News Articles

Prison Rape in TDCJ – Most TDCJ sex assault victims housed in just a few units, most victimized by staff

On January 12, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Most TDCJ sex assault victims housed in just a few units, most victimized by staff

"GRITS FOR BREAKFAST Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Here are a few highlights from a recent report on sexual assault in TDCJ put out by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the Prison Justice League.

Their report represents a significant bit of research. They examined federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data on sexual assault in Texas prisons and sent a voluntary, confidential survey to prisoners who had self-reported sexual assaults at some point during their incarceration. This research was supplemented by correspondence with inmates who responded to the survey.

A disproportionate number (41.2 percent) of inmate sexual assault victims self-identified as LGBTQ, the survey found, confirming a pattern where inmates deemed gay or even just effeminate may be more likely to become victims.

Survey respondents reported sexual assaults at 15 prison units across the state with the majority of reports coming from three units: Estelle (Huntsville), Robertson (Abilene), and Allred (Iowa Park). A whopping 58.9 percent of respondents said they were assaulted by a staff member, which jibes with past investigations into sexual assault at TDCJ. "In 2014, 766 allegations of staff-on-offender sexual abuse and sexual harassment incidents were reported to the PREA Ombudsman by unit-level TDCJ staff." They cited a 2015 Marshall Project report showing that, nearly half the time, local prosecutors refuse to pursue cases involving staff-on-inmate sexual abuse. When they do, "Of the 126 staff members convicted of sexual misconduct or assault, only nine were sentenced to serve time."

Just as there's an argument for creating a division at the Attorney General to prosecute police misconduct to take decisions out of the hands of local prosecutors, there's an equally good argument to be made for doing the same thing when prosecuting TDCJ guards. Elected, rural prosecutors understandably are reticent to go after workers at the largest employer in town, and may feel more in common with TDCJ staff than their victims. That's a recipe for justice denied.

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act has created new tracking and record keeping to shine a light on prison rape, the report found, but the Ombudsman function is notably underdeveloped. TDCJ employs 152 people in its Safe Prisons/PREA management offices around the state, but only one Ombudsman and an assistant to process 1,041 allegations of inmate-on-inmate alleged sexual abuse incidents across 109 facilities in 2013, and 1,467 in 2014. That's simply not enough warm bodies to perform the job properly.

The proposal also exempts those who’ve lived in a zone before it was created.

The report included the following recommendations:

* Establish independent oversight to evaluate TDCJ facilities. (Paging Michele Deitch!)

* Halt the practice of placing sexual assault victims in solitary confinement "without thoroughly exhausting alternative protective measures."

* Increase resources to the PREA Ombudsman office.

* Improve the offender grievance system with better training for staff and accountability for failing to respond to victims.
* Involve outside agencies in assessing PREA compliance.

Lawmaker seeks limits on sex offender homes

On December 10, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Lawmaker seeks limits on sex offender homes

"By John Austin CNHI State Reporter 12/10/16

AUSTIN — Small cities have trouble keeping registered sex offenders from living near schools and other places where children gather, but one lawmaker says the state may finally be ready to give them that authority.

Unlike larger cities, municipalities with populations less than 5,000, known as general-law cities, don’t have the power to dictate where registered sex offenders may live, according to some interpretations of a 2007 opinion by Gov. Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general.

With no state limits, nothing prevents sex offenders from being around children once they’ve finished their sentences in those small communities.

Nearly four-dozen general law cities have adopted limits, but threatened legal action prompted nearly a quarter of them to repeal the rules. About the same number have been sued, according to the Texas Municipal League.

Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, said he plans to settle the matter with a bill allowing small cities to create child safety zones of no more than 1,000 feet around schools, day cares, playgrounds, youth centers, public pools, arcades and facilities that hold events geared toward children.

Registered sex offenders could transport a child they’re legally permitted to be with into the zones. They may travel through the zones for work.

The proposal also exempts those who’ve lived in a zone before it was created.

“I think I’ll have bipartisan, strong support,” said Springer, whose proposal is backed by the Texas Municipal League. “It’s rural Texas values.”

