Friday, January 10, 2014

Action Alert: Virginia Bill HB523 Patroned by Delegate Dave Albo – Mandating Registration as a Sex Offender for Juveniles


Requires juveniles adjudicated delinquent of rape, forcible sodomy, or object sexual penetration to register on the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry. The bill also provides a procedure for removal of the name of a person who was adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile from the Registry. 

So not to be a pessimist on every Action Alert, I will start this post by saying……… 

There are two “good” things about this version compared to proposals from previous years
  • As written it is not retroactive there is a start date of July 1, 2014. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try and remove that date in Committee, they’ve done that before.
  • The other is after 10 years a petition can be submitted for removal, in past years there was no option to petition at all. But again, they could remove this portion during Committee.
OK, now onto why this proposal should NOT become law! 

Today in Virginia we do register juveniles as Sex Offenders but it’s left in the hands of the judges that the Virginia lawmakers appoint to the bench. The judges have all the evidence of the individual case in front of them to determine if registration is appropriate for each specific juvenile.  

This proposed mandate will take that very important decision out of the courtroom where it should remain, just like a mandatory minimum does.

HB523 adds the juveniles to our existing public registry whereas one or two previous versions were for a private (authorities only) registry. 

Back on May 1, 2013 I emailed all 140 Virginia Legislators (except the 15 newly elected Delegates) a link to the 111 page report: Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US by Nicole Pittman with Human Rights Watch and the USA Today article on the report. 

And here we are 8 months after I emailed them this report with a proposal to mandate registration for juveniles. 

For 6 sessions now I have shared with the lawmakers the list of books, reports and studies by experts in the field that all conclude juveniles should NOT be required to register as Sex Offenders.  

·        Sexual Offenses and Offenders: Theory, Practice, and Policy by Karen J. Terry, 2013
·        Understanding, Assessing and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders by Phil Rich, 2011
·        Age of Consent (At Issue Series) by Olivia Ferguson and Hayley Mitchell Haugen, 2010
·        Juvenile Sexual Offending: Causes, Consequences, and Correction by Gail Ryan, Tom F. Leversee and Sandy Lane, 2010
·        The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and Law by Vanessa Place, 2010
·        The Perversion of Youth: Controversies in the Assessment and Treatment of Juvenile Sex Offenders by Frank DiCataldo, 2009
·        An American Travesty: Legal Responses to Adolescent Sexual Offending by Franklin E. Zimring, 2009
·        Sex Offenders: Identification, Risk Assessment, Treatment, and Legal Issues by Fabian M. Saleh, Albert J. Grudzinskas, John M. Bradford & Daniel J. Brodsky, 2009
·        The Juvenile Sex Offender by Howard E. Barbaree and William L. Marshall, 2008
·        Juvenile Sex Offenders: What the Public Needs to Know by Camille Gibson and Donna M. Vandiver, 2008 

·        Sex Offender Registry Platform: The National Juvenile Justice Network, July 2012
·        Romeo and Juliet: The 21st Century Juvenile Sex Offenders by Chauntelle R. Wood, March 2012
·        The Case for Modifying Juvenile Sex Offender Registry Requirements in Delaware, by Stand Up for What’s Right and Just, 2011
·        Adolescent Sexual Behavior and the Law by Brittany Logino Smith & Glen A. Kercher, March 2011
·        Sex Offender Registration and the Convention on the Rights of the Child: Legal and Policy Implications of Registering Juvenile Sex Offenders by Carole Petersen & Susan Chandler, 2011
·        Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Requirements Deter Juvenile Sex Crimes? By Medical University of South Carolina, May 2010
·        Net-widening in Delaware: The Overuse of Registration and Residential Treatment for Youth Who Commit Sex Offenses, by Chrysanthi S. Leon, David L. Burton & Dana Alvare, February 2010
·        Youth Sex Offenses Fact and Fiction by Justice Policy Institute, February 2009
·        Effects of Sex Offender Registration Policies on Juvenile Justice Decision Making by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Debajyoti Sinha & Kevin Armstrong, January 2009
·        Resolution in Opposition of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act as it Applies to Juvenile Offenders, by The Council of State Governments, December 2008
·        Justice Served? The High Cost of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration by Phoebe Geer, 2008
·        No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the U.S Human Rights Watch Study, September 2007
·        What Research Shows About Adolescent Sex Offenders: NationalCenter on Sexual Behavior of Youth, by Mark Chaffin, Barbara Bonner and Keri Pierce, July 2003
·        Coming of Age in America: The Misapplication of Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Laws to Juveniles by Elizabeth Garfinkle, January 2003 

