Teaching Kids To Fight Being Lifelong Victims

The Hartford Courant

June 6, 2014

Original Article

One law can rescue people from the spiral of self-hatred that adds them to the growing pile of prisoners in the country’s correctional facilities.

And at the close of the Connecticut General Assembly’s most recent session in May, our legislators passed that law, perhaps without fully understanding that it is the most comprehensive anti-crime law that Connecticut’s citizens have seen in a long time. It’s headed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk and he should sign it into law.

They call this law “Erin’s Law” after Erin Merryn, its champion. Merryn is a sexual abuse survivor from Illinois who noted that her elementary school’s drills — tornado, bus, stop-drop-and-roll for fires and DARE’s eight ways to say no to drugs — never included any training on how to escape a child molester or explained how to discern the difference between good and bad touches, or how to find a trusted adult to report abuse. Merryn could roll her way out of a burning bus during a tornado, but she had no idea how to stop two separate perpetrators from raping her before she turned 13

Merryn has become a tireless advocate for her namesake law, a law that will implement recognized, age-specific curriculums in Connecticut’s schools to teach children how to prevent being sexually victimized through classes including “How to Tell Today,” “How to Get Away” and “My Body Belongs to Me.”

(This actually has the foundation to truly help and to truly prevent crime. Let’s hope that this is in fact signed in to law and that it is properly done with the right education)

Passing Erin’s Law can chip away at the state’s — and the country’s — problem of over-incarceration by preventing the single most statistically significant precursor to criminal behavior: childhood sexual abuse.

A Department of Justice study showed 68 percent of adult male prisoners suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect before the age of 12. The data on female offenders are worse: 68 percent to 95 percent were sexually abused, according to various public health surveys. More than any other social problem — poverty, undereducation, mental illness, racism or social isolation — sexual abuse correlates so significantly with crime that it is no extreme stretch to assert that sexual abuse causes crime. It logically follows that to prevent crime and reduce prison populations, we must prevent childhood sexual abuse.

So far, society has convinced itself that the best way to prevent sexually based crimes against children, already at alarming rates — one in four girls and one in six boys experience molestation before age 18 — is to compile “stranger danger” directories, registries of sex offenders that we use to kick people out of our communities so that kids cannot interact with them.

Collectively called “Megan’s Laws” after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old from New Jersey who was abducted, molested and killed by her convicted sex offender neighbor, the laws we expect to prevent childhood sexual abuse are residency restrictions and disclosures that amount to little more than human zoning regulations. Under the various forms of Megan’s Law, ostracization is our protection. We think absence and distance neutralize any hazard if it’s not allowed to live next door to us.

Megan’s Laws neglect one central truth to the childhood sexual abuse epidemic that Erin’s Law acknowledges: 90 percent of sexual abusers are someone whom the child victim knows. Megan’s Laws do not save the initial victims from molestation in the first place as Erin’s Law does.

(I applaud the fact that this writer and activist actually spoke the truth. Society and politicians have for to long used fear and myth to pass laws that help no one and prevent nothing. The only thing any of the Sex Offender laws have thus far done is to continue to create new victims and hurt everyone.)

Despite its undeniable logic and likelihood to curb not only childhood sexual abuse but later crimes committed by its victims, only 14 states have passed Erin’s Law, with Connecticut poised to join them, if the governor signs the bill. Megan is much more popular than Erin, as 36 states lack any discernible childhood sexual abuse prevention strategy other than using registries to paste labels on offenders who have already hurt someone and to block them from living in certain places.

(This should be the most upsetting factor to everyone. Why do politicians refuse to pass laws that may in fact prevent crime? But instead continue down the path of useless laws that do nothing? Should not protecting everyone be a first priority?)

Because Erin’s Law has the potential to stop childhood sexual abuse from happening in the first place, it is more likely to prevent crime — both the original molestation and a victim’s later misbehavior if the abuse goes untreated — than Megan’s Laws’ stranger isolation strategies. Erin Merryn is more than a victims’ advocate; she is a crime-fighter of superhero proportions.

Chandra Bozelko of Orange was formerly Inmate No. 330445 at York Correctional Institution and is the author of “Up The River Anthology.”

August 19, 2014Permalink

Officials: Sex offenders to be moved out of Norwich

 

Original Article

Norwich — At least two of the three sex offenders placed in apartments in Occum and Greeneville will be moved out of the city because of public scrutiny, state officials confirmed Friday.

Norwich officials still plan to fight to prevent any more offenders from being placed in the city from the January Center, a sex offender treatment center on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom will ask Montville officials and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to co-sign a letter with Norwich officials asking for a state review of the January Center program and operations.

About two dozen Norwich and Montville officials, along with local legislators representing the two municipalities, met for 90 minutes Friday to raise numerous complaints about the operation of the January Center. Montville officials claimed the state lied about how the center would operate and violated provisions in a signed agreement between the host town and the state.

State Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, told officials that the state Department of Correction commissioner has informed them that the two offenders on parole from the DOC would be moved from the apartments in Occum and Greeneville.

