Bad Cell Signal? If You Wear a GPS Ankle Bracelet, It Can Send You Back to Jail

Persistent malfunctions in the electronic tracking devices worn by released Wisconsin inmates are prompting some experts in the state to question whether lifetime GPS monitoring is fair, effective, and worth the cost.

Cody McCormick spent much of the past seven years incarcerated or on probation after being convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota.

Since he had his supervision transferred to his home state of Wisconsin in late 2016, McCormick has been repeatedly thrown in jail. He lost a job. And he continues to be disturbed by corrections officials calling him — sometimes in the middle of the night.

McCormick says these barriers to reintegrating into the community stem from a GPS ankle bracelet, which he was not required to wear in Minnesota but is required by Wisconsin to wear for life. As of January, Wisconsin monitored 1,258 offenders on GPS devices at an annual cost of about $9.7 million.

Five years after the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism documented serious problems with the state’s GPS monitoring program for offenders — false alerts that have landed offenders in jail, disrupting family lives and causing them to lose jobs — inefficiencies and inaccuracies with the system remain, according to state and county records and 16 offenders interviewed for this story.

Such problems have led some law enforcement and other officials to doubt the program’s ability to ensure public safety and assist offenders in reintegrating into their communities.

Since the Center’s 2013 report, the cost of the program and the number of offenders under monitoring have roughly doubled. Lawmakers never followed through on calls to study the system in the wake of the Center’s report. State officials have been unable to produce records of any evaluation of the system’s reliability or effectiveness.

In this current report, the Center found numerous service requests and complaints related to bracelets failing to hold a charge. In February, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it a felony for anyone on GPS monitoring to intentionally fail to charge his or her bracelet.

The state is drawing up a new request for bids for GPS monitoring equipment. Lawmakers are considering extending the length of the contract from three years to seven to entice additional bidders. Bill sponsor Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, said the current vendor, Boulder, Colorado-based BI Inc., is planning a 50 percent price hike unless the contract is lengthened.

Missed Signals

McCormick, 29, said his troubles with GPS monitoring began soon after being fitted with an ankle bracelet in February 2017. Records show the BI Inc. tracker was not communicating with the Department of Corrections’ Electronic Monitoring Center in Madison because of poor cellular reception at his grandmother’s house, where he lived in rural Monroe County.

And even though police found him exactly where he was supposed to be, McCormick was taken to jail for about three days. As a result, he lost his job at his family’s restaurant.

Cody McCormick. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Ten months later, McCormick was incarcerated again, this time for five days. Records from the Sparta Police Department show the arrest stemmed from McCormick allegedly being located next to a library — a zone off-limits for him — for an hour. McCormick said he only drove past it; his roommate, who was driving with him, affirmed this version of the incident.

McCormick’s difficulties persisted. This January, McCormick was briefly jailed on a warrant for allegedly tampering with the bracelet. A police report said McCormick showed them he had not tampered with it. He was later fitted with a new bracelet. Officials did not charge him with a crime — although tampering is a felony offense.

“It’s not just the people who are on monitoring devices (who are affected),” McCormick said. “It’s their family, their jobs, their social life.”

McCormick’s story illustrates broader flaws with Wisconsin’s GPS monitoring program, which relies on both cell phone and satellite service to track offenders.

The Center reviewed data from a single month, May 2017, to more deeply explore the large volume of alerts being triggered by Wisconsin’s monitored offenders. In all, Wisconsin offenders in May generated more than 260,000 GPS alerts, 81,000 of which corrections officials sorted through manually.

The review found:

  • The state monitoring center lost cell connection 56,853 times with 895 offenders — or an average of about 64 times per offender, according to DOC records.
  • Most offenders on monitoring across the state experienced loss of satellite signal, generating 32,766 alerts — half of which were serious enough to be investigated.
  • Of the 52 arrest warrants issued by the DOC monitoring center, service request records indicate 13 involved offenders whose equipment was having technical problems around the same time.
  • DOC employees submitted 135 requests for technical problems with GPS tracking devices— 93 for charging or battery issues with ankle bracelets, 12 for signals lost, 14 for false tamper alerts.