The willful ignorance by our elected officials is beyond frustrating! 

When you know better, you’re supposed to do better.  

But it seems when it comes to Registered Sex Offenders or mandating juveniles register, knowledge is not power for the Virginia Legislators. I’m sure they must think to themselves “why does that Mary Devoy keep bringing up those darn facts”. The same thing routinely occurs when I reference actual recidivism rates for Sex Offenders the room goes silent and no lawmaker will look directly at me.  

Instead of listening to facts or reading the research we have some Legislators who continue to push the logical fallacy that juvenile sex offenders can not be rehabilitated, that they are mentally disturbed, that they will grow up to become Adult Sex Offenders, that being on a public Registry is not punitive but simply administrative and that by mandating them to be posted on a public Registry is paramount to public safety. 

The sponsors of past proposals have even claimed to be Federal Adam Walsh Act AWA /SORNA compliant juveniles must be mandated to register even though every year a mandate is proposed I remind them the SORNA Final Guidelines  no longer require juvenile registration. 

For anyone who believes registration of juveniles is a good idea or equals “justice”, here are some facts. 

Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US 

1.       Research indicates people who commit sex offenses as children are among the least likely to reoffend. The recidivism rate among kids who commit sexual offenses is believed to be between 4 and 10 percent (compare this to a 13 percent recidivism rate for adult sex offenders and a national recidivism rate of 45 percent for all crimes). Given the low recidivism rates of youth sex offenders, it is doubtful whether registration truly furthers the government’s objective of protecting future victims from new sex offenses. 

2.      Evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of sex offenses are committed by persons known to the victim. According to the Justice Department, 93 percent of sexually abused children are molested by family members, close friends, or acquaintances. This suggests that residency restrictions do little to prevent the most common situations in which children are likely to be harmed—by people they know, not by strangers lurking in schoolyards or at bus stops. 

3.      Early thinking about juvenile sexual offending behavior was based on what was known about adult child molesters, particularly the adult pedophile, under the mistaken belief that a significant portion of them began their offending during childhood. However, psychological research confirms what every parent knows: children, including teenagers, act more irrationally and immaturely than adults, and therefore cannot be held as culpable for their actions as adults are. The US Supreme Court has ratified this understanding in the context of criminal justice: “‘[O]ur history is replete with laws and judicial recognition’ that children cannot be viewed simply as miniature adults.” Children, moreover, are more amenable to rehabilitation and treatment as they mature, and sexual misconduct by children is generally less aggressive, more experimental, and likely to occur over shorter periods of time than adult sexual offending.

What is the harm experienced by youth sex offender registrants? 

Youth sex offenders experience severe harms that can permeate every aspect of their lives. They include: 

1.       Psychological harm. Youth sex offenders are stigmatized, isolated, and often become depressed. Many consider suicide, and some succeed. 

Christian W. was 14 years-old when he went on the registry for sexually inappropriately touching his younger cousin. At age 26, Christian told Human Rights Watch, “I live in a general sense of hopelessness, and combat suicidal thoughts almost daily due to the life sentence [registration] and punishment of being a registrant. The stigma and shame will never fully go away, people will always remember.” Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

A youth offender who was placed on his state’s registry at age 16, Nicholas T., told Human Rights Watch, “I have to display a sign in my window that says ‘Sex Offender Lives Here’.” Another said, “I have been registering since I was 12 years old. I am now 26. Sex offender registration is slow death by humiliation.” 

