Daily Archives: November 2, 2007

Lawmaker pondering sensible reform to sex offender registry

Finally some good news on the criminal justice reform front. Mike Lawlor, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, is also on the State Risk Assessment Board, which is charged with – you guessed it – assessing the risk of the state’s registered sex offenders. Lawlor wants to streamline the registry so as to provide more relevant information on those who have the highest risk of re-offending.

Lawlor sees room for improvement. He wants the Connecticut registry to attach “risk levels” to each offender to help people understand who poses a danger and who, likely, does not. It’s an idea modeled on states like Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, where “actuarial” risk assessment—a social science-based prediction method—is used to analyze a sex offender’s likelihood of re-offending, and where only those determined to have a high risk are placed on the internet. Based on the experience of the states that have done this, high risk offenders typically make up only 10 to 20 percent of the sex offender population.

In 2006, Lawlor pushed for the formation of the Risk Assessment Board, charged by the legislature with analyzing the state’s more than 4,600 registered sex offenders and stamping each as high, medium or low risk. The board is made up of high-level public officials—the commissioner of Correction, the commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the commissioner of Public Safety, the chief state’s attorney, the chief public defender, the chairperson of the Board of Pardons and Paroles—as well as a governor-appointed victim’s advocate, forensic psychiatrist, a risk assessment expert and members of the relevant legislative committees, including Lawlor.

The article actually does a good job of explaining the risk assessment methods and compares it to the traditional subjective approach employed by therapists.

Further, people may finally be catching on to the real problems of registries and the dangers it poses:

It’s counterintuitive, acknowledges the study’s author, David D’Amora, a licensed therapist who heads the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior and sits on the Risk Assessment Board. But the reason for the possible increase [in recidivism], he says, is fairly straightforward: Registered sex offenders have a harder time getting jobs and finding housing, and people without jobs or housing are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and to re-offend. When your life’s a mess, the theory goes, it’s harder to keep your behavior in check. “When you over-respond to the lowest risk people,” says D’Amora, “you end up making them more dangerous.

“With the best of intentions we are putting in place things that are decreasing the ability for people to have appropriate jobs and appropriate living,” says D’Amora, “and those are two of the things that are most important to decrease recidivism. The unintended consequence is making things more dangerous.”

Of course, there’s a long way to go and with the current political climate, who knows if this will ever come to fruition. I hope it does. If not, can they at least legislate that condoms be made available in jails?

Snitching: Here we go again

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Update: Scott clarifies (in the comments here and in this post) his definition of “rats”. He says he’s referring to defendant X who is guilty of crime 1, who, in exchange for a light prison sentence, tells the government about defendant Y who committed crime 2.

If only it were that simple. Sure that scenario arises, but how do you know that before you represent him? What about the scenario where defendant X and defendant Y might be guilty of crime 1. Defendant X wants to plead guilty because he’s got a long record, evidence is murky and there’s a chance that he might be convicted. At that point, he wants a lesser sentence, so he offers to testify against defendant Y. Is he a snitch? If so, why would you not represent him? By not representing him, are you not doing a disservice to the client that hired you?

Or is the dividing line that your client must be willing to testify against someone else committing only a different crime? I guess I still don’t understand (or perhaps I don’t believe that this the case).

Original post: The story that never dies: Snitching. Should you or shouldn’t you? That is the question that has been bandied about the “practical blawgosphere” for months now and has returned with a vengeance. This morning, after Norm’s latest post, Scott got all atwitter.

SO. Instead of rehashing everything said in the last day (and last few months), I’ll ask this of those that will not represent snitches: What do you mean by snitching? Is it purely co-operation with State in the prosecution of another? Does it include a third-party defense (as in testifying “I didn’t do it, my buddy did”) and what is the difference between the two?

I’ll give you my answer: There is none. Testifying on the stand that you didn’t commit a crime, but you know who did and that person is X, is akin to testifying at the trial of X that X committed the crime.

So you do non-snitchers draw that distinction? If not, why not?

Image from this site.