Other records showed:

  • Several offenders have been jailed between one and three times since 2013 for what DOC records indicated or they reported were technical malfunctions.
  • Since January 2015, DOC has filed 1,360 reports when offenders damaged, lost or absconded with DOC-issued equipment, including GPS equipment, sobriety monitors and home-confinement monitoring. An examination of a portion of those reports found at least 89 offenders had evaded GPS monitoring for some length of time, subverting the program’s goal of enhancing public safety.
  • Some offenders claim their GPS shows them to be in places they are not or that they are arrested for tamper alerts when their devices’ ankle straps wear out.

Tech Glitches Put Public ‘In Imminent Danger’

A 2017 examination by the University College London and Australian National University of 33 studies on electronic monitoring effectiveness worldwide found one of the most frequent barriers to success was technological problems, including equipment malfunction, loss of signal or power, battery failure and inadequate broadband capacity.

California replaced half of the state’s ankle bracelets after testing showed that brand, 3M, was so inaccurate and unreliable that its use put the public “in imminent danger.” In 2013, a Los Angeles County audit found one in four of its bracelets had defective batteries or excessive false alerts.Massachusetts replaced all 3,000 of its GPS bracelets in 2016, citing poor cell coverage. A 2015 investigation by Northeastern University journalism students in Boston had found wrongful arrests caused by GPS false alerts.

Wisconsin DOC officials said the benefits of the program outweigh any technical drawbacks. Spokesman Tristan Cook noted that the program is aimed at public safety.

“GPS tracking provides a deterrent effect since offenders know they are being tracked and allows the department to review an offender’s location history to aid the prosecution of any crimes or identify supervision violations,” Cook said.

BI Inc., which supplies the ankle bracelets and other monitoring equipment, declined to answer questions about reported problems with the technology.

Technology does continue to improve, however, and states are aggressively increasing the number of offenders on GPS.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 88,000 offenders were strapped with GPS bracelets in 2015 — 30 times more than the 2,900 offenders who were tracked a decade earlier. Wisconsin had a daily average of about 1,500 offenders on tracking in 2017-18 — a nearly 10-fold increase from 158 offenders in 2008-09.

Some experts say GPS monitoring can be a useful tool in providing structure, reducing recidivism, allowing offenders to work and lowering costs compared to incarceration. But technological problems can get in the way of those benefits.

Mike Nellis, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, believes that GPS monitoring in the United States has taken on a punitive approach that hampers offender reintegration. The journal focuses on monitoring technology and its use in enhancing public safety.

“If (offenders) are trying to reintegrate themselves … to suddenly find yourself carted back to prison for something that is in no way your fault seems to me to be quite an unnecessary disruption in the life of an offender — and quite at odds with good practice in reintegrating them,” Nellis said.

DOC has the authority to detain offenders on monitoring for up to three work days while it investigates violations, although extensions may be granted.

Cecelia Klingele. Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison/Wisc Center for Investigative Journalism.

Cecelia Klingele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison associate law professor who specializes in correctional policy, said DOC is put in a difficult position when it knows some, or even many, of the alerts it receives are caused by equipment malfunctions. But she argues the agency should investigate such alerts with minimal harm to the offender, especially in the case of false alerts.

“Even short periods of jail are highly disruptive and can cause a person to lose his job, be unable to care for children, or even lose stable housing,” Klingele said.

‘It’s a Wilderness Up Here’

Some officials in law enforcement and the judiciary who deal with Wisconsin’s GPS program have seen false alerts firsthand and have reservations about the program.

“It’s wilderness up here,” Price County Sheriff Brian Schmidt said of his county in northern Wisconsin. “When you’re dealing with that, you’re dealing with cell coverage issues. DOC needs to recognize those things. County taxpayers pay for these issues.”

