May 22, 2013

Miracle Village: A leper colony for bogeymen

Almost 750,000 Americans are now on sex offender registries, and the numbers just keep growing. Because the truly dangerous are mixed in with the far more numerous low-risk offenders, registries are useless from a public safety perspective. But they do have a pernicious effect on ex-offenders, who -- like the lepers of yore -- oftentimes find themselves with nowhere to go and no hope of ever reintegrating into society.

Enter "Miracle Village" in Florida. Built in 1964 for sugar cane workers (some of whom still live there), it was transformed into a haven by an evangelical pastor and his wife (both of whom, ironically, were sexually molested as children). It's now home to about 100 convicted sex offenders, a place they can be among others like themselves and feel a bit more human. Since the community was established in 2009, there has not been one reported sex crime, according to the local sheriff's office.

But it's only a drop in the bucket. The demand is extraordinary; more than 100 people per week apply for the limited housing.

The short video Sex Offender Village was put together by two people who come from what might be seen as opposite ends of the spectrum: Documentary filmmaker Lisa Jackson has spent years examining sex crimes from the victim’s point of view; David Feige is a former chief public defender from the Bronx turned TV writer. But they agree on one thing: U.S. sex offender laws are "doing more harm than good":
In the past 25 years, the laws governing sex offenses have gone from punitive to draconian to senseless. The term 'sex offender' simply covers too wide a range now, painting the few truly heinous crimes and the many relatively innocuous ones with the same broad brush. This overly broad approach wastes resources that could be better spent, for instance, on clearing the huge and unforgivable backlog of untested rape evidence kits. We see even deeper problems: the explosion of sex offender registries, stringent yet demonstrably ineffective residency restrictions, and the bizarre world of 'civil commitment,' where we punish what someone might do rather than what he or she has done. All of this suggests that our entire approach to dealing with sex offenders has gone tragically off the rails.


researcherone said...

Interesting. The effort provides SVPs with a place to stay where they won't feel rejected or ostracized by society?

In actuality, this 'village' openly promotes segregation and would surely draw the harassment and/or violent reactions of those with a mob mentality. The southern blacks received the same treatment many decades ago. The pattern repeats itself.

Apparently, the place is beneficial only for society and serves as a means of keeping all SVPs in the same place—much like a prison camp.

American society has not learned from its mistakes; it projects the same discriminatory attitude t always had, only this time upon a different group of people—a group IT created.

If effective change is to happen, this isn't the way to do it, by isolating the perceived threats; it has to take place within.

Unknown said...

At Reform Sex Offender Laws' (RSOL's) annual conference last year, a map of Albuquerque was shown with all of the places a "sex offender" cannot live near circled, with each circle representing the area within which a sex offender cannot live. Virtually the entire city was engulfed in circles on this map...except for a very small area on the southside, where sex offenders have naturally congregated to find homes in which they can legally live. This is, indeed, a travesty.

That this travesty has been possible in our "democracy" is a perfect example of how our country has already become something far less than a democracy. It is a far cry from the country we all grew up believing was built on a Constitution which protects the right of us *all* to due process. Far too many of us blithely assume everyday that we are safe from the whims of government and politicians because we "are not criminals." How do we know we aren't criminals? How do we know that tomorrow a bill will not be passed into law which makes one of our daily habits a crime? Far-fetched? Unlikely? Impossible? Try living your life with this important WWII statement in mind everyday, because enough of us doing so would change everything:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Friedrich Gustav Martin Niemöller

Unknown said...

I am on the same page as both of you. Is there something I can do to help the cause? Let me know please if you know something or somewhere I can offer my assistance in this situation.

Michelle Trimarco