Friday, November 09, 2007

A Great Article

A friend from WI sent me this article from the Isthmus, the local weekly city paper in Madison. You won’t find a better presentation of sex offenders and the politics and realities of dealing with them. WI actually had a half dozen or so reality-bound legislators on this subject, and the paper quotes one of them frequently, who sums everything policy-wise up well. Here are a few teasers:

"We're wasting resources on 85% to 90% of the people and neglecting to deal with the population we really do need to deal with," says state Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison). "We've shot-gunned sex offenders bad, because there's a strong public distaste for them, but we use that term so loosely, even when there's a very low chance that a person is a problem offender."
"If someone is not really a threat to society, and we know they're really not a threat to society, we're taking their life and screwing it up," says Pocan. "There's the politics of it and then there's the science of it, and the politics of it is off the chart right now. If you want to be tough on crime, you're tough on sex predators. You use sex predators to mean everybody, because you don't differentiate, because there is no intellectual thought put into what you're saying."
Pocan says that, when it comes to sex offenders, lawmakers are preoccupied more with generating press releases than crafting practical solutions. He hopes the emerging research will get lawmakers thinking of cheaper but more efficient ways to manage the sex-offender population.

"One of the things we can do is have them come in more regularly for lie detector tests, and do some of the things that we know help keep them from re-offending," he says. "But until we really understand that population, we have to do the things that we can do to keep the public safe."

The article quotes many more and is really very balanced and as detailed and informative as any nationally-known publication would have done (actually better, since I’ve never seen one of those do this well). Here’s what my friend added: “The article points out two facts that I didn’t know: first, that we exercised a little common sense, at least, and scaled back the number of offenses that would trigger lifetime GPS monitoring. Brings the cost down considerably. Second, and unfortunately, this point trumps the first, once you’re released from DOC custody, the department has no authority to tell you where you can and cannot go, whether you’re on lifetime monitoring or not.”

I have one note to add from my experience as the former director of the WI Sentencing Commission while the legislature passed Jessica’s Law there. No legislator at any time contacted the commission for info or projections concerning the legislation. Have I mentioned that the commission has since been sunsetted? A cautionary tale for those of you who think a commission always solves these things. In any case, it’s rare to get this well done an analysis in any paper on one of the toughest topics facing us in corr sent. Sit someplace comfy and take the time to read, all the way to the end.

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