Monday, November 12, 2012

Juvenil Justice? "Uninteded" consequences of placing children on sex offender registry

The Texas juvenile justice system was created in 1973 with the intent of removing the stigma of criminality from the unlawful acts of children. Subsequently, in 1995 the purpose of the juvenile courts was altered “to remove, where appropriate, the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts."

Among these “certain unlawful acts” were those involving sexual behavior. The attention focusing on the adult males who had sexually assaulted children before murdering Jessica Lunsford and Sara Lunde, coupled with the misconception of the ever increasingly violent juvenile offender, resulted in the view that children who committed sexual offenses were just smaller versions of presumed “chronic” adult sexual abusers. The laws initially intended to protect children began to label children as sex offenders.

There are not many offenses that capture the attention of the public with the intensity of emotional intensity and outrage as sexual offenses. State and local policy reflect this public sentiment with severe punishments. The in 1990s Texas as well as the rest of the United States initiated sex offender registration, where anyone convicted of a sexual offense would be placed on the public registry. The media popularized the idea of “stranger danger,” giving the public the inaccurate view that strangers were the most common perpetrators of sexual abuse. However in 95% of the cases perpetrators are individuals well known to the child victim (U.S. Department of Justice 2004). However well intended it was to create a registry, after all it is the duty of society to nurture and protect its children, little thought was given to the children who were labeled as sexual offenders.

The placing of youth on the sex offender registry has a number of unintended, lasting effects. The process of placing a child on the registry under the juvenile courts system then kept on supervision well into adulthood is counter-intuitive to the entire idea of a juvenile justice system. By design, the system should allow youth offenders a chance for rehabilitation without having lasting consequences on their chance to become fully productive citizens. However, the registry marginalizes children on the registry because they often become excluded from school activities, religious activities, recreational sports (e.g. using public swimming pools), parks, or anyplace children may congregate. As the child maltreatment expert Mark Chaffin wrote:

It is during adolescence and early adulthood that life-course tipping points for these social anchors are met and a future life direction is steered. Serious stigmatization and marginalization diminish the prospects for healthy social anchors and can set a course for criminal behavior as well as numerous other problems. Normally, we believe it is in everyone’s interest to stigmatize and isolate juvenile delinquents far less than we do adult criminals. For young delinquents labeled as sex offenders, we have now decided to stigmatize and isolate them far more than we do most adult criminals—indeed, we are now going out of our way to stigmatize and exclude them to an extent unprecedented in modern juvenile justice history.

Sex offender registration makes the transition from incarceration to productive citizen difficult at best. The stigma surrounding the label “sex offender” causes considerable problems for securing employment. The isolation caused by being listed on the registry can actually put youth at considerable risk for their own safety and mental health, while doing nothing to protect the community. In a study examining the effects of registration in one state, Letourneau (2012) wrote “research indicates that South Carolina’s registration and notification policy fails to deter new juvenile sex crimes… fails to deter juvenile sexual or violent recidivism… and increases the risk that youth will incur new non-sex, non-violent misdemeanor charges.”

Supporters of registration requirements believe the registry provides safety and security to the community, by giving the public useful information so they can protect their children. The most glaring misconception is the notion of “stranger danger,” when most sex crimes against children are actually carried out by people well known to and often trusted by the children. There is also widespread belief that sex offenders have high recidivism rates when in fact 95 % of all sex offenders are first time offenders (Department of Justice, 2004). Preteen sex offenders who undergo treatment have recidivism rates as low as 2% (Chaffin).

In sum there are many problems with placing children on sex offender registries. The registry marginalizes youth, makes integration into society difficult, and has destructive and devastating effects on the children, and their families. There is an old adage that states “bad facts seldom make for good laws,” politicians quick to react to the media hype surrounding sex crimes against children have ushered in laws largely based on urban myth, and by doing so have created a system in which youth on the list are ostracized, denied employment, and granted little more than 2nd class citizenship by society.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

No one will hire me, convictions, sex offender registry

BANG, the judge slams the gavel down rendering judgment against you, CLANG, the prison door slams shut removing you from society whom you offended, SWOOSH, economic opportunity fleeing at light speed never to return. A criminal conviction has long been the proverbial nail in the coffin of a person’s (now a felon) career. With this staining mark most job applicants are quickly snuffed from the list of prospective jobs, and this is the case in a booming economy with full employment which is not our current economic condition.  Currently faced with an unemployment rate of 7.9%, the underemployment/unemployment somewhere around 16% (Gallop), hundreds of people are applying for a single stocker position at a supermarket.

An editorial in the New York Times dated November 11, 2012 stated a find by the American Bar Association; there are more than 38,000 statutes across the states and territories, almost 700 per entity intentionally making it difficult or down right impossible to maintain successful lives, essentially barring ex-offenders from full re-entry.

The editorial piece also made mention of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reiterating, this past spring, old policy standards that prohibit denying employment strictly on criminal background without thoroughly evaluating severity and the length of time passed since the offence.

Now, broaden the equation, say you are not only a felon but are also listed on the sex offender registry. Large department stores discourage store managers in granting persons listed on the registry employment, even going so far in one big box store’s case to require independent contractors to disclose whether or not they have been listed on the public sex offender registry within the past 5 years.

Some states such as Texas prominently display where sex offenders are employed causing many businesses to further justify not employing those listed.

Making matters worse Texas along with other states requires public registration of juvenile offenders listing children as young as 10 years of age. In April of this year Meredith Bennett-Smith with the Christian Science Monitor wrote that one quarter of young Americans aged 16 to 19 are out of work. Challenged already with sparse job opportunities youth on the registry find it almost impossible to obtain entry level positions and labor intense jobs such as construction especially frown on hiring sex offenders regardless of when their offense occurred.

Dependable income, stable housing, and connections with society are paramount to successful re-entry of any offender back into society. Excluding convicts and those placed on the sex offender registry (both children and adults) from the job market hurts spouses and children of these offenders most of all. Making the job market fair and open to everyone seeking employment is an important step to making a better safer society.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

CBS11: Eviction

PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – The eviction notice came last week. “I mean, it floored me,” said Joshua Gravens, 26.
Suddenly, Gravens, his wife, and their four children were told they had just four days to leave their home.
“Homelessness is a big worry,” said Nicole Gravens.
It’s all because of something Joshua did, when he was only 12-years-old. “I inappropriately touched my sister,” he said.

Texas Observer: Life on the List

By Emily Deprang

When Josh Gravens was 12 years old, he made a terrible mistake. He and his sister, who was 8, had sexual contact, twice. “Like, where my body part touched her body part,” he says. “It was never penetrative. Obviously, it couldn’t have been what they call consensual, but it was playing.”
Josh’s sister told their mother, who was alarmed. She wanted to ensure that, even if Josh’s intentions were only curious, he learned appropriate behavior right away. She called a Christian counseling center near their home in Abilene and described what happened. She was informed that, by law, the center had to report Josh to the police for sexual assault of a child.
The next day, Josh was arrested and sent into Texas’ juvenile justice system. He wouldn’t get out for three and a half years.