Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exoneration shows sex offender registration based on faulty premise

During the legislative process when it first passed, Texas' sex offender registration statute was dubbed "Ashley's Law," named after 7-year old Ashley Estell who was raped and murdered in Collin County in 1993. Authorities at the time decided a man named Michael Blair committed the crime, targeting him in part because he'd been convicted previously of a sex offense.

As it turned out, though Blair was no angel, he had nothing to do with Ashley Estell's death. DNA tests this year cleared Blair - who had been sent to death row for the crime - and identified a culprit who died ten years ago without ever being prosecuted for the offense. This week the courts finally dismissed the case against Blair, reports AP. (Though leaving death row he remains in prison for other offenses he admitted to while behind bars.)

The collapse of the case against Blair shows the wrong thinking behind modern sex offender registration laws, which make public information about offenders' past criminal history and portray this as having predictive value as to whether people should fear them. As in Blair's case, though, that can backfire if sex offender registration causes police and the public to develop a "round up the usual suspects" mentality.

The premise behind Texas' sex offender registration laws was that if Ashley's family could have known about Blair's past they could possibly have better protected their child. Except that since Blair didn't do it, his case instead shows how widely distributing that knowledge can lead to wrongful persecution and prosecution. As a result, the real killer was never held accountable. As I've written previously, "to the extent [Texas' registration] laws arose from lessons learned in the Ashley Estell case, they were literally based in error from their inception."

The worst part: That error produces more crime and more victims. Research shows that sex offender registration can
increase recidivism for those on the registry "by imposing social and financial costs on registered sex offenders and making non-criminal activity relatively less attractive."

DNA evidence has been an incredibly valuable tool, not only for solving old cases but providing a window onto a variety of common errors in the justice system from faulty eyewitness ID procedures to unregulated use of informants and shoddy forensic techniques. With Blair's case we can add the premises behind sex offender registration laws to the list of errors identified post facto thanks to DNA evidence.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

I heard something the other day that bothered me. It was some coverage on the aftermath of Ike and they were talking about how all the evacuees were being registered at the shelters and cross-checked to see if they were registered sex offenders so they could "get the boot". That was the direct quote of the radio announcer. Does this mean that if a registered sex offender got wiped out by Ike, they are not welcome in a shelter and kicked to the street? I truly hope that was some incorrect reporting, because if that is true, there is something TRULY wrong with that!!

sunray's wench said...

why should families be in need of yet another law that instructs them to take greater care of their children?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

They're supposedly not kicking them out of shelters, 9:16, but "monitoring" them, whatever that means. They already have parole officers.

Here's the item you're referring to from the Houston Chron:

"Sex offenders traced to shelters

"A program launched by the Texas attorney general's office has found at least 18 confirmed sex offenders living in shelters after evacuating for Hurricane Ike.

"The attorney general's office announced Wednesday that through its Operation Safe Shelter program, another 36 possible sex offenders have been identified as living at shelters. Their sex offender status is still under review.

"Under the program, emergency shelters provide the names of evacuees to state officials for cross-checking against the state's sex offender registry.

"When matches are found, the attorney general's office notifies shelter supervisors and local law enforcement so that they can monitor those individuals.

"The attorney general says sex offenders have been found in shelters in San Antonio, Mount Vernon, New Boston, Paris and Troup."

Anonymous said...

"monitoring" them = covertly administering punishment in the guise of "cognitive-behavioral techniques" (such as "assisted covert sensitization"). Pictue a government paid harassment specialist who poses as a sex offender's neighbor, torturing him relentlessly day and night in the name of "therapy" See http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume3/j3_1_2.htm . Whereas alcoholics and junkies enter into 12 step treatment programs, it is thought that sex offenders will strike again (despite the academic literature which contridicts this). The interesting thing is that more things, such as "mooning", are considered a sex crime, and can blot a person's record for life, meaning no jobs, inability to visit their kids at school, etc...

