Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Social Disorganization And Level Three Sex Offenders," An Academic Analysis Of Sick, Sick Puppies...

Stock photo by John Hoff, blog post by John Hoff
and a contributor

A few weeks ago, a university student sent me a file of a PowerPoint presentation he'd done about "Social Disorganization and Level Three Sex Offenders." To view and/or download the very informative and well-done PowerPoint presentation, click here for the Johnny Northside support site.

The student was kind enough to write me a summary of his research. His "summary" references the work being done on this blog and then dives into the Level Three sex offender issue. There are a lot of great points to the report, but to summarize: these sick deviants are clustering in North Minneapolis because organized neighborhoods with more political capital manage to keep them out, and their clustering in a "socially disorganized" neighborhood makes it more likely they will reoffend.

Of course, "reoffend" means to harm individuals in our neighborhood, most likely women and children.

Here is a written summary by the author, as follows...

Social Disorganization and Level III Sex Offenders

Picking up on a personal and professional research topic of interest, I ran across this fantastic forum of community expression. In the time it took for me to take a trip (let’s call it a US Gov’t-paid work-study) to Iraq, Johnny Northside and cohorts have built the media wing of North Minneapolis, as evidenced by RT Ryback’s emphatic recent gesture to the Hawthorne Hawkman.

This is fantastic, as the blog routinely hits on some of the exact issues I have worked on promoting through academic research. I had to offer what I had done to JNS- so here it is. Much of the content of this blog hits on EXACTLY what academic research indicates is needed in building a stronger and more effective community, and I think the similarities will be obvious.

Where I am coming from: I am a geographer, (if you quiz me on capitals, I will refer you to Google) interested in people and how they act (or are forced to act) across space. I realize this makes me sound like a Trekkie or worse, but I hope the point is clear, things happen for reasons, and one of the most important reasons can be called ‘place.’ Place is determined by the physical and social characteristics of an area, but also its connections and interactions with other ‘places.’ Studying sex offenders presents a great opportunity to understand a community and a region. Unfortunately, looking at this topic shows that ‘Minnesota Nice,’ good judgment and common sense are completely absent in how we (as a state) deal with the most notorious of offenders.

I focused my research on what is called social disorganization theory, because it seems to explain, fairly neatly and understandably, why some neighborhoods struggle more than others, and why social issues seem to become exponentially challenging to address. The findings are unfortunate, to say the least. The term slum-lord could not be more accurate in cynically describing the connections between communities that have a sex offender problem, and those in the suburbs that think they have a problem. As a suburb and exurb dweller, I have (without really being aware of it) enjoyed the benefits of not having to deal with concentrated levels of rehabilitating (theoretically) sex offenders in the communities I have been a part of. Sex offenders don’t just come from the city, they come from across the state and, through push and pull factors, are ending up concentrated in Minneapolis.

Conservative-minded folk will sometimes complain about ‘social engineering,’ however, the current status of offender community rehabilitation is similar to the law of the jungle, resulting in the bastard-child inverse of social engineering- a sort of runaway free-market of social irresponsibility. Sex offender corrections is left largely up to the county-based community corrections structure (there are 3 systems across the state, but I won’t bore with the details). Suffice it to say sex offender management has been de-regulated (not that it ever was ‘regulated’ by any state or federal body). This works out great for the 99% of MN ‘hoods that can deal with offenders one at a time, in rare doses and with their full attention/resources, but… this is not working for the 1% of ‘hoods that are being deluged and blasted daily by not only sex offender management issues, but a wider array of socio-economic and structural challenges (that’s you, NoMi).

