Friday, March 30, 2018

Why prison should be abolished

Nebraska legislators have advanced a bill (LB841) that aims to address the state's prison overcrowding problem.

Nebraska prisons house approximately 5,300 inmates, when they were designed to hold just over 3,400 -- 155-percent of capacity. Provisions of the bill include requiring the Department of Correctional Services to implement an accelerated release plan for inmates if the prison population isn't reduced to 140-percent of capacity by July 1, 2020. (Read more about the legislation here.)

But is merely reducing the number of people in prison the appropriate goal?

In an interview with the Independent, Jasmine Ahmed with the group the Empty Cages Collective, advocates for transforming our criminal justice system away from the current carceral model.
With reoffending rates at stratospheric levels – and the vast majority of prisoners coming from disadvantaged backgrounds – it’s clear there are fundamental problems with our current criminal justice system. But does it have to be like this? In this installment of The Big Idea, Jasmine Ahmed insists prison is a demonstrably wrongheaded solution to distinctly social problems – and argues that only through transformative justice and community accountability can we prevent harm and reduce rates of violence.
Read the interview with Jasmine Ahmed at the Independent.

Lawsuit challenges Connecticut town's "child safety zones"

Courthouse News Service reports that a Connecticut man is challenging his town's child safety zones, which prohibit registered sex offenders from using most public facilities. The federal lawsuit takes on the stated justification for the ordinance.
“The single purported justification for the ordinance is that ‘recidivism rates for released sex offenders is alarmingly high, especially for those who commit their crimes against children,’” the complaint states. 
Calling this statement “false,” Doe and his group note that the recidivism rate for sex offenders as a class is actually “lower than that for every category of offenders other than murderers.”
Read more at Courthouse News Service.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

How sex offender registries can result in vigilante murder

Another good reason to abolish sex offender registries. With the backdrop of the discussion of creating a public registry in Canada, Vice looks at how vigilantes use registries to target people on the list (and those close to them.)

Some Canadian conservatives are pushing for more public sex offender registries. But there is a history of deadly violence associated with them.
Read the full article at Vice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bills to reduce Nebraska prison overcrowding pulled from debate after filibuster threat

One word nearly derailed the Nebraska Legislature's attempt to pass a bill aimed at reducing the state's prison population, as reported in the Lincoln Journal-Star.
An attempt to change one word — the word "shall" to the word "may" — nearly scuttled a package of legislative bills aimed at reducing prison crowding Tuesday. 
It did prompt Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Laura Ebke to pull the package from debate to cool down what was becoming a filibuster of an important set of bills, she said.  
The package leads with a bill (LB841), introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, that would require the Department of Correctional Services and the Board of Parole to submit a plan on how they would accelerate the parole review process in the event of a prison overcrowding emergency.
Read more about the bill and the debate in the Lincoln Journal-Star.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Some good news from the state of Florida

From the Florida Action Committee comes word that a judge has declared Fr. Lauderdale's draconian and oppressive sex offender residency restriction ordinance unconstitutional.
The Ft Lauderdale Sex Offender Residency Restriction was declared unconstitutional. Wait… what?!?! A Florida SORR was declared unconstitutional? 
YES! The municipal ordinance in the City of Ft. Lauderdale that prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 1400 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, school bus stops, etc. was found to violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution!  Hold on… what? Are you serious? 
YES! We’ve known for a while (since February 16th) but have been waiting to make the official announcement until we had an order back from the Judge. We just wanted to make 1000% sure. But we’re serious and excited! Many registrants in Fort Lauderdale, FIFTY PERCENT OF WHICH ARE HOMELESS because there’s virtually nowhere for them to live, are no longer subject to the City’s draconian and ineffective residency restrictions! But how did this happen?
More from the Florida Action Committee.

The Dobbs Wire: Shackles!

