Ipce Magazine # 6 - Theme: Civil Commitments
This article examines how civil commitment has been rolled out in the case of the sex offender, and focuses on the implementation of the program in the US and the controversy that has been spawned as a result.
The article uses the phrase ‘civil commitment centre’ to denote facilities that house sex offenders who have served their prison sentence, but who are deemed to have a ‘mental abnormality’ that renders them a danger to society.
The term ‘mental disorder’ has been expanded therefore to include ‘mental abnormality’, to enable sex offenders to be committed civilly.
Civil commitment centres work towards
treating the offender, with the ultimate goal of releasing him under
supervision back to the community once he has been ‘cured’.
|Convicts, not necessarily all charged with sexual crimes, are
identified by state criminal justice agencies as "sex offenders
requiring civil management." |
|The state Office of Mental Health evaluates prisoners. If they
meet the criteria of a sex offender who bears watching, the Office
of Mental Health notifies the attorney general’s office. |
|The state attorney general files a civil suit, making the case in
state Supreme Court that the prisoner needs to be monitored by the
state after being released from prison. |
|If a judge finds "probable cause" to believe that the
person is a sex offender, the case proceeds to a civil trial with
the state trying to prove that the prisoner has a "mental
abnormality" that makes it likely he’ll commit sex offenses
after being released. |
|If the jury decides the prisoner is a sex offender who’s likely
to commit more crimes, the judge can confine the prisoner to a state
mental hospital, or order strict supervision outside an institution,
a regimen described in criminal justice circles as
By May 2006, 3646 individuals were being held in the US under civil commitment laws, according to the most recent survey, conducted by Adam Deming of the Indiana Sex Offender Management and Monitoring Program in Indianapolis. Of these,
|2627 had been committed as dangerous sexual predators, while the other|
|1019 were waiting for their evaluations to be completed.|
Few can expect to be released any time soon. Just 427 of 3493 offenders detained since 1990 had been released by 2004, according to a survey by Roxanne Lieb of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy in Olympia.
By March 2007, twenty US states had enacted laws regarding civil commitment of sexual offenders.
[*2] Nebraska figures include those committed since July 2006; it excludes those committed earlier under a different law.
[*3] New Hampshire’s law was passed in 2006; this program is in its infancy.
Supporters of the civil commitment laws in the US offer no apologies for their shortcomings, insisting that the money is well spent. Born out of the anguish that followed a handful of high-profile sex crimes in the 1980s, the laws are proven and potent vote-getters that have withstood constitutional challenges.
source: self - However …
While the details of civil commitment laws vary from state to state, the US Supreme Court has ruled that civil commitment can be applied only to convicted sex criminals who have a mental disorder that makes them likely to commit further sexually violent acts.
This is where the problems begin, as many sex offenders do not easily fit any of the categories defined in the psychiatrists' bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
The DSM lists a range of what are known as paraphilias: intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviours that recur over a period of at least six months.
Sexual sadism and paedophilia fall under this heading, yet only a small minority of rapists have sadistic fantasies, and even persistent child abusers may not be sufficiently fixated on sex with children to qualify as paedophiles, according to a strict interpretation of the DSM.
Some observers, including Lieb, argue the fault lies with the DSM for providing too narrow a definition of paraphilia. Critics of civil commitment argue that some offenders are being shoehorned into diagnoses that do not apply, to satisfy the Supreme Court's requirement to allow them to be detained.
Psychiatrists stress that being a sexual offender does not necessarily make you mentally ill according to any recognised criteria. Michael First, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York and an adviser on the DSM, argues that diagnoses made for the purpose of civil commitment proceedings often confuse persistent criminal behaviour with mental illness.
"The behaviour itself is not enough to make the diagnosis," he says.
Of 2082 diagnoses recorded by Deming in his survey,
|1135 detainees had been marked down as paedophiles, while|
|692 were evaluated as belonging to the catch-all category of "paraphilia (not otherwise specified)".|
Six states failed to provide Deming with the particular paraphilia diagnoses used to detain offenders.
Eric Janus of the William Mitchell College of Law in St Paul, Minnesota, claims that diagnoses are open to manipulation. He has studied men detained under Minnesota's civil commitment laws.
|Just 25 per cent of those committed in 1993 were diagnosed with a paraphilia, but|
|by 1996 the figure for newly committed men was more than 90 per cent.|
|By 2001, 97 per cent of all men held under civil commitment in Minnesota were judged to be paraphilic, including a substantial proportion that was not given this diagnosis when they were first detained.|
These are not the only questions being raised about the consistency of diagnoses.
Jill Levenson, who studies criminal justice policy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, compared the diagnoses made by different professional psychiatric evaluators for nearly 300 offenders assessed under that state's civil commitment law. In general, she was encouraged by the level of agreement.
|In 85 per cent of cases, two evaluators agreed on whether or not an offender was a paedophile.|
|When it came to a diagnosis of "paraphilia (not otherwise specified)" however, her survey revealed the level of agreement fell to 68 per cent.|
"No one is quite sure what counts as a mental disorder," Janus argues.
If no one can be sure of that, how can courts rely on psychiatric diagnoses to incarcerate offenders who have served their sentence?
Virginia allows prosecutors to petition to place sex offenders in a civil commitment centre when they're released from prison. The procedure has been billed as a way to keep the worst offenders out of society, but that standard is determined by a psychological evaluation, so even first-time offenders can end up as targets.
The total number of civil commitment petitions in Virginia has more than doubled in the past two years, from 43 to 119, and the number of men committed to a special institution for sexually violent predators has tripled, from 16 to 49. The number will likely continue to increase as the state not only pursues more cases, but also expands the list of crimes that trigger a sexual offender evaluation. In anticipation, the state is constructing a $62 million, 300-bed facility to house them.
"Statewide, lawyers are just beginning to handle these things," said Virginia lawyer Stuart Pearson.
He called the process strange, because it's based on predictions that the released convict will commit another crime.
"You're punishing them based on the percentage chance that they're going to do something again in the future."
Salem lawyer Mark Claytor, suggested that the civil commitment law be called "the Gulag statute," a reference to the brutal prisons and labour camps of the former Soviet Union. The law
"is cloaked with civil procedural requirements, but it has all of the hallmarks of a criminal proceeding," said Virginia lawyer Chris Kowalczuk.
The parameters under which commitment in Minnesota is allowed are expanding, raising the prospect of an increasing numbers of people locked up indefinitely.
Some patients have been detained, first in prison and then in the civil commitment facility, since they were juveniles. Two didn't actually commit a sex crime; they were there for sexual obsession and stalking and the fear that they could rape or molest someone.
"It's the system that needed examination, not because it is treating sex offenders poorly, but because of the effect on taxpayers and because of the legal template it creates. It can grow into something larger."
Everyone fears that someone released from a civil commitment program could commit a new crime.
Our role in reporting this project is not to suggest that this fear is unfounded; it's to raise questions about the way the state has responded to it.
More often, these cases come down to contentious duels between psychologists over how best to analyse an offender's history and likelihood of repeating crimes. In most states, commitment is for an indefinite period, but offenders are allowed to have their cases reviewed by a court periodically.
"The population that is being detained is a very, very mixed group," said Richard Wollert, a psychologist in Portland, Oregon, who evaluates civilly committed offenders. "There are cases that are appalling in terms of being kept in custody at the taxpayers' expense when there are probably alternative placements for them."
Predicting who is likely to commit future sex crimes has become more of a science over the last decade, but many still find the methods questionable. Actuarial formulas, akin to the tables used for life insurance, play a central role in deciding who is dangerous enough to be committed. They calculate someone's risk of offending again by looking at factors such as the number of prior sex offenses and the sex of the victims. Men with male victims are graded as higher risk for example, because statistics show they are more often repeat offenders.
In an unpublished study conducted for the US National Institute of Justice, psychologists Raymond Knight of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and David Thornton of the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wisconsin, have tested the leading actuarial risk assessments using information on a sample of sex offenders treated at a secure centre in Massachusetts between 1959 and 1984.
Looking at sex offences committed in the first three years after release, the areas under the curves varied between 0.67 and 0.70 - apparently not a bad result. But if you consider what's called the predictive area - the total area between a straight line representing a prediction based on chance, and perfect prediction based on a single point in the top left corner - then things look less good.
"We're explaining less than 40 per cent of the predictive area," says Knight. "When I explain that, most people are horrified."
"The danger is that these numbers will blind people,"
said Eric Janus, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul who has challenged Minnesota's civil commitment law in court. Politics and emotion also factor heavily into who gets committed, with decisions made by elected judges or juries who may be more affected by the raw facts of someone's offence history or the public spectacle over their crimes, than the dry science of risk prediction.
"It's so emotional for them, they don't even want to hear the research", said Stephen Watson, an assistant public defender who represented an offender in Florida.
Most states' civil commitment laws have been worded to sidestep such objections, and require only that those detained are more likely to re-offend than not. Some set the bar even lower.
"These laws have been developed with more concern for public protection than civil liberties," says Cynthia Calkins Mercado, a clinical psychologist at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York.
Statistics on sex crimes suggest they do not to any great extent.
The US Bureau of Justice Statistics has studied offending patterns for a cohort of more than 270,000 prisoners released in 1994 across 15 states. Given that most states had not then enacted civil commitment laws, the sex offenders in that group are likely to include individuals who today would be detained as dangerous sexual predators.
Sex offenders accounted for about 4 per cent of those released, and over three years of follow-up, these individuals were on average about four times as likely to be arrested for a subsequent sex offence as those previously jailed for other crimes. Yet because there were fewer of them, the sex offenders still accounted for only a minority of the sex crimes committed by the group as a whole: of the ex-convicts subsequently arrested for sexual offences, 87 per cent had previously been imprisoned for some other type of crime.
What's more, analyses by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of felonies in large urban counties across the US, shows that most sex crimes are committed by people who have never been convicted of any crime. The latest available figures, from 2002, reveal that 79 per cent of those charged with rape had no prior felony convictions. Evidence from various jurisdictions similarly suggests that most convicted child abusers had also not previously been in trouble with the law.
To critics of current policies, the mismatch between public perceptions and crime statistics is at the root of the problem. People are appalled by sex offending, but do not like to acknowledge that it is widespread throughout society. So the public and media demonise convicted offenders, and politicians devise laws such as civil commitment in response.
"It's a way of articulating society's condemnation of sexual violence without doing anything fundamental about it," says Janus.
