Thursday, January 5, 2012

Civil commitment petition against Butner, NC prisoner dismissed

 Federal judge discounts sex offender's confessions as fabricated

Sex offenses are upsetting, and their perpetrators creepy. Understandably, it's easy for jurors and even judges to brush aside legal technicalities and burdens of proof in the interest of keeping women and children safe.

But it is disturbing when forensic psychologists collude in this endeavor, disregarding the limits of science by overstating the accuracy of risk assessment instruments, inventing pretextual disorders to justify preventive detention, and even claiming omniscient truth-telling powers regarding ancient, unprosecuted allegations.

In an environment replete with such folie à plusieurs, it was refreshing to read the recent federal decision in the case of Markis Revland, a habitual criminal who faced civil detention after serving time for child pornography possession.

Senior U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman systematically analyzed and rejected the evidence as failing to meet the government’s burden of proof. Not only did the government fail to show that Revland had a serious mental disorder that put him at high risk of molesting children if released, it even failed to prove that the convict had engaged in any hands-on child molestation in the past, the judge ruled.

Child abuse claims imaginary

In addition to his conviction for child pornography, Revland had two prior convictions for indecent exposure. But the most damning evidence against him was his own admissions, made during sex offender treatment at the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, that he had committed 149 additional incidents of sexual abuse of children of various ages.

However, the keen-minded judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina wasn’t buying those confessions:
The court finds that all of the 149 incidents reported by respondent … were the product of his imagination, not actual events.
He explained that Revland was desperate to enroll in Butner’s treatment program in order to escape the infamous federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he feared for his life after being beaten and raped at knifepoint by fellow prisoners. Once at Butner, he felt compelled to fabricate “a long list of sex offenses,” lest he be deemed uncooperative and returned to Leavenworth.

The offenses that he described in great detail were implausible, in that he was serving a prior, 10-year prison term for cocaine at around the same time that he claimed to be running around molesting children, the judge determined:
The reported incidents were not only too numerous to believe but also recounted – years afterwards – far too precisely, with respondent providing the age of the victim, the time of day … when each offense occurred, and the location where each incident allegedly occurred…. And yet the government offered no evidence to independently verify that any of these incidents occurred or that any of them – even one – ever resulted in investigation or prosecution.
As a group, Butner offenders – most of them incarcerated on child pornography charges -- have confessed to an unusually high number of undetected sex offenses, leading many observers to suspect that the widely publicized numbers are unreliable. Critics say treatment providers at the federal institution pressured prisoners to report as many offenses as possible, lest they be accused of not cooperating.

No bona fide sexual disorder

Likewise, Judge Friedman was unconvinced by the government's claim that Revland suffered from a mental disorder, pedophilia, that would justify civil commitment by making him likely to engage in future child molestation if released.

Friedman conceded that the convict met the criteria for antisocial personality disorder. But he found that such a diagnosis was irrelevant:
The essence of this disorder is that the patient “fail[s] to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.” Dr. [Jeffrey] Singer testified that the vast majority of prison inmates have this disorder, as they are in prison for breaking the law and failing to conform to social norms. Dr. [Joseph] Plaud testified that there is no documented causal link, in this case or in general, between antisocial personality disorder and sexual dangerousness. The court credits these experts' opinions.
Finally, the judge rejected the claims of two government psychologists that two so-called actuarial instruments, the Static-99R and the MnSOST-R, showed Revland to be at high risk for recidivism.

Judge Friedman said the risk assessments by both Dr. Manuel Gutierrez, a Board of Prisons employee, and contract psychologist Jeffrey Davis were "particularly unreliable in the present case because they both assumed that [Revland] is a pedophile with numerous 'hands-on' victims, whereas the court has rejected both of these premises."

Increasingly, cutting-edge researchers are coming to the consensus that by and large, with a few exceptions at the extreme end of the continuum, sex offenders are not a distinct group worthy of the level of special attention they are getting these days. Rather, they are garden-variety criminals who violate social norms, take what they want, and eventually burn out as they enter middle age.  

The judge's bold language in cutting through the empty psychobabble about mental disorder and risk harkens back to the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Emperor's New Clothes, who was not afraid to declare out loud that the emperor was naked.

10 comments:

  1. Bravo, Karen!

    Mark B. Whitehill, Ph.D.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My case 10 years later in this article

    http://homelandsecuritynewswire.info/dr20111129-digital-dna-the-new-dna

    'In one case from 2002, an individual was sent to jail after police
    found pornographic images on his computer, but security experts later
    said law enforcement officials had mishandled the digital evidence.

    The experts explained that a “browser hijacker” could have been used
    to remotely plant the pornographic images on the suspect’s computer
    without their knowledge."

