Monday, October 12, 2015

Sex offender registries draw criticism from some unlikely sources

From the Captain Obvious files:

Sex offender registries draw criticism from some unlikely sources

Ida Lieszkovszky, Northeast Ohio Media Group 
Email the author 
on October 08, 2015 at 7:00 AM, updated October 09, 2015 at 2:08 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio - You might think that all advocates for rape victims would support the practice of forcing sex offenders to publicly register their addresses after their release from prison. But you would be mistaken. 

Growing numbers of victim advocates and criminal justice researchers are among those who have concluded that sex offender registries are too costly and provide little or no protection to the public.

"The registry gives the appearance that our community is safer, but we really question whether it lives up to that expectation," said Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Northeast Ohio Media Group contacted Miller and others to address both sides of an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of the registries, which are now used in every state.

In the beginning 

Sex offender registries gained popularity after the 1994 rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka by a neighbor in New Jersey. "Megan's Law" was followed a decade later by the Adam Walsh Act, named for a 6-year-old boy who was abducted and murdered in Florida. Ohio began registering sex offenders in 1997.

Today, about 19,400 sex offenders are registered statewide, according to the Ohio Attorney General's office. 

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department tracks an estimated 3,300 sex offenders at an annual cost of $675,000. That includes registering sex offenders, sending out fliers warning neighbors that an offender moved into the area, and tracking offenders who fail to report. Sheriff Clifford Pinkney declined to comment for this story. 

How registries can help 

Proponents of registries say the goal is to alert people to the presence of sex offenders in their neighborhoods and, by extension, help keep people and their children safe.

That's especially important for victims of sexual assault, according to Janine Deccola, a victim's advocate with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. The knowledge that an offender is being tracked helps victims "find a sense of safety or comfort" following a harrowing experience.

The registry is also a way to validate what victims have endured. Teresa Stafford, the senior director of advocacy and outreach at the Rape Crisis Center, said that's particularly true in cases of rape, where victims' accounts are often met with doubt or skepticism. 

"So many people may not have believed them in the process and that's another public place where they can say yes, this person did rape me, this person did hurt me." Stafford said.

The rap on registries

Critics contend that registries are costly to maintain and are often inaccurate because of undocumented moves by sex offenders or offenders listing phony addresses. And Stafford questions how many people actually make use of the registry. According to the Attorney General's office, some 445,000 people statewide are signed up to receive alerts about newly registered sex offenders. 

Critics also contend that the registries leave people with the false impression that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. 

Assistant State Public Defender Brooke Burns said the vast majority of sexual assaults are not committed by strangers down the street. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in 85 percent of sexual assault cases, the victim and the offender knew each other or were related. 

Sexual assaults are also one of the most underreported crimes. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 70 percent of sexual assaults are never reported. Among reported cases, the network estimates just 2 percent of rapists are convicted and sentenced, making them eligible to be included on a registry.

Cullen Sweeney, an attorney with the Cuyahoga County Public Defender's Office, said the registries also can't protect against a first-time offender.

"If it's not really making your children safer, then it doesn't really make financial sense or policy sense," Sweeney said. "And if it has negative consequences, like destabilizing the offender's lives, then it actually makes the community less safe."

Unlikely folks are opposed

It's not surprising that defense attorneys oppose the registries, but therapists and victim's advocates also are among those calling for change. 

"The biggest frustration we have with the registry is it feeds into the myths that the general public has about sexual assault," Miller said. "It feeds this stranger-danger mentality when we know it's such a small fraction of the sexual assaults that occur in our community." 

Miller said the registries give people a "false sense of security" that sex offenders can be easily identified and avoided, when that's not the case. 

Tyffani Dent, a psychologist and vice president of the Ohio Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers who works with both victims and offenders, said registries spread law enforcement too thin. Deputies have to check in not only on repeat, violent offenders but also teenagers who sent illicit text messages to their girlfriends, and who pose little threat to their neighbors.  

"I want for victims to get justice," she said. "Unfortunately, registration the way it is now doesn't do what it's designed to do."

Studies are critical of registries

Several large-scale studies have shown that registries don't do much to prevent criminals from committing new crimes.

A 2008 U.S. Department of Justice study concluded that "Megan's Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses."
A 2011 study from the University of Chicago found that "registered sex offenders have higher rates of recidivism" than those who did not have to register.
Another study published in 2011 found that a registration requirement has a deterrent effect on sexual offenders, but the notification aspect of the registries leads to higher rates of offense because of the social and financial costs to the offender. 
A 2004 Canadian study found that "after 15 years, 73 percent of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offense."

Better solutions

Dent doesn't think the registry system should be abandoned entirely. Instead, she favors registering only the most dangerous offenders. That would free up resources for preventative measures and treatment, such as mental health therapy, which Dent said has been proven to reduce recidivism. 

In particular, Dent said cognitive behavioral therapies, which address the way people think and behave, have been proven to reduce recidivism among sex offenders. 

Burns, who primarily works with juveniles at the state defender's office, said that in the cases of young offenders in particular putting their names on a public registry inhibits them from reintegrating into society.

"It's really important that kids get proper treatment, intervention, and their needs are addressed so they don't reoffend, and I think that's far more effective than a registry is," she said. 

Miller echoed that sentiment, and noted that victim's services and treatment programs are both underfunded, and could use some of the more than half a million dollars Cuyahoga County spends maintaining its registry.

"It really is a question of where do we put our resources where we're going to have the maximum impact and I'm not sure the sex offender registry is where we're getting the most impact," Miller said.

Registered Citizen says registry amounts to punishment for life

The state Supreme Court agreed.

Sex offender says registry amounts to punishment for life

By Ida Lieszkovszky, Northeast Ohio Media Group 
Email the author 
on October 08, 2015 at 7:00 AM, updated October 08, 2015 at 7:07 AM

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Nearly three decades ago, Emil Basista was convicted of raping a 33-year-old woman. While serving time in prison, he was retroactively labeled as a sexual predator, a designation that requires him to report where he lives every 90 days to the sheriff's department.

Basista, 66, is one of several thousand Ohioans who have tried to challenge the state's sexual offender registration requirements, contending that the publicly accessible registries amount to life-long punishment.

During a recent interview with Northeast Ohio Media Group, he said he has turned his life around since his release from prison.  He is married, and said he has become a model citizen despite the hardships that go with being labeled a sexual predator.

"It's been tough for me and my wife because sometimes it just gets to you, especially when you feel you did wrong and you've been punished for it and you did your time and now you want to carry on as a responsible citizen, but society makes it really tough to do that."

Basista said he applied for dozens of jobs, but as a convicted sex offender he was "dead in the water." He managed to piece together several jobs through people his wife knew, and has since retired.

He also credits his wife with helping him find a place to live. Registration laws limit where sex offenders can live. For instance, they can not live within 1,000 feet of a school. Basista's wife has a Middleburg Heights home that complies with the laws, so he was able to move in there. But as required under the law, all of his neighbors were sent postcards notifying them that Basista had moved in.

The registry also limits his daily activities. For instance, he can't go to recreational centers, many of which screen for sex offenders in an effort to keep their patrons, particularly children, safe. 

He also thinks its unfair that he is forced to register since the sex offender designation wasn't part of his original sentence when he was convicted. 

"I think it is a form of punishment because it doesn't enable you to get back into society and do what you're supposed to do because there's always a cloud over your head," he said.

But worst of all, Batista said, is the social stigma that comes with the label since people often mistakenly assume the term "predator" means he assaulted a child. 

"I don't care if people call me a rapist, but don't call me nothing having to do with children" he said. "That really bothers me because that's the furthest thing from my mind is hurting a child."

Basista said many people he speaks to don't understand the registry system or its labels, and instead just respond with fear.

According to the state public defender's office, more than 7,000 sex offenders have challenged the state's laws on registry requirements, and several have taken their cases to the state's highest court. Several years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with an offender that the current registry system is a form of punishment.

Basista said he doesn't want to remove his name from the registry entirely, but hopes to downgrade his status so he's no longer called a predator. He has not been successful.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A disaster in the making: Ohio HB 353 will require Registered Citizens to give the sheriff info on every adult in the household

Cross-posted from the Shiitake Awards.

