Tag Archives: sex offenders

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?

Rep. Lawlor asks for more resources

In light of yesterday’s prison tour, Judiciary Committee co-chair Mike Lawlor has issued a statement asking Gov. Rell to provide more resources to the DOC. He renews his disbelief over Comm’r Lantz’s assertions before the judiciary committee that they have the prison population under control.

Yesterday I toured the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield at the request of the corrections officers who work there. After seeing the institution myself and having one-on-one conversations with many officers, there is no question that the situation there and elsewhere in the Department of Corrections is nearing a crisis stage due to the recent surge in inmate population.

Two weeks ago, Commissioner Lantz appeared before the Judiciary Committee in your place and told us that her department needs no additional resources in order to safely manage the population surge. I simply cannot see how that is true.

These conditions cannot be ignored. For the protection of the public and corrections staff, you must allow the front-line professionals in corrections and parole to tell state officials what they need to safely manage the inmate population and the offenders who are or who will be released into the community in the near and long term. We, in turn, must provide them with those resources.

Meanwhile (and there’s no link to this – surprise, surprise!), there are reports that there was a violent fight at Brooklyn Correctional last night that resulted in an inmate’s head being busted open. Inmates and COs have been warning that this overcrowding is creating a very volatile situation. Let’s hope someone takes heed before it turns ugly.

Or perhaps they should just look to this 2000 report prepared by our very own Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, which concludes:

Prison overcrowding has a cyclical pattern in Connecticut — reaching a crisis point about every 10 years. The committee report showed most of the causes of prison overcrowding occurred outside the administration and jurisdiction of the Department of Correction and these complex issues and problems cannot be addressed by a single state agency. Specifically, the program review committee identified five main causes of prison overcrowding. They are:

  • Despite the decrease in arrest and crime rates, the number of offenders in prison or jail continued to increase due to the “war on drugs”, increased funding for police, increased role of victims and victim advocacy groups in the court process, added bed capacity in the correctional system, recidivism and technical violations of probation and parole, harsher penalties for certain types of crimes, and narrowed eligibility for community release and alternative sanction options.
  • Convicted inmates were remaining incarcerated for a greater portion of their court-imposed prison sentences as a result of the shift from an indeterminate to a determinate sentencing structure, elimination of “good time”, creation of time-served standards for parole eligibility, and the enactment of several “truth in sentencing” initiatives.
  • The aggressive “tough on crime” approach supported by the legislature and adopted by the executive and judicial branches allows the criminal justice system to narrow its use of discretion and take a more conservative and less controversial approach to punishment.
  • A lack of prison beds, especially high security and pre-trial beds, forced DOC to operate at capacity.
  • Poor planning and a lack of an accurate population projection and offender needs analysis contributed to the cycle of overcrowding and hampered DOC’s efforts to adequately plan for new or expanded facilities.

In reviewing options available to manage and control growth of the inmate population, the committee found Connecticut cannot build its way out of a prison overcrowding crisis. However, prison expansion is one model to address prison overcrowding. This strategy has been Connecticut’s primary response to prison overcrowding over the past 20 years. It is the simplest but least effective and most expensive approach. Services in this model are concentrated primarily on the small percent (25 percent) of the offender population in prison.

If legislators are truly interested in the “best solution”, then they should perhaps look to the current overcrowding problems in Texas, wonderfully covered by Grits for Breakfast [latest post here].

The full press release is after the jump, if you’re interested.

The American Idol Governor

Colin McEnroe weighs in on the Pollitt case, with this entry on his blog, in which he dubs the governor the “American Idol” governor:

Her entire involvement in this case appears to stem from her usual finger-in-the-wind desire to gratify the biggest, loudest, most obvious set of clamoring voices. If this woman possesses a set of core beliefs that occasionally supersede her natural instinct for cheap politics, she does not exhibit them very often. In this case, what has spurred her to seek a remedy that exists somewhere beyond the normal scope of the law? The fact that she is getting a lot phone calls. She’s sort of the “American Idol” governor. Phone calls and text messages mean, as far as I can tell, more to her than just about anything.

Then today, on his afternoon show, he interviewed AG Blumenthal about his position and his actions in this matter. While Colin did push him a bit, I wish he had been firmer on calling the AG out on several points:

  • Why did the Chief State’s Attorney not get involved?
  • In whose custody would he be if he were in a halfway house? (The answer is DOC)  Is that not incarceration?
  • If he is so concerned about Pollitt’s re-adjustment to the community (which he says he is), then why wait till the last minute to do something? The man has been in prison for 24 years.
  • When was the last time he filed a Motion in any court asking that a released convict not be allowed to move in with his family?
  • It isn’t true that sex offenders have the highest rate of recidivism.

Earlier in the day Gov. Rell appeared on the morning show, as did Peter who blogs at Undercurrents. The less said about the interview with Gov. Rell, the better.

