Sunday, May 27, 2007

How the Media Can Help Corrections Sentencing

You may remember my mention last week of a Tulsa World story about a low-level female sex offender in OK who was only able to find housing among some really hard core low-lifes because of the state's "one size fits all" approach to classifying sex offenders. I noted that the World has a heritage, unlike the state's major newspaper, of trying to bring fact and reason to state policy debates. Well, as proof that sometimes good media coverage can play an important role in moving deliberation along, before the OK legislature adjourned last week, it changed the state's sex offender classification system to a three-tiered system familiar to many of you in other states. No word on how the woman on the story was affected yet, but, if we are to find out, you can bet it will be the work of a newspaper taking its role in our constitutional system seriously, unlike most of them today.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

I apologize for not checking back on your blog this past week, but wanted to update you on the situation with the woman in the Tulsa World story.

After the article was published (in the same edition with an Op-Ed piece advocating more reasonable sex offender regulation), the woman received a number of offers from well-intended persons who offered housing. Unfortunately, none of the offers was within approved zones.

The woman and her daughter are still in the (non-conforming) shelter and still seeking permanent housing.

I know her (and she is a brave woman to deal publicly with both her mental health problems and her legal problems) through my legal practice in Tulsa. This woman has provided my name and my practice to numerous public entities, including members of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives; if she had been less bold, I would not respond to your blog post.

I work for a consortium of non-profits that provide services to persons with mental illnesses, homeless individuals and families, victims of family and domestic violence, female offenders, and minority populations. I regularly encounter people who run up against sex offender laws who are neither violent nor predatory in their offenses, but whose crimes require that they register and comply with the sex offender registry and all its accompanying restrictions.

The tiering is a step in the right direction, but the sex offender laws are still grossly unsatisfactory and do little toward promoting public safety.

The laws cover too many offenses (including some that acts that are constitutionally permitted), aggregate too many persons into categories, provide registration terms without any supporting research into the effectiveness of lengthy terms, vary in scope and compliance requirements from state to state, fail to address treatment needs, inadequately address urban or rural needs, and-- for aggravated offenders -- create demands that are impossible to meet.

For instance, the statute mandates that an aggravated offender (whose acts involved a child under the age of thirteen) "is prohibited from being within three hundred (300) feet of any elementary, junior high, or high school, licensed child care facility, playground..." 21 O.S. § 1125 (OSCN 2007).

What does "be" mean in this case? Does it mean that the offender cannot take public transportation if it passes though the safety zone? Can the offender catch a bus if the bus stop or transfer point is in front of a school? Even if the school is not in session? Can the offender receive treatment if the treatment provider's property is too close to a playground?

May the offender report in person to the Department of Probation and Parole in Tulsa, when the building that houses the Department also has a day care center on the ground floor?

Furthermore, DHS lists 836 licensed child care providers in Tulsa County alone. Most of those providers are home-based, and DHS does not provide addresses for the homes. How in the world could any reasonable person comply with the law prohibiting being within 300 feet of a hidden day care provider?

I really did not intend to write this much. I'm certain that you are well acquainted with the registry-related problems.

Thank you for taking note of the Tulsa World's role in educating the public, including our legislators.