Sympathy for the devil 

Police and other experts say some of our laws on sex offenders may be doing more harm than good.

Say the words "registered sex offender" to almost anyone in Arkansas, and the thought that will likely leap to mind is "child molester" — possibly accompanied by the image of a greasy-haired pervert cruising playgrounds in a panel van with a bag of candy on the seat beside him. There's no arguing with an image like that once it sets up shop in a person's head. No use even trying.

The truth, though — as with the truth in any dark corner of society that most folks would rather not think about — is a lot more complicated.

In fact, the crimes that will land you on the registry are numerous (see sidebar on page 16) — from knowingly infecting someone with HIV to promoting prostitution to being a Peeping Tom — with many of them having nothing to do with children per se.

For example: Because Arkansas is required to enforce the sex offender restrictions placed by other states on offenders who relocate here, there were a number of female prostitutes from Louisiana — where prostitution is a registry-level offense — on the Arkansas registry a few years back, evacuees from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Thinking about pulling the classic college prank of "streaking" naked through a public place? If there happen to be any children present and you get caught, you're more than likely looking at a mandatory 15 years as a sex offender. We've been told there's at least one man on the registry because, if you can believe it, he likes to have sex with the umbrella hole of picnic tables. There's another on the registry whose only known victims are dogs.

While the oddball cases are rare, and the majority of those on the list are men who fit anyone's definition of deviant criminal, the term "sex offender" encompasses much more than "child molester."

When we spoke to the manager of the Arkansas Sex Offender Registry in early January, there were 11,268 registered sex offenders in the state of Arkansas: 10,944 men, 324 women. The total grows sometimes by three or four every day; between 800 to 1,000 names have been added every year since the registry was established by the state legislature in 1997.

Of those listed offenders, 2,067 were not yet assessed (mostly inmates, who are required to register on their way into prison if convicted of a sexual offense, but aren't formally classified until they get out). Another 1,084 were Level 1 "low risk" sex offenders. A total of 3,839 were Level 2 "moderate risk" offenders, 4,012 were Level 3 "high risk" offenders and 266 were Level 4s, which are specified by statute as "sexually violent predators." The Level 4s are mostly the ones that keep even hardened cops up at night.

From a drab office in Pine Bluff, the Arkansas Department of Correction's Sex Offender Screening and Risk Assessment (SOSRA) program is doing groundbreaking, internationally-recognized work delving into the minds and motivations of those convicted of sexual crimes, using a combination of technology and old-fashioned interrogation techniques to separate the one-time offenders from the human monsters at the upper end of the scale, so that they can be more accurately assigned to one of the four levels (see sidebar on page 19) that determine the depth and breadth of community notification. It's a proven system, and works well enough that law enforcement agencies all over the world have sought SOSRA's advice.

Still, even the experts in Pine Bluff will tell you that some of the well-intentioned things Arkansas does with SOSRA's numbers once they're assigned — most notably residency restrictions, which can drive offenders far from the support networks, work opportunities, and treatment options that might help them avoid committing another crime — may actually be making us less safe in the long run.

Comments (42)

Showing 1-25 of 42

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-25 of 42

Add a comment

More by David Koon

Most Shared

  • Koch mailer: We know who you are, we know if you vote

    Still more complaints rolling in — including from Republicans — about the mail campaign of the Koch-brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity to scare people into voting.
  • Pat Hays' NRA membership riles Republicans

    Democratic 2nd District Congress candidate Pat Hays is causing conniption fits among Republicans because a new TV ad shows him with his guns and mentions his long-time membership in the National Rifle Association.
  • Talk is cheap; state government isn't: Preparing for the new GOP order

    The state looks at rising prison and school costs in a world where the theme of Republican political campaigns is reducing government and cutting taxes. Does anybody in that party know arithmetic?
  • Live Review: Nahko and Medicine for the People at Rev Room

    Thursday night, Portland, Oregon’s Nahko and Medicine for the People brought their “musical medicine” to Little Rock’s Revolution Music Room, a fitting venue for the socially-conscious music collective. Their uplifting medley of folk, urban and world music, as well as hypnotizing videos featuring their music have enchanted activist-minded music fans across the world in the relatively short time they have been creating music together.
  • What about the Arkansas ballot issues?

    To give the legislature more power, the people less, a wetter state, longer term limits and a bump in the minimum wage.

Latest in Cover Stories

Event Calendar

« »

October

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation