Daily Archives: February 15, 2007

IA county seeks repeal of sex offender law

Iowa’s Shelby County has joined the Iowa County Attorneys Association, the Iowa Sheriffs and Deputies
Association, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, the Prevent Child Abuse Iowa organization, the Iowa State Association of Counties and several other Iowa groups and associations supporting repealing the sex offender residency restriction law, which took effect in September 2005. The County was encouraged by the County Attorney to pass this resolution:

“Our county attorney (Marcus Gross Jr.) requested we do this,” Supervisor Richard Ferry said. “He said it is a difficult law to enforce. People are living in abandoned houses and cars. It’s hard for law enforcement to find them. It’s not right.”

According to Gross, offenders are living in cemeteries and out of their cars, which is counterproductive because no one really knows where they are.

Division of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Joe Motsinger said he doesn’t have statistics to indicate whether offenders are failing to report changing residences because of the 2000-foot law, but said he personally knows of situations where that is the case. Motsinger heads the Sex Offender Registry.”When they are arrested for not complying, the reason they give is they couldn’t find a place because of the 2000-foot rule,” he said.

Ferry said he wants the Legislature to revisit the issue and try something else.

The laws intended purpose of reducing sex crimes has also not come to fruition.

Convictions for sex charges, the vast majority of which involve children, have remained steady since the 2,000-foot law and similar local ordinances took effect. The state’s 2006 fiscal year saw 759 such convictions, versus 750 in 2005.

About 140 people have been convicted of violating the 2,000-foot rule since its inception, but the penalty is small. It is a misdemeanor, usually punishable by fines and probation but no jail time.

These various associations in Iowa have supported a repeal of this law for a while now and I’m glad to see more joining in debate and taking a stand.

Prof. Berman has lots more coverage on this issue, as does Sex Crimes.

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State prison population expected to level off

According to a study released [.pdf file] by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Connecticut is one of three states in the country expected to maintain their prison levels through 2011. The national trend is expected to be an increase of 13 percent.

Connecticut, as previously reported, had hit its all-time high of prison population and this certainly is a good indicator of things to come. The obvious problem with such a high prison population is overcrowding.

The recent spike in the inmate population is exacerbated by the fact that there aren’t enough beds for inmates, who continue to sleep on mats on gym floors, with dozens sharing few toilets.

Brian Garnett, the corrections spokesman, concedes that overcrowding is an issue, but said the figures would be much higher if the department hadn’t collaborated with legislators and so aggressively worked to reduce recidivism among parolees and probationers. “The important perspective, while we are crowded, we’d still be more crowded if not for the steps we’ve taken,” Garnett said.

What is heartening about this study and the Courant article are the comments by legislators about what is being done to control the prison population. Primarily, there has been in an increase in probation staff and an emphasis on looking closely at technical violations and avoiding the trap of doing the easy thing: throw them back in jail.

The state’s $13 million parole and probation recidivism efforts focused on parolees and probationers locked up for non-criminal offenses, such as being late to a meeting with an officer or for losing a job, and thus, failing to meet a probation requirement. “It’s too easy to do it – ah, just send them to jail,” said [Co-Chair of the Judiciary Committee Mike] Lawlor. The theory was that by hiring more probation officers, and reducing caseloads, the probation officers had more time with clients to pinpoint programs that might keep them out of prison.

More than what the study could mean for overcrowding, though, Lawlor said the study highlights the fact that officials in Connecticut conservatives and liberals alike have agreed to a new approach dissecting the series of decisions that land a person behind bars. Some offenders deserve lengthy sentences, he said, while others only “need to be locked up for a short period of time,” he said.

According to figures cited in the article, Connecticut reduced the number of parolees and probationers sent back to jail on technical violations by 20%.

I was not aware of these changes (or even these figures), but I welcome this approach taken by the Department. It has long been evident that different rules apply in different jurisdictions and whether a parolee/probationer gets sent back to jail on a technical violation depends on what region he is from. Hopefully now, there will be a state-wide policy to take a second look at technical violations and seek out alternative remedies rather then sending them back to jail.

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