From William Dobbs and the Dobbs Wire, a look at the use of electronic monitoring:

What about “electronic monitoring”?   More and more individuals including many with a sex offense history are required to wear the special equipment for this type of state surveillance.  Anyone who runs afoul of Big Brother could be looking at prison time--that’s why James Kilgore urged calling the monitoring equipment “shackles” at a recent New York conference.  Kilgore has deep knowledge and personal experience with electronic monitoring, have a look at his latest essay and learn about a new campaign, Challenging E-Carceration.  –Bill Dobbs, The Dobbs Wire

Read James Kilgore's essay at the Open Society Foundations.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Governor vetoes criminal conviction set-aside bill

Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed a bill (LB350) that would have allowed a person convicted of a misdemeanor or felony with a sentence other than probation or a fine to ask the court to set aside their conviction once they complete their sentence.

Sen. John McCollister introduced the bill initially in January 2017, and the legislature passed it on March 15, 2018. Notably, the bill excluded certain people from the set-aside provisions, including anyone with a criminal case pending, and anyone required to register as a sex offender.

Read more here.

Text of LB350

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

SBDC helps aspiring entrepreneurs

Here's a resource that could be helpful to anyone who owns a business, or who is looking to start their own business.  SBDCNet is described as a "National Information Clearinghouse serving the Small Business Development Center network and America's small business community."

The website includes market research reports, tips on how to start various types of businesses, help topics for small business owners, and links to local Business Development Centers in all 50 states, including Nebraska and Iowa.

Many registered citizens who struggle to find adequate employment find success as entrepreneurs. If you're thinking of going that route, check out the Small Business Development Center Network website. There is no cost for the assistance offered through the SBDC.

Learn more at

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Be Fearless Monday

The March Fearless meeting is Monday, March 19, at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, 13232 Blondo Street in Omaha.

Fearless is a chance for registered citizens, families, and friends, to meet with and learn from others dealing with life on the registry. Join us Monday night and discuss the good things in life, positive experiences, and what you are grateful for.

Join Fearless Monday night!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Child sexual abuse reporting requirement advances

The Nebraska Legislature advanced LB1078, with two amendments added to the original bill.
Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill March 15 that would strengthen reporting requirements regarding children in the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems. 
Currently, all cases of death or serious injury of a child in a foster home, private agency, child care facility or other program licensed by the state Department of Health and Human Services must be reported to, and investigated by, the office of the inspector general of Nebraska child welfare. 
LB1078, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would add to that requirement all allegations of sexual abuse of a state ward or a juvenile on probation, in a detention facility or residential child-caring agency. 
The bill would require that the annual report of the DHHS Division of Children and Family Services include the number of sexual abuse allegations that occurred among children being served by the division and those placed at a residential child-caring agency. 
Also required would be the number of corresponding screening decision occurrences by category, open investigations by category and agency substantiations, court substantiations and court-pending status cases.
Read more here.

The Recidivism Trap

In a commentary for The Marshall Project, Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi make a compelling argument why recidivism rates are the wrong measurements by which to judge the success or failure of the criminal justice system.
Rather than asking “what’s the recidivism rate?” we should ask an entirely different set of questions about justice interventions. Are we really helping people convicted of crimes to form better relationships with their families and their law-abiding friends? Are we helping them to advance their educational goals? Are they more likely to develop the skills and abilities required for stable employment? Are we helping them to respect others and to participate positively in the civic and cultural life of their communities? 
These questions are critical because they look beyond the “yes or no” of recidivism and focus on factors that we know moderate criminal behavior—social bonds, education attainment, employment; they all facilitate what researchers call “desistance,” or the process by which people learn to become law-abiding. 
Regarding desistance, we do know that sex offender registries do nothing to help people form better relationships, advance their educational goals, find or maintain steady employment, or participate positively in the civic and cultural life of their communities. Let's stop wasting resources on failed and harmful policies. End registries.

