Bridge of Voices #13 post 3
1) the Life of a Sex Offefender
2)Why Finland Is Soft on Crime
The Life of a Sex Offender in Wisconsin
Life can be tenuous for a sex-offender in Wisconsin, whether they have been sent to prison or not. The onus of a criminal conviction can carry lifetime consequences in terms of ability to gain meaningful employment, access to a political forum, and ineligibility to vote or obtain government benefits.
But, the prospects for a “registered” sex offender can be even more dismal. In addition to the problems noted above, such men and women can face being ostracized by both community and some family members. Many churches shy away from involvement in the lives of these modern-day lepers.
The lepers had done nothing to merit their status, you say, while sex offenders have violated some of society’s most sacred norms involving women and children. Have they? What is the difference between rape, date rape, and consensual sex? Ask Koby Bryant. It may well be blurred in this modern society, which sells sex to young consumers with overwhelming tenacity. What about precocious sexual activity that we see described as taking place in most junior highs as the pre and post adolescents seek to make sense of their newly emerging feelings and capacities.
Thus, these sometimes innocent children and rambunctious teens have been forced into what society condemns as illegal activity. God help them if such behavior comes to the attention of the “authorities”. (see in re Steven T 647 NW. 2nd 151 in which a ten year old was ordered to register as a sex offender. )
Juvenile facilities are now filled with young (sex) offenders whose actions would have gone unpunished twenty years ago. And remember: Milwaukee Mayor Norquist and US President Clinton were both sex offenders, though not convicted of criminal activities. How many of the fine citizens of Wisconsin can claim innocence in such matters?
As the myth goes, the problem with convicted sex offenders is that in addition to being dangerous to women and children, their propensity to reoffend is unrestrained. The second myth is that such danger comes from strangers lurking near parks or schools. Neither is true.
In the first regard, the recidivism rate for sex offenders is far lower than for drug and other offenders. Drug offenders comprise a revolving wheel between court (probation), administrative law judge (revocation), treatment (A.O.D.A) in prison, lowered custody (minimum security: offering jobs and relative freedom) and (early) parole. The result is almost overwhelming reinvolvement in drug activity as consumer or peddler. This is non-violent, harmless activity? Listen to the assessment of the circuit court in State vs Fischer 702 N.W. 2d at 59 of the defendant convicted of cocaine sale:
“ Mr Fischer, you are quickly becoming an institutionalized man.( He had been to prison before.) When those drugs got distributed, it costs a lot of money to take care of the people because they commit crimes in order to get more money to buy drugs, so it is not as simple as it may look." This is a succinct explanation for one report that the drug trade is responsible for 85% of urban crime. The rural problem of meth labs may be even worse.
But, we have overlooked the enormous harm that sex offenders cause to their many victims as a result of their manipulative, coercive, often violent activities. Such victims report that they have lost trust, feel violated, and cannot function at the same level as before the incident. This holds true whether it is a father violating his step- daughter, a husband forcing his wife to engage in sexual depravity, or a 16 year old boy who coerces a 13 year old girl to “go all the way.’ The rare example of the stranger abduction- murder of young girls dominates the headlines and fuels the media and politicians into draconian retribution.
The penalties of first degree sexual assault have doubled from 20 to 40 years in the 1990’s to 60 years under Truth in Sentencing. Terms in excess of 100 years have been meted out to perpetrators in intergenerational sex rings in which the youngsters were cajoled by drugs, video games and alcohol. The real allure for them was the thrill of participating in (illegal) underground activity. Many will not be denied (this early introduction to sex) and will go on to a lifetime of crime. Stop it now: before another generation is lost to the gallows of the prison system. The Wisconsin prison population has tripled (to 22,500) in the last 20 years. It’s budget now approaches a one billion bite out of the state coffers each year. Instead, much of this money should be put into prevention- youth and family programs.
As drug offenders are released and seemingly forgiven (fueling the escalating murder rate in Wisconsin as they attempt to reassert their “turf”) sex offenders are kept in bondage through uncommon oversight, endless therapy, and the stigmatization of public registry despite the fact that recidivism ( reconviction for another sex offense) is as low as 5% after three years. (Bureau of justice Statistics, Wash., DC, 2003- charting 9700 sex offenders released in 1994) It eventually tops off to 20 to30% after 10, 15 years. Walk a mile in their shoes.