Schmidt recalled an incident in which he refused to detain a GPS-monitored offender with a warrant because it appeared to stem from a device malfunction.

“If there’s a violation, I understand, but if … you find a gentleman in bed, and the monitor is failing, even though I have the (apprehension) request, I’m less likely to put that person in jail,” Schmidt said.

DOC sees it another way.

“There is no such thing as a ‘false alert,’ ” Cook said. “If the monitoring center is not able to successfully resolve an alert, an offender is taken into custody to protect the public and comply with state statutes requiring continuous tracking.”

Judge James Morrison of Marinette County, a sprawling, heavily forested county on the Michigan border, said concern about the reach of GPS tracking in rural areas was one factor that led him to reject the placement of a sex offender in July.

“It’s just common sense that we’re not getting a tremendous amount of protection out of this system,” Morrison said.

Nellis said when states conflate GPS monitoring with public safety, they are “giving the public quite excessive expectations at what GPS is capable of.”

Research shows that at least two-thirds of sexual assaults are perpetrated by individuals known to the victim — family members or acquaintances — not by strangers who might visit common GPS exclusion zones such as schools, day-care centers or parks.

Morrison regularly sees offenders remove their ankle bracelets to evade monitoring in Marinette County. This reflects the Center’s findings, which show at least 36 offenders since January 2015 have illegally removed their devices.

Given the sprawling size of Marinette County — 1,400 square miles — and the three to four officers on hand to patrol it, responding to GPS apprehension requests would take too long to be effective, the judge said.

“(If) somebody cuts off their GPS monitor and decides they’re going to go bash in the skull of a witness in a case against them, what kind of protection do we get?” Morrison said. “They’ve (the monitoring center) got to tell our cops. Our cops are 70 miles away.”

Such is the case in records obtained by the Center. They show it can take days or even weeks for DOC or the police to locate errant offenders, especially if they are homeless or have removed their bracelets.

Other states, weighed down by excessive alerts, have seen tracked offenders commit serious crimes when officials delay in responding to alerts. In one case in Colorado, officials took five days to respond to a tamper alert from a paroled white supremacist, who had killed two people, including the then-head of the state’s Department of Corrections.

In Germany, an offender on electronic monitoring fled the country to join ISIS. *A Kenosha offender removed his GPS bracelet and was found by police knocking on the door of his victim.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) cannot always determine remotely whether alerts signify a technical issue or legitimate violation; they sometimes jail offenders while they investigate the alleged violation.

For instance, in May, DOC received 14 alerts for strap tampers — a felony in Wisconsin and seen as one of the most severe violations — that ended up being false alarms after no evidence of tampering was found upon inspection, a review of DOC records showed.

On the other hand, offenders can commit serious crimes without generating any alerts at all.

In July 2016, for instance, four offenders, three on electronic monitoring, allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl at a halfway house near Madison. The crime was not detected because the three monitored offenders were right where they were supposed to be.

Spurred by the high-profile kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in 2005, Florida began requiring lifetime GPS monitoring of certain sex offenders, and California, Wisconsin and other states followed.

But evidence is mixed on whether it prevents new sex crimes.

Recent studies show that electronic monitoring combined with traditional parole methods and treatment could lower rates of arrests, convictions and returns to custody. But a University College London study speculates that any positive effects may be due to increased compliance with treatment programs, not the monitoring itself.

Other studies show that even if GPS does produce some benefits, it may not be worth the cost.

Susan Turner, a professor of criminology, law and society at University of California-Irvine, has studied California’s GPS monitoring program. Turner argues such systems do not provide much benefit for the cost.

In a 2015 study on California’s GPS program that she co-authored, Turner found the system does reduce recidivism, but only for administrative violations such as failure to register as a sex offender, not for criminal sex and assault violations, where recidivism is already “very low.”