Read Butts' and Schiraldi's full commentary, and attached report, at the Marshall Project.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ex-teachers offer input in preventing teacher-student relations

In Missouri, some former teachers who were convicted of having sexual contact with students are offering guidance to schools trying to prevent such relationships from occurring. 
To better safeguard schools from sexual predators, the Center for Education Safety turned to an unlikely source: Former Missouri teachers convicted of crossing the line with students. 
Six former school employees, most still behind bars, agreed to answer questions from a former law enforcement officer who works as training coordinator for the center, which is part of the Missouri School Boards' Association.
Read the full story here.

The child brides of Missouri

The Kansas City Star has a series of articles about the prevalence of underage teenagers who get married -- often to older spouses and sometimes to their rapist -- in Missouri. Apparently, the Show-Me-State has the most lenient laws in the nation pertaining to 15-year-old brides, and the state is a destination for many seeking such nuptials.
From 1999 to 2015, more than 1,000 15-year-olds married in Missouri. Of those, The Star’s review of data shows, more than 300 married men age 21 or older, with some in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Assuming they had premarital sex, those grooms would be considered rapists.The definitions of statutory rape and other child sex crimes vary from state to state. Missouri defines statutory rape as anyone 21 or older having sex with someone under 17 outside of marriage. Within marriage, sex with a minor is legal. But not before.The number of possible offenders from out of state grows even higher when taking into account other states’ stricter laws, some of which prohibit older teens from having sex with younger teens.
Read more in the Kansas City Star.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Akron Law Review article on ex post facto challenges to sex offender registration laws

Joshua E. Montgomery has written an article for the Akron Law Review explaining how SORNA laws violate the Ex Post Facto provision of the constitution, and how the 6th Circuit's Doe v. Snyder decision can be a model nationally. Read the abstract:

Sex offender registration and notification laws (SORAs) in the United States apply not only to those who commit sex offenses after the enactment of such laws, but also to those who committed sex offenses before those laws were enacted. However, the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution prevents the retroactive application of a punitive law; this means that a person cannot be punished for a bad act that the person committed before the law punishing that act was enacted. Importantly, the Ex Post Facto Clause does not prohibit the retroactive application of a civil, regulatory—i.e., non-punitive—law. Thus, to survive constitutional scrutiny, SORAs must be deemed civil, regulatory measures that are designed to achieve a non-punitive goal. The federal courts—including the United States Supreme Court—have consistently characterized SORAs as just that: non-punitive, civil, regulatory measures designed to protect the innocent from dangerous sex offenders by deterring the commission of subsequent sex offenses. 
Thus, the constitutionality of SORAs rests on two fundamental assumptions: (1) that sex offenders recidivate at very high rates; and (2) that restrictive SORAs actually reduce recidivism. The Sixth Circuit, in its Doe v. Snyder decision, which reviewed the constitutionality of Michigan’s SORA, carefully examined these assumptions and found that both were false. Federal government recidivism data and social science studies show that sex offenders—a category that includes not just those convicted of rape, but also includes a high school senior convicted of statutory rape because he slept with his underage high school girlfriend—do not recidivate at high rates. In fact, most sex offenders recidivate at low rates. Moreover, SORAs do not reduce recidivism; some studies even indicate that such laws may be causing recidivism rates to increase. Thus, the Sixth Circuit found that Michigan’s SORA unconstitutionally violated the Ex Post Facto Clause, in large part because it lacked a rational connection to a non-punitive purpose. This Article carefully examines the available data on sex offender recidivism rates, as well as the failure of the federal courts (prior to the Sixth Circuit’s Doe v. Snyder decision) to give much more than a passing glance at that data. This Article proposes that other federal courts should follow the Sixth Circuit’s example and carefully examine the factual justifications upon which the constitutionality of SORAs rests. Only then will the federal courts be able to protect the rights of United States’ citizens to be free from unconstitutional ex post facto punishment.

Read the full article from the Akron Law Journal.

