June 27, 2011

Bozeman tries to cope with registered sexual offender problem

Lets just assume the neighbor did ogle the kids. Dratz claims it went on for a YEAR, now is there a lick of truth to that? What person, esp. a Teacher in this day and age, would not do something about a neighbor if the neighbor was ogling kids in her yard. Why did she not call the police?
6-27-2011 Montana:

Bozeman preschool teacher Constance Dratz didn't realize for a year that the neighbor she claims had ogled her bathing-suit-clad students was a sex offender.

The neighbor, David John Woodfin, had been sentenced to 10 years in a Utah state prison for sexually abusing a child - not the type of person Dratz wanted anywhere near her young students.

And as the law now reads, she could do little about it.

State and federal law requires sexual offenders to register with the state and let authorities know where they are living. That information is published online so people can see if sexual offenders live in their neighborhoods.

Now, Dratz wants a city ordinance on the books that would bar sexual offenders from living near schools.

But as states and cities in the U.S. further restrict sexual offenders, law enforcement and rehabilitation advocates are split on whether society wins or loses.

Local prosecutors and law enforcement agents say the registry is a useful tool for keeping kids safe from people who have shown a tendency to sexually offend.

However, statistics indicate released offenders, particularly those who undergo therapy, are unlikely to commit another sexual crime.

Advocates for rehabilitated offenders contend the registry is an additional sentence that castigates ex-convicts who have served their time and makes it hard for them to re-enter society after leaving prison.

And there are questions about how many residency restrictions states and cities can force upon sexual offenders before those offenders decide it's better to go underground.

In Woodfin's case, he failed to register with authorities until this spring, way past the time allowed by law.

Instead, he moved out of the apartment near the preschool earlier this month, and now his whereabouts are unknown.

They're not all pedophiles

Not all sexual offenders are the same or should be treated similarly, said Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert.

"People need to recognize that sexual intercourse without consent of an 18-year-old with a 15-year-old that, in every other sense of the word, was consensual" is not the same as an adult sexually abusing a child, he said. "The only thing making the (teen's crime) illegal is the statute saying that a person of the age of 15 cannot give consent."

It should be seen entirely differently than a pedophile's crime, which "isn't just a teenage dalliance," Lambert said.

According to state Department of Corrections statistics, pedophiles represent less than 4 percent of the sexual offender population in Montana.

Of 91 sexual offenders on Gallatin County's registry, four are considered to have a high risk to re-offend. Yet only one of those four committed a crime against a child.

Sexual crimes cover a wide spectrum of charges, from Peeping Tom and indecent exposure to raping a child. Yet all of the offenders are mandated to register and are condemned to the sexual offender list.

Level three sex offenders - offenders that judges consider the most likely to re-offend - are required to register for life. Level two offenders must register for 25 years and level ones, viewed as the lowest risk to society, for 10 years.

After fulfilling the registry period and spending a decade or more in the community, offenders may petition a judge to remove the requirement. But granting those requests are not popular decisions for elected judges to make.

The chicken or egg theory

About 34 percent of Montana's current prisoners were convicted of sexual crimes, according to statistics compiled by Blair Hopkins, a therapist who treats sexual offenders in the state prison. Of those, more than 90 percent are undergoing or are waiting to begin intensive sexual offender treatment.

Of released sexual offenders who have completed Montana's prison-based therapy program, about 2 percent committed another sexual crime, according to Hopkins' statistics. The national average for untreated offenders is about 20 percent.

Public safety officials tout registration as a means of keeping communities safe. But it isn't the solution, a Bozeman sexual offender therapist said.

"Registration gives people a false sense of security because (those registered) are not the ones who are offending," said Fred Lemons, who initiated the prison-based treatment program in 1980. "Ninety percent of the time it's a family member, acquaintance or neighbor - someone with an established relationship" with the victim.

The registry "creates a false sense of security and a false sense of fear and targets family members of offenders as well," he said. "I think the idea is good, but I think if we limited it to high-risk offenders, then it's going to be more helpful."

The register does seem to have one definite effect.

Statistics show that 25 percent of treated offenders and 49 percent of untreated offenders land back in prison - often for not registering as a sexual offender or another parole violation.

But police and prosecutors maintain the registry is a good way to keep tabs on the most reviled of offenders.

"You could argue that offenders don't re-offend because people are watching them," Lambert said. "Isn't it better that we know where they are and that they are following their treatment, rather than not have any supervisory authority over them?"

The registry is important, Bozeman Police Lt. Rich McLane agreed.

"It lets everyone know this is someone who did something wrong," he said. "It lets the public know that we know where they're at and it will keep a large percentage of offenders honest because they know they're being watched, and they don't want to go back to prison.

"If David Woodfin (Dratz's neighbor) was truly trying to live an honest life and had registered, he would have been able to do anything any other citizen of Bozeman could do," McLane said.

Yet even those tasked with upholding the law recognize the registry's shortcomings.

"It would not be in the best interest of the public and it would be unsafe and irresponsible to think the sexual offender registry is going to keep everyone safe," McLane said. "Because they all had to offend first before they were registered."

"It's kind of like the chicken and the egg theory," said Robert Vanuka, the Bozeman police detective who oversees the city's registry. "Which came first? They're on the registry (now), but they weren't on the registry when they committed the crime."

