Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Washington State Sheriffs Make It Easier To Stalk Former Sex Offenders

A disturbing new online human-tracking program has been implemented at my local Sheriff’s office, and throughout Washington State. Offender Watch may sound like your friendly Neighborhood Watch program, complete with block parties and coffee socials. But Offender Watch is not about uniting communities, it’s about dividing them. It’s about spreading fear and encouraging discrimination. And it certainly isn’t about voluntary participation, as those being targeted have not given their consent to be followed.

Here's how the company begins their promo: “Offender Watch is the nation’s leading registered sex offender management and community notification tool, with hundreds of leading agencies in dozens of states utilizing it.”
Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it any less wrong on a moral, legal, or spiritual level. Interning Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II was popular, but that didn’t make it right. Slavery, lynching, and Fascism have all been popular at certain times and places, too.

The promo continues: “Offender Watch provides the most accurate and timely information available, and now this information is available to you!” Having paid for my transgressions many times over already, I’m sure you’ll understand when I don’t stand up and shout “Hurray! I’m a target all over again!”

In my previous post I explained that my Sheriff’s sex offender profile—as limited as it was—was not entirely correct, so I looked up my new Offender Watch profile to see if the bold claims the company makes are true. So, is my new profile accurate? No. Not only is my current location still incorrect, my new Offender Watch profile contains the title of a crime I've never seen before.

As crime titles go, Sexual Battery has always made me cringe. People usually assume that Sexual Battery means sexually violent—where force was used and injury was done. But this inflammatory term also covers many clearly non-violent transgressions, sometimes no more than an inappropriate touch. Like my conviction for kissing my roommate’s thigh eighteen years ago. On my new Offender Watch profile, Sexual Battery has been replaced with Indecent Liberties. Ironically, the definition of this crime sounds a whole lot closer to the truth. However, neither one of these crimes is the offense for which I was put on the sex offender registry.

Is my new Offender Watch profile timely? No. When the only information presented is an ominous title of a crime that occurred many years ago, how could it be timely? The photograph on my profile is almost six years old. Back then I was still a practicing alcoholic, thirty pounds heavier, jobless, broke and homeless.

Since then I’ve gotten clean and sober. I’ve grown a creative business that I love doing, with loyal and trusting clients throughout the county. The rundown property I once rented as a last resort has since been purchased by me, transformed into a lush garden, and on it I'm now building the cabin of my dreams. Today I have the best relationship I’ve ever had with my own family, and for four years I’ve been involved with a wonderful woman who supports my success in every way.

Although I will always deeply regret the crimes I committed many years ago, those crimes are not who I am – and never were. And in the years since then, with hard work, sobriety, and self-examination, I have actively grown and changed. Today I try to use what I’ve learned from those poor choices to help others avoid making the same mistakes.

Since all this information is available to anyone who cares to investigate, I take exception when Offender Watch says, “the most accurate and timely information available.” In fact, I feel that Offender Watch ought to be honest with their users and responsible by saying, “We only publish information that supports a perception of imminent danger,” no matter how old the offenses are, or what the offenders are doing with their lives. No matter whether an ex-offender is now a father, lawyer, artist, activist, or businessman; no matter whether he climbs mountains or champions the homeless.

Human beings are more than the mistakes they’ve made, and no one on earth can be accurately judged by their mistakes alone. Wouldn’t the public good be better served by putting out information about people’s lives, skills and positive potential, not just their crimes? Shouldn’t the public be given enough information to accurately make its own assessments about the danger, or lack of it, that ex-offenders pose to the community?

Offender Watch warns that sex offenders move frequently. What they don’t say is that this is often due to being harassed, threatened and ostracized as a result of being on the sex offender registry. Nor that by making it easier for people to do these things, there will surely be a lot more forced-offender-moving thanks to their program. Sometimes offenders are moved right off the face of the earth because they are murdered by unstable people who get their addresses from online sources like Offender Watch. Like these two men here. And another two men here.

Oddly enough, Offender Watch admits that only 5% of convicted sex offenders re-offend—less if they have a stable environment. So let’s get this straight: At least 95% of the people targeted by this program pose no threat to the community? Interesting use of tax dollars.

Offender Watch wraps up their promo by encouraging people to sign up for their email-alerts: “Tell your friends and neighbors and be sure to register your home, work, school, gym, day care, park, soccer field, parents or children's homes - any address of interest to you!”
Considering the way Offender Watch "manages" information, I hope all potential users think long and deeply about signing up for anything that requires them to register with this company.