While the suburban and rural leaders are perpetuating an urban offender dumping ground by their failure to accept responsibility for a proportional share of the states offenders (granted- I may be suggesting level III sex offenders don’t deserve a full set of civil rights…), the more liberal-bent practitioners of mental health and sex offender treatment have been aligning with the often manipulative offenders. Working in the MN sex industry (by that I mean the MN Sex Offender Program), and in other research settings, I have come across behavioral and mental health practitioners who are convinced beyond a doubt that the average person is just a ‘bad choice’ away from being labeled (and draconically stigmatized) as a sex offender- a deviant. I seem to disagree with that point when dealing with those who have been clinically diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders; not to further push the offenders into a caste of untouchables, but… umm… That is what the majority of average citizens seem to think, and I don’t blame them- I have the impulse to think that way too, I can be honest. How does that saying go? In America, we judge you not on what your father did, but what you do…

Be it suburban politicians or sex offender practitioners, no one is being completely honest with the issue. Politicians will ride the magic carpet of fear mongering and popular over-dramatization of offenders (not every offender is as lost as Pete Rickmeyer), while totally ignoring what is occurring because of their actions and inactions. The practitioners don’t always seem to appreciate the other variables at play in a community setting, or realize that the majority of the populace really detests offenders, for no real reason than the abhorrent nature of their crime. And the great unwashed don’t want to fund a utopian treatment mechanism for them while, for example, working mothers struggle to meet their health-care needs, or the Vikings continues on without a new stadium. Just saying, the majority of folks don’t really want to invest heavily in people who have committed what our society sees as, the most despicable acts possible- potentially worse than what even BP is capable of.

The research I did persuaded me that the social disorganization approach is the best shot at explaining the problem and putting forth what can be done. What needs to happen is a complete systematic overhaul that takes a responsible state-wide approach to sex offender management. However, since I am a realist, what the research suggests for North Minneapolis is this- do what the suburbs do and freak out when an offender gets dropped into your locale. Go to the meetings, talk to your neighbors, be ‘that guy/girl’ and rally against the slumlord or property owner that refuses to fix their broken windows. Get the neighbors to join you as an ‘able guardian’ of the neighborhood. I am not advocating vigilantism, just stern looks and an example to follow. Do what JNS does; recruit your able friends and colleagues into ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’ in the neighborhood. Those are the things that can help to mediate treatment of your neighborhood as a doormat. The police have the formal control over the neighborhoods (at times it seems- based on KSTP, of course), but the real key is in the ‘informal control’ that residents need to pursue to take back their community which may allow the political process to mature. Community Corrections doesn’t hold offender notification meetings in NoMi often because they say no one shows. The ball is in the resident’s hands, the alternative is the status quo worsening.

While some of the takes on offenders that are propagated on this site are somewhat alarmist and born of frustration, no doubt- they are little more than accurate reflections of what everyone across the state is thinking. If the community is to prosper, there is no sense in not competing in the jungle-esque mess our failed sex offender management system has created. There is a lot of untapped talent and perspective in NoMi that might be able to apply their creative energies to getting support for political change. Until then, Organize! We in the suburbs are and it has been working nicely.

The slideshow is a shotgun approach to this topic and some of the research completed. I will attempt to answer any questions the audience may have, via email or comments. Thanks for allowing me to share and rant. I realize as an outsider I have limitations on my perspective- take it for what it is worth.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great presentation. I like charts and graphs. But let me play devil's advocate for a minute. What has been said about the effects of Megan's Law on sexual reoffense? What other fairly stable facts do we have about sexual offenders? While SD theory appears to stress anonymity and unaccountability as a haven for a return to offense cycle, it seems that community notification and intensive supervision counter that arguement. I am not at all suggesting people to be happy about concentration but using research.....statistically, with what we know about these "sick puppies", the residents of NoMi are the least at risk. My interpretation of the DOC study is that reoffense rates were closer to 10%, which also appears to be on target nationally. I could not however find any proof that there are geographical restrictions in Minneapolis. There appears to be little supportive research nationally for restrictions. Perhaps proximity to other offenders may be a different issue. When looking at Statute and the delivery systems in Minnesota, boring could be an accurate word but very important nonetheless. However, community members should hold law enforcement accountable for notification meetings and not community corrections. Also note differences in the governing authority (DOC) and the supervising authority (in this case Hennepin County). Statutorily law enformcement is responsible for notificaton which makes sense since not all level 3's (even in NoMi) are on supervision. What changes could be suggested? Regardless of where you live, would you rather have offenders in a residence where they can be monitored and supervised properly or homeless and wandering? Again let me stress that I would be pissed too....don't fall completely to hate and stay away from the dark side...but form your opinions with some basic facts. WE have taken away the shroud of anonymity away from these offenders. There are effective tools for supervision, whether they are being utilized properly is an entirely different post. Keep up the diligence and make waves with your community leaders. It would seem if there are problems with the Statute and concentration issues, take it the State Reps and Senators so the Legislature can define what concentration is. If I think of more.....I'll write!

