Category: Media

Vigilantes Aren’t Heroes; They’re Criminals

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

I was recently lectured by someone on social media who felt compelled to defend vigilantes who target sex offenders. He claimed that “vigilante” was some sort of badge of honor, and that no vigilante would ever harm innocent people. He then qualified that statement by adding, “And if they did, they wouldn’t be vigilantes any more. So, you’re using the term incorrectly.”

I beg to differ.

First, he’s obviously confusing what he thinks they’re supposed to be doing with what they actually do. That’s a little like saying, “Cops aren’t supposed to kill innocent people. And if they do, they aren’t cops anymore. So, you can’t say cops kill innocent people!” Au contraire, my friend!

They do, and I can. You don’t get to change the meanings of words in the middle of a murder, just so you can absolve yourself of any moral responsibility or legal complicity. Sure, the English language is wonderfully flexible and evolving, but that’s abusing your parlance privileges.

Let’s start with the history and meaning of the word vigilante. That way, at the very least, we can proceed with a common definition of the word. Consider this, from the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Vigilante entered English in the 19th century, borrowed from the Spanish word of the same spelling which meant “watchman, guard” in that language. The Spanish word can be traced back to the Latin vigilare, meaning “to keep awake.” The earliest use of the word in English was to refer to a member of a vigilance committee, a committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily, as when the processes of law appear inadequate. The word may often be found in an attributive role, as in the phrases “vigilante justice,” or “vigilante group.” In this slightly broadened sense it carries the suggestion of the enforcement of laws without regard to due process or the general rule of law.

In short, a vigilante is someone who operates outside of the law. That, alone, should be enough for most discerning individuals to identify them as what they are: criminals. Unfortunately, for others, it’s all a matter of semantics.  One man’s “freedom fighter” is another man’s “terrorist.”

Perhaps the real answer lies in examining their actions, rather than in how they wish to redefine certain words to fit their self-serving and conspicuously inflated self-regard as “avenging angels,” supposedly acting on the behalf of innocent children who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of “perverts and pedophiles.” Let’s start with a few of the murders committed by these “angels.”

In 2005, two men were murdered by a vigilante impersonating an FBI agent in Bellingham, WA. The registrants, Hank Eisses, 49, and Victor Vasquez, 68, were shot and killed by Michael Anthony Mullen, who was later convicted and sentenced to 44 years in prison.

In 2006, 20-year old Stephan Marshall, a self-styled vigilante using the sex offender registry as a hit list, shot and killed 57-year old Joseph Gray in his living room in front of his wife while they watched TV in their home in Milo, Maine. Several hours later in Corinth, Maine, Marshall knocked on William Elliott’s front door and shot him dead in front of his girlfriend. Later, he took a bus to Boston, where he committed suicide when approached by the police.

In September 2012, self-styled Washington state vigilante Patrick Drum was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of two registrants, Gary Lee Blanton, 28, and Jerry Wayne Ray, 57, who were fatally shot in June of that year. Drum told police investigators that that he was targeting sex offenders specifically and planned to continue doing so until he was caught.

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Jermy & Christine Moody in court

In May 2014, Jeremy Moody, 30, and his wife, Christine Moody, 36, told a sentencing judge in Union, SC they murdered Charles “Butch” Parker, 59, and his wife, Gretchen Parker, 51, because he was a “pervert” and because his wife supported him. The murderers, who were described as neo-Nazis who were part of a white-supremacist group called Crew 41, recalled telling Charles Parker “I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.” Charles was shot in the neck and chest and then stabbed multiple times. Gretchen was shot in the chest and also stabbed multiple times. As Christine Moody left court she said, “My lawyer made me say that I repented. It was a lie.” She added, “I have no regrets. Killing that pedophile was the best day of my life.” As they were being led out of the courthouse, Christine was asked if she had anything to say to the family of the murdered couple. “May they die also,” she said before officers placed her in the back of a squad car.

In December 2017, Nathaniel Henry, a 37-year old London resident, went to the home of Noel Brown, a 69-year old U.K. registrant and killed him. He dismembered the body and carried the limbs out the front door in a backpack, making multiple trips to do so. The limbs were never found. The police believe Henry was interrupted at some point by Brown’s daughter Marie, who was 41-years old and a mother of two children, so he killed her too.

