Saturday, February 17, 2007

Jeffrey Dahmer or Earl Hickey?

Very interesting post up on sex offender legislation in TX over at Grits for Breakfast (not that none of the rest of his posts are ever very interesting). It poses the question of whether all child molesters just keep at it and never get caught or whether their recidivism rates are really among the lowest of all offenders.

I think it’s useful here to remember the four category schema of offenders generally that I mention occasionally that I first heard from a tough judge in western OK. You have your accidental offenders, people who have never before and will never again commit a crime, whether you do anything to them or not. Look mean at them or lock them away forever—you get the same effect. Then you have the Earl and Randy Hickeys (“My Name Is Earl”), the self-absorbeds who live life as party and take advantage whenever they can but who can be changed by intentional or unintentional turning points (as life-course crim folks call them). Then you have the serious offender who can and will do crime without serious restructuring and correction, but both can be done with programs that have shown effectiveness and time to let them work. Then you have your sociopaths and psychopaths, people who can never be turned or trusted (some of them reputedly work in the music business) and have to be handled severely forever.

Now, apply this to child sex offenders. Group 1—like the parents who find out the hard way you can’t take those “baby in the bathtub” pictures anymore, or at least send them through the mail (snail or e-). Group 2—like those teens we mentioned the other day who took naughty pictures of themselves and just sent them to each other, or the unfortunately not proverbial 18-year-old with the 15-year-old sweetie who go a little too far (actually these folks could be in Group 1, too, just depends on how raunchy they get or how many sweeties). Group 3—like the relatives, coaches, ministers, teachers, etc. who abuse their positions of trust and responsibility but, with treatment and an enforced realization that it’s “not all right” or that they could actually lose people they love through their actions, they can be turned around. Group 4—like serial murderers compared to “regular” ones, the people who commit tons of these crimes and get caught for very few of them, virtually impossible to turn and worth every penny of incarceration we can scrounge up.

Too often in our crim just policy debates, we ignore the OK judge’s wisdom on offenders, treating them as if they’re all the same, on both the liberal and conservative sides. They’re not. The trick, of course, is to develop the means to differentiate them well and to focus our resources on Group 2 and, especially, Group 3, no matter which offense type we’re dealing with, pedophiles or pickpockets. Good assessment and then effective treatment have their payoffs with these folks, and we lose that cost-effectiveness by lumping all offenders into the easier but more ignorant “one size fits all” bin. It’s especially true with child sex offenses where the damage can be enormous, even beyond the immediate victims, and the emotion and urge to act without thinking are so intense. I just hope we get a grip on this and start listening to that OK judge before we’ve committed ourselves to more damage to ourselves, too.

No comments: