CONNECTICUT SENTENCING COMMISSION
Special Committee on Sex Offenders
Assessment and Management Subcommittee
September 7, 2017
Comments submitted by Connecticut for One Standard of Justice, Inc. on proposed revisions to the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry by the Subcommittee on Sentencing.
Connecticut for One Standard of Justice, Inc. (CTOSJ) is a volunteer-based civil rights organization committed to ensuring that persons accused or convicted of sex offenses in Connecticut are treated constitutionally and fairly by the state before, during, and after their sentences through the use of evidence-based policies.
As the SMART office of the federal Office of Justice wrote about sex offender management schemes, “Despite the intuitive value of using science to guide decision-making, laws and policies designed to combat sexual offending are often introduced or enacted in the absence of empirical support.” The Committee is choosing to continue down that path by lacking empirically validated justifications for any of its proposed attempts to “strengthen” the registry.
Sex crimes are very low to begin with. Moreover, sex offender registries (SOR) don't lower recidivism; most sex offenders are one-time offenders, meaning that the vast majority of future sex crimes will not be committed by those on the registry AND most sex offenders on the registry do not commit another sex crime. In fact, all we're doing is creating unnecessary public panic and weakening the family and employment networks necessary for sex offenders to rehabilitate. So the current policy runs completely contrary to existing research about how to create a safer society and instead runs in line with modern prejudices against sex offenders that tend to lump all sex offenders together.
The Special Committee on Sex Offenders, as well as members of this and other subcommittees, would be advised to read the August 31, 2017 decision of Judge Richard P. Matsch of the United States District Court for the State of Colorado. Judge Matsch found the Colorado SOR to violate the 8th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution. A close reading of the decision will find an applicability to Connecticut's registry as currently constructed and even more so if the Subcommittee on Sentencing's recommendation for reform of the SOR are adopted.
On principle, CTOSJ does not support any sex offender registry, as registries have not been shown by research to produce any decrease in sex recidivism or benefit for public safety. However, if Connecticut must continue its registration system, CTOSJ believes that the current reform proposal does not go far enough. The following changes should be made:
- The new risk-based system should be fully retroactive. If Connecticut is to implement a tiered sex offender registry ("SOR"), then all registrants, no matter whether they were required to register before or after the creation of the registry, should be able to immediately petition the proposed Sexual Offender Registration Board (SORB) for removal from the public SOR and assessment of their risk tier under the new classification scheme. Each of these registrants should be given a new validated risk assessment at the time of their petition.
- The new removal mechanism should be fully retroactive. Registrants who have been required to register since the creation of the SOR should be able to petition either the court (following the proposed procedure) or the SORB for removal from the registry. For those initially required to register for 10 years, this petition should be possible after they have been on the SOR for at least five years. For those initially required to register for life, this petition should be possible after ten years on the registry. Each of these registrants should be given a new validated risk assessment at the time of their petition, where warranted.
- All terms on the LEO registry should now be shorter than 20 years. As evidenced at the August 22 meeting of the Subcommittee on Sex Offender Sentencing, there is no evidence-based justification for such a long term on a police-only registry. Recidivism rates drop off dramatically as an offender ages.
- The membership of the SORB should contain a greater proportion of clinically trained individuals. The board should consist primarily of clinicians who meet the criteria for clinical membership in the Connecticut Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders (CATSO) or the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and who have at least five years of experience in the assessment of sexual offenders. To best serve the stated goal of unbiased risk assessment, no member should be in the employ of any entity contracting with any branch of Connecticut state government to provide treatment or therapy to sex offenders on the SOR.
- The burden of proof at removal hearings should be on the state, not the defendant.
- The victim should not be involved in risk assessment.The assessment is a clinical judgment of future risk, for which past crimes have decreased importance compared to a sentencing judgment. While past crimes are still relevant, the SORB should have sufficient information about these crimes if it is given access to the offender's entire criminal record and the related documentation.
- Judges who will hear applications for removal should be required to attend a course on the efficacy of SORs and validated risk assessments created by the Court Support Services Division.
- Probation/parole officers and the state's attorney should not be permitted to request that an offender's risk tier be elevated because of a failure to meet the conditions of probation/parole or because of additional criminal activity. There are already disciplinary procedures in place to deal with violations of parole/probation. If the offender is convicted of a new sex crime, then his registry terms will be reassessed anyway as a normal part of his criminal prosecution and sentencing.
It is worth noting that, thankfully, sex offending has dropped significantly in Connecticut. In the Connecticut Annual Report of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program for 2015, statistics showed that the drop in the total of all reportable crime included in the report and sex offenses from 2006 to 2015 were both between 33-34%. However, the lack in any dramatic difference between the drop in sex crimes and crime generally should make the Sentencing Commission, as well as the Office of Policy and Management, re-examine the costly new infrastructure created to deal with sex offenders. This review should cover expenses within both the Judicial and Executive branches.