Recently a Milwaukee Pastor, Rev. Debra Trakel of St James Episcopal, offered the state a solution to their pressing constitutional issue of 980 releases, as she made one of their church buildings available to house a group of men, otherwise shunned by the community. The response by the state: negative. There is no path of redemption possible for sex offenders in Wisconsin. The alternative: keep them locked up after their sentences expire under civil commitment in Mauston at a cost of $116,000 per 300 men- amounting to a $34 M drain on the Department of Health and Human Services Budget: money that is diverted from programs assisting families and children. This is bad fiscal and moral policy by a state long noted for its progressive tradition of compassion toward all of its citizens.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, each year there are 60,000 to 70,000 arrests on charges of child sexual assault in the United States. Of these, only about 115 are abductions by strangers. Approximately 90 percent of all child victims of sexual offending know the perpetrator. The perpetrator is not a stranger to the child.
WHY FINLAND IS SOFT ON CRIME
Author: Dan Gardner
In a classroom thick with wigs, sinks and barber chairs, a man sprays water through a woman's sudsy hair and works his fingers carefully to rinse the shampoo. Standing in front of a large mirror, another man brushes and sprays a woman's hair. Two others discuss styling techniques. It could be a scene from any community college, but for the bars on the windows. This is Hameenlinna Central Prison, near Helsinki. The stylist working at the mirror is a convicted murderer. The man washing hair is a drug trafficker. Two of the three women are also prisoners; the other is a professional hairstylist hired to teach the class. There are no guards.This is Finland's criminal justice system at work. Here, offenders either serve remarkably short prison sentences or, far more commonly, no prison time at all. Finland's incarceration rate is just 52 per 100,000 people, less than half Canada's rate of 119 per 100,000 people and a tiny fraction of the American rate of 702. In Finland, prisoners can work or study at any education level. Outside relationships are fostered with frequent visits and "home leaves."Living conditions are generous by anyone's standard. At Hameenlinna, male and female prisoners live together; occasionally they fall in love and get married in the little auditorium that serves as the prison chapel. Finland's criminal justice system is, in short, a liberal's dream and a conservative's nightmare. In that, Finland is far from unique. Most Western European nations consider large prison populations shameful and use incarceration only as a last resort. What sets Finland apart is how it came to be this way: More than 30 years ago, Finland made an explicit decision to abandon the country's long tradition of very tough criminal justice in favour of the Western European approach. Never before or since has a country so consciously and completely shifted from one philosophy of justice to its opposite. It was a grand experiment in criminal justice, and the results are in. Mr. Salminen says one reason for the consensus is geography. "In Finland, Russia is very close. We follow it very keenly" Russian criminal justice is the negative image of Finland's. The St. Petersburg region, with 5.9 million people, has 72,000 police officers -the five million people of Finland employ 8,500. Russian criminals are far more likely to be punished with prison time, and the sentences they receive are far longer. And, in most cases, Russian convicts serve time in prison conditions that would be considered barbaric and illegal in Finland. The Finns also know that the two countries' crime rates are just as starkly different. In an international survey, 82 per cent of Finns said they felt safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, the second highest national rating (after Sweden; both Canada and the United States scored just more than 70 per cent, placing them near the bottom of the 11 countries surveyed). Russia wasn't included in that survey, but fear of crime is widespread, and for good reason -- the murder rate in Russia is 10 times that in Finland. Long prison sentences in austere conditions used to be standard in Finland. In the 1950s, Finland's incarceration rate was 200 prisoners per 100,000 people -- a normal rate for East Bloc countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia where justice systems had been Sovietized, but four times the rate in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the 1960s, Finland began edging cautiously toward reform, using its Scandinavian neighbours as models. Nils Christie, a renowned Norwegian criminologist was the first to tell the Finns that their incarceration rate was totally unlike that of their Scandinavian neighbours and was "really in the Russian radition.Discussions and debates were widespread. Ultimately, says Tapio Lappi-Seppala, the director of the Finnish National Research Institute of Legal Policy, an agreement was reached that "our position was a kind of disgrace." During the next two decades, a long series of policy changes were implemented, all united by one goal: To reduce imprisonment, either by diverting offenders to other forms of punishment or by reducing the time served in prison. "It was a long-term and consistent policy," Mr. Lappi-Seppala emphasizes. "It was not just one or two law reforms. It was a coherent approach." The reforms began in earnest in the late 1960s and continued into the 1990s. In 1971, the laws allowing repeat criminals to be held indefinitely were changed to apply only to dangerous, violent offenders. The use ofconditional sentences (in which offenders avoid prison if they obey certain conditions) was greatly expanded. Community service was introduced. Prisoners may be considered for parole after serving just 14 days; even those who violate parole and are returned to prison are eligible for parole again after one month. And for those who aren't paroled, there is early release: All first-time offenders are let out after serving just half their sentences, while other prisoners serve two-thirds. Mediation was also implemented, allowing