July 20, 2011

Sex offender roundup

So much being generated on the sex offender front that it's hard to keep up. Here, in no particular order, are just a few choice items:

The Atlantic: Overzealous sex offender laws harm public

As the tide begins to turn, The Atlantic magazine has joined the backlash, with a well-written and insightful piece by associate editor Conor Friedersdorf that begins like this:
On the Texas registry for sex offenders, Frank Rodriguez's crime is listed as "sexual assault of a child." If I lived in his neighborhood and had young children, I'd be frightened upon seeing that. Safe to assume that some of his neighbors discovered his status and became alarmed. Needlessly so, as it turns out. Delving into his story, journalist Abigail Pesta has discovered that Rodriguez was arrested for having sex with his high school girlfriend. He was 19. She was 15. They've now been happily married for years, and he has fathered four girls.

The anecdote is part of a larger story about America's sex offender registries and the people on them who don't belong there. It's a timely subject. This month, some state governments are racing to bring themselves into compliance with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in order to avoid losing federal funds. As a result, the sex offender dragnet may pull in even more people. Says Pesta, "Each of the 50 states now has at least one grassroots group dedicated to getting young people -- many high school age, but some under the age of 10 -- off the registry."

So perhaps the backlash will grow too.

The article continues HERE.

Juvenile registries harmful, study finds

Dovetailing nicely with the Atlantic piece, a leading researcher and national expert on sex offender policy has found that placing the names of juveniles on sex offender registries does nothing to make society safer, and has harmful unintended effects on youth and on juvenile case processing.

Based on her research, Elizabeth Letourneau of the Medical University of South Carolina is calling for an end to notification requirements for juveniles.

A summary of her research is HERE.

California releases audit of SVP program

The State Auditor’s Office has issued its long-awaited report on the practical implementation of California’s civil commitment scheme for sex offenders. It isn’t as hard-hitting as I would have liked, but there are a few interesting tidbits.

One I found interesting was the statistic that out of all of the sex offenders who were NOT civilly committed and who were released into the community between 2005 and 2010, only ONE was later convicted for a new sexually violent offense. Talk about a low base rate!

The report also details the program’s meager bang for the buck. From 2005 to 2010, the state paid nearly $49 million in evaluation costs alone to a small group of privately contracted evaluators. Some of these psychologists earned upwards of $1 million per year. And for what return? Last year, the SVP program screened 6,575 prisoners for possible civil commitment. And guess how many were committed? THREE (much less than 1 percent)!

Just think about how much primary prevention work to reduce sexual violence all of those waste millions could have funded.  

The full report is online HERE.

More on the social costs of civil detention 

Unlike the California auditors, who seem to have bought into the promise of the Static-99 as an “actuarial” technique capable of predicting future behavior, law professor Tamara Rice Lave of the Miami School of Law has just published an article in New Criminal Law Review claiming that the Static has little utility in SVP determinations not only because it is inaccurate, but also because it does not link dangerousness to mental illness as U.S. laws require. Here is the abstract of her article, “Controlling Sexually Violent Predators: Continued Incarceration At What Cost?”
Sexually violent predator (SVP) laws are inherently suspicious because they continue to incarcerate people not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do. I focus on three major criticisms of the laws. First, I use recent recidivism data to challenge the core motivation for the SVP laws—that sex offenders are monsters who cannot control themselves. Second, I situate the laws theoretically as examples of what Feeley and Simon call the “new penology.” I argue that the SVP laws show the limited promise of the new penology—that we can use science to predict risk accurately—because the actuarial instruments used in SVP determinations make many mistakes. In making this argument, I focus particularly on the most commonly used such instrument, the Static-99. Finally, I argue that the Static-99 fails to meet the constitutional criteria laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Hendricks because it does not link an individual’s mental illness to his dangerousness.

Her full article is available online HERE.

Government SVP reports off target, says Allen Frances

Allen Frances, the chair of the DSM-IV Task Force, has been dabbling with SVP cases as an expert witness for the past year. After reviewing almost 100 cases, he is  – to put it mildly – under-impressed by the reports of government experts:
In not one case did the sexual offender qualify for anything remotely resembling a DSM-IV diagnosis of Paraphilia. And this is in an enriched sample of offenders who have been carefully screened and are presumed to have Paraphilia. Certainly state evaluators are wildly over-diagnosing Paraphilia and the courts are sanctioning unjust psychiatric incarceration based on their misguided opinions.

The evaluators all misinterpreted DSM-IV in just the same way. They routinely equate the act of committing a sex crime with having a mental disorder. Their reports gave remarkably detailed descriptions of the offender's criminal behavior, but provide little or no rationale or justification for a diagnoses of Paraphilia. The write-ups are all long and thorough -- but completely off point and generic. Although written by dozens of different evaluators, they have a rote quality and all repeated exactly the same mistakes.
His full post, at his “Couch in Crisis” blog at the Psychiatric Times, is HERE.

Is porn "driving men crazy"?

Last but not least, the prolific and insightful blogger Vaughan Bell deconstructs a CNN article by social crusader Naomi Wolf, who claims that pornography is “rewiring the male brain” and “causing [men] to have more difficulty controlling their impulses.”
According to her article, … “some men (and women) have a 'dopamine hole' – their brains’ reward systems are less efficient – making them more likely to become addicted to more extreme porn more easily.”

Wolf cites the function of dopamine to back up her argument and says this provides “an increasing body of scientific evidence” to support her ideas.

Porn is portrayed as a dangerous addictive drug that hooks naive users and leads them into sexual depravity and dysfunction. The trouble is, if this is true (which by the way, it isn’t, research suggests both males and females find porn generally enhances their sex lives, it does not effect emotional closeness and it is not linked to risky sexual behaviours) it would also be true for sex itself which relies on, unsurprisingly, a remarkably similar dopamine reward system.

Furthermore, Wolf relies on a cartoon character version of the reward system where dopamine squirts are represented as the brain’s pleasurable pats on the back....
The full post is HERE.

And after all of this if you're still in the mood for further browsing, I highly recommend the wide-ranging Mind Hacks blog; the topics are always fascinating (at least to me).