In 2007, the decision by New York to confine sex offenders beyond their prison terms placed the state at the forefront of a growing national movement that was popular with politicians and voters. A Democrat governor, Eliot Spitzer, suggested that the proposed civil commitment law would "become a national model" and go well beyond confining the most violent predators, to also include mental health treatment and intensive supervised release for offenders. "No one has a bill like this, nobody," said Republican Dale M. Volker from western New York, and a leading proponent in the Legislature of civil commitment.
But such programs have almost never met the stated purpose of treating the worst criminals until they no longer pose a threat.
One political commentator on the topic has said,
"When the most dangerous sexual predators are due to leave prison ... officials can revoke their freedom and toss them into mental hospitals indefinitely." Essentially, the process "permits the state to transform a criminal sentence with a specified duration into an indeterminate life sentence."
Indeed, only a small fraction of committed offenders have ever completed treatment to the point where they could be released free and clear. Few ever make such progress. Nationwide, of the 250 offenders released unconditionally since the first law was passed in 1990, about half of them were let go on legal or technical grounds unrelated to treatment by 2007.
On a per capita basis, Minnesota has more offenders subject to a civil commitments program than any other state, and is second in raw numbers only to California, which has six times the population. Unlike other states with similar systems, no one in Minnesota has been released from treatment.
That raises some important questions about whether this is really a treatment program or a shadow prison system.
If civil commitment is supposed to prevent sex offenders from offending again, it has to be accountable and exhibit some demonstrable success otherwise the courts could rule at some point that it's merely a prison in disguise. If society wants to throw away the key, lawmakers and judges have that power.
However, in Minnesota, prisoners are being committed based on a consensus of psychologists, and treated with the stated goal of allowing them to re-enter society. To date, the treatment has never ended for anyone except when they die. Meanwhile, the cost to Minnesota taxpayers is staggering, at three times that for treatment given in prisons, and puts the taxpayer on the hook forever.
The reporter of this story faced difficulty getting information on the residents within the facility, because the state insisted that patients’ records were private. Instead he went directly to the patients and asked them to release their records. After nearly two years of trying, he was allowed to tour one of these facilities.
In the US as a whole, relatively few committed sex offenders finish treatment and are released.
"Every year I go to his hearing, and every year there's no progress in his case," said a lawyer with a client in Pennsylvania who was committed in 2004 after being adjudicated as a juvenile for sexual assault on two different minors. "It doesn't seem that anyone gets better."
Nearly 3000 sex offenders have been committed across the US since the first law was passed in 1990. In all but one state,
|about 50 of them have been released completely from commitment because clinicians or state-appointed evaluators deemed them ready, and|
|some 115 others have been sent home because of legal technicalities, court rulings, terminal illness or old age.|
Arizona, the remaining state, has been the exception in that it has fully discharged 81 people. There, the facility's director said records were not available to indicate the reason for those discharges. An additional 189 people have been released with supervision or conditions
(excluding Texas, where there is no civil commitment centre and those committed are treated only as outpatients).
And an additional 68 (including 58 in Arizona) are in a higher, "transitional" phase of the program, but still technically committed and often living on state land.
The backlogs have led to an aging population. Inside many facilities, wheelchairs, walkers, high blood pressure and senility are increasingly expensive concerns. Florida's centre filled 229 prescriptions for arthritis medication one recent month, and 300 for blood pressure and other heart problems. More than 400 of the men in civil commitment are 60 or older, and a number of studies indicate a significant drop in the recidivism rate for this group, many of whom have health problems after years in prison. David Thornton, treatment director of Wisconsin's centre and an expert on recidivism rates, said the decline was increasingly well-documented.
Mr Hendricks, a 72-year-old convicted child molester in Kansas finished his prison term 13 years ago, but he remains locked up at a cost to taxpayers of $ 185,000 a year, more than eight times the cost of keeping someone in prison there. The man unsuccessfully challenged his confinement in the Supreme Court, and spends most days in a wheelchair or leaning on a cane, because of diabetes, circulation ailments and the effects of a stroke. He may not live long enough to "graduate" from treatment. The costs of aging and sick offenders, such as Mr. Hendricks, are especially high, in part because of their special needs and physical ailments.
The growth of the committed population has become a political quagmire. No legislator wants to insist on the release of sex offenders, but few are able to swallow the mounting costs of civil commitment.
A convicted sex offender whose thoughts and fantasies about children, rather than actions against them, prompted authorities to revoke his parole two years ago, now faces indefinite secure commitment for treatment after a jury verdict branded him a sexual predator. A petition to have him committed as a sexually violent person was filed last year as Michael Monyelle was nearing release from prison. During his trial, two state psychologists testified that Monyelle was at risk to re-offend, while one psychologist, retained by the defence, concluded he was unlikely to do so.
The case likely will spark debate in the legal community over whether it presages a new dimension to the Wisonsin sexual predator law, or merely highlights one of many factors already considered in determining the likelihood of sex offenders striking again.
Monyelle, was placed on 10 years of probation in 1997 on two counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child for relationships he had with two girls, one 16 and the other 14. Both girls considered Monyelle their boyfriend, but they both were legally under the age of consent.
Monyelle's former probation agent testified during the trial that Monyelle shared his fantasies about children when he underwent standard questioning about his thought patterns. The thoughts included sexual imaginings about children he saw on television and thoughts about abducting and sexually assaulting children he encountered in public.
Monyelle's lawyer, Steven Prifogle, said there never would have been a case to bring to the jury if his client hadn't volunteered his thoughts about children to his parole officer.
"I think this could eventually have a very chilling effect for the people who are on probation or parole," Prifogle said. "You want them to be forthcoming about things."
But Kevin St. John, a spokesman for the state Department of Justice, said the jury agreed with prosecutors that Monyelle is "a sexually violent person," referring to a predator law term.
"He is not being punished for his thoughts," St. John said. "He is being ordered for treatment."
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Gabrysiak, who prosecuted the case, told the jury that Monyelle
"has a problem, and his problem needs to be addressed."
The case, he said, was about prevention. Gabrysiak also said the thoughts that landed Monyelle in hot water were shared only after he was confronted about violating an aspect of his parole.
"He only volunteered his thoughts when he was asked," Gabrysiak told the jury. "Either he volunteered this information because he was confronted, or it was a cry for help."
Monyelle, 30, now faces a commitment that will likely be lengthy and possibly could last the rest of his life.
While more than 300 people have been civilly committed under the Wisconsin predator law since it was enacted in 1994, just 18 are in the community; one more is set for release this fall.
The first political protest against sex offender civil commitment took place in March 2008 in Coalinga, California, outside the grounds of a 1500-bed civil commitment centre, the biggest in the US. Hundreds of men there have already served their criminal time, yet in violation of a raft of constitutional rights, they are imprisoned at Coalinga indefinitely. The protest was attended by dozens of people but got almost no media coverage.
Emory Michau Jr. was jailed in 1993 for molesting an 8-year-old boy. After serving his sentence, he solicited sex from a 17-year-old youth and was jailed once more. By 2003, after a further two years inside, he was scheduled for release. Yet by 2007, Michau remains incarcerated in Charleston county jail, South Carolina. Not for his previous crimes, but because he has refused to undergo psychiatric assessment to determine whether he poses a danger to the public. If the assessment went against him, Michau could be locked up indefinitely in a secure mental facility.
And so a legal battle of wills is playing out behind bars. The fight has become circular.
|Until Michau takes the mental evaluation, authorities won't be able to prove their belief that he should be civilly committed for treatment.|
|Until the logjam is broken, Michau remains in limbo, housed inside the county jail, where he's been since 2003.|
His case highlights a growing controversy surrounding the US justice system.
The federal government cannot keep sex offenders in custody beyond the end of their prison sentences, a federal judge has ruled, striking down a law aimed at holding people deemed "sexually dangerous" in mental hospitals.
District Court Judge W. Earl Britt of Raleigh, North Carolina, said the civil commitment is unconstitutional because the federal government cannot hold a person indefinitely out of fear that the individual will commit a crime in the future. Britt said the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is "sexually dangerous" to commit them indefinitely. Even then,
"there is serious question as to whether the federal government could ever prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is both suffering from a mental illness or abnormality such as paedophilia and unlikely to refrain from sexually violent conduct in the future as a result of that illness."
The ruling is binding only in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland, and the ruling is at odds with the decisions of federal district courts in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts, which have upheld the civil commitment law.
In France (2008), a proposed law to further detain offenders after serving their sentences would violate the right to liberty and undermine the rule of law, according to Human Rights Watch.
"Locking people up on speculation that they might commit some future crime undermines hundreds of years of criminal justice in France," said Jean-Marie Fardeau, Paris director of Human Rights Watch. "The Senate should reject this measure as unacceptable."
The French government wants to create so-called "socio-medico-legal detention centres" for individuals who were sentenced to fifteen or more years in prison for a violent crime. Under the proposed bill, a three-judge special commission would have the authority to impose an additional one-year jail term if an offender is found to be dangerous and likely to re-offend by a multidisciplinary panel of experts. The one-year detention periods could be renewed indefinitely, and could only be challenged in a three-judge appeals commission based in Paris.
There would be a limited right of appeal to the Court of Cassation, the court of last resort for points of law. The proposed preventive detention scheme violates fair trial standards guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch said, including
|the right to the presumption of innocence,|
|protection against arbitrary detention, and|
|the right not to be punished twice for the same crime.|
Depriving someone of their freedom is only lawful for a legitimate and explicitly permitted purpose in law and subject to adequate procedural guarantees, including the right to challenge the deprivation of liberty, independent periodic review and compensation for unlawful deprivation of liberty.
"Whatever the French government says, internment in these centres amounts to a double punishment for the same crime," said Fardeau. "And it could mean for some that a 15-year sentence becomes a life sentence."
France already has measures in place to ensure psychiatric confinement for those who pose a direct threat to themselves or others. There are also mechanisms to monitor certain categories of convicted criminals upon release, such as requirements to register with the police and the use of electronic bracelets. The effectiveness of these measures should be assessed fully before restrictions on liberty are contemplated. To date, neither has been.
A broad spectrum of opinion opposes the proposed law, including national human rights nongovernmental organizations, the national bar association, a union of judges, and Robert Badinter, a former justice minister. In a general comment on life sentences, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has also expressed concern about the compatibility of measures of this type with the rule of law.
