Thursday, March 23, 2006

Idiot Claims

This week, former Florida teacher Debra LaFave found that she would not have to stand trial for the statutory rape of a former 14-year old student. The victim indicated he did not want to go through the stress of a trial, so the prosecutor dropped the charges. LaFave earlier pled guilty to statutory rape for the same crime, but in an adjoining jurisdiction. She will serve 3 years of house arrest, 7 additional years of probation, undergo mandatory treatment and have to register as a sex offender.

Many critics believe that she "got away with it", obviously ignoring her earlier sentence. Conservative radio and Faux News Channel TV host Sean Hannity has been particularly offended. He has wondered if LaFave will re-offend, and claimed that sex offenders re-offend 80% of the time.

It has become almost conventional wisdom that sex offenders will undoubtedly re-offend. Some observers have even suggested that sex offenders should not be let out. Several states (starting with Kansas) even allow for indefinite civil commitment of sex offenders after they have served their prison time.

When someone like Sean Hannity claims that 80% of sex offenders re-offend, I know one thing -- that the figure of re-offense is NOT 80%. But, what it is?

It is first important to note that not all sex offenders are the same. For example, according to the Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers, "pedophiles" differ significantly from "child molester" even though the terms are used interchangeably. According to ATSA, here are some of the difference between pedophiles and child molesters:

• True pedophiles are motivated by their sexual attraction to children and their offenses are directed toward vulnerable children whom they court or groom for the purpose of victimization.
• Pedophiles seek out children to victimize by placing themselves in positions of trust, authority, and easy access to youngsters can have hundreds of victims over the course of their lifetimes. One study found that the average number of victims for non-incestuous pedophiles who molest girls is 20; for pedophiles who prefer boys, over 100.
• Predatory pedophiles, especially those who molest boys, are the sex offenders who have the highest recidivism rates. Over long follow-up periods, more than half of convicted predatory pedophiles are rearrested for a new offense.
• Their offenses are usually predatory — directed towards children whom they engage in relationships for the purpose of victimization. However, pedophiles may also sexually abuse children in their own families.

Non-pedophilic Child Molesters
• The non-predatory molester tends to be a man whose primary sexual attraction is toward adults, but who may molest children in a maladaptive attempt to meet emotional needs.
• Incest offenders are more likely to be non-pedophilic molesters
• Research has found that many heterosexual incest offenders have sexual interests that are indistinguishable from those of normal males.
• Incestuous offenders, regardless of the gender of the victim, have lower numbers of victims and are less likely to be rearrested for new sex crimes after they’ve been convicted.
• Non-predatory child molesters have consistently low rates of recidivism for incestuous offenders – though it should be noted that incest victims are among the least likely to report sexual crimes.
• Intrafamilial offenders may be among those most likely to benefit from therapeutic intervention.

In addition, the rate of recidivism not only differs between pedophiles and child molesters, but is far lower than critics claim.

In 2003, the Justice Department issued a study of 9,691 men convicted of rape, sexual assault and child molestation who were released in 1994 discovered the following:

- 43% were arrested for any type of crime within three years, compared with 68% for all other former inmates.

- Released sex offenders tend to get arrested less often than those convicted of theft, robbery, stealing vehicles or illegal weapons trafficking

- A small core of sex offenders often commits similar crimes over and over

- 5.3% of sex offenders were arrested for another sex crime after their release.

- Only 1.3% of all other criminals were arrested for a sex crime after serving a prison sentence.

- Most of the sex offenders studied had been convicted of only one sex offense but often had long criminal rap sheets:

- 78 percent had been arrested at least once previously for another type of crime.

- 8 percent were rearrested if they previously had committed between 11 and 15 offenses, demonstrating that those with long criminal records also were more likely to commit a sex crime after they got out of prison

- Among child molesters, about 18% had been arrested for similar offenses in the past

- Only 3.3% of those released in 1994 were arrested again for a crime against a child.

- Most children molested were 13 or younger and in half the cases were the offender's son, daughter or other relative.

The study was part of a larger study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which examined how often 272,111 prisoners set free in 1994 by 15 states ended up behind bars again within three years. The study is the largest and most comprehensive look ever at prison recidivism.

Thus, the numbers appeared to dispute the popular notion that sex offenders are incorrigible.

Still, this perception has led all 50 states to adopt some version of “Megan’s Law”. “Megan's Law'' is named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl raped and killed in 1994 by a child molester who moved in across the street from her house. These laws require released sex offenders to notify communities when they move into them, and provide for registries of sex offenders’ names and addresses that are available to the public.

Before Megan's Law became virtually universal across the country, one study showed no difference between re-arrest rates of convicted sexual offenders in communities with Megan's Law versus those without. However, in communities with Megan's Law, fear of sexual offenders was higher.

Now, there's a movement to adopt "Jessica's Law", a law named after Jessica Lunsford, a young girl sexually abused and murdered by a released sex offender in Florida. Under the law, a person committed of a sexual offense of a child under the age of 12 would serve a minimum of 25 years in prison, and then upon release, would be under virtual lifetime probation, including having to wear an ankle bracelet for monitoring.