These comments are being written in early September, 2017 as Connecticut still struggles to adopt a state budget and continues to look for reductions in spending. The Committee would be commended to read the proposed recommendations of the Recidivism Reduction Committee where they write, “Randomized studies have shown that punitive policies tend to be less effective overall than treatment-based policies in changing offender behavior...” Connecticut has created over the last 20 years an expensive and punitive sex offender management scheme unlike any created for any other class of criminal behavior, no matter how egregious, invasive or offensive the crime. Not even for domestic violence. Connecticut would make more efficient and effective use of its limited state resources if it dramatically reduced its prohibitively expensive post-occurrence downstream efforts and appropriately increased upstream pre-occurrence public education efforts and adopted the recommendations included in these comments.
CTOSJ believes anyone serious in their review of the SOR, as well as the incredibly expensive sex offender management scheme developed throughout the Executive and Judicial branches of state government should ask a simple, yet serious, question: What is the purpose of the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry?
The development of sex offender registries around the country received its primary impetus from the public outcry over the horrific rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka by her neighbor, a previously convicted repeat violent sex offender in 1994. Only a month after the tragic event, New Jersey created one of the first sex offender registries (SOR), though arguably the best known, with the goal of making the public safer by creating a database of convicted sex offenders.
In 2008, New Jersey reviewed the usefulness and effectiveness of their SOR. The report (1) concluded that the New Jersey SOR was ineffectual at lowering sex offending rates among offenders and did not increase public safety. It also made the recommendation that “given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan's Law on sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable.” The same study further concluded that, “despite widespread community support for these laws, there is virtually no evidence to support their effectiveness in reducing either new first - time sex offenses or sex re-offenses.” (Zogba, et. al, New Jersey Department of Corrections, 2010) Similar studies on the ineffectiveness of SORs have been done in other states, including New York and South Carolina.
If the SOR is then ineffectual at lowering sex offending rates or increasing public safety, then do they at least identify a significant portion of the future sex offending universe? According to Connecticut's 2012 OPM sex offender recidivism study the answer is clearly “no”.
The OPM study contained two facts especially relevant to this Committee's work: 1. Only 3.6 percent of the sex offenders released from prison were arrested for a new sex crime within five years of release, a number not significantly different from 5.3 percent – with 2.7 for first time offenders - in the often cited Department of Justice meta-study (Langan, Schmitt & Durose, Bureau of Justice Statistics); and, 2. If the purpose of the registry is to track potential future sex offenders, the registry targets the wrong group. Following their release, the OPM study showed that while the released non-sex offender prisoners sexually offended at a rate about half that of released convicted sex offenders (1.9% to 3.6%), the non-offenders were arrested for sex offenses by volume at a rate almost ten times greater than the former sex-offenders within the first five years (259 to 27). For comparison, the same DOJ meta-study found released non-sex offender prisoners were arrested for 750% more sex crimes than the original sex offender group. In fact non-sex offenders were responsible for 87% of all sex offenses committed by former prisoners within three years of release. (Langan, Schmitt & Durose, Bureau of Justice Statistics, p. 2-3).
A different lens for looking at the efficacy of SORs in identifying future offenders was an analysis covering twenty years of data in New York State - ten years before NY’s registry was created and ten years after. The study found that 95.9% of all arrests for any sex related offenses were committed by first time offenders and 94.1% of all arrests for crimes against children were likewise by first-time offenders. The same study found that over-all “only about 4% of all arrests for sexual offenses involved individuals with a prior sexual offense conviction.” (Sandler, Freeman & Socia, K., Psychology, Public Policy and Law, pp. 297-298).
The same New York study, which included over 160,000 individuals, over twenty years, showed rates of offending did not change in the ten years following implementation of a SOR. The study concluded the imposition of a SOR in New York “had no significant impact on rates of total sexual offending, rape, or child molestation.” It also had no significant impact on first time offending or repeat offending. Further, based on analysis of studies conducted in ten other states the same researchers concluded that “community notification plans” including sex offender registries are of “limited” value (Sandler, Freeman & Socia, K., Psychology, Public Policy and Law, pp. 297, 287).
How about collateral damage from SORs? As if ineffectiveness wasn't enough SORs have been found to have collateral damages. Seminal research done by Richard Tewksbury Collateral Consequences of Sex Offender Registration, 21 J. CONTEMP. CRIM. JUSTICE 67, 75 (2005) found that roughly 42.7% of offenders surveyed reported losing a job due to their registration; 23.1% a denial of a promotion; and 45.3% a loss or denial of housing.
CTOSJ doesn't believe evidence-based research has shown any justification for the existence of a sex offender registry in Connecticut, either public or with a law enforcement component. At its most basic, the SOR creates an unwarranted expense for the State to needlessly target a group of people who are unlikely to commit another sex offense. As a result already scarce resources are taken away from public education to prevent future sex offending and providing services to victims. The same holds true for virtually all of the recommendations of the Sentencing Subcommittee of the Special Committee on Sex Offenders. And as the decision by Judge Matsch of Colorado shows, by continuing the SOR Connecticut is opening itself to potential suit and accompanying damages.
If when evidence-based science and independent academic study of sex offender registries (SOR) consistently show them to be of little to no help in reducing sex offenses or increasing public safety while causing significant collateral damage and when evidence-based policies are driving all other reforms in Connecticut's progressive and effective criminal justice agenda, the Committee should consider our recommendations on the issues we have mentioned.
Connecticut for One Standard of Justice * PO 46 New Canaan, CT * CTOSJ.ORG * 203.680.0567