Political leaders, like those in New York, are vastly expanding civil commitment programs to keep large numbers of rapists and paedophiles off the streets after their prison terms. Even with the enthusiasm among politicians, an examination by The New York Times of the existing programs, found they have failed in a number of areas:
|Sex offenders selected for commitment are not always the most
violent: some exhibitionists are chosen for example, while rapists
are passed over. And some are past the age at which some scientists
consider them most dangerous. In Wisconsin, a 102-year-old resident
who wears a sport coat to dinner cannot participate in treatment
because of memory lapses and poor hearing. |
|The treatment regimens are expensive and largely unproven, and
there is no way to compel patients to participate. Many simply do
not show up for sessions on their lawyers' advice because treatment
often requires them to recount crimes, even those not known to law
enforcement. Instead they spend their time gardening, watching
television or playing video games. |
|The cost of the programs is virtually unchecked and growing, with
states spending nearly $ 450 million on them this year. The annual
price of housing a committed sex offender averages more than $
100,000, compared with about $26,000 a year for keeping someone in
prison, due to the higher costs for programs, treatment and
supervised freedoms. |
|Unlike prisons and other institutions, civil commitment centres
receive little standard, independent oversight or monitoring; sex
among offenders is sometimes rampant, and, in at least one facility,
sex has been reported between offenders and staff members. |
|Successful treatment is often not a factor in determining the
relatively few offenders who are released. In Iowa, of the nine men
let go unconditionally, none had completed treatment or earned the
centre's recommendation for release. |
|Few states have figured out what to do when they do have graduates ready for supervised release. In California, the state made 269 attempts to find a home for one released paedophile. In Milwaukee, the authorities started searching in 2003 for a neighbourhood for a 77-year-old offender, but have yet to find one.|
The law is being challenged in federal court by Mental Hygiene Legal Services. That’s the state agency that represents sex offenders the state is trying to confine.
Steve Harkavy, the agency’s chief lawyer in New York City, concedes that since the Supreme Court decision
(authorities must prove not just that an offender is still dangerous and likely to commit more crimes, but also that he or she has a "serious difficulty in controlling behaviour."),
there’s no longer a question that states can confine sex offenders.
The question is how to do it, and Harkavy says that New York’s law is an example of how not to pass a law that protects the public while also balancing the constitutional rights of sex offenders.
The challenge may have to be decided in a full-blown federal trial, but Harkavy has won part of his argument. If someone has a mental abnormality, what kind of treatment will they get if they are locked away in a hospital?
"What you’ve found in other states is that there’s been a lot of litigation over the fact that people are not getting the treatment they’re supposedly hospitalized to get," Harkavy said. "One school of thought is that these places end up being sort of roach motels – people go in, they never go out."
For those who decline treatment, sometimes including hundreds of "detainees" awaiting commitment trials, boredom, resentment and hostility to those in treatment, lead to trouble. Some sneak in drugs, alcohol and cell-phones, sometimes with the help of staff members, or beat up other residents, sometimes coercing them into having sex.
"There's rampant sexuality going on in there," said Natalie Novick Brown, a psychologist who has evaluated 250 men at Florida's centre.
The people who run civil commitment centres say that a constant, nagging question hangs over them: How to keep order while not treating argumentative, sometimes violent offenders like prisoners? Low-level centre staff members are not prison guards, and tend to be poorly educated, trained and paid. Their job titles, for example in Illinois: "Security Therapy Aide", reflect the awkward balance they must achieve between security and therapy.
Because civil commitment centres are neither prisons nor traditional mental health programs, no specialized oversight body exists. None has been created, in part because its base of financial support, the 19 civil commitment programs around the country, would be too small, several experts who study the programs said. But the need, they said, is urgent.
"They ought to be reviewed by an independent entity with the highest possible standards," said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore.
Those who choose to participate in sex offender treatment, spend an average of less than 10 hours a week doing so, but the hours differ vastly from state to state. The structure of therapy varies widely too, a reflection perhaps of the central question still looming in the field: Can treatment ever really work for these offenders?
Admitting to previous crimes is a crucial piece of a broad band of treatment known as relapse prevention that is used in at least 15 states and has been the most widely accepted model for about 20 years. Some of the institutions, too, devote time to other therapies and activities that seem to have little bearing on sexual offending.
| In Pennsylvania, young residents
take classes to improve their health and social habits called
| In California, they can join a Brazilian drum ensemble or
|In California, three-quarters of civilly committed sex offenders do not attend therapy. Many say their lawyers tell them to avoid it because admission of past misdeeds during therapy could make getting out impossible, or worse, lead to new criminal charges.|
Even the look of commitment centres reflects the dichotomy at the core of their stated reason for being,
|not just to lock away dangerous men (only three women are civilly committed)|
|but also to treat them.|
Most of the centres tend to look and feel like prisons, with clanking double doors, guard stations, fluorescent lighting, cinder-block walls, overcrowded conditions, and tall fences with razor wire around the perimeters. Bedroom doors are often locked at night, and mail is searched by the staff for pornography or retail catalogues with pictures of women or children.
Most states put their centres in isolated areas. Washington State's is on an island three miles offshore in Puget Sound. Yet soothing artwork hangs at some centres, and cheerful fliers announce movie nights and other activities. The residents can wander the grounds and often spend their time as they please in an effort to encourage their cooperation, including sunbathing in courtyards and sometimes even ordering pizza for delivery. The new centre in California will have a 20,000-book library, badminton courts and room for music and art therapy.
Diseases like hepatitis and diabetes are common among the committed, and severe mental illness, beyond the mental "abnormalities" described by the Supreme Court, a scourge.
A survey in 2002 found that 12 percent of committed sex offenders suffered from serious psychiatric problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Most severely mentally ill men cannot participate in sex offender treatment, and thus receive few services other than medication.
Verwayne Alexander, a self-described paranoid schizophrenic who has been detained at the Florida Civil Commitment Centre since 2003, has sliced himself so many times with razor blades that a guard often watches him around the clock, lawyers said. Mr. Alexander has sought unsuccessfully to be moved to a psychiatric hospital.
Mike Meyer says that in his 13 years locked inside Minnesota Sex Offender Program facilities, he's gained insight into why he molested 36 children and young adults, and how to stop himself from doing it again.
|One technique psychologists taught him is privately repeating a deviant thought over and over until it loses its allure.|
|Another is telling on himself; confessing to a counsellor or support group when he feels a taboo attraction.|
Both are supposed to break the cycle of thoughts and behaviours that led to his crimes.
"When I was offending I felt like I was a freak, like I couldn't talk to anybody," said Meyer, 38.
Now he recognizes secrecy as "a big red flag." Meyer completed all the required phases of treatment in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program four years ago and has an 18-page Pre-discharge Plan listing his strategies for not re-offending. But he remains locked up.
Of similar programs in 19 states, only the 14-year-old Minnesota Sex Offender Program and three others that are much newer have released no patients.
While most states leave release decisions to the courts, Minnesota was one of only two states that (at least until 2008), put that authority in the hands of a political appointee, the human services commissioner, and a paid review board he or she appoints. Their decisions could go to a court only on appeal.
In 2008, the Legislature removed the commissioner from reduction-of-custody decisions, but left that authority with the appointed review board. Because no one can guarantee an offender won't rape or molest again, the safest course for political appointees has been to keep offenders locked up regardless of how their treatment has progressed.
The result has been a ballooning Minnesota Sex Offender Program population, with each resident costing tax payers about $ 130,000 a year, three times what it costs to treat them in a conventional prison.
In the Minnesota Sex Offender Program's history, a commissioner has approved only one provisional release, which was revoked in 2003 for rule violations. That same year Governor Tim Pawlenty prohibited releases from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program unless required by law or ordered by a court. Pawlenty's order remains in effect. The situation prompted several of the experts who designed and ran the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to become disillusioned and leave. Many patients also have given up. As of 2008, about 20 percent didn't participate in treatment while dozens who have completed the requirements for release wait in limbo, struggling to hold onto the hope that it wasn't all pointless.
"This place is morbidly hopeless and morbidly depressing," Meyer said recently. "I really have to believe there's going to be something better than this, because if I don't, I'm going to die here."
Minnesota Sex Offender Program's clinicians also challenge patients to revise core beliefs that have led to offending, such as the idea that some women want to be raped or that laws against paedophilia are wrong. Such changeable attitudes or behaviours are labelled "dynamic risk factors," which patients must discard in order to advance in treatment. Patients aroused by rape or abuse fantasies are taught to avert them by taking whiffs from vials of ammonia or rotten meat.
The Minnesota Sex Offender Program also treats other problems that can interfere with patients' treatment and may have contributed to their crimes, such as chemical addictions, clinical depression and mental illnesses or retardation. The program penalizes consensual sex between two gay patients who, for example, are in what they consider to be a healthy relationship. Patients therefore have to be celibate. Those caught having consensual sex can be placed in "protective isolation," restricted to their rooms, or otherwise disciplined.
A report by the US Congressional Research Service in 2008 said that of 2,694 civilly committed sex offenders nationwide in the fall of 2006, only 252 had been discharged, most within the past few years. Experts say it's impossible to tell whether treatment works based on such a small number of mostly recent releases.
As to non-committed sex offenders, a 2002 study found that 12.3 percent of a group of treated offenders committed a new sex crime, compared with 16.8 percent of untreated offenders. The congressional report concluded that "research indicates that there is not enough evidence to definitively prove that treatment for sex offenders works."
Dr. Michael Farnsworth was the forensic psychiatrist at the St. Peter Security Hospital in the early 1990s, when Minnesota became the second state after Washington, to start committing sex offenders to mental hospitals after their prison sentences. Farnsworth said the hospital opposed the move.
"We said I would be a money pit, that there would be no end to it, and that there’s no proven technology to treat these people."
He added that in the years since he helped set up the Minnesota Sex Offender Program,
"there's not been a huge explosion in the knowledge or the evaluation of the efficacy of treatment, so most of the offenders across the country who have been committed remain committed. Therefore it's very difficult to determine whether this very expensive treatment option, versus simple containment in prison on extended sentences, is really any more effective than doing nothing."
The director of Wisconsin's civilly committed offender program, which is being eyed as a possible model for Minnesota, says treatment does appear to reduce a patient's risk of re-offending. Since Wisconsin's program began in 1994, it has fully discharged 14 offenders after what was deemed successful treatment, said Steve Watters, director of the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Centre in Mauston. Wisconsin courts released another 19 patients after legal challenges or because of reassessment of their risk. Two committed new sex offenses after their release.
