Monday, October 25, 2010

Opportunity costs and the sex-offender registry

In Dallas, manpower shortages caused police to routinely turn away people trying to update their sex-offender registration status, reports Diane Jennings at the Dallas News ("Dallas police 'erred badly' in turning away sex offenders who sought to register," Oct. 24):
Sex offenders who must update their registration with the Dallas police have been routinely turned away after waiting outside the department door for hours. 
"I've got to abide by the law or they put me back in prison," said one offender who asked not to be identified.
Department spokesman C.L. Williams said the department "erred badly" by limiting the number of registrants to about three dozen a day in recent weeks, a short-term response to a manpower shortage during the State Fair of Texas. On one recent day, a small waiting room was packed and lines snaked down to the sidewalk outside the Jack Evans Police Headquarters. Similar scenes had been reported in recent weeks.
After the problem was called to its attention, the department stopped turning offenders away before they are registered.

Dallas residents shouldn't be "alarmed that there are large numbers of offenders in the general public who are out there unregistered because of this error," Williams said.
Despite those assurances, Dallas residents and indeed, all of us should  be alarmed that the sex offender registry has become so bloated that it stretches policing resources to the limit. In this rubber-meets-the-road example, it's monitoring the registry that got short shrift. Usually, though, it's other mundane but practically more important policing tasks which are ignored to waste time tracking people who for the most part aren't really a threat.

By trying to monitor everybody convicted of sex-related crimes - even those convicted only of minor, non-violent offenses and Romeo and Juliet romances - the system too often ends up montoring nobody. There's an "opportunity cost," to use economists' jargon, to the registry growing as big as it's become in recent years. During a budget crunch like cities are facing now, the problem may finally come to a head as departments devote scarce resources to perform such mundane, bureaucratic tasks with little public safety benefit.

This story reminds me of another one last month by Jordan Smith in the Austin Chronicle about the budget-busting expense of monitoring an ever-growing list of registered sex offenders, most of whom pose no ongoing risk. Smith wrote that:
a growing body of research on the effect of broad sex offender laws reflects that requiring thousands of individuals to register for increasingly long periods of time actually undermines public safety. "That's what the current science is telling us," says Liles Arnold, a sex offender treatment provider and chair of the state's Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Moreover, research also reflects that the restrictions placed on individuals by the municipalities in which they live – such as barring individuals from living near schools, parks, or in a home with young children, even if they're the offender's own children or siblings – create extensive collateral damage. "There are a growing number of registrants, not just in Texas but across the country," says Arnold. But there's no "delineation of who is dangerous or not."
Even police whose job it is to monitor these offenders said they were wasting resources tracking so many people who posed little threat, the Chronicle reported:
"The public in general only hears, 'He's a registered sex offender.' Through ignorance, they believe that is synonymous with 'sexual predator,'" says Austin Police Department Lt. Greg Moss. "Registered sex offenders are not only sexual predators."
An expert on the enforcement of the state's sex offender laws, Moss is the former supervisor over the APD's Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration Unit, a three-detective squad tasked with keeping track of more than 1,500 sexual offenders registered as living in the city of Austin – including Henry. Of those on Austin's list, Moss estimates that just 10% are "your sexually violent predators," those folks who "we should be proactively monitoring, to ensure they're abiding by probation and parole." But APD is responsible for monitoring everyone on the list – a task that is expensive and time-consuming and has very little, if any, positive impact on public safety.
As cities across the state face tighter budgets, coupled with ever-increasing demands for using criminal enforcement to solve a variety of social problems, Texas' over-large sex offender registry inevitably will strain law-enforcement resources in other cities besides Austin and Dallas, diverting focus from tasks that actually make the public more safe.

That's one of the reasons I find the attention paid to registered sex offenders on Halloween so ill-conceived. Between drunkenness and youthful vandalism there are actually significant public safety problems to deal with on Halloween, but law enforcement all over the state are focused on making sure registrants don't give out candy or put up decorations, despite the fact that the vast majority have no history of kidnapping children or committing violent sex crimes. Ironically, a 2008 study found "that over 95% of all sexual offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders, casting doubt on the ability of laws that target repeat offenders to meaningfully reduce sexual offending."