“I think they (lawmakers) had the tail wagging the dog,” Turner said. “They hadn’t really thought through what exactly they hoped to accomplish by putting it on, other than just saying we got the GPS on the sex offender.”

In her paper, Turner concluded that “although knowing the whereabouts of sex offenders is important, the cost of monitoring sex offenders on GPS may outweigh these benefits.”

In another Turner study from 2012, she found California’s program cost $4,600 per year more per high-risk sex offender than for those not on GPS because it takes more agents to keep up with the constant monitoring.

About 96 full-time equivalent staff work at the DOC’s electronic monitoring center in Madison to investigate GPS alerts, notify agents or law enforcement of violations and pursue arrest warrants when necessary.

Warrants are issued when an offender allegedly removes his ankle bracelet or otherwise absconds from supervision, misses curfew or spends too long in an “exclusion zone” such as a park or school.

Offenders interviewed by the Center say they generally have experienced fewer malfunctions as time passes. Jessa Nicholson Goetz, a Madison-based criminal defense attorney, said that technological improvements have largely resolved the malfunctions her clients experienced.

Still, problems do remain.

Arrested for a Malfunctioning Bracelet

James Morgan, a sex offender profiled in the Center’s original report who was jailed for alleged GPS violations at least eight times between 2011 and March 2013, has been arrested three times since then for alleged GPS violations. DOC records show that one time was for a lost signal, which was not Morgan’s fault. In another case, Morgan said, his bracelet malfunctioned.

If found guilty of violating the terms of his monitoring, Morgan, 58, could be returned to prison for years. That prospect keeps him up at night.

James Morgan, pictured with his wife and daughter, wears a GPS ankle bracelet for life after having spent 26 years in prison for sexual assault and other crimes. He has been arrested several times due to GPS problems. Photo by Coburn Dukehart /Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

“I could potentially never walk out,” Morgan said as his daughter, Angela, and new wife, Rachel, listened beside him. He thinks about that every time he is arrested, Morgan said.

“He’s not going to be the same when he comes back,” Angela chimed in. “Even if it’s for 48 hours. How do you give me my father back — but not really?”

For corrections departments, however, creating more tolerant policies comes with risk. In New York, where officials set up a program to notify them only if an alert lasted for more than five minutes, an offender evaded monitoring and raped a 10-year-old girl and killed her mother in 2013.

The system’s ability to accurately locate offenders in rural areas, where cell service is poor, also can be spotty.

Several offenders told the Center they have received repeated phone calls from the monitoring center or their probation agents asking them to regain a signal or informing them they are located in places where offenders claim not to be.

David Bay, a sex offender on GPS from Ashland County, has been arrested three times on probation violations since 2013. He claimed the problem was with his monitoring bracelet. Bay said he is afraid to stray too far from the beacon at his home.

“My signal is so weak I spend very little time outside because if they lose me, they just come and get me. I’m in there two to three days for what? For nothing,” the 69-year-old Bay said on the phone from his home in Glidden.

Battery malfunctions are widely reported, according to DOC records. Of the 93 service requests submitted in May for battery problems, some were for batteries that failed to take a charge or drained within a few hours. BI Inc., the device manufacturer, advertises that its devices can hold a charge for up to 80 hours.

When GPS bracelets lose their charge prematurely, offenders who are outside of their homes must race to find a place to gain a charge, or face jail time.

“When they go dead, they go dead fast,” said Steven Nichols, 48, of Whitehall. “You’ll notice the battery gets hot and burns my leg and takes two hours to charge. … I once charged it fully and drove to Eau Claire (a 50-minute drive), and it was beeping that the battery was dead.”

Offenders say new devices take around 30 minutes to charge. But Jason Wolford, a 37-year-old offender on lifetime GPS and off of probation, said he has spent up to five hours sitting in one place to charge an older unit. GPS service requests show reports of charging taking up to seven hours.

After the Center’s 2013 report on troubles with Wisconsin’s GPS program, lawmakers requested a study on the reliability of the technology, but it never happened.