Yale rape verdict shows how "yes means yes" can be murkier in court

A recent not guilty verdict in the rape trial of a Yale college student is a real-world example of how affirmative consent, or "yes means yes," (such as is being debated in the Nebraska Legislature) does not make determining whether a sexual assault has occurred any simpler. A New York Times article helps explain the confusion over differing standards.
Had the case gone before Yale’s own internal panel, the outcome might have been different. The panel, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, uses a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in determining responsibility, and its members are trained in a notion of consent where only “yes means yes.” 
But the jurors seemed to have come to the case with a different understanding of what it means to show consent, highlighting the divide between the standards of sexual behavior espoused in freshman orientation programs and campus brochures, and those that operate in courts of law.
Read more of the New York Times article here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Unjust sexual offense laws: Insanity and Hope

NARSOL Executive Director Brenda Jones and former prosecutor Ken Abraham write for the Criminal Legal News website about what may be hopeful signs for the future of sex offense laws in the United States. Hope, they point out, comes in the form of recommendations from a task force in Illinois that spent two years examining that state's sex offender laws.
On January 2, 2018, the Illinois Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Task Force published a report detailing its recommendations to the Illinois General Assembly on implementation and impact of that state’s registration and residency restriction laws. The task force had been established in 2016 with the ambitious goals of (1) reviewing evidence-based practices and research on registration of former sexual offenders; (2) holding public hearings for testimony on the above; and (3) making recommendations to the general assembly to “more effectively classify sex offenders based on their level of risk of re-offending, better direct resources to monitor the most violent and high-risk offenders, and ensure public safety.”... 
The report brought forth some quite refreshing recommendations, which will be taken up in the Illinois legislature this year. The two big contingencies for any of them were (1) funding and (2) accounting for different needs around the state. Those are very big “ifs,” which present a big challenge to implementation of the recommendations—14 of them in all covering offender management, assessments for treatment and management, use of the registry, and tailored restrictions aimed at public safety.
 Read the full article here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Wisconsin registrant sues hospital that won't let him visit son

Hopefully, this will spur changes in the hospital's policy and maybe spur hospitals elsewhere with similar policies to rethink those harmful and exclusionary rules. Such policies punish families and do nothing to keep anyone safe.
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A registered sex offender forbidden from visiting his severely ill 9-year-old son filed a lawsuit Friday against Wisconsin Children's Hospital, arguing its visitation policy is "cruel and causes unnecessary harm to families and innocent children." 
Security guards escorted Stuart Yates from the building Tuesday, five days after his son was hospitalized with a blood infection caused by e-coli, according to the lawsuit filed in Milwaukee County. Yates' son has had several serious medical conditions since birth, requiring surgical transplants of his pancreas, liver and bowels, the lawsuit said. 
Read more here.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Kansas bill would remove drug offenders from public registry

In Kansas, many people convicted of drug crimes are placed on a public registry along with those convicted of sex offenses. The state of Kansas is considering relieving some 4,600 or so "drug offenders" of the burden of being on a public registry.

The rationale for removing drug offenders from the registry also apply to sex offenders. For instance, there's this:
“It is a drain on resources with no science, studies, or data to justify it,” defense lawyer Jennifer Roth told lawmakers at an early February hearing.
Yes. And this:
Last year, 38 people were sent to prison over their failure to register for drug crimes, and the Kansas Sentencing Commission estimates that removing drug crimes would save the state roughly a million dollars each year. 
How much could Kansas save by also getting rid of its sex offender registry?

Are those on Kansas' drug offender registry more understanding towards those registered for sex offenses?
The personal ramifications of being on the registry can be difficult to pinpoint, since having a felony on one’s record can also bring negative consequences. But some registrants say it creates an additional barrier when they look for employment. “If you want a job, you don’t have to tell them you’re a felon anymore, but now they can search for you, and it lowers your chances even more of getting a job,” said Ashleigh Swarts, who was convicted of various methamphetamine crimes, most recently in 2014. “I can’t get a job, period.” 
Although drugs do not carry the same social stigma as sexual and violent crimes, some people say that being on the registry takes a toll on their relationships. Holly Bratcher, who was convicted of involvement in meth production after being caught in a raid at a friend’s house, said she had abandoned her drug use, but her new boyfriend’s ex-partner found her on the registry. “She told his mom, told others kids’ moms, and put my business out there for everybody,” Bratcher said. “Anybody who looks at my record, they don’t know me, they are quick to judge me.”
Anyone on the sex offender registry can well relate. No drug offender should be on a public registry, and neither should any sex offender.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Discredited sex assault research infects U.S. legal system