willing victims and offenders to discuss if the offender can somehow set things right. "It does not replace a prison sentence," says Mr. Lappi-Seppala, but "in minor crimes, you may escape prosecution or you may get a reduction in your sentence." There are now 5,000 cases of mediation per year, almost equal to the number of imprisonments. Juvenile justice was also liberalized. Criminals aged 15 to 21 can only be imprisoned for extraordinary reasons -- and even then, they are released after serving just one-third of their time. Children under the age of 15 cannot be charged with a crime. The most serious crimes can still be punished with life sentences but these are now routinely commuted, and the prisoner released, as early as 10 years into the sentence and no longer than 15 or 16 years. The Finns retain a power similar to Canada's "dangerous offender" law: Persons found to be repeat, serious, violent offenders with a high likelihood of committing new violent crimes can be held until they are determined to no longer be a threat to the public. There are now 80 such offenders in prison and they, like Canada's dangerous offenders, are unlikely to ever be released. One especially critical change was the creation of sentencing guidelines that set shorter norms. Similar guidelines are used in the United States, but many of those restrict judges' discretion -- Finnish judges remain free to sentence outside the norm if they feel that is appropriate. Violence is rare in Finnish prisons. Officials credit this calm in part to their policy of giving prisoners as much contact with other people, both inside and outside prisons, as possible. Frequent visits from family andfriends are encouraged, including conjugal visits. There are also "home leaves." After serving six months, all prisoners can apply for leave to return to their home towns for periods of up to six days every four months. Only if a prisoner is considered likely to re-offend, or is misbehaving, is he likely to be turned down. Home leaves have been controversial in Finland, particularly when violent offenders are allowed out, but the authorities insist the program is both successful and necessary. Ninety per cent of home leaves occur without even minor difficulties. And by allowing prisoners the chance to live briefly in the real world, home leaves strengthen relationships and help prevent the atrophy of basic social skills. "Prisoners must have contact with the civil world," insists Ms. Toivonen. Officials also try to build new relationships between prisoners and people on the outside by bringing in volunteers, who may join group discussions or even visit prisoners in their cells. The goal, says Mr. Aaltonen, is that "everybody has some close connection with somebody -- some person outside, whether it is a wife or husband, social worker, friend, voluntary worker from the church or Red Cross. It is very important that everybody should have somebody waiting for him." If prisons don't encourage these relationships, says Mr. Aaltonen, released convicts will be met on the outside "by a gang or friends involved in crime." Finland's extensive use of parole and early release also creates transition periods in which released prisoners are supervised while they try to get established in legitimate society. Before and after release, the authorities help ex-cons get jobs and homes. Thanks to Hollywood, North Americans imagine prisoners are released with little more than a bus ticket and a shake of the warden's hand. In the United States, and to a lesser extent Canada, there's some truth in that. But in Finland, no prisoner is simply walked out the penitentiary gate.
That was the experiment. What about Crime Rates?. Mr. Lappi-Seppala compared Finland's crime rates going back many decades with Sweden and Norway and discovered "the trends are basically identical in each of the countries. So despite the fact that we had radically different prison policies, our crime trends went hand-in-hand with the other countries." When Finland took a hard-line approach, its crime trends were identical to those of its liberal neighbours. And when it switched to a liberal system its trends continued in line with its neighbours. Ultimately, Finland's choices about how to punish crime had little or no effect on the crime rate. Mr. Lappi-Seppala produces a chart that compares the number of robberies in Finland with the average sentence given for that crime. In the decade before 1965, judges cut the length of the average robbery sentence in half with no effect on the number of robberies. Then from 1965 to 1990, the sentences for robbery stayed about the same -- while robberies first grew by five times, then dropped by a quarter, then doubled, then dropped by almost half again. There is simply no correlation between the punishment inflicted and the number of robberies. Juvenile crime is another case in point. The astonishingly liberal approach Finland implemented for juvenile crime -- no one under 15 can be charged, and offenders between 15 and 21 are rarely incarcerated -- did not spark an increase in juvenile crime. Over the last 20 years, the proportion of crime for which young offenders are responsible has even declined. After more than 30 years, the Finnish experiment has produced clear conclusions: High incarceration rates and tough prison conditions do not control crime. They are unnecessary. If a nation wishes, it can send few offenders to prison, and make those prisons humane, without sacrificing the public's safety.
For those interested in building a less punitive society, the benefits of such an approach are obvious. But there are also more quantifiable returns.Mr. Lappi-Seppala notes that, by one estimate, Finland's smaller prison population has saved the country's taxpayers $200 million over the last 20 years. Then there is Finland's bounty of time. About 6,500 years of human life was saved from incarceration. Some 40,000 people avoided prison altogether. Finland's reforms meant that this time was instead spent with families andcommunities, a contribution whose value is surely great, if incalculable.Pubdate: Mon, 18 Mar 2002;Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)edited from 6 pages-
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