Friday, June 27, 2008

Risk Assessment and Prison

In this post, titled "Examining the School to Prison Pipeline, readers of Doug's blog respond with interesting comments on the topic of the overincarceration and undereducation of our nation's citizenry. It leads naturally to ask not why are so many low risk offenders being locked up, but how can you tell the low risk offender apart from the truly dangerous, and habitual. Is it really that difficult?

1 comment:

monstermart said...

I am a former sex offender living in Washington State, where the AWA has yet to be implemented. Up here sex offenders are still classified by a presumed "likelihood" to re-offend. While this risk assessment method has problems—the most obvious being that nobody can predict the future—it can allow first-time felony sex offenders a low-level classification, thereby a chance to rebuild their lives in relative freedom after serving their sentence. But only if their record is squeaky clean otherwise.
Under this method many non-sexual factors are considered that can (and do) raise offender’s "likelihood" levels, including failure to register for any reason, having alcohol or drug convictions, or failing to complete treatment for any reason. Even homelessness and joblessness can apparently increase an offenders rating here, which of course is ironic since sex offender registration often manifests these conditions.
It’s impossible to determine exactly what factors (non-sexual or otherwise) are given priority under this method because the public is prohibited from viewing offender assessments, including the offenders profoundly affected by them! Makes you wonder what there is to hide. One thing is clear: Authorities here have abused their powers by re-classifying offenders at high levels without due cause. Former Level 1 offender John Michael Isley was re-classified to Level 3 for simply moving his family close to his new job! What could he do? Zippo! Sex offenders here are also denied the legal right to appeal their classifications under this system; you’re stuck with the level you get.
Elsewhere now, under the AWA, sex offenders are being classified by the "seriousness" of their sex crime, and nothing else is considered. If one commits a serious sex crime, the simple logic goes, they get a serious rating. But is this new method simple? Sex-crime titles can be very misleading. And let’s not forget that convictions won under plea bargains may have little to do with what the offender actually did.
Now if protecting children is the AWA’s primary goal, as they promote, then the crime of Child Enticement with a Sexual Motivation would seem pretty serious to most. But under the AWA it’s listed under Tier I, the least-serious category. Sexual Battery, on the other hand, is a Tier III offense, carrying lifelong registration and aggressive public notification. In other words: monster treatment and publicity. By the sound of it, many people assume that Sexual Battery means force was used and/or injury was done. But this inflammatory title covers many clearly non-violent sexual transgressions, sometimes no more than an inappropriate touch. I was convicted of Sexual Battery for kissing my roommate’s thigh.
Furthermore, under the AWA, if the court determines there was an attempt to commit a felony sex crime of any type, Tier III classification results. Simply stated, one doesn’t have to actually commit the monstrous sex crime to get the monstrous rating.
The AWA’s new Tier system is being sold as one that will make the public safer. Yet under this new classification system hundreds of former low-risk sex offenders, if not now thousands, have been re-classified to monster level (Tier III) under this new system. How does this help the public determine who is truly dangerous and who is not? I would argue it does just the opposite. The one positive change I see with the AWA is that it provides a mechanism for offenders to appeal their classifications, where there was none before, at least not in Washington. As a result now hundreds, if not thousands, of cases have been filed appealing the AWA’s methods. What can I say but Good Luck.