Monday, April 19, 2010

Governor Paterson Proposes Legislation to Strengthen Sex Offender Laws. Will It?

Governor Paterson has proposed legislation for the stated purpose of strengthening sex offender laws. All things considered, the proposed legislation (the text of which is not yet available) makes some relatively minor changes around the margins of a marginally effective tool.

New York States admits that the Sex Offender Registry is only of very limited value in preventing sex crimes. According to the NY Office of Sex Offender Management web site, "The vast majority of sex crimes are committed by someone who is not on the Sex Offender Registry. During 2005-2006, approximately 94% of the persons arrested for sexual offenses in New York State had no prior sex convictions. As a result, these people would not have been on the Sex Offender Registry."

The legislation does fix one glaring inconsistency in current law. Currently, the exact home address of Level 2 ("moderate risk") offenders is listed on the state sex offender registry web site, but the law allows local law enforcement to share only the zip codes of Level 2 offenders.

Another fix also is warranted: "Require high-risk sex offenders and sexual predators to personally appear before the local law enforcement agency within 10 days of release or relocation, instead of the current 90 days."

The other changes are of questionable value, at best, and some present real reasons for concern.

The legislation would open the door to listing juveniles on the sex offender registry, a very serious step.

The legislation would: "Make it a felony for a sex offender to fail to report his or her address as required, even if he or she has not moved from that address."

Sean M. Byrne, Acting Commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), said: "Though it is currently a felony for an offender to fail to verify their address, if they have not moved and simply refuse to obey the law and send in the verification form, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Consequently, we are constantly asking law enforcement to find people who, more than 75 percent of the time, aren't missing at all. That is a terrible waste of police resources and an indefensible flouting of the law by these sex offenders. Governor Paterson's bill would address that legal absurdity, and implement several other common sense reforms."

Although one can sympathize with the Governor's desire to cut administrative and compliance costs, having taxpayers pay to incarcerate an individual for at least a year for simply not mailing a return post card hardly seems cost effective.

Another proposal would: "Require that Level 2 sex offenders have a new photograph taken every year, rather than every three years." What's the point? This adds very little value for additional cost.

Another proposal will: "Ensure that all sex offenders registered in other states who move to New York are required to register here...[because] Sex offenders from other states who move to New York State may not have to register in this State."

This proposal is particularly problematic. Under current law, anyone who moves to New York from another state wherein they have committed a crime which requires registration under New York law must register when they move to New York. Under the new proposal, registered sex offenders which move to New York State must register as sex offenders even if their offense is not considered a crime in New York State. For example, New York State does not criminalize consensual sex between an eighteen year old and a sixteen year old as some other states do. (NY requires at least a four year difference in ages to bring criminal charges). Here the Governor is seeking for New York to treat citizens from other states differently than New York citizens. This raises constitutional concerns in relation to the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It also bloats the New York sex offender registry with those who present no risk. (Imagine if one of these no risk "offenders" who moves to New York fails to mail in his or her annual address verification post card. New York taxpayers would then have to pay for their imprisonment for a year).

According to the press release: "Mary B. Kavaney, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, said: 'Over time, and partially as a result of some piecemeal amendments, portions of SORA have become inconsistent with the original intent of the legislation.'

Actually, New York's sex offender registry has strayed even further from the intent of the original law than Kavaney indicates. Under the original version of New York's sex offender registration law, only high risk offenders (violent offenders, repeat offenders, those who targeted strangers) were placed on the public registry. All others were known only by law enforcement. As lower risk individuals have been added to the public registry, its effectiveness has been diluted. Also under the original law, those former offenders who lived safely in the community for ten years were to be dropped from the registry. (After ten years of living safely in the community, chances of recidivism are near zero for most former offenders). The law was subsequently changed so that, to this point, no one has been dropped from the registry. The registry now numbers 30,000, and it (and taxpayers' costs) continue to grow.

If New York would like to get rid of some of its registered sex offenders, it could easily do so with a simple change in the law. Under current law, New York offenders must continue to register in New York even if they move to a state where they are not required to register. If New York no longer required registration of out of state offenders, no doubt some would chose to move to other states.

It is noteworthy that one study has shown that New York's Sex Offender registry has had no effect in reducing crime. A federally funded study by the New Jersey Department of Corrections had similar findings.


Anonymous said...

