Sex Offenders Rally to Fight Discriminatory Laws
Loaded on Feb. 2, 2016 by Mark Wilson published in Prison Legal News February, 2016, page 18
Filed under: Sex Offender Registration, Sex Offenders (Discrimination), Sex Offender Residence, Advocacy, Release and Reentry, Parole Conditions, Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. Location: United States of America.
Victims’ rights advocates and prosecutors vigorously oppose any changes to statutes related to sex offenders, and reformers concede there has been little progress. Despite the bleak outlook, though, the number of advocacy groups that favor reforming punitive restrictions on sex offenders continues to grow as organizers plot new strategies to fight what some legal analysts believe are laws that sacrifice the rights of one group of citizens in order to favor the rights of others.
“I was terrified; I was hiding, hoping to stay under the radar,” admitted Larry Neely, referring to his 2003 sex offense. “Your fears are really rational. But if you don’t fight, you will lose.”
Neely’s remarks were aimed at convincing the 100 or so convicted sex offenders in attendance at the 2013 Justice for All: A Conference to Reform Sexual Offense Laws to come out of the shadows.
The conference, held at the Los Angeles International Airport between August 29 and September 1, 2013, was sponsored by Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL), a national group with state chapters that seeks to convince judges, lawmakers and the public that restrictive statutes and ordinances targeting sex offenders are unconstitutional and ineffective.
Since the mid-1990s, harsh and discriminatory laws have spread across the nation, prohibiting where convicted sex offenders may live, work or even walk. In addition to these modern-day forms of banishment, sex offender registries – now listing the names of more than 726,000 people nationwide – have been used to single out sex offenders for eviction, employment termination, ostracism and vigilante justice, with the latter including threats of violence, assault, arson and even murder.
“A lot of us are doing what we are supposed to do,” said Jason Shelton. After serving four years for a sex offense involving a teenager, he married, earned a college degree and tried to rebuild his life. His criminal record has prevented him from finding work, however, and he and his wife were forced to live with his mother.
“I don’t want to bother anyone else,” said Shelton. “All I want is a job.”
The fight is not a popular one. Noting that a 2003 Supreme Court decision, which upheld sex offender registries as a valid law enforcement administrative tool, has led to online sex offender registries in virtually every state, RSOL attorney Janice Bellucci ticked off a five-year list of failed legal challenges for conference attendees.
“I wish I had good news to report, but I don’t,” Bellucci admitted. “We’ve got to overturn this Supreme Court decision because it’s harming you all every day.”
Still, reform organizers pointed to minor successes as a reason for some hope. For example, in November 2012 a California appellate court struck down an Orange County law which barred sex offenders from entering public parks and beaches. And in September 2013, RSOL successfully challenged a Cypress, California law requiring registered sex offenders to post signs on their front doors on Halloween. The city responded by quickly repealing the law. In April 2014, California’s Supreme Court refused to review two lower court decisions that invalidated local ordinances barring sex offenders from parks and other public places. [See: PLN, Feb. 2015, p.28].
Victims and prosecutors defend the restrictive laws and sex offender registries as vital to the safety of the public – especially the nation’s youth.
“I find it very offensive that registered sex offenders are trying to defeat the measures we have put in place to protect children,” said Nina Salarno Ashford, a lawyer with Crime Victims United. “They created their own issues. In trying to find sympathy, they’re forgetting that somebody was assaulted, in many cases a child.”
“We recognize that there is some argument that these laws don’t work, the residency restrictions, but I think the jury is still out,” added Susan Kang Schroeder, spokeswoman for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who spearheaded the county’s now-invalidated sex offender beach and park ban. “I think they’re good laws.”
She dismissed U.S. Department of Justice findings that the recidivism rate for sex offenders peaks at 5% within five years of release, compared to a recidivism rate of more than 60% for all other offenses.
“The pro-sex offender lobby likes to bandy about percentages, as if even 1% is acceptable,” she said.
RSOL (www.nationalrsol.org), which has 13 state affiliates, including Texas, New Mexico, Michigan, Florida, Illinois and California, has been joined by a growing number of organizations that advocate for the rights of sex offenders and their families, including Once Fallen (www.oncefallen.com); USA FAIR (Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry, www.usafair.org); SOSEN (Sex Offender Solutions and Education Network, www.sosen.org); and one of the most vocal groups, WAR (Women Against Registry, www.womenagainstregistry.org).
All of these organizations advocate on issues ranging from registries, restrictions on where sex offenders can live and false allegations of sex abuse to laws that limit what sex offenders can do on Halloween. Advocacy efforts increasingly include public education on sex offender-related topics and litigation.
The Missouri-based group WAR announced on April 17, 2015 that it was preparing two federal class-action suits to challenge laws that not only result in discrimination against sex offenders, but which adversely affect their families as well.
