Wednesday, January 13, 2010


This continues my look at the California Sex Offender Management Board’s Report. The text is here.

Don’t forget the page-numbering system: the first number is the Adobe browser number and the second is the page number of the actual text.

Section 4 deals with Investigation and Prosecution. It mentions the Vertical Prosecution approach: that one prosecutor handles all phases and filings in a specific case, from beginning to end.

It recommends more funding for more thorough and intensive prosecutorial training throughout the state; this recommendation for more funding echoes throughout the Report (completed in January 2008). For any State in the Union the experiences of 2008 and the fiscal collapse would make the request for fine-tuning funding problematic now. And this problem is exacerbated by the unfunded mandates imposed by the Adam Walsh Act (should a State not be able to refuse the feds’ offer).

Respectably, it also recommends studies to determine if cases handled in the Vertical Prosecution mode are more effectively handled than those handled in the conventional way (assigning whichever ADA is available to whatever phase of whatever case is on the docket that day or that week). But again, these studies are going to cost money.

It also notes the need for “victim surveys of the impact of investigation techniques and/or prosecution management”. This – it is hoped – simply means that CASOMB wants to know what victims feel about their experiences as they follow their alleged assailant’s case through the legal system. I am hoping that it does not solicit the victims’ opinion of whether they think the court is being tough enough on the defendant.

But as in all of these Sections – and throughout the Report – you get the impression that there is much more concern for understanding or expressing the feelings of the victims rather than understanding very much concerning the accused or convicted sex offender.

“Management” in the sense it seems to be used here more closely resembles ‘animal husbandry’ or ‘wildlife management’ than it does even the modestly respectable sense of ‘clinical management’. And for the most part, the ‘management’ leans – in many places – towards keeping the offenders corralled in one form or another.

But not completely, and this is intriguing.

Immediately after the above recommendation, the Report says “We need to develop outcome studies on the effectiveness of various investigation and prosecution tools as well as methods of investigation and prosecution” (19/13). It’s always good to learn what works and what doesn’t. So long as you’ve got a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of what you mean by ‘works’: it’s not simply a matter of what ‘breaks down’ suspects more efficiently, nor simply what satisfies the murky desires and feelings of the victimized, but also a question of what respects the rights of the suspects/defendants.

And, for the assorted agency managers, it would also be important to fully understand the effect of ‘mania’-type enforcement practices on the enforcers themselves, especially over time.

And that would also go for the assorted therapeutic organizations – especially those involved from the first ‘report’ of the self-declared victim: it is a dangerous drug, a heady brew, that is released when a therapy ‘bond’ is instantaneously established between a too-often under-trained and inexperienced ‘service provider’ and an agitated client by simply agreeing ‘totally’ on the evil of the erstwhile perpetrator, known or unknown.

The old canard about the ‘prison doc’ who thought all cons were just misunderstood had some validity, but so does the less-Correct reality of agitated victim-patients and under-trained ‘therapists’ setting each other off like tuning forks, amplifying a reaction that needs to be much more carefully handled. There’s a lot more to therapeutic success than having the patient quickly declare that you’re wonderful for being in complete agreement.

But then the Report takes one much larger step in an impressive direction: “Research needs to be completed which will allow us to understand the newly created laws on sex offenders and/or the community, particularly to determine if new laws provide a deterrence for future criminal, sexual behavior” (19/13).

It’s not quibbling – I’m thinking – to point out that the grammar of that last sentence indicates that all sexual behavior is criminal. In conversation that might be considered a meaty Freudian slip, but since this is grammar – and they haven’t taught it for quite some time now – then perhaps this is just a grammatical mistake in trying to convey the idea that the Board is concerned only with that subset of sexual behavior that includes criminal elements.

More importantly, the Report is pointing out the need for more fact-based and evidence-based understanding of just what impact these laws do or do not have.

Now whether the intent of the Board is as broadly open-minded as its language indicates is another question, so this is no time to be popping any corks, but it’s a well-stated thought, especially in an official public Report.

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