Sunday, January 3, 2010


Under the heading of the short Post “Report on Low Sex Offender Recidivism”, dated Monday, December 14, 2009, on the always-informative Constitutional Fights site, a link is provided to the 225 page Report of the above-named Board.

The pdf text of this Report is here (you need Adobe to open it).

I’ve read it and it is worth the look. What I’d like to do in a series of Posts is to give you what strike me as the interesting elements and points contained in it, along with (as always) my thoughts.

In this and follow-on Posts I’m going to tackle the 25-page Executive Summary, and then each of the 8 Sections.

Please note: As always with this type of formatted document, there are two systems of pagination: the page number according to the Adobe program and the page number in the actual text of the document. In this document, there is a difference of 6 in the numbering. Thus, for example, page 15 in the Adobe system is actually page 9 of the actual document’s numbering. So I will give two page numbers: 15/9, for example. I hope this doesn’t put you off; it’s easy to get used to and the document, as always, is an interesting read.

The Executive Summary begins on page 8/2.

It opens with “Sexual assault continues to bring tremendous and long-lasting suffering into the lives of its victims, and the communities in which they live.” Again, as so often, we see here the emphasis on the consequences of sexual assault. I do not and do not intend to minimize or deny or – certainly – make light of any suffering that any victim of any crime suffers (I once was held at shotgun point in an armed robbery, lying on the floor and wondering …).

But there is a great deal of difficulty in determining just what the long-lasting consequences of any particular crime (let alone type of crime) are, since the information is largely based on the victim’s own self-reports, which are technically termed ‘anecdotal’ and cannot form the basis for a competent diagnostic conclusion as to the assertion: Symptom B was directly caused by Crime A and would never have come into existence without the perpetration of Crime A.

Of course, a very broad view would be that any perpetrator is responsible for any unhappy developments in the life of a victim, but on that broad assertion then nobody convicted of any crime would ever be ‘safe’ to release back into the community. So there is a lot of ‘open water’, a lot of uncharted conceptual space, in this type of assertion.

The Report continues immediately: “The mandate of the California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) is to play a key role in reducing sexual victimization in our state, particularly that perpetrated by individuals who have already been identified as sexual offenders. Consequently, every effort of CASOMB must be informed by a clear perspective on the experiences of victims – viewed individually as well as collectively.” (This entire sentence is printed in Bold in the text.)

This is a thought-provoking, not to say odd, statement. You would think that the prime task of a ‘sex offender management board’ would be to somehow help the sex-offender get better and get re-adjusted. But instead, here the angle of approach is through ‘victimization’. We recall Aya Gruber’s point, echoed by Wayne A. Logan, that the ‘victim’ movement was from its inception in the first Reagan administration a stalking-horse or cat’s-paw for prosecutorial and government efforts to recapture ‘sympathy’ which in the Sixties had gravitated to the ‘defendant’.

Against this burden of sympathy for the ‘defendant’ – long established in American culture (the Constitution itself was one long exercise in curbing and fencing-in government police power) – the ‘victim’ would be ‘the human face’ behind which and on whose behalf the government police power would capture the weight of public sympathy and approval. As we now see, there are no ‘defendants’ any longer; there are ‘perpetrators’ and – even more ominously – ‘offenders’, up to and including that most ‘evil’ type, the ‘sex offender’.

Further, the Report clearly limits itself for all practical purposes to those who have already committed or have been convicted of sex-offenses. And yet I clearly recall recent studies indicating that up to 90% of sex-offenses are committed by ‘first-time’ offenders, so at the very outset the Board limits itself to only 10% of sex-offenders.

Finally, and without any logical connection to the foregoing sentences, the Report inserts the victims as the essential and primary focus from which ‘management’ must take its cue. But this seems to be a curious and glaring disconnect: if you want to manage sex-offenders, then their treatment and post-release future lives must be the key focus; the emphasis on the ‘past’ act, and on the feelings of a person whose only competence is in having been the object of the act, don’t logically bear much relevant weight. (And again, I am not attempting to minimize or deny genuine painful consequences here.)

The Report then acknowledges its mandate bestowed by a recently-passed California law, noting that “it was necessary to understand the current state of practice. The safety of the public, victims and those who could be potentially victimized depends on the deployment of public safety strategies that are effective and achievable”.

Again this victims and victimization emphasis. And there is no ‘therapeutic’ element here at all; it’s all about “public safety strategies”. But I chose to accentuate the positive, that heartening last phrase about needing to figure out just what “strategies” are “effective and achievable” – which inserts a note of objective and evidence-based thinking that you don’t often see in public sex-offense documents.

The Report immediately proceeds (8/2) to assert that “[T]he reality of having so many jurisdictions, laws, systems, agencies and perspectives directly involved in the management of California’s sex offenders results in a very complex web of policies and practices that defy ready simplification. It is precisely this complexity – at least in part – that has created the need for instituting a Sex Offender Management Board as a locus of cohesive information and integrated expertise”.

It is heartening to see that the ‘complexity’ is acknowledged. I myself would want to say that the ‘complexity’ is the result of a horrible hash of grossly inaccurate if not malevolently wrong assumptions about sex-offenders and offenses, hasty and ill-considered legislation that seems to receive little mature deliberation and analysis or any concern as to consequences (intended, unintended, constructive or destructive), and an overall stampede effect among far too many legislators, jurists, the media, and the public. There is – not to make light – a Keystone Kops aspect to all of this mania, with much running around, lots of vivid smashing and crashing, and little effective achievement.

But this is a State Board erected for the purposes of working within the general parameters of an existing legislative vision, so how much can you reasonably expect?

But again, the Report immediately repeats – is this becoming a mantra? – that ‘This report represents the CASOMB’s first step towards the board’s vision to decrease sexual
victimization and increase community safety
”. [Bold is in the text itself.] I begin to wonder if the Board might be making the necessary kow-tows to the relevant gods before striking out in some fresh direction.

The Report (9/3) then discusses briefly the composition of its membership, 17 members: “Each member represents a constituency with a central role in the promotion of public safety
and the management of California’s sex offenders”. Among these, the Chair and Vice-Chair are both from what appear to be volunteer against-sexual-assault types of coalitions, a judge and several prosecutorial reps from DA offices and the Attorney General’s office, State Department of Mental Health, a public defender, and State Corrections, Parole and police officers. Those ‘coalition’ types – the Chair and Vice-Chair – may be the ‘victim’ connection, and it clearly is significant.

The Report also notes the passage of the State’s Jessica’s Law in late 2006 (which among other things reduced to one from two the number of victims required before a person could be declared a Sexually Violent Predator, thereby greatly increasing the scope of civil-commitment and other burdens). The Report makes no mention of the Adam Walsh Act, which will certainly increase the number of potential Registrants and turn a number of otherwise well-returned former offenders into non-compliant Registry status.

With page 10/4 the Report proceeds to its Overview of its 8 Sections.

I’ll deal with them in follow-on Posts shortly.

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