He called it a “quality-of-life” measure.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said 96 percent of the state is outside the jurisdiction of cities, which leaves plenty of space for sex offenders to live outside child safety zones.

“We’re not in support of legislation that would ban sex offenders,” he said. “You’ve got to live somewhere, but not within 50 feet of a school.”

But Richard Gladden, a Denton attorney who works on behalf of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, a group that advocates for those required to register for sex-related offenses, said similar bills have failed in the past.
Courts elsewhere are increasingly throwing out such restrictions, with a federal appeals court in Michigan ruling one unconstitutional.
Gladden said research doesn’t support the idea that residency rules make children safer.
In fact, making offenders’ lives less stable, by requiring them to live far from their jobs, could raise the odds of re-offending, he said.
“Politicians don’t inform constituents of that,” he said. “They leave that out so that they can appear to be tough.”
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Hartford City sex offender ordinance unconstitutionally vague

On December 3, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Hartford City sex offender ordinance unconstitutionally vague

"By IL StaffDecember 2, 2016

A 2008 Hartford City ordinance that restricted registered sex offenders from entering or loitering within 300 feet of broadly defined “child safety zones” is unconstitutionally vague, a federal judge has ruled.

Brian Valenti challenged a 2008 ordinance after he moved to the Blackford County community in 2014 with his wife and minor child. Valenti was required to register as a sex offender for his 1993 California conviction of a sex offense involving a child under the age of 14.

The Hartford City ordinance, which was amended in 2015, imposed a fine of up to $200 per offense for registered sex offenders who entered or loitered within 300 feet of parks, schools, public libraries, arcades, amusement centers, swimming pools, child care facilities, athletic complexes, crisis centers or shelters, skate parks or rinks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, scouting facilities or the office of protective services.

Valenti argued the local ordinance caused him to curtail activities with his child. He said he was given a citation while a passenger in his brother’s car while the car was parked at his brother’s house across the street from a school.

Judge Theresa Springmann in the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division, granted Valenti summary judgment in part, finding the ordinance violates Indiana’s ex post facto law as applied to Valenti, and that it’s unconstitutionally vague.

The ordinance “encouraged arbitrary enforcement by failing to describe with sufficient particularity what activity violated the ordinance” and was “unconstitutionally vague on its face,” Springmann wrote in an order issued Thursday.

Though Springmann wrote that she was troubled by the amended ordinance that sought to clarify who could be subject to fines and further define prohibited loitering, she stopped short of striking the revised city code. She did forbid Hartford City, though, from ordering fines under the amended ordinance, finding its language also violates the 14th Amendment.

Springmann said a future conference will be set to consider Valenti’s damages. The case is Brian Valenti et al. v. Hartford City, Indiana, 1:15-cv-63.

Breaking: Fourth Circuit Holds NC Premises Statute Unconstitutional

On November 30, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

Breaking: Fourth Circuit holds NC premises statute unconstitutional

by:rwvnral

November 30, 2016
LAW, SIGNIFICANT CASES

By Robin . . . In a broadly worded opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed a lower court ruling previously holding most of North Carolina’s premises and proximity restrictions applied to registered sex offenders as unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals held subsection (2) of § 14-208.18 as unconstitutionally overboard and admonished the state for failing to provide evidence to support its intent: “Without empirical data or other similar credible evidence, it is not possible to tell whether subsection (a)(2) . . . responds at all to the State’s legitimate interest in protecting minors from sexual assault.”

The Court of Appeals held subsection (3) of § 14-208.18 as unconstitutionally vague stating that “neither an ordinary citizen nor a law enforcement officer could reasonably determine what activity was criminalized” by the statutory language.

The North Carolina General Assembly enacted a new premises statute which took affect on September 1, 2016. The new statute is set to be challenged in federal court by NCRSOL, National RSOL’s affiliate in North Carolina.

Sex offender registries discourage rehabilitation

On November 26, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Sex offender registries discourage rehabilitation

"By Sandy Rozek 11/25/16 12:01 AM - The Washington Examiner

Ten years ago, Jeffrey Roy shared a bottle of vodka and played video games with a fourteen-year-old girl in his basement. The two engaged in sexual activity. When her father's concern for her whereabouts led him to the home, she told him and the police she had no memory of the incident.

