriction law. This sad scenario has become a national (even global) embarrassment, a living testament to the extremes we have taken in the name of public safety. Most likely you will see powerful Florida lobbyist Ron Book, the very man who championed the restrictions, point fingers at the state for the dilemma. Book is also head of the Homeless Trust in Miami, yet for years denied these individuals even the most basic of needs. In fact, every politico involved in this debacle is pointing fingers all around.

Many of you won't care, flooding Oprah with the same "they are getting what they deserve" comments that usually fill forums and message boards around the country. However, I think maybe we should care. I believe it is time we really consider what is working and what is not working in preventing *ex crimes in the first place. For decades, this country has been inundated with myths about the very nature of *ex crimes and the people who commit these crimes. We've passed legislation in the names the victims of high profile tragedies, heralding each law as a panacea until the net tragic case makes headlines. The end result is laws which have made it nearly impossible for any convicted *ex offender to earn an opportunity to reintegrate and become a productive member of society after his or her timeis served.

Reintegration and a stable post-release existence is integral for many reasons. The most important reason is stable housing, employment, treatment, and social networking are bulwarks of reducing recidivism amongst *ex offenders (or any ex-offender for that matter). Contrary to what we've been taught, *ex offenders have the lowest rate of recidivism of any crime, and that number can be reduced even further by proper treatment of those who have *exually offended. Furthermore, by focusing on those on a public list, we tend to forget that the vast majority of *ex crimes are committed by someone the victim knows, like a close friend or family member, and that most are not on the public registry. And in our zeal to eradicate molestation and rape, we have made the laws so sensitive we have arrested children as young as age 10 and placed on sex offender registries. The Dallas Morning News recently reported that over 4000 individuals on the registry were placed on the registry when they were minors. And the Adam Walsh Act, the very same bill Oprah implored her viewers to flood Congress to support and fund, forces states to register minors as young as age 14 or face a 10% cut to federal Law Enforcement grants. Just think, your teenage son could be registered for life for consensual relations with his teenage lover! (For an example simply google "Ricky's Life")

The one thing noticeably absent from discussions about *ex crimes is prevention. We have been led to believe post release *ex crime laws are "prevention," but they are not. True prevention is a multifaceted approach which requires educating the public truthfully on *exual matters. Our culture treats S-E-X as a dirty word to the point we can't even type it in most forums, and when it comes to our own youth, we let their peers, the internet and mass media teach our youth about the "s" word. But even in those rare discussions of sexuality are discussed, no one even considers discussing the other sex-related issues, like how to deal with improper sexual feelings and behaviors. In fact, the very laws we've enacted to prevent *ex crimes are the laws which prevent those struggling with sexual problems to seek help until it is too late.

If society took a treatment-oriented approach to this issue, we'd see far better results than the vengeance-oriented approach we have promoted for over a decade. It is not about sympathizing with the convicted *ex offender or condoning what they have done (or the favorite claim "supporting pedophilia"). However, they have served a sentence for their time and was released into society, their debts to the state paid. I don't expect anyone to open up their homes to a registrant; however, they should be given an opportunity once released to reintegrate and become productive members of society.Even Patty Wetterling, the woman who championed the first national sex offender registry through Congress in 1994, has spoken out against tough feel-good measures. She implores us to get smart rather than tough on sex crimes.

Derek Logue, author of the book "Once Fallen," famously stated in a fight over residency laws, "Where are we supposed to live?" In Miami, the answer is the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Eighty people forced under a bridge in the name of noble but misguided crusade. Consider how Iowa recently repealed residency laws after a significant increase in homelessness and absconding registrants, while *ex crime rates remain the same. Kansas passed a moratorium against residency restrictions because of Iowa's problems. A series of studies from Colorado and Minnesota also found residency laws do not work; in fact, the studies concluded these laws may possibly increase recidivism. Even Florida Senator Dave Aronberg stated residency laws are ineffective and counterproductive (before suggesting the state increase residency restrictions). And now, even Ron Book, the one who put many of the registants under the JTC, admits the laws have backfired. However, like Logue, no one has received a straight answer to the question.

So where are they supposed to live? Ron Book's "solution" was an abandoned county jail or an empty parking lot 35 miles away, far away from the cameras of the worldwide media. It took worldwide attention and an ACLU just to begin a move to find housing for 80 people. However, when those eighty are out of the spotlight, what will happen to them? And where will those ready to be released from prison also go? While peoplelove to make the same comments, the fact is many people will be released from prison for *ex crimes. Ask yourself which is more important -- Revenge or Results? Reason or Wrath? If the goal was truly about protecting children instead of exacting revenge, then we would work towards a path of healing, not just for the victims but for those who have offended.