In January 2018, registrant John Haig Marshall was attacked in his own home in Redondo Beach, CA as he stepped out of the shower. He was tortured with pliers and bolt cutters, and then killed by blunt force trauma to the head by four attackers. The men – Taylor J. Cervantes, Tyler L. Stark, Myles J. Sawyer, and his brother, Brandon S. Takeo Sawyer – were charged with felony counts of murder, conspiracy to commit burglary, first-degree burglary with a person present, and home-invasion robbery.

Also, in January 2018, a Sabine Parish, LA man named Blake Joseph Kendall, 39, was arrested for the vigilante killings of two registrants, Jerry W. Scott, 72, of Many, LA and Adam L. Jeter, 34, of Zwolle, LA.  Scott was killed by a single shot through the storm door of his mobile home, hitting Scott in the upper chest and killing him instantly. Jeter was shot four times while inside his vehicle as he checked his mailbox in front of his home.

One more for January 2018: Michael Thompson, a Las Vegas, NV resident admitted to police that he killed a homeless man named Alfred Wilhelm, 53, because he was a sex offender, and a bystander named Rhonda Ballow, 27, because “she refused to leave.”  He explained that “he had been sexually assaulted as a child and took offense to sex offenders.”

In February 2018, registrant Demetrius Graves, 39, was found stabbed to death in Pasco, WA just days after sheriff’s deputies put out a press release announcing his release into the community. His alleged killer Hector Orozco Jr., 42, was captured hours later at a nearby Rodeway Inn.

In March of 2018 in Osceola County, Florida, a man named Jorge Porto-Sierra was arrested for trying to kill four people, two of which were sex offenders, by setting them on fire. Witnesses told deputies that Porto-Sierra made several threats, screaming “I’m going to kill you, child molester,” and began throwing gasoline on their front door.

And let’s not forget all of the people who are assaulted or killed because they were mistaken for registrants, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time while vigilantes were “protecting the community.”

In Bithlo, FL, 78-year old Hugh Edwards was beaten to death with a black Louisville Slugger baseball bat because the killer – Robert Pascale, 20 – mistakenly thought the man was a sex offender.

In Bakersfield, CA, the murder of Roderick White may be connected to comments and Facebook rumors alleging that the 32-year-old was a child molester. Investigators have found no indication that he was, in fact, a registrant.

In 2014, Walter Field, 48, of Depot Road, NH answered a knock at the door at 8:30 p.m. He said the attacker asked for the next-door neighbor – who is a registrant – and then assaulted Field with an unknown object when he was told he had the wrong house. He was taken to the hospital, where he required extensive facial reconstructive surgery. The same assailant, still working off of a sex offender hit list, is believed to have shot and killed David Wheelock in his wheelchair after he answered a knock at the front door of his Keene, NH home.

acid-attackIn 2014, a vigilante in the U.K. attacked Andreas Christopheros, 32, by throwing highly concentrated sulfuric acid into his face in the mistaken belief that he was a registered sex offender because he was at the wrong address. Over 90% of Christopheros’ face has had to be reconstructed surgically as a result.

For every vigilante attack on a registrant and his or her family that makes the headlines, there are many that don’t, and for obvious reasons. Registrants are already on a virtual “hit list.” The last thing they need is more publicity and a bigger target on their backs. As a result, a great many vigilante assaults or acts of vandalism go unreported. Additionally, even when they are reported to law enforcement, the report is often met with apathy and inaction from the police. To add insult to injury, the news media typically spends more column inches on the registrant’s prior crimes than the vigilante assault. It’s no wonder most registrants who become the victims of so-called “vigilante justice” prefer to stay mum about it.

Here’s the bottom line. Vigilantes who target registrants (or anyone else) are criminals. More often than not, they’re just morally bankrupt, mentally deranged, self-obsessed, pathetically incompetent criminals who aren’t making our communities any safer. In fact, just the opposite is true. They are a threat, not only to the rule of law, but to everyone around them.

It’s time to stop glorifying and enabling these criminals.