Former state Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, who co-chaired the Joint Legislative Council in 2013, told the Center that the study died for lack of interest, failing to gain support among 90 suggested studies that session.

On an early August evening with the summer sun setting behind them, McCormick, his fiancé Breanna Kerssen and a friend hauled up from his grandmother’s basement boxes of clothes, an oscillating fan and a used canvas that Breanna hoped to paint over someday.

They carefully placed everything into two aging Acura sedans and drove down a winding country road to an apartment in Sparta where McCormick hoped better cellular reception would give him a life less interrupted by the corrections system.

The apartment, a shabby second-floor walk-up, was only four miles from his grandmother’s. For McCormick, it might as well have been 4,000 miles.

“I was tired about getting phone calls (from the monitoring center),” McCormick said as he surveyed his new yard. “Here, I don’t have to worry about that as much.”

McCormick’s optimism, it turns out, was misplaced.

In addition to two more arrests since moving to Sparta, the monitoring center called McCormick in October when he came within half a block of a liquor store, which is one of his exclusion zones. Another time, he had to return home early from helping with his grandmother’s fall yard cleanup.

The monitoring center said it could not gain a signal.

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of an article published this month by the nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.  The full version is available here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

GPS and Social Media Surveillance-Best Hope for Corrections?

Observations Electronic monitoring data on reductions of technical violations and returns to prison indicate the possibility of a more effective and humane way to supervise high-risk offenders. But the only effective way for that to happen is to staff a real-time, 24-365 operation where there are experts to evaluate the data points and to come […]

Observations Electronic monitoring data on reductions of technical violations and returns to prison indicate the possibility of a more effective and humane way to supervise high-risk offenders. But the only effective way for that to happen is to staff a real-time, 24-365 operation where there are experts to evaluate the data points and to come […]

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net

Harvey Weinstein-Why We Refuse To Acknowledge Abused Women Offenders

Observations The history of sexual and physical violence directed to women offenders (especially during childhood) is considerable. Add neglect, and it indicates that most have challenging histories. The Harvey Weinstein incident and additional stories of abuse pale in comparison to the numbers involved. Yet we say nothing, do nothing, and within the confines of the […]

Observations The history of sexual and physical violence directed to women offenders (especially during childhood) is considerable. Add neglect, and it indicates that most have challenging histories. The Harvey Weinstein incident and additional stories of abuse pale in comparison to the numbers involved. Yet we say nothing, do nothing, and within the confines of the […]

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net

Do Criminal Defendants Have Web Rights?

A Supreme Court ruling in June overruled the conviction of a sex offender for violating his probation after posting on Facebook. But that opens up a new legal minefield over limitations on internet access for anyone convicted of a crime, warns a Washington, DC attorney.

Court-imposed web restrictions applied to criminal defendants may be going the way of dial-up internet service.

In June, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Packingham v. North Carolina that invalidated a state law banning registered sex offenders from accessing websites that could facilitate direct communications with minors.

While the majority opinion and concurrence seems grounded in—and specific to—sex offender restrictions, the evolving communications technology that operates in cyberspace today suggests that the ruling will have an impact on attempts to restrict web access for all criminal defendants in state or federal courts.

Lester Packingham pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl when he was 21. Eight years after his conviction, Lester bragged on Facebook about a happy day in traffic court, using the screen name of J.R. Gerrard, and exclaiming:

“Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? No fine, no court cost, no nothing spent…Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!”

A police officer tracked down court records, obtained a search warrant, and correctly identified “J.R.” as an alias for Lester Packingham.

He was subsequently convicted of violating a North Carolina statute that prohibits convicted sex offenders from using social-networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter. The unanimous Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reversed the conviction on First Amendment free speech grounds.

According to Kennedy, the North Carolina statute was too broad, in that it effectively prevented sex offenders from accessing the “vast democratic forums of the Internet” that serve as principal sources of information on employment opportunities, current events, and opinions or ideas that have no connection to criminal plans or the potential victimization of children.

