It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Rev. C David Hess, a co-founder of USA FAIR. David was the founder of the SO Hopeful NY support group website for former offenders in New York and was known as "The Parson." A Baptist Minister in West Henrietta, NY, David extended his ministry beyond his church to reach out to give comfort and support to law abiding former offenders and their families who have struggled with the collateral damage of the sex offender registry.
David was a key figure in the launching of USA FAIR and we will miss him enormously. The best tribute for David comes from his own words and deeds. An advocate for reform up to the end of his life, David sent the following letter to his New York State Senator just days before he passed on March 7th. We reprint it here in tribute to David. May we continue the struggle for justice with his grace.
I don’t mean this to be a downer, but I am presently receiving palliative care in Strong Hospital in Rochester. I was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer two weeks ago.
I have met on two occasions with your staff with other members of USA FAIR (Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry). I felt the need to tell you more of my personal story in what is likely to be my final communication with you.
I am the pastor of the West Henrietta Baptist Church and a respected leader in the community. I also am a Level 1 registered sex offender. In November of 1996, a computer technician found obscene images of teens on my computer, which I had downloaded from the Internet. It would be a very long story for me to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that I pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempted possession of an obscene sexual performance by a child. I paid a fine and served a year on probation. I resigned from the church which I was serving at the time. (First Baptist Church of Hamilton, NY, the mother church of Colgate University).
I underwent two extensive psychological evaluations, which found that I posed “no meaningful threat” to anyone. After evaluating all the circumstances of my crime and psychological evaluations, the mainline denomination of which I am a member was supportive of my continuing in pastoral ministry. I have been serving my present church since April of 1998. I informed the entire congregation of my criminal conviction during my initial interview. My church is thrilled to have me as their pastor, and believe me; I am thrilled to be serving them. Considering all the hysteria that there is around this issue, I have been blessed to be surrounded by many people with a sense of rationality and grace. Of course, I have experienced the irrational and hysterical as well.
Of course, since quite a lot of new people have joined our church during my tenure, I am sure that quite a few present members do not know of my past.
I write all of this to say, when you are enacting sex offender legislation in the future, please keep me in mind. Many (actually most) former offenders can live safely in the community, never re-offend, and become productive members of society, if given a chance.
I always say that I am not an advocate for sex offenders, I am an advocate for evidence based sex offender laws and policies. Ultimately the policies and laws that are best for former offenders make for safer communities.
Myth based laws that lead to unemployment, homelessness, and isolation increase the risk of recidivism and make for less safe communities.
I know that you know all this.
I am finding my last days to be quite rich and meaningful. It even has had its funny side. When your times comes (I hope long in the future) that it will be as good for you as it has been for me.
At least my death will get me off the registry. :-) I had hoped for a different exit.
All the best,
Rev. Dr. C. David Hess
Pastor, West Henrietta Baptist Church
At the end of December, Shana Rowan, the founding Executive Director of USA FAIR informed us that she would need to step down as Executive Director due to health and family issues. Shana played a critical role in the launch of USA FAIR and we thank her for her fearless courage in always being willing to speak out for the rights of law abiding former offenders and their family members.
As of January 1st, we have been without an Executive Director and at this time USA FAIR is starting a search to fill this important position. This individual must possess strong oral and written communications skills and be wiling to speak publicly to the news media on the full range of issues that impact registrants and their families.
If you would be interested in being considered for this position, or would like to recommend someone, please write to Trudy Plotkin, Membership Director at: firstname.lastname@example.org
USA FAIR had a successful first year, having our voices heard throughout the nation on numerous media outlets, exhibiting at the conventions of both the National Conference of State Legislators and the American Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers - and raising more than $20,000 from our members to support our efforts.
We are confident that we will be able to build on this success in 2014 and know that we can count on your continued support.
For the first time, USA FAIR was an exhibitor at the ATSA Annual Conference held this year in Chicago from October 30th through November 2nd. This is the largest annual gathering of people involved in sex offender treatment and management.
I am pleased to report that the reception we received was fantastic. So many people visited our table that I had to order reprints of our hand-out materials! The conference participants were genuinely excited to see that family members of registrants were showing up to become a part of the fight for reasoned based laws.
Many attendees asked how they could get involved to work with us and indicated that they would refer their clients to us. Several state chapter representatives of ATSA expressed a desire to strategize with us on how to achieve reform and asked about USA FAIR giving presentations before their chapters.
I was joined by a strong team of reformers, including Gail Colletta and Barbra McClamma of Florida Action Committee.
None of this would have happened, of course, without the generous donations of USA FAIR members.
(Pictured in photo: Shana Rowan with ATSA's Jim Brandt.)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a very reasoned editorial that reflected many facts about the sex offender registry in response to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's veto of legislation that would have removed all juvenile offenders from the registry.
USA FAIR and Missouri Citizens for Reform reached out by correspondence and phone calls to the Editors of this leading Midwest newspaper in response to the veto and urged that the Editors survey the voluminous research conducted over the last decade on low sex offender recidivism and the ineffectiveness of the registry.