1.       Physical violence and threats. Many youth offenders, and often their families, suffer threats and physical violence.

Camilo F. was placed on the registry at age 14. He says strange cars started following him home from school. “One time a man from one of those cars yelled ‘child molester’ at me.” Camilo said a week later several bullets were fired from a car driving by. “The bullets went through the living room window as my family and me watched TV.” Gainesville, Florida. 

Isaac has been on the registry since he was 12 years old; the victim of his offense was also 12. He told Human Rights Watch, “My brother, who looks like me, was once harassed and nearly beaten to death by a drunk neighbor who thought he was me.” Spokane, Washington. 

2.      Denied access to education. Many children convicted of sexual offenses are expelled from public school, and even for those who are not, residency restriction laws prevent them from being in or near a school. 

Jacob C. was 11 years old when he when he was adjudicated delinquent of one count of criminal sexual conduct for touching, without penetrating, his sister’s genitals, and was required to register in Michigan. After graduating from high school, Jacob attended a local university, but ended up dropping out. “I was harassed for being on the registry,” he says. “The campus police followed me everywhere.” Gainesville, Florida. 

3.      Difficulties in finding housing. Registrants and their families struggle to find housing and may be forced to move out of their homes, experiencing periods of homelessness. Given the large number of parks, schools, daycare centers, and playgrounds in many localities—ruled off-limits to registrants by residency restriction laws—sex offenders may be severely limited in where they can live or even spend time.

Aaron I., who is on the registry in Florida for an offense committed at the age of 15, constantly struggles to find housing for himself and his wife and says he’s banned even from living in a homeless shelter. “I have found a few places to rent but as soon as we move in the police and neighbors harass us until we get evicted. They keep us homeless.” Palm Beach, Florida. 

4.      Separation of families. Families of youth offenders also confront enormous obstacles in living together as a family—often because registrants are prohibited from living with other children, including siblings. In these instances, parents are forced to decide which of their children to keep in the home and which to place with a relative, family friend, or in the care of the state. Youth sex offenders who become parents later in life are often unable to participate in most of their children’s activities, such as attending a school play, going to sporting events, or attending a birthday party. Individuals placed on the registry for offenses committed over a decade earlier, when they were children, cannot even pick up their own children at school.  

A 10-year-old child, Cindy D., told us she can never have a birthday party at her own house. “I cannot bring my friends here because my father cannot be around other children,” she said. Cindy’s father, now 28, was 14 when he had consensual sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend. As a registered sex offender, he cannot have unsupervised contact with children under the age of 18. St. Louis, Missouri. 

5.       Difficulty finding or keeping a job. Youth sex offender registrants often despair of ever finding employment. State and local laws often ban registered youth offenders from working anywhere near children. In many places, registered teens cannot seek jobs at local malls, fast food restaurants, camps, and recreational centers. In many states, current laws require registrants to provide their employers’ business name and address, which is then posted on the Internet—further deterring employers from hiring them. 

Elijah B. started registering at age 16. “I get hired and fired from so many jobs. I can usually keep a job for a few weeks until the employer’s name and address goes up on the sex offender registry [because registrants must provide this information]. Employers say its ‘bad for business’ to keep me on.” Houston, Texas. 

6.      Economic hardship. Depending on the jurisdiction, fines, registration fees, and related charges can end up costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, with many of the costs payable annually. This can be a source of significant financial strain on both registrants and supportive family members. 

One youth sex offender, Lydia B., told Human Rights Watch, “The fees are impossible to pay. The first year I received a bill to pay $461 for court costs, $2,500 fine, $50 crimestoppers. That’s $3,000! If you don’t pay it you go back to jail for failure to register.” Killeen, Texas. 