Jeffrey was sixteen. He was sentenced to five years, most suspended, and put on probation and the sex offender registry for ten years.

The first few years of his probation, with its stringent sex offender restrictions, were difficult for Jeffrey. But he got it together and did what we hope for every teenager: He grew up.

According to all sources, he made a remarkable rehabilitation, earning him the approval of his community, peers and elders. For the past few years, Jeffrey has run with his father, Jim, in the Tarzan Brown Race sponsored by the YMCA in Mystic, Conn.

This year, when Jim went to register, Jeffrey's registration was rejected. He was flagged for being on the state's sex offender registry.

Many in the community appealed to the YMCA, citing his reputation as a young man who made a stupid mistake, paid the penalty, learned his lesson and turned his life around.

One of the other runners reviewed YMCA policy and pointed out that the language allows discretion in the matter. The CEO and executive director of the foundation, which manages 40 races a year including this one, said she had never heard of a runner being banned from a race for being a registered sex offender. Beth Schluger of the Hartford Marathon Foundation said her organization doesn't even screen runners for being on the registry.

The Ocean Community YMCA, however, citing safety as a primary concern, held firm. When the race was run Nov. 6, neither Jeffrey nor Jim, who has been a participant in nearly all of the 40 previous Tarzan Brown races, were among the runners.

Why was this decision made? Was there any actual fear that Jeffrey's presence created an element of risk or danger to anyone? The other runners? The observers? The YMCA officials?

If rehabilitation and re-entering society as a law-abiding citizen after punishment for a crime is the objective, Jeffrey could well be the poster boy. What message does his rejection send to those who commit crimes, serve their punishment and then become law-abiding citizens?

Do we let them know we appreciate they've turned their lives around? Do we show our pride in them for overcoming their earlier faults and choosing to go forward as contributing participants of community and society?

Or do we slap them down, giving them no incentive for being rehabilitated? Do we tell them, by our words, actions and judgment that they might as well remain hoodlums, criminals and sex offenders because they will never be forgiven?
It's easy to blame the YMCA, and they should be doing some soul-searching for this arbitrary decision, as well as some contemplation of the word "Christian" in their name. Jeffrey ran in their race and in others for several years with no negative consequences to anyone. There was no reason to deny him admission this year.
The true culprit, however, is the publicized sex offender registry. With no empirical evidence showing public notification of any safety benefit to society, it serves one purpose: To impede the law-abiding registered citizen from moving forward with his life. It allows entities such as the YMCA to exclude those for whom there is no reason to exclude.
It serves only to tell those like Jeffrey that no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. It removes the goal of rehabilitation from the justice system, leaving its only goal punishment.
The loss is to communities and society at-large. The loss is that of young men like Jeffrey who, rather than being welcomed as participating citizens, are treated as pariahs and told in no uncertain terms that they are not allowed among us.
Sandy Rozek is a free-lance writer and the communications director of Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

San Antonio Four Exonerated

On November 24, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"San Antonio Four Exonerated

"IN THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

According to Applicants’ expert, Dr. Alexandria Doyle, the sexual-assault allegations in this case do not pass “the smell test.” This emotional response certainly captures the sense of outrage that so many harbor about these cases. Whether it is in articles or a documentary, these cases involving “The San Antonio Four” have been well dissected in popular media.

In the summer of 1994, two young girls alleged that four young lesbian women, including the girls’ aunt, had spontaneously and violently gang-raped them on two occasions within a single week. The who-what-when-and-where changed from the outcries, to the statements made to the police, to the statements made to the examining doctor, to the testimony at two trials. But those inconsistencies were easy to set aside given the physical findings associated with child sexual abuse found by Dr. Nancy Kellogg, who asserted that the older child showed physical, objective signs of sexual abuse: In light of Dr. Kellogg’s testimony, the girls’ stories had the ring of truth.

“Dr. Kellogg has retracted her testimony about the physical indicators of past trauma. She now agrees with the defense that there are no definitive signs of sexual abuse, and she has acknowledged that her testimony at trial was wrong.”

