10-30-03 Commentary: Megans' Laws: Accomplishing their purpose?
The latest provision, photos and addresses on the Internet: An archery target! |
Courts have held, and a few legislatures are now including "We Find: ..." in their laws (as an afterthought), that Megans' laws are meant to protect the public (See Note-1 below) and not to punish the offender (with no further clarification). For now we will focus only on "Megan's Purpose," who of the public is to be protected?
So far no legislature has specifically stated who is to be protected by these laws, but in fairness, a few legislatures have posted "findings," following court interpretations. The problem: Legislatures fail to post authorities for these "findings." They often default to "other states have held, therefore we hold."
High recidivism rates have found to be a myth! When will legislatures recognize they have erred by quoting recidivism rates of a sub-group of offenders (i.e. pedophiles) and then applied that to -ALL- sex offenders. That simply is wrong.
In public messages "the who" means the children of the state. We agree "children" need to be protected -it is a given-, but do Megans' laws protect all children, do they accomplish their stated purpose? Is there a population of children in society which is not protected by Megans' laws? What are their future consequences from these laws?
In the US Department of Justice's "The Summary of Sex Offender Registries (Nationwide), 2001 p6," shows 277,000 registered offenders in 4-1998; 386,000 in 2-2001; that is an increase of approximately 3,200 a month, which equates to today (10-2003) approximately 488,400 registered offenders nationwide. Registries are still new and will continue to grow simply because registrants haven't yet reached the stated "term of registration" where registrants will be deleted.
The media and experts report, that 85% (or greater) of the time the person committing the offense, is "a trusted person" in the child's life. (90% according to Finkelhor, 1994) See also "Who should parents be more concerned about, someone they know and trust, or the registered sex offender? Your beliefs might be shaken.," a meta-analysis of news articles and other reports by trusted state agencies throughout the nation.
A closer read of news reports of crimes by "trusted persons" will reveal they are also family persons, meaning they are a "Mother or Father" of a child when they commit their crime. Yes some do commit crimes against their own child, and after serving the sentence many are reunited into their family environment.
Now, if we are to believe these "trusted statistics," being media and governmental sources, then we have no choice but to conclude that a good percentage of today's 488,400 registered offenders, are a parent today and will be a grandparent before their registration period ends.
In our Commentary "The Insidious Hidden Punishment System: Megan's Law," we quoted a "Missing Agenda" of Megans' laws, "Children of Sex Offenders," therein we quoted and said:
A recent census shows the average children per family is 1.8 approx., and we will use 2. While it is true, we do not know the exact percentage of the 488,400 registrants that are parents with children today, the prior facts suggest that many are, and we continue under that principle and spirit.
"While not forgetting society's victims, and wishing there was a way to wish away their label and all their inner turmoil, there are other unintended victims suffering (News article: "Probation officers have reported 'high levels of anxiety' from wives and children of sex offenders - and from victims."). I am reminded of a few stories which I will coin into one, a sex offender is trying to get on with his or her life, now married and with children in school. Their child just home from school looks up asking, why will the kids not play with me, why do they say bad things about you? Then quietly, I love you . . .
Times Record News Editorial: "Meanwhile, back in Corpus Christi, Texas, Judge J. Manuel Banales has ordered 14 sex offenders to place signs in their front yards reading, "Danger! Registered Sex Offenders Lives Here!" and apply bumper stickers that say "Danger! Registered Sex Offender in Vehicle!" to their cars. Banales says the order is a way to protect the community and rehabilitate sex offenders.
Others have questioned why paroled criminals' families should be potentially identified as sex offenders even though they are innocent of any crime. We can only imagine the psychological effect this might have on an offender's child, forced to bear a measure of the shame meant for their parent." (Times Record News, Web Ed, 5-24-2001) See also ACLU:
--- The Children Persecuted by Megans' Laws ---CHILDREN OF SEX OFFENDERS (average two per family), it appears they are not entitled to the same protections as other children in society, for when you post the address and picture of a registered sex offender, when that offender has a child, you might as well post the picture of that child also. That child will suffer psychologically the same as the offender and the circle around them, and be treated by society in ways that will affect their lives to come.
This gives new meaning to "The sins of the father are visited on the son." In the novel, Affliction by Russell Banks, he explores how the damage done to children affects their entire lives, and how they structure their personalities to deal with the pain dealt to them at an early age.
It has been said this is an unintended consequence caused by the offender's initial acts and not the legislature, and maybe so.
But for Megans' laws, community notification portion, the children would not be suffering, and that cannot be erased by wordsmithery, can the legislature do something to protect these children? Megans' laws today provide no protections!
--- What are Legislatures Doing to Correct the Suffering ---
OK, lets look at which legislature has been looking "outside the box!" I.e., the registered sex offender, the person.
Currently a few Megans' laws have "Public Warnings." Police usually mention these, but do not enforce them, in fear of community reaction. Only a few states have "warnings," and those that do, merely mention them usually at the bottom of a posting, more in the fine print that NO ONE FORGETS TO READ! OK, a little sarcasm. Funny, legislatures were perfectly able to remember to legislate "BOLD PRINT" in a few industries (ex: on credit card and loan forms), but there is money involved there.
Is there any legislature thinking "outside-the-box" into the consequences of Megans' laws; intended and/or unintended? Why should legislatures look to protect "children" only as the "object" of these laws, and not when they are a "consequence" of these laws? Do the latter need less protection in society?
Consequences of these laws, parents have to provide for their children (be they an "object" or a "consequence"), they must house and feed them, and when a consequence of these laws denies the registered offender housing and employment, that also affects the children of the offender. Intangible subtle consequences (housing, employment, etc.,). Thinking outside-the-box, recognize the subtle denials caused by these laws and enact controls on society to permit offenders a rightful place in society.
Juveniles are also members of the public, and when viewed as the "object" of these laws they are protected, but when they are offenders (of any degree) they are not entitled to any protections. As a juvenile offender in a relationship, hovering at 18 then going over, are they "object" or "consequence," its often very difficult to choose. Do these juvenile offenders need less protection?
Have legislatures forgotten these juveniles have to grow up and somehow exist in society? Given they are ostracized by these laws, will they ever have a chance? Is this further proof that legislatures do not think "outside-the-box?"
Today legislatures are simply brushing off, and minimizing, the consequences of these laws, even when consequences prove to be contrary to the very purpose of the laws. Current consequences of these laws extend far beyond the first act of the offender, brave legislatures can handle the consequences, if they have a mind to, but it will require thinking "outside-the-box" and less wordsmithing!
The spirit and intent of PENAL LAWS TODAY as in the past, excepting a very few (life without parole or a death sentence), is that, once convicted and having served the sentence, the offender is returned to society with the spirit of being rehabilitated to again become a productive member of society. Megans' laws violate the spirit and intent of all penal laws, in fact, abrogate it, and only for sex offenders!
I'll leave with this thought, is the purpose of today's "get tough on sex offenders" legislation to "protect the public," -OR- "is it a political agenda?" Sounds-good, feels-good legislation can never be audited, such always remains hypothetical!
:For the families that have shared their story, and others, this commentary is dedicated.
(Note-1) One study (Sex Offender Community Notification, by Peter Finn, February 1997) has already shown that Megans' laws do not protect the public, another study has shown the laws are "Sounds-Good, Feels-Good" legislation.