Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Editorial: County sex offender rules so harsh they’re counterproductive

Posted on July 8, 2014 in Articles
Source: The Palm Beach Post


When Palm Beach County commissioners clamped down on sex offenders in 2006, they made little effort to conceal their punitive aim. From the public dais, one county commissioner referred to sex offenders as “animals.” Another urged her fellow commissioners to be “as tough as we possibly can be.”

By a unanimous vote, commissioners decided to more than double the restrictions on where in the unincorporated county registered sex offenders can live. State law already banned them from residing within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or school bus stop. Under the county ordinance, that ban was now extended to 2,500 feet, driving many into homelessness or isolation in the county’s rural stretches.
+ Editorial: County sex offender rules so harsh they’re counterproductive photo
In Miami-Dade County, similar restrictions to those in Palm Beach County left dozens of sex offenders living under a bridge on … read more

Eight years later, county commissioners are looking to undo this counterproductive measure, at a time when court decisions around the country are highlighting the flaws of overly restrictive bans on sex offenders. Palm Beach County cities with similar restrictions should bring them in line with the state’s 1,000-foot standard as well.

Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the repeal last week, heeding the advice of the county’s attorney. As The Post’s Jennifer Sorentrue reported, the county’s prohibition had been challenged by William Mattern, a 63-year-old homeless sex offender, who claimed that the restriction unconstitutionally discriminated against him and the county’s other 1,015 registered sex offenders.

Because of the restriction, Mattern, who was convicted 35 years ago of raping a woman, claimed he ended up on the streets, where he said he was beaten and robbed.
The county’s move to clamp down on where sex offenders live was part of an emotionally charged movement across the country after the 2005 rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a convicted sex offender in Citrus County.

The supposed purpose of these restrictions is to keep communities safer. Yet these rules are ineffective and often the cause of more harm than good. Criminals further marginalized by society too often face a higher risk of repeat criminal behavior.

Mattern’s is hardly the only story of sex offenders pushed into desperation by overly restrictive residency laws. In 2008, a Lake Worth pastor said he had to locate an apartment complex for sex offenders in a rural stretch of Pahokee because it was the only place in the county he could find where they could legally reside. In Miami-Dade County, similar restrictions in 2009 left dozens of sex offenders living under a bridge on Biscayne Bay.

While some sex offenders pose a real risk to children they don’t know, most have no history of preying on strange youths. Instead, many were arrested for possessing child pornography or having sexual contact with an underage relative. These are gruesome acts, but they are not the sorts of attacks that residential restrictions would prevent.

Sex offenders also are far less likely than typical criminals to be re-arrested for the same crime. A 2012 Lynn University study found that less than 14 percent of Florida’s sex offenders commit another sex crime within 10 years of their arrest, far below the recidivism rates for prisoners nationwide.

This is still too high, but it shows that most sex offenders can be rehabilitated. The best way to do this is through prudent monitoring and regular access to therapy and other services, not by pushing them to society’s fringes.

Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans. 

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"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
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“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
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What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
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“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
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I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”