Justice Samuel Alito agreed, pointing out that the statute’s definition of social networking sites would in effect encompass even Amazon, the Washington Post, and WebMD—all of whom provide opportunities for visitors to connect with other users. In his concurrence, he noted that states were entitled to draft narrower, and constitutionally valid, restrictions because of their legitimate interest in thwarting recidivist sex offenders.

But it’s not at all clear that a state legislature can follow Justice Alito’s guidance and sufficiently narrow its sights on offender/child communication to the point where the law has its intended effect, while still passing constitutional muster.

There may undoubtedly be pedophiliac versions of Tinder or Match.com which could fit the definitions of sites where access can be restricted without harm to First Amendment protections. But today’s internet does not lend itself easily to such narrow definitions. Even mainstream sites like The Washington Post or Amazon could be considered portals that might be compromised by criminal behavior. Such sites encourage the kind of user engagement that, while they may not be fairly called a “chat room,” is close enough to a “bulletin board” to bring us right back into the perils of North Carolina’s now-invalidated law.

And what of the defendants facing internet restrictions for reasons other than molestation or child pornography violations?

There are numerous defendants who are bounced off the internet as a condition of probation or supervised release because the internet was an instrumentality for their crimes. For instance, internet-based fraud, identity theft, or using pro-terrorism websites to construct weapons or murderous plans, are all offenses that have led judges to impose some form of web restriction on defendants.

Web restrictions for these defendants are now also in play in a post-Packingham world.

The intention of the judges seeking to restrict web access in these cases is understandable. They want to remove potential tools of victimization from the hands of convicted criminals. But the Supreme Court’s recognition of the vast, evolving and multi-purpose nature of today’s internet has brought legitimate First Amendment considerations into almost every web-limiting decision.

We may soon see that the only web restrictions that are lawful and practically enforceable are ones stemming from the defendant volunteering to withdraw from the net—likely because of the perceived trade-off between more time in jail and the judge’s comfort level as to assurances that re-victimization by internet will not occur when the defendant is returned to the community.

In the meantime, Packingham may shape the battlefield when web-restricted defendants are alleged to have violated parole or probation by visiting websites. Judges facing considerably more ominous violations than Lester’s on-line celebration of beating a traffic ticket may find that website-messaging technology and powerful First Amendment concerns leave them with little recourse but to ban outright all attempts to restrict access.

To some, this may be an uncomfortably high price to pay for web freedom.

On a practical level, technology has largely out-paced the now-antiquated view that the Internet can be surgically sliced into “safe” websites and “unsafe” ones, and the unanimity of Packingham suggests that the Court did not struggle much with its rationale.

While the absence of web-restrictions would lead to the release of offenders to the community with an unavoidable dose of discomfort with their access to computers, it may also result in judges finding themselves increasingly satisfied with lengthy prison terms because of the lack of a satisfactory, less-restrictive condition of supervised release.

So, somewhat ironically, the next Lester Packingham may find himself spending more time in prison because of his inability to convince a judge that self-restraint on the computer can adequately replace judicially-imposed restraints.

Perhaps the safer bet here is on technology – that some program, some application, or some web-alternative pops up in the future and revitalizes the possibility of judges restricting web access without violating First Amendment rights.

James Trusty

James Trusty is a Member at Ifrah Law, PLLC, where he leads the White Collar Practice Group. He was formerly Chief of the Department of Justice Organized Crime & Gang Section, and has spent 27 years serving as either a local or federal prosecutor. He also teaches criminal Justice courses at University of Maryland (Shady Grove). He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

PA Court Bars Retroactive Sex Offender Registration

The state supreme court said sex offenders convicted before a 2012 law was enacted cannot be compelled to adhere to registration protocols required under the law.