The Sex Offender Registry: A Gorilla on the Basketball Court

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

 Why does the public ignore the obvious unconstitutionality and overt cruelty of a sex offender registry that not only fails to accomplish its stated purpose – keeping our communities safer – but also condemns hundreds of thousands of registrants and their family members to a lifetime of humiliation, harassment, and possibility of unemployment, homelessness, and vigilantism?  It would be easy to assume that this apathy and inattentiveness by the public is simply the result of hatred, bias, or ignorance but there may be something else at work here, something that scientists have dubbed “inattentional blindness.”

gorillaIn 1999, psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris conducted an experiment that became world famous and was the subject of their 2010 book entitled, “The Invisible Gorilla.”  In their experiment, test subjects were shown a video of a basketball game after being asked to count the number of times the basketball is passed by players wearing white shirts.  During the game, a person in a gorilla suit strolls to the center of the screen, pauses to beat on his chest, and then wanders off.  After viewing the video, as many as 70% of the test subjects had no recollection whatsoever of a gorilla being in the video.

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Officer Kenneth Conley

This study has become the cornerstone of various theories and further experimentation centered on the phenomenon which became known as “inattentional blindness.”  The legal community took further notice of this topic when an undercover police officer named Kenny Conley was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1995 for claiming that he did not see a fellow officer beating a suspect as he ran by in pursuit of another suspect.  The jury simply did not believe that it was possible to miss something that obvious and convicted Officer Conley of lying to protect his colleague.

Simons, Chabris, and others decided to conduct a test to see if it was indeed possible that Officer Conley hadn’t seen the incident.  They set up a similar scenario and asked test subjects to chase a suspect and count the number of times the suspect touched his head while running. The route took the test subjects right past an on-going fist fight yet, afterwards, as many as 72% of the test subjects had no recollection of seeing the fight, which “obviously” occurred right in front of them.  As a result, Officer Conley was exonerated in July 2000.  The results of this study were published in 2011 under the title, “You do not talk about Fight Club if you do not notice Fight Club: Inattentional blindness for a simulated real-world assault.”

The conclusion of this and other similar studies is rather straightforward and simple.  Our brains pay attention to what we think is important or, at the very least, what others tell us is important.  Everything else is subconsciously categorized as being irrelevant and is discarded before having any effect on cognition or thought. As a result, we are literally blind to it; we simply don’t see it.

misdirection-3-638The mainstream media tells us daily what we should be paying attention to.  Their laser-like focus is invariably trained on sex offender registrants, high visibility or highly-placed pedophiles, and sex-traffickers.  The constant drum-beat and warnings of “stranger danger” not only stoke our natural anxieties as parents, but it also blinds us to the potential dangers that may exist right under our noses.

97% of the sexual assaults against juveniles are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  59% are committed by acquaintances; 34% by family members.  Less than 7% of sexual assaults against juveniles are committed by strangers and an even smaller fraction of that number is attributable to known sex offenders.  “Stranger danger” is largely a myth.  Targeting registered sex offenders as your primary focus of fear and loathing is not only irrational, it is dangerous.

As for America’s “epidemic of missing children,” over 91% of them are runaways. 5% are the victims of family abduction. Less than 1% of the missing children were abducted by strangers and most of those were not registrants.  Again, the conspicuous focus on registered sex offenders makes the public blind to the real dangers that abound in our society.

Bu what about sex trafficking?  Surely, that is an issue we can all agree needs more attention and aggressive prosecution.  Yet, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an astonishing 88% of the children who end up being sex-trafficked became victims after going missing from government social services and foster homes!  It isn’t some creepy guy at the park who is snatching children from their homes and turning them into chattel, it is the very same government that is fueling your unwarranted fears of “stranger danger” and registrants.

Inattentional blindness causes the great majority of Americans to overlook the unconstitutionality and cruelty of a sex offender registry that makes our communities less safe by focusing your attention where it is least needed and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  It is a classic case of misdirection, blinding you to the political incompetence, law enforcement impotence, and contemptible court decisions that are so pervasive in the realm of sexual offense laws and policies.

It’s time we “just said no” to the media hysterics and political grandstanding about sexual offenses and start paying attention to the (now) painfully obvious gorilla on the basketball court.

How to Advocate for Registry Reform with Minimal Risk

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By Michael M.,  Registry Report Editor

My decision to become a full-time advocate for criminal justice and registry reform wasn’t an easy one.  When I was arrested, the news media took whatever they could find online about me and ran with it, exercising complete disregard for its source or validity.  At one point, they published the photos of over a dozen of my professional associates, some of whom I’d never even met, and asserted that they were all members of a sex cult.  Anyone unfortunate enough to have been associated with me in business or socially was instantly branded as a probable co-conspirator, cult member, or sex-trafficker.