Wisconsin's program has a mix of treatment techniques similar to Minnesota's, with the greatest emphasis on changing disordered thinking and core beliefs.
"Relapse prevention was at one point very mechanistic: 'If x happens, then do y,''' Watters said. "But you can't [envision] every possible dynamic they'll encounter. It's better to make them understand their errors in thinking, and change their behaviour."
Unlike the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which has no patients in non-secure settings, Sand Ridge is overseeing 16 offenders who completed treatment and have returned to their home communities, to demonstrate their worthiness for discharge. Agents stop by at random and track their movements with GPS bracelets. If they obey a stringent set of rules for several years, Watters said, the courts typically remove them from supervised status and grant a full discharge.
Wisconsin's reliance on the courts for release decisions as one reason for that state's success. In Minnesota, release authority rests with a review board appointed by the Human Services commissioner.
"Obviously there are no guarantees," Watters said. "If you wait until they're 'cured,' you'll never release any sex offender. But I think the evidence would support that well-designed and implemented treatment does produce a significant reduction in risk."
Slow on purpose Meyer maintains that his treatment has worked. Last year he petitioned the Minnesota Sex Offender Program's Special Review Board for a transfer to the program's Community Preparation Services unit, an unlocked facility with less supervision, which would put him a step closer to discharge. Minnesota Sex Offender Program clinicians opposed his petition, saying he needs to pass polygraph and other examinations to prove his deviant thoughts are at bay.
A test called the Abel Assessment, which measures how patients respond to various photographs, found in 2005 that he was no longer attracted to deviant themes. Clinicians said they also want Meyer to prove he can move about the treatment centre campus unaccompanied, without creating any problems, before they'll support his transfer.
Despite the program's objections, the review board recommended that Meyer's petition be granted - a rarity. But Human Services Commissioner Cal Ludeman denied the petition, calling the board's recommendation "premature."
Meyer appealed to a Minnesota Supreme Court three-judge panel, which has yet to issue a decision.
Assistant Human Services Commissioner Wes Kooistra, designated by Ludeman to speak for the department, said the process leading to discharge is deliberately slow.
"The only way they're going to be even considered for discharge is if they show a pattern over time of changing," he said.
Psychologist Paul Reitman, who has treated and assessed sex offenders for 18 years, examined Meyer for the three-judge panel.
"I urge the court to grant Mr. Meyer's request," he wrote. "In my opinion, [he] has made real transformations to become a law-abiding citizen and to control himself sexually." Minnesota, Reitman wrote, has "committed vast financial resources to rehabilitate sex offenders. Either we are committed to rehabilitation, or we are going to keep sex offenders locked up indeterminately."
One needn't delve very far into the horrors contained by the Minnesota Sex Offender Program [*] to reach three disturbing conclusions:
|Some of those people should never be allowed to walk freely in society again, some of them probably should be, and Minnesota has abdicated the responsibility of telling the difference.|
|Authorities have resorted to commitment much more often than in earlier years. That fact alone suggests forces at work beyond a dispassionate application of law and science. The population of the centres has grown from 200 in 2003 to more than 500 in 2008.|
|And though the residents are receiving treatment, the effectiveness of that treatment is open to question in light of the number of patients who have been released: none.|
[* Read more:
< http://www.helping-people.info/treatment_exp.htm >]
But public policy ought not to be driven by the overwhelming public loathing that such predators evoke. If the state's true intention is to lock such people away for life, let it say so, using the language of laws and due process. Let it search in broad daylight for the means to put away those who must never be free and to help those who may be salvageable, and to become expert in telling them apart.
e. The High Cost of Sex Offender Mythology
According to a report from the New York Department of Correctional Services, between 1985 and 2001 a total of 11,898 sex offenders were released from New York State prisons. Only 253 of these (2.1%) were returned to prison for new sex crimes within three years of their release.
These figures will be shocking to many in the public, and even to many lawmakers who have bought into the mythology of the high rate of sex offender recidivism. Make no mistake, "bought in" is the appropriate description.
Civil commitment of sex offenders in New York State is estimated to cost $ 81 million in its first year. In the debate in the New York State Assembly, Peter Rivera referred to estimated costs in out years of $ 650 million per year. Other states have found that initial estimates have been lower than actual costs. Their experience has been that almost no offender is ever released.
The populations and the cost keep skyrocketing. The initial estimate is that New York will confine 100 offenders in the first year. At that rate, New York will civilly commit 1600 individuals over the next 16 years whom it deems unable to control their actions. Compare that figure to the 253 who were unable to control their actions over the aforementioned 16 year period. The high cost of sex offender mythology only begins there.
Economists Leigh Linden and Jonah Rockoff found in a North Carolina study that when a sex offender moves into a neighbourhood, the value of houses within a one-tenth mile area around the sex offender's home fall by 4 percent on average. They estimated that the presence of sex offenders has shrunk property values in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina by about $ 58 million.
One should keep those figures in mind, when one reads news of the recent court decision which will result in 4400 sex offenders being restored to the New York sex offender registry. None of these had previously been listed in the online registry. Due to a recent change in the law, the Level 2 (moderate risk) offenders now will be listed. These individuals had all been told that if they lived safely in the community for 10 years they would be dropped from the registry. They complied. New York State changed the law. Their neighbours will pay the cost in the loss of their property values. No one will be any safer.
Some communities have already figured out the affect of sex offenders on housing values. They have enacted sex offender residency laws which shut out former offenders.
Of course, many offenders become homeless. Taxpayers have to pick up the tab. Suffolk County in New York state, now houses homeless offenders in trailers which they move around the county and place in undisclosed locations at the cost of $ 85 per night per offender. The experience in other states is that such residency laws result in more offenders failing to register because they cannot find housing. Of course, this results in more politicians calling for GPS tracking of offenders, which in turn costs more taxpayer dollars.
There are more potential costs on the horizon. Senators Schumer and McCain have submitted a bill which would require that registered sex offenders register their e-mail addresses and online screen names. Former offenders who do not do so, may be sentenced to prison for up to ten years.
This will not be effective in preventing crime. Anyone who knows anything about the Internet knows that e-mail addresses are easily created with fake information. It most likely will result in some otherwise law abiding former offender being imprisoned for forgetting to submit some long unused screen name or e-mail address. Taxpayers will pay the cost. No one will be safer.
Of course, Senators Schumer and McCain are responding to the fear of Internet predators elicited by such reports as those on the "To Catch a Predator" series. [*]
[* See Ipce Magazine # 3 - "Perverted Justice"]
The senators need to pay more attention to the statistics given on the show: out of the 200 plus perpetrators caught in the sting, only four were registered sex offenders, a clear demonstration that sex offender mythology is just that: mythology.
The statistics reflect those reported by the U.S. Department of Justice. The vast majority of new sex crimes are committed by someone other than registered sex offenders. The Department of Justice reports that 93% of sex crimes against children occur within the family or are committed by adults whom the children know well. The face of danger is more likely to be in a family snapshot than on a sex offender registry. We often decry politicians for just throwing money at problems. As regards the problem of sex offences, they are throwing our money, but they are largely missing the problem.
In recent decades, growth in the number of people in US prisons has been the largest in history - the prison population increased by more than one million between 1980 and 2000. To accommodate this growth, corrections officials have pursued a variety of strategies, including greatly expanding the network of prisons.
The number of state prison facilities increased from about 600 prisons in the mid-1970s to over 1,000 prisons by the year 2000. Because the Census Bureau counts prisoners where they are incarcerated in the decennial census, the locations of prisons may have significant implications for state and federal funding allocations, as well as political representation.
Despite this tremendous growth, the prison construction boom has received relatively little attention. It is remarkable that a public undertaking as far-reaching as the American prison expansion, which affects millions of incarcerated individuals, influences millions more family and community members, and consumes billions of public dollars, would receive so little empirical analysis and public scrutiny. Our study focuses on 10 states that experienced the largest growth in the number of prisons during the 1980s and 1990s.
First is the pervasiveness of prison growth. The prison construction boom of the last two decades was not concentrated in a few states or in certain regions of the country, but occurred in states across the country. Prison systems also expanded within states, as new prisons were more geographically dispersed. The share of counties in the 10 study states that were home to at least one prison increased from 13 percent of counties in 1979 to 31 percent of counties in 2000. In addition, the number of prisons increased significantly in both metro and non-metro counties, challenging the notion that prison expansion has primarily taken place in non-metro counties.
A second theme to emerge is that in a select number of smaller communities, prison expansion has significantly impacted the total population. In each of the 10 study states there were several counties where a notable share of the total population was incarcerated. Thirteen counties in the 10 study states had 20 percent or more of the resident population imprisoned in 2000. All 10 states had least five counties where 5 percent or more of the population was imprisoned. Not surprisingly, most of these counties, but not all, were non-metro counties. Analyses show that the share of prisoners who resides in non-metro counties is greater than the share of the general population who resides in non-metro counties, and that this has been the case for at least the last two decades.
A third theme is the mismatch between the places prisoners consider home and the places prisoners serve their time. Our analyses show large disparities between the sentencing counties and the counties of imprisonment.
In 1970, there were fewer than 200,000 people in prison. By 2005, there were approximately 1.5 million state and federal prisoners (or 491 per 100,000 population). Each year, over 650,000 people are admitted to state and federal prisons, and a much larger number (over 10 million) go to local jails. If we add to the prison population the nearly 750,000 people incarcerated in local jails, as at the beginning of 2007, the total number imprisoned in the US on any given day is 2.2 million.
The US is the world leader in imprisonment. China, with a much larger population, has the second largest incarcerated population, with 1.5 million imprisoned. With 737 people incarcerated per 100,000 persons, the US also leads the world in rates of incarceration - well above Russia, which has the next highest rate of 581 per 100,000.
The other Western democratic countries manage with prison populations far smaller than the US. Not only are lengths of imprisonment significantly longer than they were in earlier periods in US penal history, but they are considerably longer than in most other Western nations. For the same crimes, American prisoners receive sentences
|twice as long as English prisoners,|
|three times as long as Canadian prisoners,|
|four times as long as Dutch prisoners,|
|five to ten times as long as French prisoners, and|
|five times as long as Swedish prisoners.|
Yet these countries’ rates of violent crime are lower than those of the US, and their rates of property crime are comparable.