Joseph said...

Thanks for some great thoughts, certainly I get the devils advocate issues here but would cite two things with regard to offenders in NoMi. The problem is clearly that community notification does not effectively occur in NoMi, at least according to the corrections officials (that would go with your point about how things need to be enforced and carried out- so I think we agree). Secondly, yes, the recidivism of sex offenders is not much different than other offenders (except pedophiles who appear to recidivate generally only in regard to sex crimes, comparatively speaking- whereas others have a more diverse criminal tendency) but the issue really isn't about the offenders or sex offenses, it is about the community and it's integrity -or collective efficacy as some sociologists would call it- at least from my view.

My key takeaway is not that NoMi is at risk of a wave of sex offenses. Yes, that is what gets attention, however, what SD theory really can help with this issue is the fact that there is a pattern to their settlement. Offenders are either pushed or are pulled to areas such as NoMi and E Lake/Phillips. The concentration is clear and that shows (more importantly in my mind) that either their is something attractive in the community that will enable their offense pattern/reduce their rehab, they have no other options, or their are systematic/procedural issues that create the concentration. All of these likely play a factor to a degree I believe, though I can cite a lot of evidence for a lack of available residence options being the primary driver.

Residential restrictions are a bogus way of dealing with offenders- the DOC did a real good study in 2007 on that to back up other national research and I would agree. You got me on the 1500 ft. That was a proposed idea that didn't go through, and is just a tool to guide placement of some offenders if I am correct. Here is what Hennepin County's Criminal Justice Coordination Committe said in 2003:

Since blanket proximity restrictions on residential locations of level three offenders do not enhance community safety, the current offender-by-offender restrictions should be retained. Proximityrestrictions,basedoncircumstancesofanindividualoffender,serveas a valuable supervision tool. Continued use – through extension of conditional release and specific release conditions and restrictions – is appropriate. Most of these supervision proximity restrictions address the issue of the offender associating or interacting with children or minors, rather than where the offender resides.

In any case, thanks for the thoughts, I hope this clarified, but we are def. on the same page here, all the best!

Joseph said...

Residential restrictions are a bogus way of dealing with offenders- the DOC did a real good study in 2007 on that to back up other national research and I would agree. You got me on the 1500 ft. That was a proposed idea that didn't go through, and is just a tool to guide placement of some offenders if I am correct. Here is what Hennepin County's Criminal Justice Coordination Committe said in 2003:

Part 2:

Since blanket proximity restrictions on residential locations of level three offenders do not enhance community safety, the current offender-by-offender restrictions should be retained. Proximity restrictions, based on circumstances of an individual offender, serve as a valuable supervision tool.

In any case, thanks for the thoughts, I hope this clarified, but we are def. on the same page here, all the best!

Joseph said...

Part 1-
Thanks for some great thoughts, certainly I get the devils advocate issues here but would cite two things with regard to offenders in NoMi. The problem is clearly that community notification does not effectively occur in NoMi, at least according to the corrections officials (that would go with your point about how things need to be enforced and carried out- so I think we agree). Secondly, yes, the recidivism of sex offenders is not much different than other offenders (except pedophiles who appear to recidivate generally only in regard to sex crimes, comparatively speaking- whereas others have a more diverse criminal tendency) but the issue really isn't about the offenders or sex offenses, it is about the community and it's integrity -or collective efficacy as some sociologists would call it- at least from my view.

My key takeaway is not that NoMi is at risk of a wave of sex offenses. Yes, that is what gets attention, however, what SD theory really can help with this issue is the fact that there is a pattern to their settlement. Offenders are either pushed or are pulled to areas such as NoMi and E Lake/Phillips. The concentration is clear and that shows (more importantly in my mind) that either their is something attractive in the community that will enable their offense pattern/reduce their rehab, they have no other options, or their are systematic/procedural issues that create the concentration. All of these likely play a factor to a degree I believe, though I can cite a lot of evidence for a lack of available residence options being the primary driver.
Continued in second reply-