During my incarceration, my family and friends were targeted with harassment, vandalism, and death threats.  So, given that back-story, you can probably imagine their reaction when I announced that I was about to become a very public advocate for changing how the judicial system and society deal with sex crimes, victims, and offenders.

Related imageThey freaked out.

But this was something I really needed to do.  I’ve never been one to sit back and let life dictate to me how things ought to be.  My stay in federal prison left me desperately needing to feel in charge of my own destiny once again.  Because of what I’ve been through, I feel I may be uniquely qualified to contribute to the national discussion in ways that I hope are insightful and based on real experiences rather than conjecture and ideology.  The fact that I have extensive previous experience in writing, politics, and public relations is icing on the cake.

I needed to assure my family and friends that I would do everything possible to prevent them from becoming the “collateral damage” in a fight that none of them wanted to have any part of.  I gave it a lot of thought, and this is the result of that contemplation.

Ten tips for sex offender registry advocates.  I hope you find this useful.

1  It isn’t always about you.  Despite appearances in the first few paragraphs of this article, I am trying very hard not to make my advocacy all about me.  Sure, I truly believe I’ve been screwed by an unfair and uncaring system but, then again, so has pretty much everyone else who’s been touched by our labyrinthine and dysfunctional judicial system.  I will let my experience inform and shape my advocacy and infuse my message with some level of credibility, but I won’t let it become a holy crusade to fix my particular problem.  You shouldn’t either.

2 Focus your message on your target market.  Your objective shouldn’t be to preach to the converted, but to convince the undecided.  To do that, we must find common ground for discussion and potential agreement with people outside our comfort zone.  Picking social media fights with people who are obstinately against you is a terrible waste of your valuable time and resources.  That hour you spent in a flame-war with a pin-head who will never see things your way could have been better spent engaging with a handful of people who are willing to see things your way. Focus also means looking for the most efficient expenditures or your energy.  Marching up and down the street with a protest sign isn’t very effective or safe.  Writing a letter to your congressman? Better.  Donating time or money to an organization working on your behalf?  Great!

3 Don’t allow yourself to become indifferent to evil.  It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of “whataboutism” or relative morality.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”  Some folks unthinkingly justify themselves by accepting or minimizing the immoral or illegal actions of others.  Others feel better about themselves if they can condemn and persecute someone whom they consider more despicable than they are.  The world is confusing and complicated enough without all the dissembling.  Pointing out that rape is evil, even if you happen to be a sex offender, isn’t hypocrisy.  It’s simply stating the truth.

4 Never get suckered into being portrayed as someone who wants to abolish sex crimes altogether.  No one wants that.  Those laws exist for a darn good reason – they serve to protect society.  A person attempting to undermine your credibility will often use a “straw man argument” such as: “So, if you had your way, child sex abuse would be legal!”  Our position should unequivocally be that sexual crime is indeed a serious problem, but it can’t be solved through mass incarceration, shaming, humiliation, banishment, unemployment, forced homelessness, and vigilantism.

5 Don’t lower yourself to the same level of vitriol as the haters.  Christ was reported to have said, “Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.” (“Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.”)  By using their logic, their tactics, you’re validating their position.  If you want to put all false accusers on a registry to be humiliated and persecuted, you’re accepting the notion that registries actually accomplish something.  If you think that people pressing for longer terms of incarceration should spend a year in some rat-hole jail cell to “learn what it’s like,” you’re just as bad as they are.

6 Avoid no-win arguments.  Getting into one with someone who is incapable or unwilling to use reason is a losing proposition for all concerned.  A person who is spewing hatred and duplicity at you is never going to suddenly smack himself in the forehead and say, “Wow! You know what? You’re right!  I am a fatuous moron! Thanks for setting me straight!” except, perhaps, in your dreams.  Far more likely is the possibility that the enraged nitwit will try to track you down and try to make your life miserable in some way.  Block and move on to something productive and less emotionally draining.

7 Keep your privileged information privileged.  Abstain from publishing your home address, phone number, employer identification, or other critical information that could be used to identify, harass, or harm you or your family, friends and employer.  It’s bad enough that, if you’re a registrant, the government is already publicly publishing this stuff about you, you shouldn’t be making matters even worse.  Yes, people may be curious about you, but their curiosity doesn’t give them a right to know personal details that might put your family at risk. Even allies could someday become adversaries.  Get used to asking, “Why do you want to know?”