Tight budgets in the criminal justice arena will inevitably force re-evaluation of priorities as resources for such tasks level off or decline even as the number of registrants (and other demands for service) continue to grow. Scaling back the sex-offender registry dramatically would actually improve public safety. The biggest barrier to doing so, however is self-serving hype by the media and demagoguery by politicians, who have discovered a useful fiction with which to manipulate the public in pursuit of advertising and votes, respectively. I consider the whole exercise as pointless as it is cynical.


Juliet's Mom said...

This problem will continue to grow as the registry continues to grow at approx 100 names added each week.

Throwing taxpayers dollars away on tracking individuals who pose no danger to anyone should be a huge issue to the general public. However, the taxpayers have been misled to believe the individuals on the registry are dangerous and the registry keeps us safe.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Texas has created a real mess with the over-blown "sex offender" registry. Over 63,000 registered people and an estimated 100 added every week. Won't be long before the registered folks and their family members have the numbers to vote out the lawmakers who have used this issue as a way to gain votes.

Anonymous said...

Liles Arnold brings home a 6 figure salary from working with sex offenders. He's a liar and knows the registry will never go away, he and the other lazy ass state workers know this is their bread and butter... The registry poses a real interesting question, since it's a state registry, why is the burden put on local police departments to handle the state's work?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Texas is a great place to practice sex offending thanks to those who practice law. You would have thought that even with the self serving media hype and the demagoguery by politicians that people smart enough to get through law school would have the where with all to distinguish be the Romeo’s and the Chester’s as well as the moron who feels the need to urinate in public. These laws and how they are implemented are foolish if the intent is to protect the public. However if these laws have the intent to feed the criminal justice system and produce stigmatized second class citizens who can’t vote then our lawmakers have been very effective.

Anonymous said...

What sex offenders do is not all that bad. We must be tolerant.

Anonymous said...

I think my husband is a sex offender. Well, maybe it is really me. No, can't be I am a female. Iknow I was the one offended in this 35 year relationship. Does it make a difference if I like it?

Anonymous said...

MTV program TEEN MOM now has its new teen moms in place. Is mtv promoting sexual assault of a child? I thought is is illegal for these young ladies to have sex. Then how did they get pregnant? Ilegally I suppose. US magazine last week had a big article on the teen moms that are followed and glamorized on the mtv show TEEN MOM. Why is it that the young men are going to prison and the young ladies get to be on television?

Anonymous said...

Funny on the last comment. If the laws were in effect when I was a teen, I'd have put 10 young men on the registry at LEAST and my friends many, many more. It was (and is) quite normal for a teen young lady to go after that "older guy"! It was happening then, and will continue to happen. The only difference is now they have to register if they're the guy that was pursued! Amazing what lawmakers consider dangerous, I don't think they know what they are actually doing ruining so many families and protecting no one.

Anonymous said...

We like to pretend that these are Romeo and Juliet romances but we know this is not the truth. There may be a very tiny numbers of these cases so we can bluster and pretend.

Actually, in many cases the Romeo is 49 and the and Juliet is 5 or 6.

Anonymous said...

"Teen Mom" - that t.v. show does anything but glamorize having a child at a young age BUT I found it interesting that the guys never do go to prison on that show. One guy was much older than his "teen" girlfriend and he's still around although he is abused by the "teen" girlfriend in front of that child.

I chose not to have sex as a young lady (I won't say child, I was out of child stage at age 12 or 13, it's insulting to say a 12 or 13 year old is a child in my opinion, I knew exactly what I was doing and the life choices I made back then) at the age of 12. I followed my heart and knew I didn't want a baby at a young age and that decision I made at age 12 followed me all the way until I was married. Don't tell me a 12 year old on up cannot make life decisions, I did and I made it just fine.

