September 3, 2009

WSJ: "Sex-Registry Flaws Stand Out"

Amid the continuing media frenzy over the Jaycee Lee Dugard case, and the alarmist misinformation about recidivism being spewed on some national television shows, I want to make sure my readers don't miss today's excellent article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the case within the context of California's failed sex offender registration policies.
The case of Phillip Garrido, who allegedly held Jaycee Dugard in his backyard for 18 years despite monthly law-enforcement visits, is forcing California officials to acknowledge a fundamental problem with the state's sex-offender registry: The list keeps expanding, while the number of officials who monitor sex offenders has grown at a much slower rate.

There are now so many people on the registry it's difficult for law enforcement to effectively track them all, and "it's more helpful for law enforcement to know...who the highest-risk offenders are," said Janet Neeley, a deputy California attorney general and member of the state's sex offender board.

A December study of roughly 20,000 registered sex offenders on parole in California found 9% posed a "high risk" of reoffending, and 29% posed a "moderate-high" to "high" risk, said Ms. Neeley. But law-enforcement officials and academics say vast resources are spent monitoring nonviolent offenders rather than keeping closer tabs on more-dangerous ones.

California's sex-offender registry has ballooned to more than 90,000 people now from about 45,000 in 1994, according to the California attorney general's office. Not only has the number of law-enforcement officers failed to keep pace, but recent state budget cuts have forced some local agencies to cut officers assigned to sex offenders, according to the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training....

Last year, California's Sex Offender Management Board criticized the system as it stands in a 225-page assessment, highlighting failures in the collection and analysis of data on sex offenders. It's "difficult if not impossible" to track the effectiveness of registry laws, the report said.

Mr. Garrido, who allegedly kidnapped the 11-year-old girl in 1991, was considered high-risk because of a 1977 conviction for rape and kidnapping. But he received about the same number of visits from officers at his Antioch, Calif., home as the 200 or so other sex offenders in Antioch and adjacent Pittsburg, said the Contra Costa County Sheriff, even though many weren't convicted of violent offenses. During dozens of visits to Mr. Garrido's home, authorities never found the tents and shacks hidden behind a backyard fence.

The growing sex-offender list can dilute the amount of attention on the most dangerous offenders, said Nora Demleitner, the dean of Hofstra University Law School who studies sentencing. Some sex offenders "tend to be not dangerous at all," she said. "You have them register as sex offenders, so when you're law enforcement, all these people look the same. If you had much more focused sex-offender laws, maybe they would have been bothered to go into the shack" in Mr. Garrido's back yard.

California has been trying to sharpen its focus, but federal and state laws passed in 2006 offer conflicting rules for monitoring sex offenders, Ms. Neeley said.

Under its law, California has chosen to use a program called Static 99, which categorizes sex offenders based on their likelihood to reoffend. To predict risk, it looks at things like the nature of the crime, the offender's relationship with the victim and whether the offender has been able to form long-term intimate relationships. But the system hasn't been introduced by most local jurisdictions for those convicted before 2007.

Provisions in the federal Adam Walsh Act aim to move monitoring in the opposite direction, so that it's based solely on an offender's type of conviction, not on a complex assessment of risk.

That's problematic, said Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida who studies sex-offender registries, since it "overestimates risk for most people, and underestimates risk for people who pleaded down," or struck plea deals by admitting to lower-level crimes.

Now, the state Sex Offender Management Board is recommending that California forgo some federal funds and not adopt the law, which would add to the number of crimes requiring registration.

"There is no available evidence to indicate that expanding California's list of registerable crimes would promote public safety," the board wrote in a recommendation, noting the federal law would create at least $32 million in costs to the attorney general's office and law-enforcement agencies without improving the system.
Monday's San Francisco Chronicle also had a good article describing how Garrido got out of prison after his first kidnap-rape, and explaining that he would not have been treated so leniently under today's laws.


SOSVA said...

This is an excellent article. Most of the media has simply hyped the "we need to do more" response. John Walsh and Mark Lunsford have come out with statements regarding the need for funding for the Adam Walsh Act. More funding would not have prevented this while a refocusing of resources on the highest risk offenders may have. We need to stop wasting precious financial and human resources on low level offenders. The outrage should be directed at the legislators who feel the need to pass laws requiring the constant (and often lifetime) monitoring of every mooner, consensual sex offender, and other low level, low-risk offenders.

suetiggers said...

It's very easy to be for the registry and FOR the safety of children. But, this case shows how poorly the present sex offender laws and shaming registry does not work, does not protect children. However, it is a boon to opportunistic politicians, lawyers who do not care if someone is innocent or not (false allegations and they happen more than most people would believe), Romeo and Juliet cases (19 yrs. old boyfriend with 15 yr. old girlfriend), consensual male adult with underage female prostitute who lied about her age...sleazy but not dangerous...
there's so many of these kind of cases, it's a nightmare. Thanks to the author for a well-thought out, rational response to a problem that has been made much more of one by the sound-bite press, overly zealous states attorneys and the above. The lie of these laws sells well but it doesn't protect our children. It just sells well and the ignorant and over reactive Fox and National Inquirer type of reader buy it. Unfortunately, there's a lot of them.

suetiggers said...


The truly dangerous make up between 1% and 5% of the total population of people forced with the label and stigma of sex offender. Most do not deserve the label just as many who are in U.S. prisons don't belong there either. The prison system, esp. the Super Max system has become a for-profit business, which gives more political power to a state but also brings in additional funding. It is one of the main reasons that prisons are as overcrowded as they are. Crimes that in the past would have gotten a fine or short stay in jail now are putting people in prison for much longer periods.


People on the registry (far too many innocent or not dangerous) have been murdered, committed suicide, had their homes set on fire, been evicted, lost their jobs,etc.. Stephen Marshall killed two men who were on the sex-offender registry in Maine. Immediately after, he took his own life. One of the men Marshall killed, Joseph Gray, was on the registry for raping a child. The other, William Elliott, was listed because he'd slept with his girlfriend before she turned 16.
Eighty-seven percent of people who were arrested for sex crimes had not previously been convicted study.of such an offense, according to a 1997 study. Just 14 percent of all sexual assault cases involved strangers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Who is on the Registry?
1. Romeo and Juliet liasons, false accusations of vindictive teens against an older teen (18 or 19)
2.False accusation by vindictive parents in child custody cases and/or family feuds- There are more of these than most people would believe. There are many reports of people who admit to having lied about being molested when they were younger. Now they would like to have the person wrongly convicted on their testimony set free. consensual sex- but being 3 yrs. and 1 day older than the willing teen (can bring and has brought multiple felony indictments)
4. Sex between consenting teen prostitute (who looks older and even may have lied about her age) with an adult male
5. Criminal charges that later are dropped for insufficient proof but not appealed in time, so still on registry
The number of true dangerous pedophiles is relatively small. But check out the registry. You're liable to see people who look like your mailman, grocery clerk,etc. And ones who look like they fit the profile could be the least guilty and vice verse. But the numbers are growing exponentially. And as long as opportunistic, unscrupulous politicians and a soundbite media, ala Fox /Nancy Grace type people who can make reputations out of this issue, it will breed fear and hysteria and ruin men (mostly) and their families lives who do not deserve to have this happen ! Where are the churches on this issue? Where are people who say they care about justice? Watch MSNBC’s documentary, Witch Hunt brought to anyone who wants to learn the truth about the way the laws have changed and are now abusing innocent people or people who are not dangerous by Sean Penn and two courageous filmmakers. .
To learn more, go to RSOL (Reform Sex Offender Laws ) or F.A.S.T. (False Allegation Support Team)