8 Victims of sexual assault absolutely deserve to be treated with respect.  Many registrants were, themselves, victims of childhood sexual assault.  A broken judicial system victimizes practically everyone it touches.  Registry reform is not an issue that requires polarization into opposing camps.  We all want safer communities, less sexual abuse, better investigative tools, rehabilitated offenders, rational laws and sentencing, and greater respect for everyone’s constitutional rights.  Focus on commonalities, not differences.  The only way we can accomplish anything is to work together, not against one another.

9 Don’t just talk the talk; Walk the walk.  It’s easy to grouse about how bad things are, but what are you actually doing about the situation?  If you think simply “liking” stuff on social media is going to bring about meaningful change in our society, you’re seriously deluding yourself.  Change always involves risk, and it’s invariably painful.  It’s up to you to decide how much risk is acceptable and where your pain tolerance lies.  If you haven’t volunteered your talents or donated even a small amount of cash to the cause, then you’re as much a part of the problem as the uninformed and apathetic public.

10 Keep your advocacy focused on the betterment of society as a whole, not just a better world for former sex offenders.  We aren’t advocating for constitutional rights for sex offenders. We are advocating for constitutional rights for everyone.  Registrants are simply the canary in the coal mine, bringing to light the kinds of legislative and prosecutorial overreach that should be worrisome to anyone who believes in the constitution.  We’re not looking for a free pass.  We just want a system that is fair and does what it is supposed to do, which is keep our communities safer.

The Shameful Mugshot Extortion Racket

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

The internet has created a booming mugshot extortion racket that, by some estimates, has bilked millions of victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars.  And as if the financial shake-downs weren’t bad enough, many of the people who’ve been “featured” on these websites have reported police harassment, attacks by vigilantes, job losses, evictions, and even killings as a result of their police booking photos being posted on these sites.

Here’s how the scam works:  An enterprising extortionist creates a computer program that scans police department websites daily and harvests all the photos and booking information.  The pics and data are then fed into a database that automatically funnels that data to be displayed on their website.  The website is typically engineered with search engine optimization techniques to rank higher than the police departments’ own sites, since the police are rarely concerned with maximizing site traffic and followers. The scammers’ fully automated system is very efficient at putting people into the system; not so capable of updating and removing people whose charges were dropped or who were subsequently found to be innocent of the charges they were arrested for. This is not, by any means, an oversight on their part.  After all, they make a lot more money off the innocent people, since those folks are free, have income, and are outraged.

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Frank Sinatra’s mugshot, 1938

Eventually, either the victim or someone associated with the victim finds the mugshot online and the victim loses a job, home, friends, or reputation.  When the victim calls the owners of the mugshot website, they are told that the photo can be removed for a fee, which typically ranges from $200 to $1000.  Many victims are outraged and walk away, but some pay the extortion fee.

Later, when they recheck the website, the photo is still there.  The victim recontacts the owners, who often inform them that the fee is for each charge of the criminal complaint they were arrested for.  Sometimes, they use other excuses for failing to remove the mugshots.  Other times, they don’t even bother coming up with an excuse; they simply laugh and hang up.

Gregory Rakoczy’s mugshot was listed on one such website for an offense that occurred 15 years ago.  As a result of the website incorrectly stating that he was still a fugitive on the run, Rakoczy has been falsely detained by the police six times.  In each case, someone had seen his mugshot on Mugshots.com and called the police, reporting him as a fugitive.  When he tried to have his information removed from the site, the owners charged him $399 and then did nothing.

In May 2018, the owners of Mugshots.com were arrested for extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.  Despite their arrests, the website is still operating.  Dozens of other similar websites are running the exact same scam.  Some of them are hosted outside of the U.S., making enforcement of the law difficult or impossible in many cases.

There are other, similar websites that may not actually be committing financial extortion, but are nevertheless profiting handsomely from the misery of people who get arrested.  Take TheSmokingGun.com, for example.  They have a popular mugshot section that not only lists mugshots and personal data, but categorizes them into categories such as: Cleavage, Topless Men, Topless Women, College, Funny Faces, Pretty Perps, Strippers, Fogeys, and Weepers.  They also invite viewers to comment on the mugshots, which invariably leads to tasteless jokes, threats, and worse.  Imagine being the innocent family member of someone being ridiculed and humiliated publicly or even threatened in such a fashion.