    ReplyDelete
  3. reminds me of Michel Foucault's lectures at the College de France collected as "Abnormal": Charcot's patients at the Salpetriere imitating symptoms of "hysteria" so perfectly that they were able to pull the strings at the clinic! the bureaucratization of mental health diagnoses in corrections makes it possible for these absurdities to surface. it's telling that in some civil commitment handbooks I've read, the only time an inmate is to be trusted is when he's telling you about his crimes!

    ReplyDelete
  4. >>Dr. [Jeffrey] Singer testified that the vast majority of prison inmates have this disorder, as they are in prison for breaking the law and failing to conform to social norms.<<

    First of all, unless I am mistaken, those inmates diagnosed with pedophilia actually comprise a small percentage, according to my findings. If I recall, Karen, even you said that the vast majority of SVP inmates are not pedophilic or have any "disorder" whatsoever, as they have offended against adolescents or other adults.

    Second, this expert's (and the judge's?) assertion reflects an assumption that breaking the law and non-compliance with social norms equate to "mental disorder." As far as I understand it, mental abnormality is distinct from either of these. Again, I recall you stating this.

    I guess all of the people who commit jaywalking on a regular basis are "disordered' as well, eh?

    What kind of doctor is this expert? Is he paid by the government to say whatever will get the defendant civilly committed?

    Again, am I missing or misconstruing anything here?

    By the way, just out of curiosity, how old were the subjects of interests in Revland's pornography? I presume they were not prepubescent, otherwise the judge would have likely noticed pedophilic tendencies (I presume this was what could have also served as the reason behind Singer's reference to "the majority of inmates"). I wonder how similar Revland's case is with Carta's. The latter had a history of engagement, but wasn't a pedophile.

    As for image-planting, I have heard about that. As frightening as it is, it does happen. However, this is more likely the case for those who interact in questionable online communities where their presence is known, even if no criminal behavior is practiced.

    Bravo for the judge for (1) recognizing the importance of scientific evaluation, (2) supposedly knowing the difference between pedophilic and non-pedophilic behavior, and (3) using rational thinking/judgment in this case with regard to numbers '1' and '2' above. Let's hope that more judges continue to behave this way.

    I also applaud you, Karen, for speaking out eloquently as you usually do in cases such as this. Thank you for sharing the issue.

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  5. I've never bought the "sex offenders have hundreds of victims" stat from the very beginning, especially since the few so-called experts that propagated this myth used these programs where "full cooperation" was demanded in order to be released from the program. Translation-- agree to our crazy beliefs and tell us what we want to believe.

    Psychology is a science of negativity. If you don't do drugs for example, a psychologist doesn't say you don't do drugs, they say you "deny doing drugs." Everything is suspect.

    For RSOs, this is worse. If I don't admit to what people think I did (as opposed to the truth) then I'm "minimizing" or "in denial." I don't trust shrinks any more.

    ReplyDelete
  6. researcherone: Thanks for the comment. I do think you misconstrued Dr. Singer's testimony. He was testifying for the defense, and he was speaking about antisocial personal disorder (not pedophilia). He opposed the use of antisocial personality disorder as a basis for civil commitment in this case. As to the nature of the pornography in question, I don't have any detail on that.

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  7. Thank you for the clarification, Karen. In rereading the excerpt, I realized my error.

    His stance is a complex one, as there are so many factors to consider. This is why no two cases are exactly alike.

    As for the nature of the pornography involved, I am curious to know. I look forward to reading further updates on this story.

    R1

    ReplyDelete
  8. @ Oncefallendotcom:

    "If you don't do drugs for example, a psychologist doesn't say you don't do drugs, they say you "deny doing drugs." Everything is suspect."

    And you think that law enforcement tactics are always on the up-and-up and never deceptive to achieve a pretextual end, regardless whether or not someone is actually guilty? You think police procedure should never be criticized?


    "I don't trust shrinks any more."

    And we SHOULD ALWAYS implicitly trust law enforcement all the way without a word, eh? Law enforcement is one of those entities behind the pressure to put non-pathological constructs, like 'hebephilia' and rape, in the DSM to meet a pretextual end, regardless of facts, rationality or the rights of those involved. How does this make law enforcement unquestionably righteous?

    My apologies for sounding a bit antagonistic here. I am merely making a point with regard to the value of rationalism and empirical evaluation, both of which should hold weight in legal processes.

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  9. I know this man personally and support him 100%. He is a great guy that has never and would never do anything that most folks think he was convicted for. We have had long private discussions and it really is quite sad that he had to make up such stories just to avoid the terror he endured at Leavenworth. And trust me...ive seen the scars! Thank you for your support and opinions on this matter everyone! Its people like you that will make a difference in this world! I applaud you. :)

    ReplyDelete

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