Nearly 4,000 crime victims will be affected by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling this week that bars the retroactive extension of registration requirements for sex offenders, reports PennLive.com. State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said her office is reaching out to all of them as it tries to gauge the impact of that ruling, which the divided court issued Wednesday in a Cumberland County case. The majority ruling by Justice Kevin M. Dougherty established that state officials can’t increase the amount of registration time required for sex offenders who were convicted before the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was adopted in 2012.

Several convicted sex offenders had filed legal challenges to retroactive registration orders. Dougherty found that the SORNA requirement that offenders must register with state police is a “punishment” and so cannot be increased retroactively. Storm said her agency is working with its legal teams to determine how the Supreme Court decision will affect 3,929 sex crime victims who receive SORNA notifications for older cases. Victims can call her office at 800-563-6399.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Alito’s Outdated Opinion on Sex Offenders ‘Quite Misleading’

The Washington Post says that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s concurring opinion this week in a sex-crime case “reflects a common misrepresentation of sex offender recidivism.” Alito wrote that sex offenders “are much more likely than any other type of offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual assault.” The case involved a registered sex offender in North Carolina who was arrested for posting his photo on Facebook, a violation of a 2008 state law banning convicted […]

The Washington Post says that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s concurring opinion this week in a sex-crime case “reflects a common misrepresentation of sex offender recidivism.” Alito wrote that sex offenders “are much more likely than any other type of offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual assault.” The case involved a registered sex offender in North Carolina who was arrested for posting his photo on Facebook, a violation of a 2008 state law banning convicted sex offenders from accessing websites where minors can sign up. The court ruled the arrest was a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The Post says Alito’s reference to sex offender rearrest trends is “quite misleading.” In fact, federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data suggests that only those convicted of homicide have a lower rate of rearrest for the same crime (within five years of release) than sex offenders. The BJS rearrest figures for violent crimes: homicide, 2.1 percent; rape or sexual assault, 5.6 percent; robbery, 13.1 percent, and assault, 34.4. The figures were even higher for some nonviolent crimes–auto theft and larceny, 41.4 percent, and drugs, 51.2 percent. The Post concludes that Alito used outdated data going back to the 1980s.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Community Notification About Sex Offenders Works-Time to Expand to Additional Crimes?

Subtitle Should we notify the community about violent offenders released from prison? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins […]

Subtitle Should we notify the community about violent offenders released from prison? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins […]

from http://www.crimeinamerica.net

Sex Offender Registration: Why Fear Isn’t Smart Policy

Sex Offender registration laws haven’t improved community safety or reduced the numbers of victimized children. Even the mother of Jacob Wetterling, whose murder led to the passage of the 1994 law, agrees that it’s time for a second look, writes a former clinician.

As momentum around criminal justice reform builds nationwide, sex offenders are one population that is consistently left out of the conversation.

As of 2008, there were 737,000 individuals living on the sex offender registry in the United States, according to the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking—almost double the 386,000 registered individuals in 2001.

After the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was passed in 1994, as part of President Bill Clinton’s Omnibus Crime Bill, registration became a federal mandate for individuals convicted of a number of different categories of sex offenses.

Megan’s Law, passed in 1996, added a community notification component. With the passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (or SORNA), the number of register-able offenses broadened and average lengths of registration increased. The intervening years between their inception and the present have not shown these laws to be effective in accomplishing their goals of community safety or reducing the number of children who are victimized.

So why aren’t champions of prison and sentencing reform talking about it?

The current laws were all enacted with the best of intentions. Parents, afraid for their children, overwhelmingly supported policies that they believed would keep their communities safe.  But as we have seen in the case of the War on Drugs, policies so deeply rooted in fear and misunderstanding will never be successful. In the meantime, they are causing a great deal of harm.

Despite what researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business call a “lack of empirical evidence for the recidivism-reducing benefits of registration and notification,” these laws persist and cause a number of problems. The Chicago researchers point to the financial costs associated not just with those convicted and their families, but with the taxpayers who subsidize their registration and supervision.

Additionally, they point out, neighbors of those on the registry often suffer loss in property value, based simply on physical proximity.