What I find really interesting in learning about all this registry stuff is this. If you are an older guy, say a Senior in H.S., and your girlfriend is a Freshman (that happens every day everywhere), if the guy kisses his girlfriend, he's a sex offender. Now, turn it around. If that Freshman girl kisses a 7th grader, she's tried as an adult and wham, you have another sex offender, correct? (or whatever the age difference is...say 14 and 19). So, this is what is confusing, both the girl and the guy can be on the registry yet the girl was under the age of consent but tried as an adult. So she can actually be a victim AND a perpetrator. Interesting eh? It's just plain ole politics as usual in Texas. They don't want to fix what is broken and teens dating or chatting with older guys is definitely normal behavior yet a register-able offense. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Why not report on the truth here. 93% according to REAL STATISTICS shows that children are molested by a family member or someone who has earned the trust of that child. Why is that not spouted on the rooftops? Some people on the registry ARE Romeo/Juliet - consensual, non-violent, true love, chatting online, no force type of relationships where the cops got wind of it. What was normal when I was a teenager is now an felony. We need to make bad lawmakers a felony. Maybe then they'd research before they made such insane punishments for normal-type behaviors.

I work with teens, I know exactly what is happening. We are losing an entire generation (or two!) of young men for doing what is considered by psychologists as normal behavior. The young ladies use this against them in some of the cases I've seen as well. The guys turn them down and next thing you know, they're in jail for something that is a "sex" offense. We all know you are guilty until proven innocent "because a "child" never lies".

Anonymous said...

11:29 you need to get your facts straight.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, when you pull up the sex offender registration info on the internet you can read the age of the victims - 5, 8, 10, 12, 4, etc. Go ahead, pull it up and see for yourself.

There are some rapists with older victims also.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:08, I've advised before you need to go back on your meds. Thanks for boosting Grits' traffic stats, though, with your daily visits.

@11:29/12:29, the reality is sex offenders get on the list for a fairly wide array of crimes, and even the cops enforcing the law say most registrants don't pose a danger. What's more, sex offenders tend to have among the lowest recidivism rates.

It's ironic that the tuffer-than-thou types want to pretend the registry is protecting people when really it's diverting resources from activities that improve public safety. But why let reality get in the way when demagoguery is so much fun?

Anonymous said...

The registry is a system that has gone awry.Unless it is reformed and offenders who haven't committed such egregious crimes and who are deemed to pose no danger to society are allowed to de-register,it will collapse under its own weight.

Kudos and many thanks to Grits for breakfast for having the courage and fortitude to bring this to light.

Anonymous said...

12:29 is proof positive that the public has no idea how to read the registry or what it means. The men on the list becuase they had sex with their wives will show the ages as well, but it doesn't tell you that they married the so called victim. There are plenty of situations like the one I speak of.

Anonymous said...

Wife eh? Yeah, one guy was married to a four year old and another to a seven year old. She could have been his wife, we can't tell.

Charlie O said...

The whole sex offender registry thing nationwide is a politican's circle jerk. "Hey look at us, we're tough on crime." Friggin' worthless hacks. All of them.

rodsmith said...

lol current science my foot! most of the people who study sex offences have been saying this for YEARS!. It's long past time to take the registry back to what it was intended for VIOLENT and or REPEAT OFFENDERS PERIOD! it's also long past time to take it back to what the U.S SUPREME COURT said was a legal registry!

"Contrary to the Ninth Circuit’s assertion, the record contains no evidence that the Act has led to substantial occupational or housing disadvantages for former sex offenders that would not have otherwise occurred. Also unavailing is that court’s assertion that the periodic update requirement imposed an affirmative disability. The Act, on its face, does not require these updates to be made in person. The holding that the registration system is parallel to probation or supervised release is rejected because, in contrast to probationers and supervised releasees, offenders subject to the Act are free to move where they wish and to live and work as other citizens, with no supervision."

So in otherwords the registry the U.S. Supreme Court said was LEGAL had no living or working restrictions, Had no in person reporting. They could live WHERE THEY WANTED. They could WORK WHERE THEY WANTED! hmm seems just about EVERY sex offender law passed in the last 10 years is in fact as well as LAW! ILLEGAL based on this decision

Don't be Deceived said...

To 10/25/2010 11:29:00 AM: You're wrong, the number of RSO's who were teenagers guilty of consensual sex with another teen is not "tiny" but significant with significant costs to taxpayers. We should not be using public safety resources on monitoring teens who had sex with another teen. Falls under job description for Parent.