Police Chief Trevor Whipple, of South Burlington, Vermont, says of his own department’s mugshot page, “We saw people playing off personal characteristics: ‘He doesn’t look smart. He looks like a dufus,’” Whipple recalled. “I thought: Have we run out the usefulness of this? I don’t want to have people humiliated.” On July 4, 2015, after a year of posting mugshots for the public, Whipple took the webpage down.

According to the Marshall Project, a panel of federal appeals judges weighed in on the mugshot industry last year when they denied a newspaper’s request for access to the U.S. Marshals’ booking photos and issued this observation:  “Mugshots now present an acute problem in the digital age,” wrote the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge, R. Guy Cole Jr.. “These images preserve the indignity of a deprivation of liberty.”

It’s high time these websites were shut down permanently and their owners charged with extortion, theft, and racketeering.  It’s the right thing to do.

How Big Money Stymies Sex Offender Law Reform

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by Michael M., NARSOL & The Registry Report

When SORNA (Sex Offender Registration Notification Act, aka Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006) required the states to establish comprehensive minimum standards for their state sex offender registries, it created an unfunded mandate that left many states scrambling to comply or lose Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG)  funding from the federal government.  Many states did not have sufficient funds earmarked for the creation of a whole new bureaucracy, especially one that depends so heavily on expensive information technology, so they outsourced it.

watch-systems.jpgOne of the big beneficiaries of that outsourcing decision was a company called  Watch Systems LLC.  Watch Systems provides a turn-key solution called the Offender Watch Network to over 3500 government agencies, including sheriffs’ offices, police departments, attorney generals’ offices, US Attorneys, federal and state probation offices, the Department of Corrections, indian tribes, and  the US Marshal’s Service.  In fact, they claim that 61% of the nation’s sex offenders are in their database, which resides on their privately owned hosted servers. Their “supplemental” products include mobile sex offender mapping applications, a postal sex offender notification mailing service, and a robo-caller to verify sex offender phone numbers.  In addition to their sex offender registry products, Watch Systems also maintains and markets other registries for arsonists, deadly weapon offenders, metal thieves, gang members, and animal abusers.

Watch Systems employs about 40 people at their HQ in Louisiana and they generate $7.2 million per year in revenue, almost entirely from government contracts. Their clout in the industry reaches far beyond their Covington LA home base, however.  In 2017 alone, Watch Systems spent $120,000 on lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. and is on track to spend even more in 2018.

Other corporate players in this market include TriBridge with $130 million in annual revenues and 650 employees, DeveloApps with their COPS™ (Court Ordered Program Supervisor) platform, idSoftware with their ASOMS (Automated Sex Offender Management System, and GCOM’s SOMS (Sex Offender Management Software).

In addition to high-tech sex offender management software solutions, there are literally hundreds of government contractors peddling sex offender treatment and rehabilitation programs, analytical tools, penile plethysmography testing, and polygraph testing.

polygraph1The polygraph industry is huge.  The U.S. market for polygraph testing is estimated by one “lie-detector” manufacturer to be $3.6 billion per year.  70% of U.S. states use polygraph testing as part of their sex offender management programs.  One state, Colorado, has spent $5 million in the past seven years on polygraph testing for sex offenders.  In addition to what the state spends, offenders are expected to pay out-of-pocket costs of $250 for each inconclusive or deceptive test, which are more common than one might think. That’s a lot of money for tests that are considered by many states to be so unreliable, they can’t be used as evidence in criminal or civil courts.

In 2003, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences reported to Congress that “practitioners have always claimed extremely high levels of accuracy, and these claims have rarely been reflected in empirical research.” They also noted serious conflicts of interest, systemic bias, and a significantly high rate of false positives in their use.

According to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry,

“Studies report an average specificity of 52 percent, meaning that out of 100 people who are not lying, only fifty-two will be identified as telling the truth while forty-eight of these honest individuals will be branded as liars. These odds are similar to a coin toss, which would have a specificity of 50 percent.”

These estimates are further corroborated by a “truth verification” company called NITV Federal Services, which markets high-tech voice stress analysis equipment as an alternative to polygraph testing:

“Studies have varied results measuring the accuracy of the polygraph, with estimates ranging from 70 to 90 percent accurate. Furthermore, only 29% of 194 “scientific studies” touted as proof by polygraph advocates met the minimum standards of scientific adequacy…  Former polygraph examiner and Oklahoma City Detective Sergeant Doug Williams was sentenced to two years in prison by the federal government in 2015 for activities associated with his teaching people how to beat the polygraph. After years of using the technology, he came to distrust the results and taught thousands of people to use countermeasures. He rates the accuracy of the polygraph at 50 percent at most. In fact, U.S. government agencies have taught individuals involved in undercover operations to beat the polygraph, thus validating Williams claim that techniques can be taught to defeat the polygraph.”

The Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking of sex offenders is, likewise, big business.  The devices themselves cost between $100-$150 each, and then there’s the associated equipment, software, and technical assistance required to run a monitoring program.  gps-ankleFederal and state courts are spending approximately $36 a day per offender for GPS monitoring, which is more expensive than traditional methods of enforcing parole or probation ($27.45/day), but cheaper than civil commitment, which averages more than $100,000 a year per person.  According to Peter Michel, the president and CEO of iSECUREtrac (a maker of electronic monitoring devices), about 40 states currently have legislation on the books or are in the works that require GPS monitoring of certain sex offenders.  In 2015, there were more than 125,000 people overall being monitored by the courts using GPS devices, up from 53,000 in 2005.  With an estimated 10% rise in that number each year, that’s would equate in 2018 to 166,000 users, or $6 million dollars per day – $2.2 billion per year.

Seven companies have already captured 96% of the offender GPS market. Since GPS device users can’t be upsold or super-sized (limit, one per customer) the only way these companies can increase sales and revenues is to increase the size of their potential market.

The 900,000 people on the sex offender registry represent a huge potential market for more GPS tracking devices and software applications.  If even one tenth of those offenders become future candidates for GPS monitoring, that would amount to $3.2 million every day, or an additional $1.2 billion dollars per year.

Let’s also consider the privately owned and managed civil commitment facilities for sex offenders who have completed their criminal sentences, but are deemed too dangerous to be released into communities.  The cost of incarcerating one prisoner in a traditional prison is roughly $31,000 per year, but civil commitment facility costs run closer to $100,000 per year by some estimates due to programming and therapy costs.   There are over 5,400 sex offenders currently languishing in civil commitment facilities in twenty states. That’s a whopping $540 million per year!

Private prison companies are raking in the cash.  And they’re dishing it out, too. They paid 10 lobbyists $480,000 dollars to lobby Texas state lawmakers in 2017. The GEO Group alone spent $320,000 on lobbying there.  Private prison lobbyists also gave more than $225,000 to Texas lawmakers via political action committees between 2013 and 2016.  And that’s just one state.

Boogeyman.jpgFinally, we should make note of the fact that the news media industry absolutely loves sex offenders, but not in a good way. Consider this recent Newsweek story: “Sex Offender with no nose jailed for child pornography,” where the writer goes out of her way to outrageously depict the accused man as a real-life boogeyman. Just when you think the media can’t sink any lower, they prove us wrong, and in a big way.

Network television news revenues have been stagnant for years and newspapers and magazines seem to be leading a charge into bankruptcy.  This leaves the media increasingly desperate to generate as much hysteria and fear as possible to increase ad revenues.  Sex offenders, like it or not, are their new cash cow.

Is it any wonder that, every year, companies that specialize in “sex offender management” solutions for the courts and law enforcement send their lobbyists to each of the state capitals and to Washington D.C. to influence public policy and legislation with huge wads of cash to spread around? At the same time, many sex offender registrants are deprived of their right to vote, kept off the internet, and saddled with unemployment and homelessness.

There’s a problem-solving principle called “Occam’s Razor” which postulates that a person, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, should select the answer that makes the fewest assumptions and is inherently the “simplest.”

You want to know why very little ever seems to get accomplished in the sex offender law reform movement?  The answer is simple.  Money talks.

Deceptive Headlines Stoke Sex Offender Hysteria

headlines

by Michael M., at NARSOL  6/5/2018

The following headline appeared on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at Fox News: “Virginia sex offender seen snatching 7-month-old from mother in photos released by police.”  It all seems pretty straightforward, at least until you read the accompanying article.

The first glaring ommission from the headline, but buried deeper in the article, is the fact that the alleged abductor, Carl Ray Kennedy, is the child’s biological father.  Surprise!  And even more interesting is the fact that we are told nothing about his custodial rights or lack thereof anywhere in the article.  We are simply left to assume that he is the non-custodial parent and perhaps even make the further, unwarranted assumption that sex offenders in general do not deserve custodial rights to their own children… (More)

 

Read the full article at NARSOL.org