Covert Punishment as Treatment can also be seen at these links:

http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/research/1990/9419sotp/9419litreview.pdf


http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=sex+offender+assisted+covert+sensitization&btnG=Search

Anonymous said...

since most sex offenders cannot even get a minimum wage job because of background checks, it only leaves an illegal alternative. but that seems to be what society wants and that's ok with me because most ex-sex offenders probably make more in a month or two what normal citizens make in a year. now that's food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Any conviction will screw you for life these days. A web site called Public Data buys criminal data base information from the state of Texas and sells it to the public. They have a disclaimer to not use the information for illegal purposes. Not only do they have criminal info they have your voter registration and driver's license data for all to see. The state of Texas sold out its citizens. It is a crime for a Texas law enforcement officer to run backgrounds for the same info Texas sold to Public Data and other web based data services. The Texas Legislature is helping to insure people with criminal histories of all levels never get a good job. They have also helped abusive spouses to find their ex so they can do harm to them by releasing driver's license info. Any member of the Legislature who voted to allow the selling of state data bases to companies like Public Data should be criminally charged for every assault or murder which involved the use of this type of data. For everyone who could not find work and was forced back to a life of crime the same members of the legislature are accessories to the criminal acts committed.

I cannot believe the amount of money received from companies like Public Data could even begin to cover the cost of the damage done to society by making the state data bases open to the general public for any reason. Thirty pieces of silver comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

The facts are that there are children in those shelters AND they don't need to be victimized/traumatized again by a deviant sexual individual with a criminal propensity towards children/minors.
They are NOT being kicked out, but being placed in areas AWAY from children/minors for OBVIUOS reasons. I worked in San Antonio during KATRINA and we had numerous problems with sex offenders registering as well as GANG members in the shelters.
Also, please don't rely on radio announcers to give you the facts, that will only get you more confused.

Anonymous said...

I work as a Sex Offender probation officer. Many of you are very confused with the FACTS. Those on my caseload are ordered by the court to maintain gainful employment in a lawful occupation. They ALL work, some with jobs that I found for them! Your LAME excuses that they CAN'T find work doesn't pass the smell test. You must fall for the "OH POOR ME" manipulation that many of them attempt. They are all attending counseling and working on modifying their deviant sexual behavior and thinking errors. There are several Licensed Sex Offender Treatment Providers in San Antonio who work very diligently with their clients. AND research shows that with therapy/counseling they are less likely to repeat deviant behaviors. FACT=Our laws aren't perfect, but it beats anywhere else on this planet!

lowery.shirley said...

To the parole officer,
I would have to see it to believe it. And how much a week is required for treatment? And how much is required for parole/probation fees? How much do these people have for rent, food and transportation in an economy where everyone is hurting.
And sex offenders are NOT allowed in shelters in TX, LA or Fl. Registrants seeking shelter have ONE option. They are told to report to jail where they will be locked in a cell. We all know that prisoners are prone to get abandoned in their cages but who really cares?
I am appalled by the situation. In many cases a sex offender is also a vet who got screwed up defending this country.
I am making a directory of private homes where shelter is offered. Also, I will be pounding Salvation Army at the national level to set up shelters for offenders and their loved ones. I could use help.
After Hurricane Katrina all sorts of accusations came out of the arena where people were kept. Guess what? There were no registered offenders there. Once that word spread rumors fizzled out. A group of people cannot be blamed if none of them were present. Separate shelters is an awesome way to protect offenders from the people. It will just take a little work and a little charity.

Anonymous said...

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/High-risk_sex_offenders_on_parole_sent_to_jails.html

High-risk sex offenders on parole sent to jails

AUSTIN — About 1,000 sex offender parolees displaced by Hurricane Ike have been rounded up and sent to prisons and jails across the state.

Authorities in San Antonio were told that nine sex offenders were among the Ike evacuees taking refuge in area shelters. The nine were sent to another unidentified facility, where services were provided, Tiffany Edmonds, a spokeswoman for the city, said Thursday.

But a few registered sex offenders who completed the terms of their parole have been turned away from shelters.

Austin police discovered four sex offenders among the 1,300-plus Ike evacuees in its shelters this week — and evicted the three they could locate. The fourth they couldn't find.

“I have no idea where they went (after being put out) but they're not allowed to come back,” said James Mason, an Austin police detective.

The state rounded up about 1,000 high-risk sex offenders from hurricane-affected areas who are on parole and have transported them to prisons and halfway houses all across the state, from El Paso to South Texas, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Clark said parole officers began contacting sex offenders well in advance of the storm. High-risk offenders and those who hadn't devised an approved “evacuation plan” were taken into custody. It wasn't immediately clear Thursday how many sex offender parolees didn't report to authorities.