Ryan said the offenders were placed in Norwich rather than their towns of origin to protect the victims. Osten reported that the two parolees were from Hartford and Enfield.

A third offender from the January Center was placed in Norwich on probation. Osten said after the meeting she did not know if that person, who is originally from Norwich, also would be moved from the apartments rented by The Connection Inc., which runs the January Center.

Both Norwich apartments are close to public parks with playgrounds.

A DOC representative did not attend Friday’s meeting, but DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci said she has reached out to the mayor to schedule a meeting with DOC staff in hopes of having a “productive conversation.”

Both Martucci and Mike Lawlor, the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said offenders leaving the January Center are placed in appropriate locations across the state and that Norwich was never singled out.

The decision to move two of the offenders comes after their names, locations and details of their crimes were the focus of news reports throughout the week.

“The Department of Correction has a responsibility to ensure safety,” Martucci said.

Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel said the town’s written agreement with the state explicitly called for offenders to be released to their towns of origin. But Montville officials recalled that The Connection Inc. refused to sign the agreement when the state approved it.

The agreement signed in 2011 specifies that the state or service provider “shall transport each program resident to his home community or other appropriate location.”

Earlier this week, a DOC spokeswoman said Norwich fit the definition of “other appropriate location” to protect the victims.

But Montville officials said Friday they understood the provision to mean the offenders would be returned to their towns of origin, not to towns in southeastern Connecticut.

Montville officials also were told “the worst of the worst” offenders — a quote from DOC officials at a public meeting, they said — would not qualify for the January Center. Yet one of the offenders released to Norwich had a record of 14 counts of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of kidnapping.

The January Center

Lawlor said the January Center was built to provide a tightly supervised transitional program for sexual offenders, many of them high-risk, who have served their sentences and are preparing to re-enter society.

The genesis of the center was to avoid former inmates from showing up at homeless shelters or sleeping in parks where there is no supervision and they are hard to track.

“That is absolutely what we don’t want,” Lawlor said. “The goal is to keep track of these guys so they don’t reoffend.”

Options for former inmates convicted of sexual offenses are limited, he said, because of the restrictive nature of the offenders’ parole or probation.

But studies show there’s almost zero recidivism, Lawlor said, among the sexual offenders who are properly supervised and housed in a location where there is access to jobs, a support network and mental health assistance where needed.

“The management of sex offenders on parole is one of the success stories,” Lawlor said.

Lawlor also said the state is transparent about the placement of offenders, maintaining a public sexual offender registry and notifying law enforcement when an offender enters town.

Donna Jacobson, former Montville Town Council chairwoman and current council candidate, said she publicly called one DOC official “a bold-faced liar” at a public meeting when the town was fighting the treatment center. “And finding out that they’re dumping these people in Norwich proves that I was right,” she said Friday.

Nystrom also complained that neither the state DOC nor The Connection Inc. has notified the city officially that offenders were placed in Norwich.

Norwich officials are pursuing whether local zoning regulations can limit the placement of sex offenders in the city. Several years ago, the city worked to reduce the number of unregulated substance abuse “sober houses” by getting state officials funding their rental subsidies to agree to contact the city before approving rents to ensure the apartments met city regulations.

The two apartments used by the January Center are not approved as rooming houses and would need a special permit, with a public hearing, to be approved. Rooming houses are allowed only in multifamily zones in Norwich, and the Taftville-Occum Road house is located in a neighborhood commercial zone. It would need a zoning variance.

Norwich Alderwoman Sofee Noblick, also a local landlord, said The Connection Inc. had approached local landlords asking to rent apartments “for families in trouble and individuals on parole,” with no mention that the tenants would be sex offenders released from the January Center.

Norwich Director of Planning Peter Davis said the city has requested specific information from the state on the funding source for the rent, the length of stay and the number of tenants in the apartments. He said the city cannot take enforcement action until receiving specific information.

A representative from The Connection Inc. could not be reached to comment Friday.

Re-entering the community

The offenders were being placed as part of The Connection Inc.’s Re-Entry Assisted Community Housing (REACH) program, which is a scattered-site supportive housing for individuals re-entering the community from the correctional system.

The apartments are subsidized based on the tenant’s income, according to The Connection Inc.’s website. Participants have an estimated length of stay of four to six months and receive referrals to mental health and other treatment providers, vocational support, educational opportunities and transportation assistance, according to the website.

The program also had a Community Advisory Board that was to meet quarterly and advise The Connection Inc. Norwich Alderman Mark Bettencourt was a member of the board. Bettencourt said Friday that he has not been notified of any meetings since 2009, when he attended one meeting.

Friday, Osten presented statistics showing that January Center residents have been released to several cities and towns in Connecticut, and some were placed back into DOC custody.

In total, 24 offenders were released on parole and 24 others on probation from the January Center. Of the parolees, nine are living in Hartford, seven in New Haven, four were returned to custody, four are living at private homes and two were discharged and released.

Of the 24 offenders on probation, five were discharged to their towns of origin, according to the statistics Osten obtained.

September 21, 2013Permalink Leave a comment