The major reason for the increase in prison populations at least since 1990 has been longer lengths of imprisonment. The adoption of truth in sentencing provisions that require prisoners to serve most of their sentences in prison, a wide variety of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions that prevent judges from placing defendants on probation even when their involvement in the conduct that led to the conviction was minor, reductions in the amount of good time a prisoner can receive while imprisoned, and more conservative parole boards have significantly impacted the length of stay.
For example, in a special study by the U.S. Department of Justice on truth in sentencing, between 1990 and 1997,
|the numbers of prison admissions increased by only 17% (from 460,739 to 540,748), while|
|the prison population increased by 60% (from 689,577 to 1,100,850).|
This larger increase in the prison population can only be caused by a longer length of stay. Supervision, 1993 versus 2002
This is further confirmed by US Department of Justice data for individuals released in 1993 and those released in 2002 (ten years apart). The 2002 data underestimate the average length of current prison sentences because they do not include time served by prisoners sentenced under recent punitive laws (such as "three strikes and you’re out") who have not yet been released. Nevertheless, the average time served by those who were released still increased substantially from 21 months in 1993 to 30 months in 2002. Similarly, the parole supervision period increased from 19 to 24 months, and the total average period of supervision increased from 40 to 56 months, between 1993 and 2002.
Most prisoners are incarcerated for crimes that do not compare with the costs of their imprisonment. The US spends over $ 160 billion each year to fund the criminal justice system. In contrast, the total economic loss to victims of crime in 2002 was an estimated $ 15.6 billion, or about one-tenth of the total cost of the nation’s criminal justice system.
The typical (median) costs per crime for each victim was $ 100, which includes losses from property theft or damage, cash losses, medical expenses, and lost pay. While the financial losses and physical and emotional injuries sustained by victims can be significant, they represent only a fraction of what it costs to incarcerate the offenders.
Type of Crime
Prison sentence (months)
Pre-trial time (months)
Prison time served (months)
Total time (months)
The above figure illustrates the vast disparity between the economic losses associated with four common crimes and the amount expended to incarcerate the offender. For example, the average loss associated with a robbery reported to the police is $ 1,258.
The typical prison sentence for robbery in the United States is 94 months, or about eight years, of which the typical time served is 55 months. Together with the time spent in jail pre-trial, the average robbery offender is incarcerated for 60 months at a cost of approximately $ 113,000.
This historic rise in incarceration has often been attributed to the "fact" that in the early 1970s, the US faced a steadily increasing crime problem, leaving no choice but to increase the use of incarceration massively. But this explanation for the imprisonment binge is misleading and incomplete. Crime rates have grown in other countries and within other states within the US without provoking a large growth in prison populations. There are various ways a country can respond to increased crime; ‘more prisons’ is just one of them. Moreover, statistics show that it was not primarily a rise in crime that fuelled the increase in incarceration rates.
We have argued that using imprisonment to reduce crime by deterring, incapacitating, or rehabilitating is of limited value, and is now yielding diminishing returns.
Imprisonment can legitimately satisfy a social and personal need for retribution toward those who violate society’s laws. Most contemporary philosophies of punishment give a large role to retribution. In addition to satisfying victims’ needs, punishing lawbreakers according to what they deserve can perform important social functions. Punishment can promote social solidarity, while failure to respond to crime weakens commitment to social norms.
At the same time, excessive punishment can exacerbate social tensions and widens divisions, reducing solidarity. It can corrode a nation’s political culture, and obstruct efforts to deal constructively with social problems, including crime.
Retribution should not be used as an excuse for mindless punitive sanctions as is the case now. The essence of the retribution is to punish people proportionately to what they deserve, based on the crime they have committed. Excessive leniency and undeserved harshness both violate the principle of proportionality.
Failure to limit the severity of punishment to what is deserved is unjust. It alienates citizens from the government and undercuts the effectiveness of law enforcement. When those who are punished are disproportionately poor and members of minority groups, it is inevitable that they will believe that the law is being used to repress them, rather than holding them accountable for their crimes.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that substantial numbers of people think that the courts are too lenient. These sentiments cannot be taken at face value, and should not be allowed to dictate sentencing policy unthinkingly.
For example, the vast majority of crimes are neither as serious as the public believes them to be nor as heinous as the media portrays them. In addition, many people do not fully appreciate how harsh and disruptive any form of imprisonment is because they have never experienced the total loss of agency and privacy that imprisonment entails. Most prisoners experience monotonous routines, medical neglect, physical danger, extreme isolation, and a myriad of deprivations - all of which worsen the trauma of imprisonment.
When people are presented a fuller picture of the facts of particular crime and the criminals’ characteristics, they generally favour more moderate sanctions.
The prestigious American Law Institute’s recently issued Model Penal Code endorses a concept of "limited retribution", which allows for the introduction of rehabilitative, deterrence and incapacitation factors which can influence sentences within minimum and maximum limits based on retributive considerations. This position has the merit of limiting the extent to which sentence lengths can be extended far beyond what a defendant deserves. Prosecutors and judges currently take such considerations into account as they negotiate pleas and set sentences.
Nevertheless we are concerned about the potential for injustice and discrimination associated with this practice. When decisions made as to whether someone should be imprisoned or for how long on the basis of what crimes one might commit if released, or on the basis of a person’s needs for rehabilitation, they will often be incorrect. Subjecting people who will not commit serious new crimes to longer sentences simply on the basis of predictions that are false, is simply unfair.
We are also concerned determinations of dangerousness or in need of treatment are likely to be skewed by biases. Stereotypes sometimes operate unconsciously and can influence perceptions of dangerousness even on the part of decision-makers who harbour no conscious prejudices. Minority offenders’ personal circumstances may make them appear to some judges as unlikely prospects for rehabilitation.
Reducing the number and length of prison terms will require changes in sentencing laws and parole and probation practices. This will not occur until the public passes referenda and successfully pressures legislators and executives, or enlightened political leaders better understand the realities and move on their own to make necessary changes.
There are a variety of methods and strategies to achieve this goal. No particular political structure can guarantee or prevent the progress that is now needed. Sentencing commissions, for example, have been excellent devices for controlling over-incarceration in some states, while in other jurisdictions, such as the federal, sentencing systems have been specifically designed to incapacitate as many accused as possible, rather than focusing on what offenders deserve.
We also recognize that as the system of imprisonment has grown, so too has the investment and the vested interests that support its operations and growth. In order to reverse the current trends we will have to find a way to re-allocate the money, political influence, and jobs that the current system provides. This will not be easy and it will take many years to wean us off the excessive use of imprisonment.
Our goal has been to document the negative and ineffective consequences of mass incarceration in human, economic, and public safety terms. We hope this report will stimulate a serious debate on the use of imprisonment and perhaps lead to a new policy of dis-incarceration. If this would occur, we could re-invest some portion of the tens of billions of dollars we spend each year incarcerating millions of Americans into those communities and families that are now being unfairly devastated by imprisonment.
Ultimately this is a matter of political will, not political structure. Reform will come when people of good will demand it.
The above link created and, up to 2009, maintained as an online resource, has the following introduction:
"This compilation is a legislative and public servant reminder that something needs to be done; this is not a memorial. The consequences that sometimes occur need to be addressed as strongly as prevention, prosecution and punishment of sex offenses. When lives hang in the balance, ignoring the issues and consequences - even subtly - is not an answer. Ignorance of laws and issues is not permitted for an offender, nor should it be for legislatures or public servants. We are quite sure this is not a complete list, but just those we have been advised of."
In addition, often incidents are reported at the time they happen, but the complete absence of any follow-up reporting, means the circumstances surrounding the case - nature of death, perpetrator, judgement - fail to be communicated to the public.
self: The log summarises death events that relate in some way or another to an individual tagged with the label: sex offender, even in cases where that person is not actually a sex offender. 620 individual deaths are summarised in the log comprising: 569 sex offenders (or believed to be sex offenders) and 51 third parties. Each entry details the nature of the (often violent) death and provides a link to the original news item. Of the 561 entries, 503 refer to incidents that took place within the US; the remaining 51 incidents took place in other countries, chiefly those western countries that have established, expanded and zealously enforced sex offender laws.
|suicide in society||249|
|suicide in prison/ccc||91|
|murder in society||176||68||31||74||3|
|murder in prison||53||48||5|
|third party victims||51|
|The abbreviation ‘ccc’ refers to civil commitment centre.|
|The term ‘vigilante’ is meant to mean: an individual who acts violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures.|
|The term ‘publ. serv.’ refers to a public servant such as a policeman, a prison guard, community agency, etc.|
|The term ‘family’ refers to a family member, a neighbour or an acquaintance.|
Clovis Ivan Claxton, 38, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a child in Washington in 1991, had lived in Ocala, Florida for about two years. Claxton was developmentally disabled and wheelchair-bound after being struck in childhood by meningitis and encephalitis. His parents cared for him, and he lived in an apartment adjoining their neatly kept house in a forested enclave of southern Ocala.
In 1991, when his family was living in Washington state, Claxton was charged with first-degree child molestation over an incident involving a caregiver's 9-year-old daughter. He was 24 at the time but, according to the Marion County Sheriff's Office, had the mental capacity of a 10- or 12-year-old. He served 27 months in prison.
Claxton noticed bright yellow, laminated signs displaying his picture, date of birth, address and the words "child rapist" hanging on power poles in his neighbourhood. A county commissioner proposed posting such information in the community, but Sheriff Ed Dean rejected the idea. After seeing the signs, Claxton called the sheriff's office and said that he felt
"extremely scared and feels that people in the neighbourhood are now out to possibly hurt him."
"Once he made these type statements our deputies took this man into custody under the Baker Act law and transported him to a local mental health facility for evaluation," Marion County Sheriff's Capt. Denis Strow said. "He was later released."
Claxton's parents found him dead of an apparent overdose with one of the 'child rapist' flyers by his side. Jane Claxton blames County Commissioner Randy Harris, who proposed the flyers, for her son's death, according to a report.
"Just don't get on the bandwagon," she said. "There's going to be other (deaths) if Randy Harris has his way."
"He hasn't been in trouble for 18 years, and he's branded for life."
Harris said sex offenders need to take responsibility for their actions.
"I don't blame his death to the signs," he said, adding he was undeterred in his quest to alert people to sex offenders living in their neighbourhoods.