The Texas Attorney General's Office reported finding 18 sex offenders at shelters throughout the state. Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the agency, said his office turned the names over to the local shelter management and local police — and leaves it to them to decide what to do.

In Austin, Mason defended the decision to turn them away.

“It's a difficult situation but ultimately we're concerned about the (general public),” he said.

He offered this information, too:

On Wednesday, police discovered that one resident of a shelter housing Ike evacuees was apparently not from a hurricane-ravaged area.

John Malak, 30, a registered sex offender whose condition of parole was that he not be around children, was from Bastrop, Mason said. Before he was arrested and taken to the Travis County jail, Malak “came to Austin and checked himself in as an evacuee,” Mason said.

Matt Simpson, a policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said he found the Austin policy “mystifying:”

“It's the opposite of keeping track of people,” he said.

Anonymous said...

Let us all understand, that many of these sex offenders are indeed innocent. Many were provided with a "pot luck" court appointed attorney who did not give a hoot in hell about accused. Society's hang em' high attitude seems to have created a lot of problems.
Money and status can rid one of that sex offender label.
Amarillo Slim is a perfect example.

Jan said...

The sex offender registry is growing. Approx. 54,000 registered offenders in Texas. The registered offenders include teenagers who had consensual sex with a younger teenager. Also included are juveniles who were as young as nine or ten when they committed some sort of "sex offense." Many of the offenders included in these two groups were promised deferred adjudication and that upon completion of their probation, their names would be removed from the registry. Now these same "offenders" are being told they are to register for LIFE.

If you look closely at the registry for Travis County, you will find that many of their "offenders" didn't commit a sex offense.

The registry is netting in a wide variety of "offenses" most are of no danger to society.

I disagree with the probation officer from San Antonio. It is very difficult for offenders to find gainful employment.

Some lawmakers are proposing license plates identifying sex offenders. Some cities, Arlington, are even requiring that some offenders place signs in the yard.

Subdivisions are starting to restrict sex offenders from living in their neighborhood.

Once on the registry, it does not matter what the offense. A 17 year old boy who had consensual sex with a girl who lied about her age will be forever branded as a sexual predator.

Anonymous said...

KCBD in Lubbock recently had a reporter and a camera crew accompany probation officers who were out verifying the addresses of registered offenders.

One "offender" was not at the address given. The KCBD reporter stated officials were unable to locate a 20 year old who had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault. The reporter gave his name but failed to mention this kid was 11 years old when he committed an offense.

Anonymous said...

Some of these sex offenses can be prosecuted without witness corroboration. Prostitutions stings are run by undercover police with no recording devices (while they let sleazy asian massage parlors thrive...do I smell police corruption / mob involvement?). When it is a citizen's word against the police, they usually plead out (over 90% of the time) since they understand that they won't win, even when they are innocent.

Anonymous said...

I hate to disagree with the Parole Officer, but he / she is mis-informed.

According to the Assessment of the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, submitted to the Dallas County District Court and the Community Supervision and Correctional Department by MGT of America at the request of Judge John Creuzot, substance abuse is seen as the number one problem of the probationers but employment for them is quickly becoming another huge problem. This is not surprising, considering the reluctance of corporations to hire people with a mark on their record, except for jobs characterized by either low-pay or extremely difficult working conditions. The report concerns probationers in general...the situation for those with an offense in the broad category of "sexual offenses" is far worse. My guess is that probation officers generally don't understand this, or if they do, they help on a limited basis those few probationers that are most like them and they like. In other words, they help a few find jobs, while all others take a piss-test (drug-test) at their own expense.

see MGT Final Report. (2005, July 15). Assessment of the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. MGT of America. Retrieved from http://effectivealt.web.aplus.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Dallasfinal71505.doc

lowery.shirley said...

The parole officer had better get to humping. Now that employers will be listed on the public registry many fast food places will bow to the pressure. And that is the sole purpose of the law.
A judge can order whatever he pleases. Failure to comply means a return trip to prison where half of our space is being taken up with these things.
To put a better public face on it failure to register will be a new felony. New crimes, especially by registered sex offenders, have so much more impact than a parole violation. The situation has not changed but the proper marketing can kick start those recidivism rates that have always been in the single digits. The general public will be impressed.

