My turn: A penalty that lasts a lifetime

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Why do we need to spend a half million dollars to keep an eye on sex offenders? What is the ACTUAL recidivism rate of sex offenders (the rate at which they return to prison for a sex crime)? According to the most exhaustive study EVER done on criminal recidivism in general and sex offender recidivism in particular the national average of S.O. recidivism is 3.5 percent.

The U.S. Justice Department (certainly no friend of sex offenders) did a recidivism study in 1994 involving the release of 272,111 prisoners from prisons in 15 states. They tracked these prisoners for a period of three years to make accurate determinations with regard to their recidivism rate. Of the 272,111 prisoners released, there were 9,691 male sex offenders, and just 3.5 percent, or 339 out of 9,691, were returned to prison within that three-year period for another sex crime. And nearly half were re-convicted within the first year, so the average decreased during the second and third year, and fell dramatically after that, which is why they ended the study at that point.

Now let me be VERY clear about the fact that even ONE sex offense is one too many as far as I am concerned. I am a convicted sex offender as I was convicted of rape in 1976, and I just want all the cards on the table. And while I have not been convicted of any crime in the last 35-plus years, (either felony or misdemeanor), I am as heartbroken and sorry today about what I did, as I was when I sobered up those many years ago. I honestly believe that anyone convicted of a sex crime today should absolutely receive the longest prison sentence possible and be forced to successfully complete any S.O. program that may be available to them. And those who repeat — keep them forever!

While Sex Offender Legislation has served to reduce the recidivism rate, I want to be clear that it has never been more than 13 to 15 percent, even before any legislation. But today, with over 95 percent of once-caught sex offenders NOT re-offending with regard to sex crimes, maybe it is time to re-evaluate the law and its effects on people's lives. If someone has been clean for say seven years, why not allow him (or her) to be exempt from the requirement to register, and have their information expunged from the registry? Not have their criminal record expunged, just their registry info. Anyone would still be able to do a background check on them as they would anyone with a criminal record, but they would have earned the right to now be treated (again) as any other criminal.

According to the World Almanac and Book or Facts 2012, there were 309 million crimes reported to police in 2010. Only 10 million of those reports resulted in an arrest. Jails, federal and state prisons hold upwards of 2 million people on any given day of any given year, and they are operating above capacity. In many jails (and some prisons) they are sleeping on the floor waiting for a bed. Let's use the very conservative number of 50 percent and say that is the number of convictions resulting from those 10 million arrests. So what does the system do with 5 million newly convicted criminals in 2010? The same thing they do with that number EVERY year. They put them in jail and/or prison as beds become available.

The average number of prisoners released from prisons in the U.S. each year is from 300,000 to 400,000, so that is exactly how many the system can send to prison every year. So let's take the high number of 400,000 beds becoming available — what happens to the other 4.6 million newly convicted criminals? They put as many as possible on probation, but states are closing their most inefficient prisons and are reducing their numbers of probation and parole officers due to budget cuts (that we have not yet seen the last of). So what happens to them is really NOTHING! The system kicks them loose to go out and commit more crimes. They have limited space and limited funds — what else are they going to do?

All good magicians know that the human consciousness is singular. They know they have to keep your attention focused on certain things they are doing in order to keep you from focusing on certain other things they are doing in order for their 'trick' to be successful. Unfortunately, politicians and law enforcement have also figured that out. They know that as long as they can keep you focused on sex offenders, you will not be focused on the REAL crime problems in America. And believe me, when only 33 crime reports end in an arrest out of every 1,000 crime reports to police — there is a problem!

In fact, the city of Spokane (due to budget constraints) has eliminated its property crime unit. If someone breaks into your home in Spokane and you call the police, you will wait a very long time for a response (if you get one at all). One lady had her home broken into and the thieves defecated on her couch and wiped themselves on a quilt that her deceased mother had made for her by hand. When she called the police to report the break-in, and report that she had some DNA that might be useful in identifying the thieves, they said they would send someone out — but they never did.

So the task force sent a citizen to prison for 10 years because he moved without telling them. He didn't re-offend, he simply moved without telling them. What is America coming to? This is not the America I grew up in — and I think people should think long and hard about what is happening to us. I honestly believe that with the militarization of all the police departments, all the pieces are in place for a "Police State."

RSOs are living in a very dark tunnel, and currently there is absolutely no light at the end of it. And there are upward of three quarter of a million RSOs running around out here in society with little or no supervision — and still over 95 percent are not committing new sex crimes. No country can assign upwards of a million of its citizens to the status of "SOCIAL CADAVER" and leave them there hanging out to dry for the rest of their lives without it coming back to haunt them at some point. Where is the forgiveness in that?

These S.O. laws are honestly NOT about public safety — not with a 3.5 percent recidivism rate nationally. These laws are about revenge, retribution, retaliation and punishment of the worst kind. They have made us the most feared and hated element that this society has ever known — and it's simply not necessary.

Four registrants have been (officially) murdered in their homes for absolutely nothing more than being an RSO. Others I am sure have been murdered but the police are quick to cover up the murders of S.O.s if at all possible. I know of one who was shot to death in the privacy of his own back yard one night, and because he has a history of drugs, they wrote it off as a "drug deal gone bad" and there was no further investigation of the matter. I myself have had my front window broken and all four tires on my pickup truck slashed, and have been the victim of many a drive-by verbal assault while out in my front yard during the good weather.

The letter I received from the Idaho Department of Criminal Identification recently stated that they were putting additional restrictions on all S.O.s because the Idaho Legislature has determined that "we were all a danger to society." I haven't been convicted of any crime in more than 35 years; how am I a danger to society? And the other 95 percent of S.O.s who are not re-offending — how are they a danger?

I just want for myself and my family to know what it is to have even a semi-normal social life again — PLEASE! I am old (I'm 69) and I don't want to die a registered sex offender when I know that is not what I am — and have not been for many years.

Arthur Johnson is a Rathdrum resident.

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