To 10/25/2010 11:08:00 AM
Grits tolerates you.

Anonymous said...

I've spoken to an offender guilty of having consensual sex at age 19 with a girl 3 years and 2 months younger. The registry indicated the girl was 5 instead of 15; the registry isn't always accurate.

Also, someone pointed out earlier that not everyone can understand the registry. The age of the victim (hopefully accurate) never changes as the offender grows older. When the 19 year old turns 40, his victim will still be 15.

just a paper shuffler said...

The data on the registry isn't always current due to no fault of the RSO. There are over 63,000 RSO's who are required to report in annually, and/or report any changes in address or employment. Plus, over 100 new names to be added weekly. Additions and changes do not show up in the system immediately but may take several days to several weeks due to massive backlogs. DPS Crime Records Service should be able to verify the validity of this statement.

A common sense approach for the backlogs at the DPS and long lines at the Registrar's office would be a deregistration process for offenders who are not dangerous, violent and/or predatory and changes to the law that would differentiate and require only dangerous, violent and/or predatory offenders to register.

Sam said...

Its always easy to throw out a scare at Halloween time, particularly just before an election.

Pandering to fear always seems to be a winner. Its also easier than figuring out a way to restructure the registry.

Anonymous said...

4:20 you are a fucking idiot, noone said the wife was 4 or 5. go back in your hole and don't come out until you know what the hell you are talking about

Craig said...

I suspect that if NAMBLA could swing a little more 'anonymous' influence on blogs such as these then they would benefit the most. Go visit their literature some time.

Thaddeus said...

Wow Craig @ 11:07 pm I've read all the comments on this blog and I didn't see one that would support your comment.

While I suspect you are an absolute zero troll, it is possible you are a treatment provider worried that any changes to laws relating to sex offenses might cut into your pocketbook.

Either way your ignorance is showing.

Anonymous said...

"Wife eh? Yeah, one guy was married to a four year old and another to a seven year old. She could have been his wife, we can't tell.

10/25/2010 04:20:00 PM

Alright Troll. There are over 700,000 people nationwide on the registry. Why don;t you take that little brain of yours, go in and start researching. it is the people like yourself with such little mental capability that refuse to do any research. You read the latest sensationalist 'news' story and immediately. For every 1 of the 'married to a 4 year old' people you find, I can find 2 dozen in there for teen on teen sexual relations, sexting, peeing in public, drunk in the wrong bar, etc. Stop being a tool, either try and get educated or just stfu and go away. We don't need the troll patrol coming around filling up the comments that other more educated people wish to comment on.

Anonymous said...

"A common sense approach for the backlogs at the DPS and long lines at the Registrar's office would be a deregistration process for offenders who are not dangerous,"

Until 2001 there WAS a deregistration process. That year the Texas Legislature took out the provision that would allow non-dangerous 1 victim offenders to get off the registry. Regrettably, they took it out and also made it retro active to where even if you were off the registry you had to go back on.

When they start the wife-beaters registry, DWI Registry, and like out in Florida the Foreclosure Registry, I am going to sit back and say all the bad things tht are currently being said about RSO's. ONce a drunk always a drunk.. Oh that guy has been beating his wife for years, he cannot be rehabilitated.. well they blow their money on other things and never paid their bills, they'll never change so don't give them another home that I have to help pay for!!!

Anonymous said...

How about an "adultery registry." How many of Texas' upstanding citizens would make that list?

NotaSOmom said...

Once again you are right on target with the continued problems of the registry. Can anyone even imagine that there are this many dangerous sex offenders walking. We all might as well lock our selves in the house and hide from! If they have three dozen a day registering and they register on their birthday is there a particular month that has more perverts than other months? Just saying as long as they are doing studies maybe we could find out and just eliminate those people before they attack!!! Thanks for the information :)

WifeofRSO said...

I agree. But there are exceptions, and that must be addressed. Two young girls in my family were victims before age 6, and I, naturally, wanted vengeance. But two men in my family are registered sex offenders, and both were accused by 16 year old girls who were angry at the men for grounding them. And they never met each other! It's like the threat of calling CPS by a teen, only now they make stepdad go away by calling "rape!" It just needs to be reformed.