I abhor individuals who sexually abuse children, and believe there is a special circle of hell for them. On the other hand, discussions of important public policy initiatives should be rooted in factual information, not wild, outlandish claims.

But, that's not Hannity's style. You are not correct in an argument if you have the proper facts. You are correct when you make attention-getting claims at the top of your lungs.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Idiot O'Reilly's Legacy

My post on Bill O'Reilly versus Judge John Connor received an avalanche of comments. OK, I got two, but that's a comparative avalanche.

The two responders, in trying to refute me, verified what I have been arguing about in terms of the destruction of political discourse in America by the likes of conservative talk radio and the Faux News Channel.

Both responders saw the argument as one where I was attacking Bill O'Reilly because he wants long sentences for sex offenders. In addition, it appears that both failed to see my own position on sex offenders.

What I object to is O'Reilly using a powerful media platform to go after an individual, especially one who did his job. To repeat -- the prosecutor did not press for jail time and said rehabilitation was a possibility. The range of punishment for the two counts that the defendant was facing included straight probation to 20 years. Revenge is not listed as a criterion for sentencing. The defendant got a long probationary period, one year's house detention, mandatory counseling and other restrictions designed to keep him away from children until he is seen as not being a risk. Judge John Connor gave a sentence that was not out of the range of his discretion. He did his job.

The sentence may not have been popular. Whether or not it is just will take time.

As I indicated, I am an ardent opponent of the death penalty. I am just as strong an opponent of the death penalty as O'Reilly is an opponent of lighter sentences for those who sexually abuse children. The difference between O'Reilly and myself is that if I had the media platform he did, I would not be going after the judge in FL who upheld the jury's recommendation of the death penalty. The judge did his job. So did Connor.

My biggest problem with O'Reilly is that he has a lot of media power, but does not wield it with responsibility.

The following quote from Edward R. Murrow, from his McCarthy broadcast, sums up my position probably better than any other:

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Idiot O'Reilly redux

Short note: O'Reilly made a comment today that, based on his reading of the recently released "State of the Media 2006" report that most of the news media was Far Left. This, of course, ignores the results of the survey of journalists in the report. In the survey, 34% of national journalists described themselves as "liberal" vesus 7% who identified themselves as "conservatve." The largest group of national journalists described themselves as "moderate" (54%). Not sure how that translates into a far left media. In addition, 23% of local journalists (who make up the vast majority of journalists in this country) identify themselves as "liberal" and 14% as "conservative". More than three in five (61%) identify themselves as "moderate." Again, where's the evidence of this leftist press?

Bill O'Reilly -- never one to let evidence get in the way of a favored theory.

Idiot O'Reilly (one of many entries I am sure)

When I originally conceived of this blog, I had Bill O'Reilly prominently in my mind. As much as anyone, Bill O'Reilly has done significant harm to public discourse in our society. Two hours a day on radio and one hour a day on the Faux News Channel, O'Reilly bullies guests, distorts issues, and makes up facts. And, there are times where he is outright dangerous.

In Ohio, Andrew Selva pled guilty to the sexual battery of two boys ages five and 12. Selva repeatedly abused these boys over three years. Now, sexual battery is a low level felony in Ohio, meaning that probation is an option. Judge John Connor gave Selva probation, stating "He's got a disease like I've got a disease. I don't know that prison would have helped, except for revenge and revenge is not in the sentencing guidelines." Although Connor said the appropriate sentence was eight years in prison, Selva had a clean record since his arrest and Connor found "no convincing proof" that Selva was a pedophile. Thus, Selva got five years probation, one year of home confinement with electronic monitoring, a mandate that he must report his residency every 90 days, a mandate that he must continue mandatory counseling and treatment, and an order than he must live more than 1,000 feet from any school.

Now, I think child abusers are scum. I believe that there is a circle of hell reserved for them. If Selva got the 25 years that Bill O'Reilly is advocating, I would shed no tears. But, there's more to the story.

First, the prosecutor agreed to the plea deal. No one forced him to do so. In January 2004, Selva was indicted on 20 counts of rape and two counts of gross sexual imposition. The indictment was dismissed in 2004 by a judge because the prosecutor made several errors, including mixing the names up of the victims and other inaccuracies in some of the dates and accusations. The prosecutor could have returned to a grand jury, but Selva’s attorneys asked him to consider a plea.

Assistant prosecutor Ronald Welch said the older victim, by then a high-school athlete, worried that members of the community might learn what happened to him. As a result, protecting one of the victim's identity was one of the factors that helped facilitate a plea deal. So, instead of rape, Selva pled guilty to sexual battery.

Second, prosecutors did not recommend a sentence, agreeing with defense attorneys to leave it up to the judge. Pushing for a prison term could have derailed plea negotiations, Welch said, and besides, "I felt confident that the acts themselves would result in prison." Welch was wrong.

So, the prosecutors screwed up in filing the case, agreed to a deal feeling it was in the best interests of at least one of the victims, and then failed to push for a sentence.

