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How society helps sex offenders behave
What does it take to keep a convicted sex offender from re-offending?
The biggest obstacle in reducing sex crimes is the lack of communication. At least 60 percent of sexual assaults against children, women and men go unreported. Most cases are reported long after the incident. Many offenders are victims themselves.
Since 1990, Washington has required public registration and notification of convicted sex offenders. Along with supervision as required by law, sex offenders need a supportive environment that steers them away from bad behavior. Churches are often behind-the-scenes heroes in this process.
“Faith communities have always played a key role in helping offenders reintegrate,” said Alisa Klein, public policy consultant for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. She said faith communities offer a place for offenders to get their spiritual needs met. They also foster a sense of community, and sometimes assist offenders in finding jobs or housing. Offenders who lack stability in these areas are more likely to regress into criminal behavior.
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) sponsored an interfaith symposium on Jan. 25 in Federal Way. Representatives from local faith communities, prison ministries, the Department of Corrections and victim advocacy organizations examined the keys to public safety in regards to sex offenders.
KCSARC emphasizes the need to raise awareness and “end the silence” that accompanies this often taboo topic.
In the past 20 years of sex offender registration, Washington has seen a significant reduction (60 percent) in such crimes, said Dana Hufford, community corrections risk specialist.
“It’s a real cultural shift,” said Hufford, who works with the Department of Corrections. She credits the increased accountability of offenders, coupled with community partnerships, for this reduction. Overall, she said 13 percent of sex offenders who have gone through the judicial process will re-offend, treated or not.
“A sex offender needs social structure in the community in order to not re-offend,” Hufford said. “He needs positive relationships that hold him accountable.”
The U.S. Justice Department cites a study that says registration laws have made little difference as to whether a perpetrator re-offends. Other studies suggests that offenders are more likely to relapse because of a pre-existing relationship with the victim, regardless of the offender’s residence. The majority of sex crimes are committed by someone the victim knows — either a family member or acquaintance.
The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) advocates for specialized treatment and correct assessments of an offender’s level of risk for re-offending.
In Washington, convicted sex offenders have access to treatment and counseling during incarceration as well as one year after their release. Counselors like Mark Hudson specialize in treating high-risk offenders, some of whom are homeless upon re-entering society. If the offender wants to attend church, for example, Hudson talks with the pastors and church leadership to work on a safety plan. He would also be present to ensure proper disclosure of the offender’s crimes.
“My role is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Hudson, who works for the state Department of Corrections.
Proposed cuts to the state Department of Corrections budget of $1.6 billion will mean less supervision of convicted felons and sex offenders. With that in mind, the symposium stressed the need for stronger community partnerships to pick up the slack.
Controversial state and federal laws
The Community Protection Act of 1990 was created on the heels of two violent sex crimes in the Puget Sound region.
The controversial program allows for indefinite incarceration of the most dangerous sex offenders who still pose a risk at the end of their sentences. More than 300 “sexually violent predators” have been committed under this law, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office. A 2010 State Supreme Court decision made it easier for offenders to challenge their confinement once a year. In December 2011, a proposal called for transferring responsibility of these particular cases in order to reduce the state’s related legal costs.
The Seattle Times recently published a comprehensive special report titled “Price of protection: State wastes millions helping sex predators avoid lockup.” The report notes that Washington spends nearly $12 million a year in legal bills related to the program, which is “plagued by runaway legal costs, a lack of financial oversight and layers of secrecy.”
Passed in 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act is considered the most significant federal legislation. The law calls for more comprehensive registration and monitoring of sex offenders. It was named after Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old boy who as kidnapped in 1981 from a Florida mall and later found murdered.
However, only seven states have met the law’s requirements. Washington has yet to comply. According to a June 2011 report in the Washington (D.C.) Examiner, the cost of implementing the unfunded mandate has slowed states’ progress.
Federal Way connection
In Federal Way, there are 217 registered sex offenders. According to Federal Way police, 21 active registered sex offenders are homeless, 19 have inactive registration (no longer required to report or register), and nine have died.
Every year, Federal Way police check that all of the city’s registered sex offenders are in the right place.
Since 2008, the additional money needed for this operation has come from a King County grant. The funding for the 2011 sex offender check-in was secured with a grant for $34,956.88.
There are three classification levels for sex offenders. Level one indicates the least likely to reoffend, and therefore the least dangerous of these individuals. Level three is considered the most likely to reoffend and the most dangerous to the community. The city checks on level one offenders once a year, level two offenders twice a year and level three offenders every three months.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) has a 24-hour resource line at (888) 998-6423. Also visit www.kcsarc.org.