Here's a good read from Real Clear Politics, authored by Linda LeFauve and Stuart Taylor Jr.
When a toxin enters a biological ecosystem, its effect is magnified as it moves up the food chain. Even if it can be cut off at the source, the ever-widening distribution of its increasingly harmful form can cause problems for decades. 
Misinformation functions in a similar fashion, gaining traction as it’s repeated by increasingly high-profile individuals who venture ever further from the source material. In this manner, distortion about the facts of sexual assault has affected the training of judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials. It is how misleading assertions become embedded in criminal and military law. 
This is a story of how a theory without merit, derived from highly questionable statistics, imperils the most basic tenets of due process and risks turning every unproved accusation into a verdict of guilt.
Read more at Real Clear Politics.

Legislature debates bill to control high-cost calls for inmates

The Unicameral debated a bill (LB776) that would require city and county jails to provide inmates with affordable communications, via telephone or video conferencing, with their attorney and family. Omaha Sen. John McCollister introduced the bill.
A person housed in a city or county jail has not necessarily been found guilty of a crime yet, said McCollister. In fact, he said, a study by the ACLU found that over half of inmates held in jail are awaiting trial and are in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bail. 
McCollister said no one can prepare properly for an upcoming trial if they cannot talk with their attorney on a regular basis. The cost of a 15-minute call can vary from $2 to $20, he said, depending on where the inmate is housed, which can be prohibitive, McCollister said. 
Further, he said, research has shown that regular contact between inmates and their families and attorneys leads to lower rates of recidivism upon their release. 
“This would ensure that city and county budgets are not based on the assumption that they’ll be making a profit from detainees and their families,” McCollister said.
Senators took no action on the bill following the debate. 

Full story here.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Sex Offender Registry: vengeful, unconstitutional, and due for full repeal

Jesse Kelly, a policy analyst with the R Street Institute, has written a strongly-worded column explaining why the sex offender registry should be abolished.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that at least 95 percent of all state prisoners will be released from prison at some point. However, convicted sex-offenders almost exclusively face the vengeful, additional punishment of registration under the Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act (SORNA)...SORNA violates our nation’s founding documents by singling out a specific category of offenders for unfair, unconstitutional punishment. While the Department of Justice cites public safety as its rationale for continuing to enforce the overreaching requirements of SORNA, the program has metastasized, defacing some of our most treasured rights: the right to due process, the right to be free from double jeopardy and the right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment.
You can read Kelly's full argument here.

Supreme Court agrees to hear sex offender case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a sex offender case, Gundy v. United States. The issues involved in the case are:
(1) Whether convicted sex offenders are “required to register” under the federal Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act while in custody, regardless of how long they have until release; (2) whether all offenders convicted of a qualifying sex offense prior to SORNA’s enactment are “required to register” under SORNA no later than August 1, 2008; (3) whether a defendant travels in interstate commerce for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a) when his only movement between states occurs while he is in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and serving a prison sentence; and (4) whether SORNA’s delegation of authority to the attorney general to issue regulations under 42 U.S.C. § 16913 violates the nondelegation doctrine. 
The court will consider only #4 on that list. Some analysts see a potential red flag in that.
On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Gundy v. United States, a constitutional challenge to federal sex offender regulations. If, like me, you believe that America’s current sex offender regime is draconian, unjust, and counterproductive, that might sound like good news! And perhaps it is. But there’s one aspect of the court’s grant that may be very bad news from progressive viewpoint: It will only consider whether the policy in question violates the nondelegation doctrine—a hazy legal principle last used to strike down New Deal legislation in 1935. 
Read more at Slate.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Losing Track: Series explores problems with Wisconsin GPS monitoring