“Women Against Registry has begun gathering and preparing information for lawsuits with a major focus on the collateral damage we see and hear about day in and day out,” wrote WAR president Vicki Henry in an email to the Broward-Palm Beach, Florida New Times. “When you have children beaten up, harassed, ostracized, wives fired, families essentially being placed on a public ‘hit list’ in the form of a registry or sign, all because they have a loved one on the registry, it is time to push back for them as well as those who have been adjudicated, paid their debt to society, and are living a law-abiding life.”
The group is taking special aim at Florida, which many groups consider ground zero for restrictive laws against sex offenders. For example, news reports have focused on the repeated forced relocation of homeless sex offenders created by restrictive residency laws in Miami-Dade. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.30]. Of the 726,000 sex offenders on registries across the nation as of the end of 2015, according to Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, over 67,000 are listed in Florida.
“The lawsuits are our way of indicating we have had enough of the punitive and unconstitutional treatment to our families and will be taking it to the courts, the federal courts,” Henry explained. “The question becomes, are ALL children important, are we as responsible citizens concerned about preserving the family structure or not? When does redemption begin? How is that accomplished when the wife has to tell her graduate that their father is not allowed to celebrate that as a family event or tell junior that his dad can’t attend his soccer game now or ever.”
Testing such restrictions is the motive behind a lawsuit now before a judge in New York City. A Bronx man, who served eight years in prison for raping his ex-wife’s niece when she lived with the family between the ages of 13 and 14, is suing for permission to help raise a son born to him and his second wife in the fall of 2012.
The plaintiff, known in court papers only as Mr. Doe to shield his identity, was permitted by the Bronx family court to have unsupervised visits with his teenaged daughter – one of six children he fathered with his first wife – until his accuser, now in her mid-20s, complained to a parole officer.
“Why should he live happy and comfortable when he took something from [me] that [I] can’t get back?” she asked, according to court papers.
The New York State parole division then issued a one-paragraph directive ordering Doe away from his new family, stating that the “victim’s perspective is always important.” He was forced to move from his family residence to a homeless shelter.
On July 15, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmeyer ordered discovery in the case, finding in a 36-page opinion and order that parole officers must face limits on their expansive powers to impose dozens of conditions on registered sex offenders.
“In addition to the power to decide whether Doe may have contact with any person under age 18, a parole officer has the authority to grant or deny permission for Doe to own a camera, computer, scanner, or cell phone; possess ‘any children’s products’ or photos of minors; rent a post office box; obtain a driver’s license; ‘rent, operate or be a passenger in any vehicle’; travel outside of New York City; visit an arcade, bowling alley, beach, or swimming pool; or have visitors at his approved residence,” Engelmeyer wrote. “There are sound reasons not to give parole officers discretion, unreviewable in a subsequent court action, over so many aspects of a parolee’s life.” The case remains pending. See: Doe v. Annucci, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:14-cv-02953-PAE; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91861.
The district court’s ruling brought praise from Georgetown University Law Center professor Abbe Smith, who helps run the school’s Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic. She called the decision a “terrific development.”
“If you commit a crime, and you’re punished, you should be allowed to serve your debt to society and then move on,” said Smith. “[Mr. Doe] has a newborn son. I can’t imagine on what basis he could be deprived from having contact from his own child.”
Sources: The New York Times, www.nationalrsol.org, www.courthousenews.com, www.browardpalmbeach.com, http://www.parentsformeganslaw.org
More from this issue:
1.Settlement Ends Montgomery, Alabama Debtor’s Prison, by David Reutter
2.Union Supply Overcharges Sales Tax on Holiday Packages for TN Prisoners
3.Staff-on-Prisoner Sexual Abuse Persists in New York Prisons, by David Reutter
4.Ninth Circuit: Appeal Challenges Probation Revocation for Exercising First Amendment Rights
5.Illinois: Exonerated Sex Offender Sues for Wrongful Conviction, by Derek Gilna
6.Judge to Recommend Whether to Exonerate “San Antonio Four” of Sexual Assault Convictions, by Matthew Clarke
