Saturday, March 24, 2018

Will state legislators render teachers 'improper' sex cops?

OpEd in last week's paper

Will state legislators render teachers 'improper' sex cops?

Updated Mar 19; Posted Mar 19

By Cameron Smith

We want schools to be educational safe havens for our children. At the same time, public policies designed to make schools safer may carry unintended consequences. Legislation making teachers liable for policing "improper sexual conduct" is winding its way through the Alabama Legislature, and it shouldn't become law without serious vetting by legislators.

Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Autauga County) introduced SB26 responding to a constituent family's preference that juvenile sexual offenders (JSOs) not be "mainstreamed" in Alabama's public schools. At the beginning of this school year, the family's son spotted the JSO who had abused his sister attending Autauga County high school.

Cambliss's legislation kicks moderate and high-risk juvenile sex offenders out of public schools entirely. Those students would move to alternative education programs, homeschooling or virtual schools. Such changes create budgetary and logistical challenges in their own right, but also make redirecting those JSOs away from poor behavioral choices that much harder.

The bigger problem with SB26 is what happens with "low-risk" juveniles who remain in public school classrooms.

The recidivism rate of youth adjudicated for sexual offenses is already extremely low. Research by Dr. Michael Caldwell at the University of Wisconsin suggests, "[T]he most current sexual recidivism rate is likely to be below 3%." When we're talking about the "low-risk" contingency of this entire population, it's an even smaller number.

SB26 shares information about low-risk JSOs with local law enforcement, the local superintendent of education, local board of education, principal of the school, and supervisory staff and teachers.

Improperly disclosing such information is a Class C felony--significant criminal liability.

The legislation also requires classroom teachers to report violations of a JSO's agreed-upon "individualized student safety plan" to their principals. The plans are essentially predetermined monitoring protocols for these low-risk juvenile offenders. Monitoring sounds simple enough except that the behavior scrutinized is so vague as to include "behavior that may be indicative of improper sexual activity." That standard is far broader than the criminal legal standard we expect classroom educators to understand and report.

Consider just one example. Should a low-risk offender be reported for asking a peer for his or her phone number? Under normal circumstances, it's innocuous. Is it an indicator of problematic conduct for an adjudicated juvenile? Even if it's not an actual indicator, might it be?

Teachers shouldn't be forced to agonize over that sort of decision.

They're trying to instruct a classroom full of children--a tall order without any new legislative burdens. Now they're liable for a felony if they disclose the JSO's status and expected to monitor low-risk JSOs with excruciating attention to detail according to standards that don't currently exist. They're teachers, not classroom sex cops or juvenile probation officers.

JSO's ought to face the consequences of their actions, and we should make every effort to ensure that victims are made whole and protected. The goal of having a juvenile system in the first place is giving children the opportunity to get their lives on a better path that doesn't end up in a perpetual life of crime--with many future victims.

We're right to focus on school safety, but legislators should carefully consider SB26's unintended impacts on Alabama's classrooms before it becomes law.

Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Shoals area Sheriff catching heat for outreach ministry

When are idiots in the Shoals area going to educate themselves instead of constantly attacking anything successful?

Sheriff catching heat for outreach ministry

By Russ Corey Staff Writer 22 hrs ago

TUSCUMBIA — Chester McKinney said he's not ashamed of what he's doing with a new faith-based Outreach Re-entry Ministry designed to help criminal offenders return to society after being released from prison.

McKinney, the owner of McVantage Packaging, which many people know as McKinney Lumber Co. on U.S. 43, said he simply "wants a chance to fail."

"But what if we succeed?" he asked.

The program is designed to help inmates transition back into the community through a strict program that requires participants to give up their old life, embrace God, and learn an array of life skills.

Inmates can sign up for the program while they are still in prison, said Rev. Willie Simpson, the executive director of the program. Simpson said he himself is a former inmate who has been out of prison for 30 years.

"This isn't a job," he said. "This is a calling for me."

McKinney called the ministry a pilot program that, if successful, could be a model for similar programs in other areas.

"It's faith-based and I'm not apologizing for that," McKinney said.

He said participants are vetted before they can enter the program, and they must sign an agreement to abide by all rules. They must pay $220 per week to participate, and they live at the old Four Way Inn on U.S. 43, which is surrounded by McVantage Products.

At present, there are only two people in the program. They are both sex offenders, but McKinney said they were convicted of "non-contact" sex offenses, which are offenses where the defendant did not have actual contact with a victim.

Both are from outside the Shoals, which causes some concern for Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson.

The sheriff said the county does not need criminal offenders from outside the Shoals.

McKinney, however, said the newly released inmates need to be "taken out of their comfort zone," meaning, they need to put distance between themselves and those who could influence them and lead them back to alcohol abuse, drugs or crime, and possibly back to prison.

He said the program is not for local offenders.

Williamson said both sex offenders involved in McKinney's program have registered with the sheriff's office as they're required to do by law. Sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school, or a Department of Human Resources certified day care center.

In other words, they're complying with the law.

While he may not like their presence in Colbert County, Williamson said there isn't anything legally he can do about it.

However, Williamson said he researching what can be done about inmates from outside the area coming into Colbert County.

"I have a problem with them bringing sex offenders in here," he said. "We have our own sex offenders. I have a problem with bringing violent offenders in here."

The sheriff said there are 122 sex offenders living in Colbert County.

McKinney said he would not allow any "sexual predators" on his property. He said the motel is not owned by McVantage Products, but by a company that is affiliated with McVantage.

Williamson said he has received numerous phone calls about the situation. McKinney said he has also heard complaints, but he's not deterred by the criticism. He just wants to have an opportunity to see if the program can be successful.

According to the agenda for Tuesday's Colbert County Commission meeting, one person has asked to address the commission on the topic.