On the other hand, Judge Connor, who has a range of sentencing options, gave Selva an unpopular, but still legally permissible, sentence. And, Connor is correct -- revenge is not a criterion listed as a guideline for sentencing.

What O'Reilly fails to realize is that judges are not in the business to please Bill O'Reilly. They are there to mete out justice.

For example, Florida judge Andrew Owens upheld a jury's recommendation today that Joseph Smith be executed for the rape and murder of 11-year old Carlie Brucia. I am an ardent opponent of the death penalty because too many death row inmates have been released in the past 5 years because DNA evidence revealed them not to be the killer after all. Some day, if we haven't already, we're going to execute an innocent person. Still, the death penalty was an available option, so while I don't support the death penalty, the judge did mete out justice.

Of course, I am taking a rational route to analyzing the punishment given to Joseph Smith. The concept of "rational" never enters Bill O'Reilly's brain. He sees injustice (no matter that the method by which he comes to that conclusion is hopelessly flawed) and is going to use his broadcast to make sure that Judge Connor is forced out of office.

This scary (and unwarranted) use of media power makes O'Reilly the contemporary Senator Joseph McCarthy. Like McCarthy -- who claimed there were 205 -- no, 57 -- no 83 -- no, 217 -- no, 78 -- card-carrying Communists in the State Department -- O'Reilly makes wild and unsupported charges. Like McCarthy, O'Reilly uses the media to destroy people. Like McCarthy, O'Reilly is a flawed man (McCarthy was a serious alcoholic; O'Reilly has had an embarrassing incident with sexually harassing a subordinate, including making inappropriate phone calls). Like McCarthy, O'Reilly could easily implode under the right conditions. What is lacking are people with the intellect, courage and character of an Edward R. Murrow or a Joseph Welch to take him on.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Idiot Non-issue

Jay Bennish returns to teaching today. For those of you not following the news lately, Jay Bennish is a high school teacher in Colorado who teaches World Geography. During a class after President Bush's State of the Union address, Bennish declared:

"He started off his speech talking about how America should be the country that dominates the world. That we have been blessed essentially by God to have the most civilized, most advanced, best system and that it is our duty as Americans to use the military to go out into the world and make the whole world like us.

Sounds a lot like the things that Adolf Hitler use to say.

We're the only ones who are right. Everyone else is backwards. And it's our job to conquer the world and make sure they live just like we want them to.

Now, I'm not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same. Obviously, they are not. OK. But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use. Very, very 'ethnocentric.' We're right. You're all wrong."

Turns out that one of his students taped his presentation. The student told his father about it, and then his father shopped the tape to the conservative radio talk shows and the Faux News Channel (sorry, the Fox News Channel).

Needless to say, the conservative punditry went ballistic, to the degree that the school board put Bennish on administrative leave with pay. Sean Hannity, in particular, went crazy (or more crazy, I guess). He called for Bennish to be fired for "comparing our President to Hitler in a time of war." He had the student, Sean Allen, on his radio show and TV show multiple times. He praised Allen for making the biggest contribution to education in years because all the left-wing teachers know that their comments will be taped and made public.

Fortunately, more rational heads prevailed, and, much to the chagrin of the right-wing chatterers, Bennish was reinstated.

Still, the episode is frightening because it is the latest in a trend of academic McCarthyism. David Horowitz, a former member of the New Left who has now travelled the country trying to get state legislatures to mandate the hiring of more conservative faculty and teachers, just published a book through conservative book publisher Regnery entitled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Acedemics in America. In it, Horowitz argues that U.S. universities are run by left-wingers -- 50,000 of them, as he claimed on "Hannity and Colmes" -- and here are the 101 most dangerous of them. Horowitz has little evidence on which to back up his claims, but, in the conservative world, evidence is far less important than how often and how loud you can make the charge.

The problem is, if you repeat the Big Lie long and loud enough, people begin to believe it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Idiot Adoption Policy

Yesterday, the Boston Archdiocese announced that it would no longer provide adoption services. The reason is that the Massachusetts state constitution forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, so the Archdiocese would be forced to allow gay couples to adopt.

Personally, I am uncomfortable with a state forcing a religious institution to go against long-held religious tenets. There should be an exemption in the law for churches. Of course, I also believe that the Church policy against gay adoption is not in the best interest of children. I believe God would rather have a child with a loving gay couple than continue to live in state or foster homes.

My problem is with the Boston Archdiocese taking a principled position. Criminal organizations look hypocritical when they try acting holier than thou (pun intended).

As my friend J remarked, "Let me see if I have this one right: You can F@%K a young boy if you're a priest, but you can't ADOPT one if you're gay."

His observation is a bit more graphic than I was going to put it, but it's dead-on nonetheless. I was going to say that if you are a Cardinal and you obstruct justice and engage in a felonious conspiracy, you don't go to jail, you get promoted to a higher position in the Church hierarchy. If you are a child given up for adoption, and there is not a straight couple to adopt you, tough luck.

I have to admit, J's comment is much more succinct and to the point.