Dean said it is an example that police work should be left to authorities.
"We need to keep calm, do the right thing," Dean said. "Not go overboard with it. Protect our children. Use all of the resources we can, but not stir a community into frenzy."
Claxton's death follows the high-profile arrests of sex offenders in the separate killings of two Florida girls less than seven weeks apart. State lawmakers have responded by passing a bill to require lifetime supervision of some child sex offenders. State law allows for flyers to be printed and distributed, but altering the signs or flyers is against the law.
"It is a violation of the law," Strow said. "And should we find who perpetrated it, I'm sure it is a case that would be reviewed by the state's attorney office to see if they wish to pursue it."
The person responsible for the flyers faces up to one year in jail.
The sheriff's office is investigating and an autopsy was scheduled.
Operation Ore (Cost to UK taxpayer??), was a British police initiative that commenced in 1999 following information received from US law enforcement, which was intended to prosecute thousands of users of a website reportedly featuring child pornography. It was the United Kingdom's biggest ever computer crime investigation.
In 2005, computer evidence used against 7,272 people in the UK accused of being paedophiles had been founded on falsehoods. The misleading 'evidence', which claimed that every user of a Texas porn portal had to click on a banner advertising child porn to access illegal websites, was withdrawn in 2006.
'It's specifically not alleged that the accused would have seen a banner saying "Click Here Child Porn",' a British court was told.
The climb-down came too late for many: between then and now, the death toll of those who have killed themselves under pressure of the investigations in 'Operation Ore' has risen to 39.
|7,250 suspects were identified,|
|4,283 homes were searched,|
|3,744 individuals were arrested,|
|1,848 were charged,|
|1,451 were convicted,|
|493 cautioned, and|
|140 children removed from suspected dangerous situations.|
Hundreds of police raids across Britain found no evidence that many suspects possessed, or were even interested in, child pornography. Because of the huge volume of computers and disks seized for examination, police high-tech crime capabilities were reportedly crippled for years.
Not only did police evidence in Operation Ore pretend users had asked for 'child porn', but that many of the Britons who have been publicly branded 'dangerous paedophiles' were merely victims of systematic credit card fraud - some of it run by a Mafia crime family - and had never subscribed to the websites.
Simon Bunce was one of the many arrested as part of the Operation Ore investigation.
"In March 2004 I was arrested, my house was searched, and the Hampshire police seized my Compac handheld computer, numerous flash memory devices, compact disks and floppy disks. I was arrested because of evidence from the USA that someone, using my name and previous address, subscribed to an Internet pornography website via a gateway site called Landslide Productions Inc. in May 1999. This website was widely reported in the UK media under the name of Operation Ore.
On 9 June 2004, I firmly believe that I was followed to work by officers working for the Hampshire Police. Subsequently, on 23 June 2004, I was sacked without notice or compensation by my employer, Interxion Carried Hotels Limited of London. A breach of contract action has been launched against my former employer because they did not follow the correct procedure.
Prior to this I was earning £ 120,000 per year plus benefits. Last year (2006), I earned just under £ 30,000. My house was searched again in September 2004, and the Hampshire police seized another computer that my wife and I used.
Later in September 2004, I received a letter from the Hampshire police stating that as there was no evidence of any wrongdoing found on any of my computers or on any of the hundreds of flash drives, CD disks or floppy disks they had seized during their two searches they were not taking any further action in my case. They told me to come and collect my property or they would dispose of it.
There have been 39 reported suicides of innocent victims who could not bear the shame and humiliation of similar police accusations under Operation Ore. The unofficial number of suicide deaths of suspects on bail is likely to be in the region of 200.
I appreciate that by now publicising what happened to me in this manner this may cause me more pain and suffering. I take heart in the fact that this further suffering will be nothing compared to the ongoing, lifelong suffering of the bereaved who lost innocent loved ones as a result of similar police actions. If my public stand gives those bereaved families just one crumb of comfort, then I will consider that my job will have been done.
We, as a family, have been financially crippled by the actions of the police. Our family home is on the market because of the financial situation we now find ourselves in and we will be moving shortly.
What the UK media seem not to have been told at the time Operation Ore was launched was that there was evidence of widespread credit card fraud associated with the database from Landslide. Only now is this information starting to come out."
After his months alone in cell, Scot Noble Payne, 43, finished 20 pages of letters, describing to loved ones the decrepit conditions of the prison where he was serving time for molesting a child. Then Payne used a razor blade to slice two 3-inch gashes in his throat. Guards found his body in the cell's shower, with the water still running.
"Try to comfort my mum too and try to get her to see that I am truly happy again," he wrote his uncle. "I tell you, it sure beats having water on the floor 24/7, a smelly pillow case, sheets with blood stains on them and a stinky towel that hasn't been changed since they caught me."
Payne's suicide came seven months after he was sent to the squalid privately run Texas prison by Idaho authorities trying to ease inmate overcrowding in their own state. His death exposed what had been Idaho's standard practice for dealing with inmates sent to out-of-state prisons: Out of sight, out of mind.
It also raised questions about a company hired to operate prisons in 15 states, despite reports of abusive guards and terrible sanitation.
Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request show Idaho did little monitoring of out-of-state inmates, despite repeated complaints from prisoners, their families and a prison inspector.
More than 140,000 U.S. prison beds are in private hands, and inmates' rights groups allege many such penitentiaries tolerate deplorable conditions and skimp on services to increase profits.
"They cut corners because the bottom line is making money," said Caylor Rolling, prison program director at Partnership for Safety and Justice in Portland, a group that promotes prison alternatives.
Payne was placed in solitary confinement because he escaped from the prison in December by scaling a fence and eluding capture for a week. He was among Idaho inmates sent to the prison in Spur, Texas, run by a Florida-based company called the GEO Group. The business operates more than 50 prisons across the United States as well as in Australia and South Africa. Soon after Payne's suicide, the Idaho Department of Correction's health care director inspected the prison and declared it the worst facility he had ever seen.
Don Stockman called Payne's cell unacceptable and the rest of the Dickens County Correctional Center "beyond repair."
"The physical environment ... would have only enhanced the inmate's depression that could have been a major contributing factor in his suicide," he wrote in a report on Payne's death.
Stockman said the warden at Dickens ruled "based on verbal and physical intimidation" and that guards showed no concern for the living conditions.
The Idaho prisoners were sent to Dickens in August from another GEO-run Texas prison after complaints about abuse by guards. But in the following seven months, Idaho sent an inspector to Texas only once. That inspection found major problems, including virtually no substance-abuse treatment, and a complete lack of Idaho-sanctioned anger-management classes and pre-release programs. There's no evidence the inspector's recommendations were followed. And no one from Idaho visited the prison again until after Payne's suicide.
The complaints have not hurt GEO’s balance sheet, however. It reported profits of $ 30 million in 2006, four times the amount reported in 2005.
A day after two sex offenders were found shot to death in separate towns in Maine and a suspect killed himself on a bus in Boston, investigators said they still didn’t know how or if the three men were connected.
"We don’t have a link, we don’t have a connection, and we have really more questions than we have answers as to what sparked this violence," Maine Public Safety Department spokesman Stephen McCausland said.
Joseph L. Gray, 57, of Milo, Maine, and William Elliott, 24, of Corinth, both registered sex offenders, were found shot to death Sunday in their towns, 25 miles apart, police said.
A man identified by police as Stephen A. Marshall, 20, was seen driving away from the scene of Elliott’s shooting. Police did not know if Marshall knew either of the shooting victims. Almost 12 hours later, police pulled over a bus from Maine approaching Boston’s South Station. As officers boarded the bus, Marshall pulled out a .45-caliber handgun and shot himself in the head, said David Procopio, spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney.
Marshall, who lived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, had come to Houlton, Maine, for the first time to meet his father, McCausland said. Marshall had been driving his father’s pickup, but the father hadn’t realized his son and truck were missing, McCausland said. Marshall also took two handguns and a rifle from his father, the spokesman said, plus a laptop computer.
The two men were among 34 names Marshall had looked up on the state Web site, said Stephen McCausland of the Maine Department of Public Safety. Investigators said they discovered he visited the Web site because he typed in his name to receive extra information online, including street addresses.
|Gray’s name was posted on a state Web site because he had moved to Maine after a Massachusetts conviction for sexual assault on a child under 14, McCausland said.|
|Elliott’s conviction was for having sex with a girl who was under the legal age, he said.|
After the killings, Maine State Police removed a list of 2,200 sex offenders from the Web site as a precaution, McCausland said. "It will go back on line, absolutely," he said.
All states have sex offender registries and almost all of them post the information on line, according to Blake Harrison of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine’s Web site contained offenders’ names, addresses, identifying characteristics and place of employment, as well as photographs.
A sex offender registry Web site in Washington state was cited in the deaths of two convicted child rapists last summer. Michael Anthony Mullen, 35, said he targeted the pair after finding them on Whatcom County’s online list. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to more than 44 years in prison.
A 22-year-old Huntington's disease victim who was denied a bed in a state health care facility because he was a registered sex offender choked to death today at a Delaware mental health clinic. Family members said they were told that Joseph Heverin, whose muscle control had deteriorated to the point where he often fell and had to be put in a wheelchair, choked to death on a sandwich at Dover Behavioral Health Systems.
"He was dead when he got to the hospital," said Heverin's brother, Paul Vrem.
Vrem said he learned of his brother's death after driving to Dover Behavioral to pick him up for a dental appointment.
"They told me that he had choked on a grilled cheese sandwich and that they were administering Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation," Vrem said.
Colin Faulkner, director of public safety for Kent County, said paramedics were dispatched to Dover Behavioral Health shortly before 12:30 p.m. in response to a report of a person choking.
"It would appear that he went into cardiac arrest, full arrest, as the result of an unresolved choking incident," Faulkner said.
Jay Lynch, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Social Services, confirmed Heverin's death.
Heverin's mother, Dianne Vrem, said Dover Behavioral officials kept family members in a waiting room until Heverin had been taken away by ambulance, and that Kent General officials also refused her request to be with her son.
"I just wanted to hold him and let him know that his mom was there," she said.
Heverin was the subject of an Associated Press article describing the bureaucratic limbo in which his criminal past and his disease - an incurable, degenerative neurological disorder that also killed his father and other family members - had left him.