7.$350,000 Settlement for Estate of Prisoner Murdered at Georgia Prison
8.Wisconsin DOC Pays Former Prisoner for Miscalculating Sentence, by Gary Hunter
9.Vermont’s Policy of Sending Prisoners Out-of-State Found Unconstitutional, by David Reutter
10.Minnesota Civil Detainee Raped by Cellmate Receives $203,000 Settlement, by David Reutter
11.$725,000 Award for Eye Loss Caused by Guard’s Assault, by David Reutter
12.Human Rights Groups Condemn Worsening Conditions in Venezuelan Prisons, by Matthew Clarke
13.Former Washington Prisoner Exonerated, Receives Compensation, Arrested Again
14.From Jailer to Jailed: Former NYPD Boss Urges Prison Reform, by Christopher Zoukis
15.Civil Rights Advocates Laud Healthcare Settlement with Arizona Prison System, by Joe Watson
16.New York Prisoner’s Retaliation Claim Nets $147,000 in Damages, Fees and Costs, by David Reutter
17.In Past Three Years, Governors in Three States Declare Moratorium on Executions, by Christopher Zoukis
18.$2,250 Jury Award in Arkansas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Case, by Matthew Clarke
19.California: Settlement in Race-based Prison Lockdown Suit; $2.375 Million in Fees and Costs, by Lonnie Burton
20.European Human Rights Court Finds UK Prisoners Wrongfully Denied Vote, by Derek Gilna
21.Louisiana Jail Detainee’s Death Leads to FBI Investigation, Charges
22.Texas Prisons to Allow In-person Wedding Ceremonies after Prohibition on Proxy Marriages
23.PLN Settles Lawsuit against Florida Jail’s Postcard-only Policy
24.Use of Pseudonym Merited to Protect Prisoner from Victimization
25.Oregon DOC Envelope Art Ban Violates First Amendment, by Mark Wilson
26.$250,000 Settlement for Estate of PA Prisoner Killed by Mentally Ill Cellmate, by David Reutter
27.Florida Jail Ends Postcard-Only Policy as Part of Settlement, by David Reutter
28.Environmental Problems Taint Plan for New Prison in Utah, by Panagioti Tsolkas
29.The Slow, Painful Death of Bail in New York City, by Jarrett Murphy
30.California’s Jail-building Boom: What comes after mass incarceration? Local incarceration., by Anat Rubin
31.Male Guards’ Videotaping of Female Prisoners Being Strip Searched Results in $675,000 Settlement, by David Reutter
32.Supreme Court Upholds Oklahoma’s Use of New Execution Drug, by Derek Gilna
33.Police State: How America’s Cops Get Away with Murder (Book Review), by Bill Trine
34.Federal Judges Very Rarely Sanctioned for Misconduct, by Matthew Clarke
35.$3 Million Settlement in Death of Mentally Ill Prisoner; Three Guards Indicted, by Matthew Clarke
36.Florida’s Department of Corrections: A Culture of Corruption, Abuse and Deaths, by David Reutter
37.Will Lawsuits and Exposés Lead to Reform of Florida’s Brutal Prisons?, by Laura Cepero
38.Sex Offenders Rally to Fight Discriminatory Laws, by Mark Wilson
39.Computer Risk Assessments Gaining Popularity in Granting Paroles, by Derek Gilna
40.Supreme Court Sets Aside Florida’s Death Penalty Sentencing Procedure, by Derek Gilna
41.From the Editor, by Paul Wright
42.News in Brief
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•New Jersey’s SOMA Violates Ex Post Facto Prohibitions, March 31, 2016
•Oregon Rules Authorizing Restitution as Disciplinary Sanction Upheld, March 30, 2016
•IFP Denials Don’t Trigger California Vexatious Litigant Treatment, March 30, 2016
•California Felon Prison Re-entry Law Requires Informed Consent, March 30, 2016
•New Mexico Corrections Department Bans Prisoner Social Media, Pen Pal Postings, Feb. 29, 2016
•Racism Complaint Forces Oregon Police Chief’s Retirement; Reporting Officer Receives Death Threats, Retaliation and Cold Shoulder, Feb. 18, 2016
•8,000 Oregon Victims Incorrectly Alerted of Prisoner Releases, Feb. 18, 2016
More from these topics:
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• Architects’ Ethics Panel to Consider Boycott of Execution Chambers and Prison Design, April 1, 2016. Advocacy, Prison Reform, Conditions of Confinement.
• Book Review: “Illegal to Legal: Business Success for (ex)Criminals, by R.L. Pelshaw”, April 1, 2016. Prison Reform, Release and Reentry.
• The Will of the People: Ex-prisoners Voted into Public Office, April 1, 2016. Voting, Release and Reentry.
• California Supreme Court Voids Ex Post Facto Sex Offender Residency Restrictions, March 31, 2016. Sex Offenders (Discrimination), Sex Offender Residence, Parole Conditions.
• Lawsuits Challenge Release Debit Cards; Courts Rule Against Arbitration, March 31, 2016. Release and Reentry, Prisoner Property.
• Ninth Circuit Rules Judge “Abused Discretion” in Imposing Abstinence as Supervised Release Condition, March 31, 2016. Parole Conditions, Drug Treatment/Rehab.
• Lifetime Registration of Low-level Sex Offenders found Excessive, Unconstitutional in New Hampshire, March 31, 2016. Sex Offender Registration, Sex Offenders (Discrimination), Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.
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