Once rape was rape but that wasn't an accurate term in most cases. We were switched over to sexual assault which is a much broader term that can mean rape or a hundred other things. If rape is a factor in a case that is usually mentioned. If it is not mentioned there is a strong likelihood that there was no rape. Swatting a classmate on the butt is a far cry from rape. I went to school with these people who are horrified by teen sex. None of them were sitting to the side because it was the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

The probation officer says that "with therapy/counseling they are less likely to repeat deviant behaviors. " She should know better, since even since the early 90's scientific journals were stating the opposite. The Institute for Psychological Therapies contridicts her statements (see Wakefield, Holida & Underwager, Ralph (1991). Sex Offender Treatment. IPT Journal, 3(1).

Anonymous said...

The probation officer says that "with therapy/counseling they are less likely to repeat deviant behaviors. " She should know better, since even since the early 90's scientific journals were stating the opposite (i.e. that people are less likely to repeat either with or without therapy / counseling...in other words, therepy / counseling may just be an expensive placebo ). The Institute for Psychological Therapies contridicts her statements (see Wakefield, Holida & Underwager, Ralph (1991). Sex Offender Treatment. IPT Journal, 3(1).

Anonymous said...

I believe the Texas sex offender registry was created with some good intention although it was indeed based on faulty premise. It is definitely time for legislators to take another look at the registry and completely revise it. It has grown to over 54,000 names. If there are that many dangerous people who need to be monitored in Texas, we are in trouble and no one is safe. However, the registry is filled with people who are no more dangerous than anyone else not on the registry.
It is time to remove those who are not dangerous and focus on those who truly are a threat. Texas is wasting taxpayer resources on lifetime registration of people who should not be there. Those resources should be concentrated on those whom we really need to fear. Please encourage your legislators to focus our resources on the truly dangerous offenders and allow the others to move on after being punished. Grits, maybe you could campaign for an overhaul of the Texas registry so that Texans will actually benefit from the millions of dollars used to maintain the registry and monitor those on it.

lowery.shirley said...

Well, it is getting worse so people need to do something. The federal Adam Walsh act will list people by crime rather than dangerousness. Anyone convicted of a sex crime since 1952 will be required to register. The original plan was 1949. Many of these people are now grandparents and without treatment they have remained crime free. Should they be viewed as ill or as having made an error in judgment while drunk, high, depressed, angry, curious, in love or in heat?

Anonymous said...

Probation Officer,

You said, "our laws aren't perfect" tell that to a teenager who had CONSENSUAL SEX at age 17 with a 13 year old girl and is currently in Prison, trying to avoid the REAL SEX OFFENDERS. You know rapists, child predators!!! His crime, to not live in one of the 30 plus states that don't consider this a crime. Tell him that the laws arent perfect!!! He is not a rapist, he is not a pedophile, he is not a sexual predator, he is a TEENAGER! I would like to see how you would fare in this situation or if you even consider that, maybe...just maybe this is WRONG!

Reform the Law Now! said...

Well, there was a "sexual assault" at one of the shelters in Austin.
see: http://www.kvue.com/news/local/stories/091908kvue_Delco_Center_assault-cb.8feecccd.html?npc

Yep, it seems that a 13 year old girl and a 16 year old boy were caught together in the ladies room. The 16 year old boy was immediately arrested and charged with "aggravated sexual assault of a child."

Do you suppose he lured her into the restroom with a jolly rancher? Do you suppose she told him her real age? Never mind, it doesn't matter. He has no defense. Even if she seduced him.

Guaranteed, he will soon be a register sex offender. And as for the girl, she can file for Victim's Compensation through Greg Abbott's office.

Anonymous said...

anon 9/18/4:15.. Your reports are very outdated. how bout looking at something a bit more up to date, The Probation officer was correct.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 9/20/2008 11:11:00

Since you didn't leave any references to back up your opinion, I'll assume for the moment it's because you have none.

But, of course, there is more current literature than the 1991 findings. Consider for example a report prepared for the 77th Texas Legislature in 2001 by Dr. Tony Fabelo called "Evaluation of the Performance of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Rehabilitation Tier Program". He would be in the probation officers campe, stating that the recidivism rate for treatment participants was lower than the comparison group (23% compared to 29%). That's really not much of a difference. And he notes that
“Because of intensive supervision and strict registration and community notification rules, sex offenders have high rates of recidivism for technical violations of supervision when compared to other releasees, yet few sex offenders were re-arrested for a new sex offense according to official record”. (Fabelo, 2001).