In Louisiana, an attorney for youth who commit serious offenses explained the considerable economic hurdles his clients face in meeting the registration requirements in the state: “The fees associated with registering as a sex offender are absurd. It would be hard for an individual who works a full-time job to be able to manage these types of fees.” New Orleans, Louisiana. 

7.      Restrictions on movement. Most jurisdictions impose “no loitering/child safety zones” around schools, playgrounds, parks, daycare centers, and other locations where children congregate, including even bus stops. Essentially these restrictions ban registrants from passing through certain areas of the city. 

Blake G. was arrested at the age of 15 for having a sexual relationship with his 13-year-old girlfriend. Still a minor, he is banned from being within 300 feet of a place where children regularly congregate. “I have to look at a map before I walk anywhere,” he told Human Rights Watch. “I can be arrested if I am walking anywhere near a school or park.”Gainesville, Florida.

8.      Restrictions on travel. States differ as to which offenses trigger registration, and state systems do a poor job of working together to ensure registrants who travel are treated fairly. 

Elijah B. started registering in Michigan at age 16 but later moved, and transferred his registration, to Texas. Twelve years later, he was arrested outside his workplace and extradited back to Michigan, where he sat in jail for three months, accused of failing to register in Michigan. He was finally released when a Michigan judge realized that Elijah was no longer required to register in Michigan. Houston, Texas. 

9.      Disproportionate punishment for failure to register. The complex rules and regulations that govern the lives of sex offenders on the registry can be so onerous and labyrinthine, it is hard enough for adults to comply with them. Human Rights Watch’s interviews suggest that compliance may be particularly difficult for children, for reasons linked to their youth and immaturity. Nevertheless, nearly all jurisdictions in the US have made failure to register a felony offense punishable by fines and imprisonment. 

Gabriel P. was arrested in 1996 when he was 11 years old for sexually touching a playmate. He has not reoffended, but now, at age 26, he has three felony convictions and has served a total of six years in prison for failure to register associated with his inability to find housing. Bryan, Texas. 

If HB523 was really about public safety or reducing crime then for the last 6 years Virginia lawmakers would have looked for real solutions. They would have considered this issue important enough to take the time to read the studies, reports and books that I have made a great effort to share with them. Careful and deliberate consideration would have been taken, perhaps a Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) would have been formed as I requested to Governor McDonnell’s team back in 2009, but there hasn’t been any effort whatsoever 

Virginia is currently handling juvenile registration appropriately, even though we do force some to register publically.  

This one-size does NOT fit all. Each case must be considered on its own merits and if registration is decided by those involved, then it will be done as it has been done for the last 15+ years.  

A blanket mandate benefits no one but it harms everyone. 

Please, please Email or call  your Virginia Delegate and Senator, ask them to vote “NO” on HB523 

Virginia Delegates                                                     Virginia Senators
Phone List                                                                           Phone List
E-mail List                                                                          E-mail List

HB523 is headed to the House Courts of Justice Committee, if you feel industrious contact all the Committee members, here they are: 

Richmond, VA. During Session
David Albo*
Les Adams*
Robert Bell  *Also on VSCC
Jeffrey Campbell*
Benton "Ben" Chafin*
804- 698-1004
Benjamin Cline**
*Also on VCSC
C. Todd Gilbert**            *Also on VSCC
Gregory Habeeb
Charniele Herring* *Also on VSCC
Terry Kilgore
James "Jay" Leftwich*
G. Manoli Loupassi *Also on VSCC
Jennifer McClellan
T. Monty Mason*
Jackson Miller*
J. Randall Minchew
Richard Morris* *
David Toscano
Ron Villanueva*
Vivian Watts*
*  -On Criminal Sub-Committee
*  -On Both House Committees that hear majority of RSO Bills
*   -Newly Elected 2014

Thank you.

Mary Devoy