The day the law almost died: the David Pollitt story

Connecticut was fast becoming a scary place to live. As yesterday’s post shows, residents of a small section of Southbury, a suburban town in Connecticut, were becoming increasingly concerned and paranoid with the news that one of their own was about to take in her brother – a convicted sexual offender – upon his release from prison. Mr. David Pollitt is scheduled to be released tomorrow after serving the full length of his sentence and will embark on a torturous journey of five years’ probation.

Residents of that nook of Southbury, rightly concerned and wrongly outraged, embarked on a full-press lobbying of the Governor to keep this from happening. Scarily, she bit. This morning, she wrote a letter to Attorney General Blumenthal asking him if Mr. Pollitt could be confined beyond his legal discharge date.

While recognizing that Mr. Pollitt has served his sentence and that his release and probation are statutorily governed, we also have a duty to ensure that we have left no stone unturned in safeguarding the safety and welfare of the Southbury residents. Numerous children and elderly residents reside in the Fox Run Drive neighborhood. I am asking that you explore immediately the possibility of filing a motion in Superior Court seeking the delay of Mr. Pollitt’s release. This additional time will allow all interested parties to carefully review all possible safety measures that may be implemented to protect the Southbury residents.

There are several, several problems with this request that I intended to outline in full detail, but in light of recent happenings, will only mention briefly:

First, this exhibits a blatant disregard for law in the State of Connecticut and flouts the Constitutions of both the Constitution State and the United States of America. I cannot imagine that Gov. Rell is not adequately advised as to the illegality of her request.

Second, assuming that she is advised as to the illegality of her request, this can be nothing but blatant political pandering. Which is abhorrable abhorrent. You do not play with people’s liberty to further your political goal.

Third, she makes this request of Attorney General Blumenthal, who has zero standing to request changes in the conditions of probation. An appropriate request would have been one made to Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, who I suspect might not have indulged her to the extent the AG did by filing this motion.

Fourth, her request indicates that the State agencies have not had time to evaluate the impact of his release into the community and make adequate preparations to safeguard the community. What, 24 years wasn’t enough to get their act together? [By all accounts, let it be noted, probation has done an excellent job of going out to the community and spending a significant amount of time attempting to assuage the fears of the residents. Paranoia, however, cannot be easily reassured.]

Finally, a half-way house or an in-patient facility is not an alternative form of probation, but an alternative form of incarceration. Mr. Pollitt has fully satisfied his period of incarceration and any such admission to a half-way house or in-patient facility would be the equivalent of keeping him in a correctional facility.

So, as you might know by now, AG Blumenthal did file a motion in New London Superior Court this afternoon, which was, by all accounts, summarily dismissed by Judge Susan Handy. She may not realize it (she probably does), but she has single-handedly saved the rule of law in the “Constitution” state.

Judge Susan Handy told Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that he has no standing to intervene in the case. Blumenthal said he was acting on behalf of Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

[She] said 54-year-old David Pollitt has served his sentence and is entitled to his freedom.

If this motion were granted (or if it is granted on appeal – if they appeal), it will mark the end of the rule of law in Connecticut. What it will signal is that the State has the power to confine individuals beyond their legal sentences for specious reasons.

Gov. Rell has just issued a statement in light of Judge Handy’s ruling:

“I am very disappointed that this reasonable and prudent request was rejected,” she said. “Public safety is our top priority — I empathize completely with the residents of the Fox Run Drive community [in Southbury], and despite this decision I want them to know that everything possible is being done to safeguard their homes and families.

Forgive me if I scoff. I’m sure every community in the State has received such assurances when sex offenders are released to them on a weekly basis.

Sex offender homelessness is not an excuse

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 (click on image for full size)

In my post last night about Danbury’s desire to expel all sex offenders from its shelter, a helpful readers points to this NYT article about a homeless sex offender in Georgia who could be facing life in prison for failing to register.

The offender, Larry W. Moore Jr. of Augusta, was convicted in North Carolina in 1994 of indecent liberty with a child, a felony. This week he was convicted for the second time of violating a requirement that he register. Under the new law, a second violation carries an automatic life sentence.

“We have suggested that it is cruel and unusual punishment as it relates to the facts of this case,” said Sam B. Sibley Jr., the state public defender in Augusta, whose office represents Mr. Moore and is planning an appeal on his behalf.

This increased penalty is in conjunction with some tough residency restrictions: 1,000 feet of not only schools and day care centers but also churches, swimming pools and school bus stops.

There is only one shelter in Georgia that accepts male sex offenders. One. Sex offenders that cannot find housing have to resort to all sorts of living accommodations.