All parties and courts, including this one, agree that all four Applicants are entitled to have their convictions and sentences vacated because of the introduction of what is now known to be scientifically invalid or inaccurate evidence.

Finally, the Applicants have presented new expert testimony that they are not sex offenders. None of the four Applicants fit the profile for sex offenders, and psychological evaluations have confirmed this.

Sex Offender Fights Removal From Hospice

On November 21, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Sex Offender Fights Removal From Hospice

"By IZZY KAPNICK Friday, September 09, 2016 - Last Update: 11:01 AM PT

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A Florida city's sex-offender law faces scrutiny in litigation over whether a wheelchair-bound former doctor, convicted of patient abuse in the 1980s, should be forced out of a hospice due to its proximity to a school.

A Palm Beach County court petition filed Aug. 31 claims Jack Ehrhart, a hospice patient with end-stage Alzheimer's disease, has been threatened with arrest if he does not move out of Heartland of Boynton Beach, a nursing home near a local preschool.

The City of Boynton Beach purportedly issued a notice to Ehrhart and the hospice accusing them of violating an ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, daycare center or playground.

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The challenge of elderly sex offenders

On November 21, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

" The challenge of elderly sex offenders Where should they live? What if their health and minds are failing?

By Nicki Gorny Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 2:01 AM

By the time deputies arrested Thomas Bernard Brown for failing to register as a sexual predator, he had built up a 10-year record of consistent registration in Marion County.

That’s 42 check-ins, as his attorneys and his friends pointed out at a sentencing hearing in June. When it came to No. 43, Brown, 72, who has since been diagnosed with early stages of dementia, says that he simply forgot.

“My only crime, your honor, is that I have become old and forgetful,” he told Circuit Judge Robert Hodges that day.

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Knoxville sexting case embraces ‘free the nipple’ message

On November 15, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Knoxville sexting case embraces 'free the nipple' message

"Grant Rodgers , grodgers@dmreg.com 6:43 p.m. CST November 11, 2016

The message of the "free the nipple" campaign is coming to the federal courthouse in Des Moines.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced Friday it is joining a federal lawsuit brought in September against Marion County Attorney Ed Bull for threatening to bring a sexual exploitation charge against a teenage girl who sent two suggestive photos of herself to a high school classmate. The lawsuit asked a judge to block Bull from prosecuting the teen, claiming that the photos were protected free speech under the First Amendment because they were not obscene. Neither photo contained nudity.

"Neither photo contained nudity.

An amended complaint announced by the civil liberty group embraces the ethos of the "free the nipple" movement, which argues that laws used to punish women for exposing their chests — when men can do so without consequence — are outdated, discriminatory and violate the equal protection clause enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

“This lawsuit is the result of efforts made by my office to respond to a situation where numerous juveniles had exchanged sexually explicit photographs," Bull said in a September statement. "Rather than take every juvenile to court, I looked for a solution that would help them learn from their mistakes and hopefully prevent their behavior from being repeated, while allowing them to avoid having a criminal or juvenile conviction or even a charge on their record."

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Justice denies Michigan’s appeal to halt sex offender ruling

On November 15, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Justice denies Michigan's appeal to halt sex offender ruling

" Associated Press , WZZM 11:18 AM. EST November 15, 2016

LANSING, MICH. - A U.S. Supreme Court justice has rejected Michigan's request to halt a lower court decision that found the state unconstitutionally put additional restrictions on sex offenders long after their convictions.

Justice Elena Kagan denied Tuesday the emergency appeal for a stay.

“In August, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said changes to Michigan law in 2006 and 2011, which included retroactively restricting sex offenders' movements near schools, penalize offenders as "moral lepers.”

“In August, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said changes to Michigan law in 2006 and 2011, which included retroactively restricting sex offenders' movements near schools, penalize offenders as "moral lepers."

Schuette's office couldn't immediately be reached to comment.

Michigan has the country's fourth-largest sex offender list, with more than 42,000 registrants.

Michigan prohibits all registrants from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of school property.

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