A series of articles from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism explores problems with Wisconsin's GPS monitoring program. GPS monitoring is increasingly popular across the country, despite questions about the technology.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 88,000 offenders were strapped with GPS bracelets in 2015 — 30 times more than the 2,900 offenders who were tracked a decade earlier. Wisconsin had a daily average of about 1,500 offenders on tracking in 2017-18 — a nearly 10-fold increase from 158 offenders in 2008-09. 
Some experts say GPS monitoring can be a useful tool in providing structure, reducing recidivism, allowing offenders to work and lowering costs compared to incarceration. But technological problems can get in the way of those benefits. 
Mike Nellis, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, believes that GPS monitoring in the United States has taken on a punitive approach that hampers offender reintegration. The journal focuses on monitoring technology and its use in enhancing public safety. 
“If (offenders) are trying to reintegrate themselves … to suddenly find yourself carted back to prison for something that is in no way your fault seems to me to be quite an unnecessary disruption in the life of an offender — and quite at odds with good practice in reintegrating them,” Nellis said.
You can read the series, and an earlier series from 2013, here.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Omnibus prison reform bill advances

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that seeks to address overcrowding of the state's prisons. 
Under LB 841 advanced on Tuesday, corrections and the State Board of Parole would be required to devise a plan, by Dec. 1, on how to deal with, or avoid, such an emergency... 
The bill advanced on Tuesday also allows corrections to continue to house some state inmates at county jails across the state. About 112 inmates per day, on average, were housed in county jails last year as a stop-gap measure until sentencing reforms passed by the Legislature in 2015 kick in and reduce prison populations.
Read more here.

Text of LB841

Kansas bill would reveal names of juvenile sex offenders

This is a big step in the wrong direction.
The family of a Newton mother and daughter who were killed last year is pushing for a new law that would reveal the names of child sex offenders. 
Keith Hawkins was sentenced this month to life without the possibility of parole for the deaths of 24-year-old Alyssa Runyon and 4-year-old Zaylynn Paz. In a letter to Runyon's family, Hawkins said he harmed the child first.  
When Hawkins was 12 years old, he was convicted of indecent liberties with a 5-year-old girl. But because he was a juvenile when he committed the crime, a judge sealed Hawkins' record.
The Kansas legislature is considering what is being called the "Aly-Zay Law," which would disclose the names of juveniles required to register as sex offenders in Kansas.

Read more here.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Paper questions if there are too many people on Colorado's sex offender registry

This story is from Aurora, Colorado, but could apply to nearly any state's sex offender registry.
You’ve probably either heard about the list or you’ve seen it. 
It’s an online compilation of every person in Colorado convicted of what most people imagine are only the most heinous sexual crimes, revealing who they are, what they look like and where they live. Only the Colorado Sexual Offender Registry is not that simple. .
Experts say the person you think you should fear most might actually be no more of a threat than anyone else. 
Or they could be a serious reason to worry. 
Or they might have been trouble at one time, but are no longer be a threat, and instead are being punished for whatever crime they committed long after they are released from prison. 
But they’re one of about 18,000 people, about 800 in Aurora, thousands in the metro area, on a list that was created to help protect people from incorrigible sex offenders. 
But critics say it’s nothing more than an inaccurate and misleading website that needlessly causes worry among Colorado residents and cruelly and dangerously continues to punish convicts long after they’re released from prison.
Read more here.

Lincoln Fearless on Monday

Registered citizens, families, and friends are invited to the March Lincoln Fearless, this Monday, March 5, at the Calvary United Methodist Church, 1610 S. 11th Street in Lincoln. We meet beginning at 7:00

Lincoln Fearless meets the first Monday of every month.  Fearless offers support to registrants and their family members navigating life on the registry. If you are in the Lincoln area, or anywhere in the state, and are able to attend, please come.