Just another politician passing "feel good" legislation to try and garner votes. No better than Andrew Cuomo's E-Stop. Makes them look like a hero to the average voter, but they really accomplish nothing.

Anonymous said...

I think they should let level 2 sex offenders drop down after 15 years instead of being lifetime

Anonymous said...

I live in florida and i know of a sex offender that wasn't living at his registered address. This was reported to the sheriffs dept. at least 5 times before they did anything.
That put children in that neighborhood at risk and all he got was a slap on the hand.
Florida also lets sex offenders live with women that have young children the same age as their offenses and do nothing.

Are we asking for more children to be hurt?

Anonymous said...

Cayuga County allows sex offenders to go to State Parks, I thought that was illegal. The probation department doesn't even have enough funding to do the required drug tests on offenders. Why is New York State mandating treatments to the "incurable" and not funding the communities to properly conduct their jobs in order to keep community members safe?

Ocirrus said...

These laws are based on fear, fear of the unknown and fear of what could happen. They don't take into account circumstances and they provide no increased assurance of safety. Public officials try to look tough on crime by making new laws,and extending old ones; however, teach nothing of prevention and awarness. I was 17 in 1992 and arrested for touching another boy, I thought I was in trouble because of being GAY and had no clue, education or understanding too know what I did was wrong. Eighteen years later my civil right are trampled, jobs are impossible to get even after being the first in my family to get a college degree. I can't go out with friends on Halloween, can't Net work on FaceBook, worry each day about my current job, deal with cops in full uniform on my door with neirghbors watching and be treated like less than a human. I was a kid at age 17 touching another kid who was a Boy,so I was sentenced as an adult to be used as a tool to make a judge, a cop and society feel important and powerfull. I think of that kid each day I wake up, wish I could change it, wish he never had to deal with it, but i have come to understand I can't, I can only try each day to help others around me. No one taught me why it was wrong, no one explaind the whole situation and no one took a moment to think of WHY IT HAPPENED. These laws are a waste, what is needed is EDUCATION. EDUCATION, EDUCATION! I will be 36 years old in March, have a house, Bachlors in Science, a relationship,worked everyday since Highschool, pay taxes, have steady freinds and never have been in trouble with the law since I was 17. How is this law affective, besides helping a few figureheads. Want to change the world, keep childeren safe, then start by education them on the importance of respect, right and wrong, teach accptance and not fear and hatred. Talk to sex offenders and have them explain why things happend, get to the root of the problem and stop it there!

Anonymous said...

Cayuga County only allows level 1 sex offenders at state parks. I actually went through a rigorous treatment program at the William George Agency for Children's Services. I think your idea of incurable doesn't match with the meaning. Keep in mind that Cayuga County also has one of the highest arrest records for S.O's. I don't see how a drug test is going to protect people. I don't even see how a breathalyzer test gives any results other than don't drink on probation. The answer to your money problem is simple. I have an inside source that tells me that Cayuga County has more than enough money to fund such things, but is collecting it instead of redistributing it. Fatcat's should have a heart attack. The only way to truly keep the community safe is to learn why it's dangerous in the first place. Get educated the right way, than educate others!

Anonymous said...

I got in trouble in 96 and was sentence to 3yrs probation, didnt get into any more trouble, then all of a sudden got a letter in the mail that i have to register and they had to set a level, the people in the courtroom was hell bent on level 2 for me my lawyer didnt fight for me not one bit, had a job i was working for 13plus years with good pay, was about to buy a house, kept up with my child support, paided all bills on time, i was 23 she was 16 and got upset when i tried to break it off and ran to the police, I was young dumb and stupid-any way if i was a danger to anyone the judge would have not let me go at the time, so now that I had to register my job layed me off and i cant find any work to support my family, but yet am classed with level 2 offenders and am still friends with her to this day, i dont get it, something did take place at that time which is why i plead guilty, am really at a point where i dont know what to do, just means no matter what i did b4 the letter doesnt count, me moving on after the fact doesnt count, this law is to just take people ot of the job world and give the counts and law inforcement something to do, line the pockets of the behind the sences people. and screw my family, eat the best way you know how. i know how everyone feels on this list, i want to get pass it but this law will not allow me to move on with my life, am not into kids and taking sex by force but am classed like it. needs a serous overhaul with this law---CAN YOU SAY OVERKILL, my life is screwed as well as my family, help