And many sexual crimes go unreported, victim advocates say.

Victims blame themselves or are too ashamed to report the crime. They don't want to live through the trauma of medical examinations, police questioning and reliving the incident through court testimony. Some may be too young to comprehend that what happened to them is a crime.

McLane and Vanuka said educating children and reporting suspicious activity is the key to preventing the crimes.

If a sexual crime is suspected, parents need to stress to children it's not their fault, Vanuka said. Parents need to foster an environment that builds trust and communication.

"If something just doesn't seem right or someone sees something suspicious, we want them to call us," McLane added.

Dratz's neighbor

Had Woodfin registered after he had moved into his apartment at 1715 W. Kagy Blvd., next to Dratz's Yellowstone Montessori Academy, there may not have been a $75,000 warrant issued for his arrest.

But he didn't register within the 10 days mandated by law. Now he's on the lam.

Woodfin, convicted in Utah in 1994 of two counts of sexually abusing a child, spent 10 years in prison and successfully completed his sentence. But he was still required to register as a sexual offender when he moved to Bozeman last summer. He failed to do so until this spring.

Shortly after police told Woodfin he needed to register, he left Bozeman, possibly the state.

If, as Dratz contends, Woodfin was eyeing her young students, a state law that takes effect in October could resolve the issue.

The law allows police to charge someone previously convicted of a sexual crime with predatory loitering if they dawdle near schools, parks, playgrounds and similar places.

Despite the new statute, Dratz said she intends to pursue a law restricting where sexual offenders can live.

If Bozeman commissioners pass such an ordinance, it will be the first of its kind in Montana.

Sending them underground

But laws such as the one Dratz proposes are not the cure-all many hope for and, in fact, often end up doing more harm than good, authorities said.

Miami's restrictive laws, for example, leave few legal places for sexual offenders to live, relegating more than 70 of them to live in a makeshift tent city beneath a Biscayne Bay bridge.

Placing further restrictions on offenders could cause many to disregard the registry law, McLane said.

"It will drive them underground," he said. "It will make them elude the registration requirement. I don't believe it's the complete solution."

Save for a handful of pedophiles, Lemons said he is concerned that a broad-based law would shackle many of his clients.

"I think you can't put a blanket on every sex offender," he said. "But I would be worried if I had a high-level, predatory-type pedophile living next door to a school. The problem is when you throw out that net and just use the term ‘sex offender' and look at them as all the same. I think you're going to put requirements on people who don't need that."

Even Dratz acknowledges the failings of a potential law.

A 2,000-foot limit around schools would make it impossible for offenders to find a place to live in Bozeman, she said. It would force them to move outside the city, thereby making it difficult for law enforcement to keep track of them.

But that doesn't mean she's not going to pursue it.

"When a sexual offense is committed, an offender pays the price to the society but not to the victim," Dratz said. "The harm to the victim is lifelong and often extends to her family and children."

A new law is not about "just waking up a sexual offender and saying move out," she said. "It's saying, ‘Yoo hoo, women are just not going to put up with this anymore in our society. It's causing too much generational and societal harm.'"

Dratz said she'll probably seek a 500-foot limit but, like police, stresses that education is critical.

"I want more families to be aware of this issue and to see more education," she said. "Children need to be trained, and parents need to know how to talk with their children about it."

Dratz says she plans to organize classes for parents.

Meanwhile, Bozeman commissioners tasked City Attorney Greg Sullivan with researching the issue with the possibility of drafting an ordinance. ..Source.. by Jodi Hausen

Given the volatile nature of the subject, that won't be easy, Lambert said.

"It's an emotional issue that draws lots of passion," he said. "But when people consider how to address it, it needs to be done calmly and dispassionately."


Anonymous said...

Now compared to California,Alabama,
and Louisanna, to name a few, Montana sounds like a resonable state for offenders to live in.I am against any public registry but if you have to comply for the time being Montana appears to be a common sense state with at least some professionals realizing inefectiveness of the registry.Either way as you said eAdvocate, why didn't she just call
the cops?

Anonymous said...

I would love to know where these people get their percentages information they go out of their way to pick the worst ones plus we need to realize that recidivism means reconviction for another sex crime not parole violation Research studies evaluating the effectiveness of current politically and socially acceptable treatment programs have resulted in the classification of three types of programs they can best be described as forced failure, possible, and none. Studies researching Behavior Modification programs that are approved and mandated by the courts the board of post prison supervision and probation officers and implemented by State Hospital’s verified recidivism rates across the country. The (1989) Furby, Weinrott, and Blackshaw study of these studies being the most extensive and meticulously analytical. The studies found that offenders placed on probation with NO therapy are the least likely to re-offend. Offenders sent to jail or Prison also WITHOUT THERAPY are rated second least likely to re-offend. But those who are mandated, volunteer (under threat of prison or jail time) or are sentenced to Behavior Modification therapy are at least twice and as much as ten times as likely to re-offend in the committing of a new sex crime, and will commit other types of violent crimes at unreasonable rates as well. In the George Dix (1976) study, those who had been imprisoned and not treated, only 7.3% were convicted of subsequent sex offense and none of a subsequent non-sex offense. Those who had treatment were convicted at a rate of 16.7% for a subsequent sex offense and 12.5% of a subsequent non-sex related offense. That is a conviction rate of 7.3% without treatment and 29.2% with