If there is a state that could challenge FloriDUH for the sheer stupidity of sex offender laws, it is the state of Ohio (or as I call it, "D'Oh-I-O). Ohio was the one state that finally dethroned FloriDUH's Shiitake Award dynasty (if only for a year), and D'OHio was the first state to pass the Adam Walsh AND is the only state that can place people on the sex offender registry through a civil trial

So now the great state of D'OHio wants to remind us that our legislators can be as birdbrained as FloriDUH. State Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl has introduced HB 353, which will "amend sections 2950.04, 2950.041, and 2950.99 of the Revised Code to require a sheriff to mail a notice to every adult member of a household where a person who is required to register as a sex offender resides informing those household members that the person has committed a sexually oriented offense or a child-victim oriented offense."

Now, it is already a stupid idea to waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money to send a notice to every adult living in the household with a Registered Citizen that they are indeed living with a Registered Citizen. It seems as asinine as placing warning labels on jars of peanut butter that peanut butter contains peanuts. I can't imagine a single scenario where this is even necessary or helpful. Obviously, people living with a Registered Person knows they are living with a Registered Citizen. What's next? Notices that water is wet?

But this isn't the worst part of the law. If passed the Ohio Revised Code will be revised again, adding to the information collected by the Sheriff's Office, "Regarding an offender or delinquent child who is registering under a duty imposed under division (A)(2), (3), or (4) of this section as a result of the offender or delinquent child residing in this state or temporarily being domiciled in this state for more than three days, a list of every other person age eighteen or older who resides at the residence at which the offender plans to reside."

What this means is the state will expect Registered Citizens to register the names of every adult living in the household with the Sheriff's Office. I know that Anti-Registry activists like to use the expression, "When someone is forced to register, the entire family registers," but it seems Ohio is taking this expression literally. 

But hey, it isn't like something like a computer glitch would accidentally add dozens of people to the Ohio sex offender registry or anything, right? Oh wait...

Dozens Mistakenly Added To Ohio Sex Offender Registry

Wednesday November 2, 2011 6:33 PM 
UPDATED: Wednesday November 2, 2011 7:45 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Some people raised questions on Wednesday, wondering how dozens of people could have been wrongfully included to a statewide sex offender registry.

Outdated and inaccurate information was put into the system by an outside company that helped run the registry, 10TV's Chuck Strickler reported.

It took more than two weeks to figure out what the problem was.   The site was then shut down and fixed. 

The state had been working to switch the entire registry operation over to a Louisiana company called Watch Systems. 

In early October, the state said the company took control of the search operation of the registry and mistakenly put inaccurate information into the system for all to see, Strickler reported.

The state attorney general's office said the problem was a result of human error. 

"There were probably hundreds, but we don't know exactly because we didn't take the time to go through the records individually," said Steven Raubenolt, Deputy Superintendent of BC&I.
Members of the group 'Families Against the Registry' said they were concerned that people who were no longer required to register were listed again during the glitch. 

"Watch Systems and the Ohio Attorney General do not seem to care that when you list a man on the registry, his wife and children suffer," said Ellen Shores of Families Against the Registry.

"Obviously we are sorry this happened.  As I said, we don't want bad or inaccurate data being displayed to the public," said Raubenolt.

I see nothing but problems arising from this idiotic bill. Ohio has already screwed up and added innocent people to the registry once before, so this bill is a disaster waiting to happen. Florida had similar problems recently, so obviously non-registered citizens understand that being mistaken for a "sex offender" is a pretty bad thing. The last thing Ohio would want is for a non-registrant to be beaten to death by a deranged vigilante, as has happened in Florida

This smiling face is that of State Representative Margaret Ann Ruhl, by the way. This is the woman listed as the primary sponsor. Rep. Heather Bishoff, Rep. Cheryl L. Grossman, Rep. Brian Hill, and Rep. Martin J. Sweeney are co-sponsors. I have added direct links to their representative pages. Feel free to contact them and ask them what they were thinking when sponsoring this stupid bill.