He states that with the exception of sex offenders, only 20% of parolees are revoked for technical violations of supervision. Approximately 60% of sex offenders were revoked for technical violations of supervision. Perhaps judges and prosecutors see themselves as performing the role of savior to the community by locking up these perceived threats to society when they commit a minor violation such as a technical violation. And yet other research indicates that sex offenders have very low known recidivism rates, even though they are viewed as “high stakes” offenders by
corrections officials for a simple reason: the negative media attention (and community reaction) associated with the re-arrest of a sex offender (Byrne and Taxman, 2005).


Byrne, James M. and Taxman, Faye ( June 2005). Reaction Essay: Crime (Control) is a Choice: Divergent Perspectives on the Role of Treatment in the Adult Corrections System. Criminology and Public Policy, June 2005, Volume 4, Number 2


Fabelo, Tony (2001). Evaluation of the Performance of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice Rehabilitation Tier Programs. Prepared for the Prepared for the 77th Texas Legislature, 2001.

Anonymous said...

Actually I do have a few things for you to look at. You keep relying on the same study. Branching out might help your view of the matter.

http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/research/1990/9419sotp/9602sotp.html#text
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/evaluation/psi_sops/sops6.htm

Anonymous said...

Your argument actually supports my contention that the research is mixed. But thanks anyway. I also don't by your argument that probated sex-offenders who can't get jobs are just involved in "poor-me" manipulation, and at least I have gone to the trouble of producing data to support my viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Here is a more detailed response:


Why don't you branch out from a narrow basis of two studies? (I provided 3 studies, actually). By the way, your Alaskan study (the first link you provided) is from 1995. Why are you looking at studies from that far back? After all, you criticize my 1991 study on that basis. I will reexamine your second study tomorrow, but for today, the main problem with the first study that you provided is that it is just a survey of other studies, which is not bad, but there are limitations and problems. It states that "The literature review was not designed to create definitive answers but, rather, to provide Department of Corrections policy makers with an exposure to the rich array of possibilities."

Why not add the possibility of the probationer getting a job to that little smorgasbord of possibilities? (Is it because probation officers favor punishment models (behavioralism) which tend to seperate probationers further from society rather than reintegrating them, especially in the case of sex offenders?)

After all, your study admits that there are a variety of definitions of "recidivism", as well as a variety of treatments (psychotherapy, behavioral, biological (casteration), and medication), each with varying effectiveness according to the definitions and criteria of measurements of each particular study. Which one are you talking
about? Surely you are not trying to lump them all together, I hope? Why not focus on one, and really address it's particular merits and disadvantages?

Despite the experimental part of the data on assisted covert sensitation (penile plethysmography records) , your study argues that "behavioral therapy, especially the relapse prevention programs, appear to have the greatest potential for succes", even after conveniently forgetting that it had already mentioned the effectiveness of programs that focus on social-based factors, such as Family therapy. Family therapy, a form of community-based therapy, can hardly be equated with the philosphy of community-policing, by the way. The bottom line is that for probationers, therapy without a job is leading down a deadend road. Perhaps the job could be seen as a constructive form of community-based therapy.

Since we are at "blog-level" here, rather than truly at academic level, let me recommend the "A Public Defender" blog article called "Sex Offenders on probation: setting them up to fail", which deals with a great many of these and other issues.

http://apublicdefender.com/2008/05/18/sex-offenders-on-probation-setting-them-up-to-fail/

Anonymous said...

I never said that sex offenders were not set up to fail. I was arguing that therapy DOES work. I am living proof and so are 97% of the numbers.

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tiasmith123 said...

I don't know what to say but I know one thing that what so ever had happend is their any fault of her.
Why she had to suffer.
Tia smith
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SB said...

Tia, are you speaking of Ashley? This was a horrible act just as there will always be horrible acts but it is usually a parent that puts a baby in a microwave or cuts a toddlers head off with hedge clippers. What Ashley suffered was the result of one person's actions. We rushed to put the wrong man in prison. I don;t know of any RSO that was involved in Megan Kanka's or Jessica Lunsford's death. These are crimes that were committed by individuals. Why should all RSO's and their families suffer for something that they do not condone and had no part in? These blanket laws sound like something that was taken from Saddam's rule book.