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.
I was joined by fellow advocates for change Gail Colletta, of the Florida Action Committee, and "Once Fallen" blogger, Derek Logue, on HuffPost Live on Tuesday evening, June 4th, to discuss the posting of large red lawn signs in front of the homes of certain people required to register by the Sheriff of Bradford County, Florida.
This act of public shaming is but the latest example of politically driven actions that will do nothing to protect the community, but will undoubtedly subject registrants and their families to harassment and potential vigilantism.
Last week, I and several other founders of USA FAIR attended the New York State ATSA Conference in Albany, NY. ATSA stands for Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, and their members include sex offender and victim treatment providers, other mental health professionals, sex offender policy researchers and those involved in sex offender management.
Our reception could not have been better, with many conference attendees stating that we are an important voice that has been missing from this debate for too long. It was heartening to learn that many people were familiar with USA FAIR and had visited our website. We also had an opportunity to meet some of the leading researchers whose work we quote everyday and started a dialog with the state’s registry office about a common concern: lack of sufficient public education on the issue.