It gives us hope when media organizations learn and publish the truth on this issue which impacts so many lives.
You can read the editorial HERE.
Gail Colletta and Shana Rowan at the USA FAIR table at NCSL
USA FAIR's exhibit at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Atlanta, Georgia was well received by state representatives from throughout the country - allowing hundreds of contacts over the three-day event.
Executive Director Shana Rowan was joined by Gail Colletta, President of the Florida Action Committee and Caution Click, in staffing USA FAIR's table. Reform advocates from Women Against the Registry, RSOL, SOSEN, Illinois Voices for Reform and Texas Voices conducted similar outreach at a nearby exhibit - providing double coverage to the largest annual gathering of state legislators.
Shana and Gail reported that legislators very much appreciated the information we provided on low sex offender recidivism, the ineffectiveness of residency restrictions, the harm that the registry inflicts upon the family members of registrants - as well as a host of other issues, including the Adam Walsh Act, juvenile offenders, and the public registry.
Many expressed strong interest in learning more about evidence-based policies that can do a better job at protecting the public than current laws, which several legislators acknowledged were emotionally driven.
According to Shana, "The presence of sex offender law reform advocates at this national conference represents a maturing of our movement, but it is just a beginning. State organizers need to continue their work in their respective states and we need to be back at this conference next year and every year until we have reason-based laws from coast to coast."
USA FAIR wishes to thank all of its donors who made attending this conference possible.
Today, USA FAIR issued the following joint press release:
ATLANTA, GA – For the first time ever, five national advocacy groups fighting for sex offender registry reform have come together to exhibit at the National Conference of State Legislatures at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Booth 114 will be manned by USA FAIR, Inc. (USA Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry), a national nonprofit group representing family members of people on the registry; Florida Action Committee, a state-level advocacy group fighting for evidence-based sex offender laws; and Caution Click National Campaign for Reform (CCNCR), a federal child-pornography awareness campaign.
Booth 315 will be manned by Women Against the Registry, created in 2011 to publicly advocate for the family members of those convicted of a sex offense. Joining W.A.R. is Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL), Sex Offender Solution and Education Network (SOSEN), Illinois Voices for Reason and Texas Voices. Literature pertaining to the 'End Mass Incarceration' National March on Washington D.C. 2014 is also available. All of the groups point to voluminous governmental and independent research, which disproves the common beliefs that all sex offenders are dangerous to children and have high recidivism rates as the basis for their philosophies.
All of us involved in sex offender law reform know the pattern. A registered sex offender commits a heinous act and in addition to rightfully punishing that offender, lawmakers introduce a new registry law, typically named after the victim, that impacts the lives of law abiding former offenders who have nothing in common with the heinous repeat offender.
It's no accident that most of the laws that impact former offenders are named after murdered children - even though all but a handful of registrants are no more likely to abduct and murder a child than the elected officials who adopt these laws.
We need to speak out against treating all registrants the same - particularly when a heinous crime is committed by someone on the registry. As part of this mission, USA FAIR Executive Director Shana Rowan authored an op-ed column that appeared today in the Orlando Sentinel.
You can read the article HERE.
Those of us who have been fighting for sex offender law reform have long been up against the myth of high sex offender recidivism. Although extensive research has now proved beyond any doubt that sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system - the powerful and heartbreaking narratives of sex offender recidivists who have committed heinous acts emotionally obscures what should be self-evident to all.
Now there is a new myth that is taking root on this issue - the myth that offenders who fail to register have a higher risk of committing a new sex crime. Although this issue has not been studied as thoroughly as overall recidivism, the few studies done to date show that there is no correlation between a failure to register and sex crime recidivism.
On Wednesday, June 26th, I released a statement on behalf of USA FAIR regarding the murder of 8-year-old Cherish Periwinkle. Donald Smith, a registered sex offender in Florida has been charged with the crime. Our statement follows:
“If these charges are proven to be true, then the full weight of Florida law should be brought down upon Donald Smith for committing such a heinous act.
The family members of registered sex offenders as well as law abiding former offenders throughout this nation condemn this senseless act and our hearts are with Cherish’s family who are now suffering an unimaginable loss.
At this time, as we grieve with our fellow citizens, the family members of registrants have an additional legitimate concern - that this lone individual’s horrible act could become the latest high profile crime to unjustly impact the lives of law abiding former offenders who have nothing in common with this offender but the fact that their names are also on the registry.
Lenore Skenazy, author of the popular book "Free Range Kids" and a blog of the same name, recently showed support for reason-based laws for former sex offenders by inviting USA FAIR Executive Director Shana Rowan to author a guest post telling her story.
Ms. Skenazy said she was proud to share Shana's story, stating, "I continue to believe the Sex Offender Registry is not keeping kids any safer and yet it is ruining a lot of lives." She called USA FAIR's mission to promote fact-based laws and to shine the light on the harm that the registry is inflicting upon former offenders and their families "a noble goal."
We thank Ms. Skenazy for her support in helping USA FAIR to focus on the collateral damage that the registry inflicts upon the loved-ones of registrants.
You can read Shana's post HERE.