Officials at Dover Behavioral, a short-stay psychiatric facility where Heverin had been admitted for treatment of depression, had sought and received court permission to discharge him, arguing that he is not mentally ill. He remained at the facility as his guardianship case worked its way through the court system.
Even though a court declared Heverin "a disabled person" who was "unable to act in his own best interest," health and social service officials refused to place him in state-run long-term care facility. They argued that he was neither developmentally disabled nor mentally ill. The primary reason for their opposition, however, was that Heverin was a registered sex offender. He had twice been convicted of unlawful sexual contact, incidents that his supporters believe stemmed from the effects of Huntington's disease, a hereditary disorder that has been linked with inappropriate sexual behavior.
Dover Behavioral officials said they had tried repeatedly for more than a year to find placement options for Heverin, but no facility was willing to take him. Kristopher Starr, an attorney appointed as a fact-finder in Heverin's guardianship case, submitted a report excoriating state officials for refusing to place Heverin in a skilled nursing facility, at least not until he is "bedridden."
"They finally got what they wanted; they won't have to deal with the problem anymore," Paul Vrem said.
John DeBack Jr. shot his uncle Raymond DeBack with the rifle he had been using to shoot at squirrels, according to testimony given by a Racine County Sheriff's Department investigator in Wisconsin. John DeBack is on trial for the April 2004 murder of Raymond DeBack. Raymond DeBack was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the head, on April 16, 2004. A fisherman found his body in the Fox River in Kenosha County the next morning.
Raymond DeBack was a convicted child molester who had been released from prison about nine months before he was shot. He then moved into a trailer a few feet away from the trailer John DeBack lived in. According to testimony, John DeBack told investigators his uncle sexually abused him when he was a boy, and the abuse "haunted him."
After several interviews with investigators, John DeBack confessed to killing his uncle and told them what had happened that day. In the morning, he brought his father to a friend's home so they could travel together to the family's property in Adams County. After dropping his father off, John DeBack stopped at a store and bought a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best Ice beer.
Raymond DeBack was not around when he got back home, and John DeBack started drinking about 1 p.m. His uncle returned, and they argued. John DeBack told investigators that he gets angry when he drinks. As he drank that day, he told them he got angry with his uncle.
"He said his uncle was giving him a hard time because he was drinking and shooting squirrels out of season without a license," said Racine County Sheriff's Investigator Chris Schmaling.
Sheriff's Investigator Keith Dobesh said DeBack told him his uncle was
"grilling me about drinking and gave me the riot act about being better than me."
At 4 p.m. Raymond DeBack went to work at a nearby farm, where he was a farm hand. John DeBack told investigators he took his rifle and followed his uncle through the woods toward the farm.
"To be honest, I was so damn pissed I had the .22 in my hand. I was going to shoot him and I don't know why I didn't shoot him then."
John DeBack said he started to think about what could happen if he killed his uncle: that he could spend the rest of his life in prison. DeBack turned around and went home, where he sat drinking beer and holding the rifle on his lap until Raymond DeBack returned a few hours later.
When his uncle returned, John DeBack said they again fought. He said his uncle was talking about how messed up he was, and that he got angry. John DeBack said that Raymond DeBack was complaining about the $ 25 weekly fee he had to pay for sex offender counseling that wasn't working.
"I just got up and shot him. I just shot him," said John DeBack.
Investigators said he first shot Raymond DeBack in the chest, then, because the rifle only had one round in it, he went inside and got a second gun. His uncle was lying on the ground, not moving and not making noise. John DeBack took aim at his head and fired again. John DeBack said he fired the second shot because
"I was still mad at him and wanted to make sure he was dead."
Investigators testified that John DeBack said that he wished his uncle was dead and that he wished his father had shot him years earlier. They also said he had told them it was hard for him to live so close to the man who had abused him as a child.
On cross examination, John DeBack's attorney, talked about how John DeBack Sr. had found gay porn in Raymond DeBack's trailer.
"Their belief was it was a slippery slope".
"Once he began using gay porn again, he would molest another boy. John DeBack witnessed his father confront Raymond about the porn and the fear he would molest more boys. (His father) threatened Raymond's life while John DeBack was present. (John DeBack Sr.) told Raymond if he molested another boy he would shoot him in the head."
So is this what it finally takes for us to hear the muffled cries of the homeless - an ex-con dead in the snow because it's against the law for a sex offender to huddle up at either of two Grand Rapids missions?
Thomas Pauli didn't choose to die alone in the cold. He apparently froze to death because of a crime he committed nearly 20 years ago, and a law that's dogged him ever since his release from prison.
In the days prior to the discovery of his body at a recycling operation in the 600 block of South Division Avenue, he reportedly attempted to score a bed at either or both the Guiding Light Mission and Mel Trotter Ministries, just blocks away.
But officials at both facilities reluctantly acknowledge they would have turned him away because registered sex offenders can't reside for even one night within 1,000 feet of a school, in this case, Catholic Central High. Never mind that school isn't in session during the hours a guy like Pauli would have been snoozing away on a warm cot. Or that ex-cons, or anyone else, are more likely a threat to a neighbourhood when they have nowhere to go ... when they are desperate.
The problem is compounded by the fact that both missions are too near a pair of public parks, and that Mel Trotter houses women and children. All those elements also render the missions lawfully unable to accept offenders. The missions aren't to blame. They risk fines or even being shut down if they don't comply with the law.
But it's a law that needs changing. And we need to re-examine our collective level of commitment to a part of society that, to most of us, matters least.
Asks Bill Shaffer, an officer with Guiding Light:
"How do we treat the unlovable?"
"I couldn't sleep last night thinking about Thomas Pauli freezing to death outside," said a tearful Marge Palmerlee, executive director at Degage Ministries, which cares for folks like Pauli who live and frequent the Heartside area on downtown's fringe.
"Who can sleep at night, thinking of these people outside. It's just unbelievable."
The father of a Florence inmate killed with a homemade prison shank has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the state.
The prisoner, William Lee Harris, 45, was classified as a nonviolent inmate on a three-year drug charge at Arizona State Prison. According to the complaint filed Sept. 10, Harris was falsely labelled by a prison employee as a sex offender and then improperly housed with a Class 5 inmate - the most violent type.
Leslie Rakestraw, the lawyer for the Harris family, said the claim will ask for $ 2.5 million in damages.
"We would be willing to settle for that, or less even," she said. "But we have gotten absolutely no response from the state."
The complaint cites the death as
"a direct and proximate result of the negligence of the employees of the Department of Corrections."
Calls to the Arizona Department of Corrections were not returned. An internal investigation by the department noted that prison staff made mistakes that led to the death of Harris. After the slaying, 12 prison employees were reprimanded or fired.
Michael Gaston, 23, is accused of slaying Harris within hours after he moved into Gaston’s cell on Sept. 17, 2006. Prison records show Gaston stabbed Harris with a nine-inch shank, which was found protruding from his chest as he lay covered in blood. Gaston was serving a prison sentence at the time for killing a man over a car loan. The prison report indicates that a guard who quit the department soon after the incident, falsely told inmates that Harris was a sex offender.
"The state has 20 days to file an answer," she said. "We get lots of delays based on technicalities. They will do anything to keep us from getting our trial it seems."
Nancy Morais, president of the Family and Friends of Committed Victims, an advocacy group for the detainees of the Florida Civil Commitment Centre (FCCC), cited several medical complaints from inmates.
One refers to Scott Gartley, who died in the facility in 2003. Gartley told Morais he had gone to the infirmary the day before to seek treatment for a
"pain shooting up his arm into his back," Morais said. "He was offered Tylenol and a bed in the infirmary," Morais said. "He wanted to go to the emergency room, and they denied him."
The next day, Morais said she again talked to Gartley.
"He was very short of breath," Morais said. "I told him he needed to get back to the infirmary and tell them he needed to go the emergency room and get help. "That never happened and he died that night in his sleep," Morais said.
No mercy was offered to George Capaldo either, a 75-year-old sex offender who became bedridden with cancer. The disease had progressed to the point it required surgical castration, Morais said. Capaldo was left untended except for one visit per day by an orderly, Morais said. The rest of the time, he would have lay in soiled clothes, were it not for her son, who tried to help him, she said.
"We fought intensely to get this man released to his family," Morais said. "He was no threat to himself or his family. He was 75 years old, dying of cancer, castrated, couldn't walk, and couldn't lift his head off his pillow."
The FCCC finally won approval to release Capaldo to a hospice, but he died in the ambulance on the way.
In 2006, Vermont District Court Judge Edward Cashman sentenced Mark Hulett to the minimum: 60 days in jail, probation predicated on compliance with 21 conditions, including participation in community-based treatment.
Hulett, 34, had pled guilty to two counts of sexual assault of a friend's daughter when she was 6 to 10 years old. Defending his decision, the judge explained that Hulett was assessed at low risk of re-offending and was not going to get treatment in jail. Cashman thought Hulett needed treatment more than lengthy incarceration, which would only make him more dangerous. Then the judge averred that he no longer believes in punishment:
"Anger corrodes the soul," he said.
Although none of the critics knows exactly what Hulett did or how often he did it, Cashman [the judge] was besieged by condemnation. Calls poured into Vermont governor, Jim Douglas, who issued a statement eviscerating Cashman and calling for sentencing reform. Republican legislators resolved to impeach the judge. The national conservative media and blogosphere had joined the mob.
|Bill O'Reilly dubbed Cashman: "the worst judge in the USA."|
|A blog called Imago Dei pointed to Cashman, a devout Catholic, as "proof of the existence of evil."|
|A contributor to the Wall Street Journal's opinion site called him proof that Vermont is insane.|
|On Vermont Public Radio's "Switchboard," Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington declared that "as a mother and a citizen," she, too, was appalled by Cashman's decision. She plugged the House's forthcoming Safe Communities bill, which may contain longer sentences for sex offenders.|
It's hard to say how news of the Hulett case got out. But you can't understand its resonance without considering the mega-decibel amplifier created by Douglas's two-year campaign to get tough on sex offenders. What the governor wants most is a law allowing "civil commitment" of "sexually violent predators" - the indefinite psychiatric incarceration of people who have completed their prison sentences but are deemed likely to commit another crime. Among his other wishes are longer sentences and tighter probationary restrictions; posting more ex-offenders on the Sex Offender Registry website and availing the public of their addresses.
Rather, it's a strategy to embarrass "soft-on-crime" Democrats and win votes for Republicans.
After all, Vermont ranks 48th among the states in crime, 44th in rapes. As for sex crimes against children, thanks to good treatment programs, Vermont has some of the lowest re-offense rates in the country: In 1995, Vermont reported after-treatment arrests at
|7 percent for pedophiles,|
|3 percent for incest perpetrators, and|
|3 percent for those who had committed "hands-off" crimes such as exhibitionism.|
Nevertheless, last session the lawmakers passed a Sexually Violent Predator designation, ready for deployment should civil commitment become law. And the speaker promises more.
Fear, both public and political, is winning the day. But if fear is the greatest political motivator, it is also the worst basis for policy. A tougher sex-offender law will not make Vermont's communities safer. Indeed, it could make them more dangerous.
Such laws put resources where the problem isn't. All but about 7 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by Dad, Mom's boyfriend or a close family friend. Sex offender registries do nothing for these victims, who already know where the released perpetrator is. Requirements that ex-offenders stay away from schools and playgrounds are likewise unnecessary. Where molestation is concerned, kids are safest in public.
Sex criminals reform, and treatment works. Even for people who have committed many crimes, the one they're caught in is usually the last. Large studies in the U.S. and Canada have found that
|about 13 percent of sex offenders are rearrested for similar crimes, compared with|
|74 percent of all other prisoners.|
"Being handcuffed and hauled away from decent society is a shattering experience for anyone," an ex-offender told Eric Lotke, former research and policy director of the Justice Policy Institute. "But it is all the more electrifying and soul-stripping when the offence is as intimate and shameful a secret as is a sex crime." That memory "stops most of us from ever doing it again."
Treatment improves the odds greatly, as Vermont's low recidivism proves.
In a free society, you don't lock people up for crimes you think they might commit. Anyway, it's almost impossible to know.
Not to worry, says the governor. Only the baddest of the bad - 19 ex-cons, tops - will end up in the bin. But most states have exceeded their estimates by hundreds, even thousands, using civil commitment as a backdoor to longer sentences.
Vermont's new statute sounds reassuringly stringent.
"The standard of proof . . . shall be clear and convincing evidence that the convicted sex offender suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory, sexually violent offenses."
Such risk prediction, though, is anything but clear and convincing.
Notwithstanding its definition in psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, "personality disorder" is a diagnosis about as precise as "a real fruitcake." A "mental abnormality" is as common as anorexia. And depending on whom you talk to, "paedophilia" can refer to
|a 40-year-old who rapes a toddler or|
|an 8-year-old playing doctor with his 5-year-old sister.|
Before committing a prisoner, courts usually ask, "Did he cooperate with treatment in prison? Does he show remorse?"
According to Canadian Solicitor General Karl Hanson [*], who conducted the widest, most sophisticated analysis yet of recidivism risks, neither of these says a lot about an offender's future behaviour. One thing that does predict re-offense, Hanson finds, is youth: a person under 25 is far more likely to assault someone than an older person, and the compulsion lessens with age. Thus, very long prison sentences, even as an alternative to civil commitment, are a bad idea relocated -- a waste of money, and lives.
Expanded sex-offender registries and tougher restrictions contribute to re-offense.
"The treatment research shows that the best way to change antisocial behaviour is to normalize life," says Lotke.
Offender websites and community notification of neighbours, landlords and employers, coupled with requirements that registrants report their every move to the police, do the opposite.
The U.S. Justice Department names "lifestyle instability" as a big contributor to re-offending. In other words, as Robert Longo, a therapist and former director of Vermont's Safer Society Program, told me,
"You ban somebody from the community, he has no friends, he feels bad about himself, and you reinforce the very problems that contribute to the sex abuse behaviour in the first place. You make him a better sex offender."
Community notification encourages violence.
"Stronger sex offender laws give tools to parents and concerned citizens so they can be more aware of the location of convicted sex offenders, especially sexually violent predators," Douglas proclaims.
And what are we to do with these "tools?" Gather the good old boys to patrol the offender's place with shotguns? That's what's happened nationwide: harassment, assault, arson.
Margy Love, former Justice Department Pardon Attorney, calls the new nationwide sex-offender registry an
"incitement to vigilante justice" masquerading as "a responsible public safety measure."
Imprisonment does two things: It punishes, and it protects the community by keeping bad guys off the street. A third function, in Vermont at least, is rehabilitation, which protects the community by helping ex-convicts create lives beyond crime.
Commenting on the Hulett case, Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann suggested that punishment and rehabilitation are mutually reinforcing. Time behind bars, he told the Free Press, pushes offenders
"to contemplate the pain they have caused the victim."
Judge Cashman, reputedly more for harshness than leniency, seems to be grappling with the fact that prisons are rarely conducive to salutary contemplation.
If Vermont wants to solve real problems, it will keep doing what it already does:
|Educate the public about sexual violence;|
|tailor sentences to the severity of the crime and the dangerousness of the criminal;|
|encourage treatment in prison;|
|improve prisoners' re-entry into family
and community, with
But offender websites and civil commitment are not about safety. They are about vengeance. And votes.
The experience of other states foretells Vermont's. Prison sentences and registries grow longer. The cellblocks fill, along with the locked wards.
|The public perceives more crime;|
|it demands more laws,|
|criminalizing more acts.|
|Broader laws bring more arrests,|
|which look like more crime.|
Conjuring monsters in the streets, communities are divided, while children are left defenceless at home. People feel falsely safer and, at the same time, more fearful.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven, yet, at the same time, likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult.
To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease, is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason, or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
C. S. Lewis, author of God in the Dock, 1948.
"All this was inspired by the principle - which is quite true in itself - that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.
For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes."
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
"The inherent superiority of certain groups to other groups is an important foundation of prejudice belief systems. Prejudice results from the human potential for misconception and prejudgement. Prejudice is an antipathy based upon a faulty, inflexible generalisation.
Prejudice may be felt or expressed, it may be directed towards a group as a whole, or it may be directed towards an individual because he is a member of that group.
The net effect of prejudice is to place the object of prejudice at some disadvantage, not merited by his or her misconduct.
It is clear that prejudice, while it is often expressed individually, is basically an inter-group phenomenon, the malignant manifestations of which accrue to individuals only in the context of their membership in groups."
Gordon Allport, author of The Nature of Prejudice, 1954.
"They put a series of questions to him with the correctness and scrupulous care that is used with all defendants and is supposed to eliminate human fallibility. These questions were like all questions posed in a courtroom: they ignored the essence of living truth – in fact, they made it impossible for any such essence ever to be discovered – and their sole purpose was to provide a conduit down which the court officials wanted to channel any questions from a defendant so as to bring him straight to the end of the inquiry – conviction. The moment he began to say anything not conducive to this end, they would simply remove the conduit and let the flow go anywhere.
Besides that, he felt what all defendants feel in court, a sense of bafflement that left him wondering why he was being asked all these questions. He had a distinct feeling they were patronising him and just going through the motions of civility by providing a conduit that was nothing more than a subterfuge.
He knew that he was in their power; their power and that alone had brought him here; their power and that alone gave them the right to make him answer their questions, and the only purpose of the proceedings was to convict him. It followed then, since they had all the power and a strong desire to convict him, there was no need for the subterfuge of questions and answers in a courtroom. It was perfectly obvious that the questioning was bound to lead to a guilty verdict."
Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, 1868.
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."
"These methods included: aversion therapy and masturbatory satiation, designed to change feelings of attraction by associating the attraction with boredom, revulsion, fear, shame, or physical pain, chemical castration using the drug Apomorphine which usually led to violent illness.
Reconditioning success rates from four studies are all less than 0.5%."
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 1999.
"The few well-constructed studies have found that the effectiveness of reconditioning methods is no more successful with the elimination of paedosexuality than it was with the elimination of homosexuality."
American Medical Association, 1987.
"They also discovered that for the life of them they could never beat the queer out of Sammy. Surely, if one of these faggots was just pummelled enough, like over and over and over, the Gay would somehow spill out of them and they would be made Normal. But it wasn’t happening, so the bullies gave up and returned to the more entertaining tradition of humiliation via taunting, ridiculing, and calling Sammy names."
Michael Moore, author of Here Comes Trouble, 2011.
"Now there is nobody whose sexual appetite or impulse is excited or provoked by every human being he meets. Physical properties, personality characteristics which to one individual are highly exciting may leave another completely indifferent, or may even seem repellent.
This fixation will appear to the individual himself as something natural, innate, an inseparable part of his being. One perceives it as having been there from the beginning; it is impossible to imagine oneself without it. This, however, poses a major problem to human society.
A man may be quite able to conceive that his neighbour gets sexually excited by things other than he does himself, but this doesn’t mean that he understands it, nor be able to discover similar feelings in himself and by so doing be able to vividly empathize with his neighbour’s feelings. A sexual attraction to which someone is not himself sensible remains mysterious and strange. Fantasy fails to help us.
This helps explain why an overwhelming majority of paedophiles and homophiles, though belonging to a small group which is rejected and often cruelly persecuted and tortured by the society in which they live, still don’t want to get rid of their ‘tendencies’. Fantasy lets him down; ultimate change is perceived as an irreparable loss: he will lose what he loves, and in exchange will get something he cannot conceive of as being equally worthy of love.
Thus we remain circumscribed by our knowledge that other people feel differently from the way we do. To forget this is to be narrow-minded and stupid. But if we raise such stupidity to dogma and proclaim that only our inclinations are ‘normal’ and all others abnormal, perverse and disgusting, we become intolerant and immoral. Doing this, we base our ethics upon our lack of imagination."
Edward Brongersma, Loving Boys, 1986 [*]
I know not whether Laws be right, Or whether Laws be wrong;
But this I know, that every Law
This too I know - and wise it were
With bars they blur the gracious moon,
The vilest deeds like poison weeds,
For they starve the little frightened child
Each narrow cell in which we dwell
- Is a foul and dark latrine,
The brackish water that we drink
But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
- Like asp with adder fight,
With midnight always in one's heart,
- And twilight in one's cell,
And never a human voice comes near
- To speak a gentle word:
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
- And peace of pardon win!
And thus we rust Life's iron chain
And every human heart that breaks,
- In prison-cell or yard,
Oscar Wilde, Ballad of Reading Gaol (extract), 1897.
"The world is not divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning sexual behaviour the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex."
Alfred Kinsey, author of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948.