Placement on the registry does not take into account individual risk level, meaning that people are assigned to a somewhat arbitrary term of registration, along with a tier, based solely on the broad category of crime they committed.

Much advocacy work has been undertaken in recent years to address the labeling and registry of juveniles convicted of sex offenses, citing data about low recidivism rates and discussing the harm done to young people who end up registered and greatly restricted when they pose little risk to the public.

This work has already been successful, with some states beginning to remove juvenile offenders from the registry. These same arguments can be made for large portions of the adult men and women who are currently registered across the United States.

Despite the oft-cited “frightening and high” language* that is used to describe recidivism rates for individuals who have committed sex offenses, current data suggests that recidivism rates, particularly for new sexual offenses, are incredibly low—especially when compared to other types of criminal behavior.

For example a California Corrections Department report found that of registrants returned to prison, a staggering 92% were rearrested on parole violations, while less than 1% were re-incarcerated for a new sexual offense. A 2003 brief from the Bureau of Justice Statistics cites a 5.3% recidivism rate over the first three years of release for high-risk offenders (those who have committed rape or sexual assault) with their likelihood of recidivism declining steadily over time.

For individuals classified as low-risk, those numbers are much lower: “About 97.5% of the low-risk offenders were offense-free after five years, about 95% were still offense-free after 15 years,” the report said.  Compare this to the fact that more individuals (3%) convicted of felonies with no sex offense on their record (who are not, therefore on the registry) will commit a sex offense within 4.5 years of release.

I am not advocating for the laws to be thrown out entirely. But it’s  time for a serious cost/benefit analysis.

And this call for reform has some surprising advocates. After her eleven-year-old son Jacob was abducted and murdered in 1989, Patty Wetterling began fighting for the implementation of a national registry. But in the intervening years, Wetterling has become a staunch supporter of smarter laws and policies. She saw firsthand the way that these laws could take on a life of their own, and have serious collateral consequences.

We need an honest accounting of which  parts of these laws are functional and which are not.  It’s a conversation that we should be having, for a number of reasons. Men and women on the registry often struggle to find and maintain stable housing or employment, due to their registration status.

Some researchers and treatment providers suggest that these “collateral consequences,” as they are often called, may actually increase the likelihood of recidivism by encouraging “social withdrawal and heightened anxiety…common precursors to reoffending.”

While it is certainly important for law enforcement to be able to effectively monitor violent and high-risk individuals, these individuals represent a minority of those on the registry. When we register people who don’t pose a serious risk to the community, we spread already scarce resources even more thinly.

Likewise, current systems perpetuate a myth that “violent strangers” are largely responsible for committing these insidious sexual offense—and, if we can only identify and isolate them, they can be managed.

The reality is much more complicated.

More than 90% of those who sexually offend are known to their victim. In fact, the stricter our laws become around sexual offenses and those who commit them, the more likely will a victim be discouraged from reporting abuse at the hands of a friend or family member, fearing the repercussions of registry and notification.

Sophie Day

If we truly want to make our communities safer and to reduce the number of new victims of sexual offense, then we need to pursue practices and policies that are based on evidence and not rooted in fear.

By using individual risk-assessments to sentence and register individuals and engaging in primary prevention programs, we may actually begin to improve the safety of our communities— and of our children.

Sophie Day is a graduate student completing Masters in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. She has done clinical work with men convicted of sex offenses as well as policy research related to the laws currently on the books.

*This language, which comes from a U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Kennedy in the 2002 case McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 33, is based on an 80% recidivism rate for untreated offenders. This data point comes from a Department of Justice report which cites as its source an article from Psychology Today, a mass-market magazine and not a peer-reviewed journal. The article’s author was not a researcher, but a practitioner who offered treatments within California prisons and was writing the article to encourage people to use his services. He offered no data to backup the 80% recidivism that he quoted (Ellman & Ellman, 2015).

 

from https://thecrimereport.org