In Florida, the state authorized five offenders to live under a bridge in Miami after they were unable to find suitable housing that they could afford. In Iowa, a victims’ group found that offenders tried to comply with the registry law by offering addresses like “rest area mile marker 149” or “RV in old Kmart parking lot.”

I had a client once who was charged with failure to register. He was living under a bridge. I half-joked at the time that he should send in the registration form with “Under Charter Oak Bridge” as his address. Guess some people are actually doing it.

Then you get quotes like this:

Homelessness is not an acceptable excuse. “One of the requirements when you become a sex offender is you have to have an address,” said Sgt. Ray Hardin of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta.

Sergeant Hardin said enforcement of the law required a dedicated investigator, a global positioning system and, each time an offender moves, hours of paperwork. At least 15 sex offenders have been arrested because of homelessness since the law took effect in July 2006, according to documents gathered through pretrial proceedings in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Perhaps the police department can set up tents in their parking lots, where sex offenders can stay. This way, there’s zero cost of monitoring and these folks (some of them are human, too) have a roof over their heads.

Image license here

Danbury wants to kick sex offenders out of its shelter

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Anyone who has been following sex offender issues across the country knows that it is an extremely difficult task balancing the safety of the community and the human rights of sex offenders. But this is just plain ridiculous.

Danbury apparently has one of only three or four shelters throughout the state that do not have a prohibition on sex offenders living there. Danbury Mark Boughton is not happy (Boughton was most famously in the news for soliciting the help of Federal agents to crack down on illegal immigrants in Danbury)*.

“These people had nothing to do with Danbury before they were sent here,” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. “Danbury is one of only five or six shelters in the state without a prohibition against sex offenders. This is outrageous.”

What’s outrageous is the fear-mongering. Sex offenders need somewhere to live, too. Or would you rather that they disappear into the wild and no one can keep tabs on them?

In a letter dated Wednesday to Chief Court Administrator William J. Lavery, Boughton wrote: “We have grave concerns of a concentration of sex offenders in our shelter, therefore, we are promulgating new rules that will only allow one or possibly two Danbury resident sex offenders present at any time.”

Concentration? There are only three sex offenders, Mayor, three. Apparently he’s okay with one or two sex offenders with prior ties to Danbury living in the Danbury shelter. I don’t see how it makes a damn difference where they come from. Does Danbury have special rules for living that these “outsiders” won’t know?

The homeless shelter on New Street has 15 beds in the summer and 20 in the winter, director Claudette Fogarty said. She said she isn’t there to judge who gets a bed at night and that people who were convicted of sex offenses stay at the shelter like other people, usually without a problem.

Fogarty said the shelter is open to people who are 18 years old or older. Families with young children do not stay there. She said sometimes the state’s probation office phones to ask if a particular person is staying there. She will answer, then alert the client about the call.

“They’re just people. This is my job,” Fogarty said. “It’s not my job to judge them.”

Fogarty said people on the state’s sex offender list have a tough time finding apartments, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development won’t let them have public housing.

“We’re bashing our heads against the wall on this,” Fogarty said. “These people need housing.

Fogarty said to the best of her knowledge – and she has been working at the shelter for 20 years – there has not been a problem caused by a person on the sex offender registry. The list includes anyone convicted of a sexual crime, not just those guilty of offenses against children.

Nothing more than plain old fear-mongering. SEX OFFENDER! BOO! Are you scared yet? Go crawl into your bed and lock your doors, the big bad anonymous, not yet violent SEX OFFENDER is out to get you!

Disgusting.

While we’re on this topic, the Saucy Vixen is asking for your help, criminal defense lawyers.

All sex offender related posts can be found here and residency restriction posts can be found here.

*See previous coverage of the immigration mess here, here, here, here, here, here and here . [Please be aware, all of these links are to posts that were written when I was on typepad. They were imported but the formatting in the blockquotes is all messed up. Sorry.]

KY: Residency restrictions not retroactive

A judge in Kentucky has ruled that residency restrictions cannot be applied to sex offenders that were convicted before the law went into effect.

Jefferson District Judge Donald Armstrong Jr. dismissed the cases of three Louisville men charged with living too close to schools and a youth treatment center, ruling that the law is unconstitutional because it adds punishment to their initial convictions.But Michael Goodwin, an attorney for one of the men, said Armstrong “has recognized that when an individual is punished by a judge and jury, the legislators can’t, many years later, adopt a second punishment for the same person.”

This was a Superior Court decision (Supreme Court for you New Yorkers), so this isn’t the end. In fact, a different Superior Court judge ruled that the restrictions were constitutional. KY’s Supreme Court will have to decide this sooner or later.

Under the old law, offenders had to live at least 1,000 feet — a fifth of a mile — from locations including a school building or licensed day-care center. The new law measures the 1,000-foot distance from the property line.The new law applies to all offenders, even if they are no longer on probation or parole, or under any type of judicial supervision.