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July 19, 2009

"Sex-offender costs to skyrocket"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and effective piece in today's Des Moines Register.  The piece spotlights how legislators seem willing, even in tough economic times, to "spare no expense" when it comes to regulating sex offenders.  Here are excerpts:

The state law requiring [a sex offender] to be subject to "probation for life" was enacted in 2005. The law is intended to better protect Iowa children from sexual predators, who, previously, could walk out of prison after serving their time with few restrictions.

Few Iowans have been aware of the law change.  Only this year, as the first of those offenders have begun to trickle out of prison, has the cost of the monitoring become a significant concern.

At a minimum, Iowa's experiment with lifetime monitoring will cost about $168 million over the next 20 years, a Des Moines Register analysis has found. "This is going to be an extremely expensive piece of legislation," warned Phyllis Blood, a state analyst for the Iowa Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning.

Blood helped the Register determine some of the potential costs of the monitoring law. "There will be people who were 15 years old at the time of their offense who will have to be supervised for life," she said.

The $168 million estimate represents the cost in today's dollars of the only two expenses that can measured — electronic monitors and probation officer salaries. The expenses will be needed for the almost 4,000 people expected to be added because of the special post-prison sentences to the 29,000 people already on state probation rolls.  The actual cost — which will also include various types of testing and post-prison counseling — is likely to be far higher, Blood and other state officials said.

Iowa's more intensive monitoring was part of the Legislature's response to public outrage over the highly publicized murder of Jetseta Gage, a Cedar Rapids 10-year-old, in 2005.  But state leaders are getting their first whiff of the fiscal impact this year, as they face a $1 billion gap between state revenues and state expenses projected for fiscal year 2011.

Unlike other states' laws, Iowa's "special sentence" legislation provides no way to ever release someone from a lifetime of probation. That is likely to be a problem for the state, officials in other states say. "It's an extremely good tool for the people who need it," said Wes Shipley, an adult probation supervisor for sex offenders in Maricopa County, Ariz. "But there are people who get on lifetime probation who don't need it. You have to have a way to get them off."...

Already, Iowa corrections officials have told state leaders that absent more money, they will be forced to reduce supervision of other criminals to fulfill the requirement to track sex offenders for a lifetime.  Costs to treat, supervise and monitor sex offenders have already mushroomed — from $3.3 million to $11.5 million — between fiscal years 2005 and 2010, according to Iowa's Legislative Services Agency.

When questioned about the considerable tab yet to come, several state lawmakers said "no price is too high" to spare even one child from sexual abuse.  "You can't put a price on public safety," said Rep. Deborah Berry, D-Waterloo, vice chairwoman of the House Public Safety Committee. Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said cost was discussed when the law was changed in 2005. "But we decided that whatever the cost was, it was worth it," he said. 

Treatment experts, state corrections officials and law enforcement officials in other states, where lifetime sentences were begun years ago, say there are reasons lifetime supervision for so many sex offenders may not be a good idea.  "The problem is that in passing one-size-fits-all requirements, you dilute the resources for the people who really need to be watched," said Jill Levenson, a specialist on sex offender treatment and a professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

In Iowa, budget limits and existing requirements for sex offender monitoring have already forced the state to reduce supervision of other convicts on probation.

July 19, 2009 at 12:50 PM | Permalink


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I'm starting to look forward to the revolution. This coupled with the Grits post today about 10 year olds being put on the registry for public urination indicates that we are doomed as a society and need a major bloodletting.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 19, 2009 1:19:54 PM

Thank the lawyer. The profession in utter failure in every self-stated goal of every law subject.

Save one. Rent Seeking. At that, it is a spectacular success.

The profession has the structure and methods of a criminal cult enterprise. It is a criminal syndicate itself. It controls the three branches of government, and there is no recourse save self-help.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 19, 2009 2:22:43 PM

"Sex-offender costs to skyrocket"

Then let sex offenders pay for them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 19, 2009 4:51:31 PM

There is no evidence these expensive program reduce sex offenses. These are lawyer rent seeking going out of control to generate government make work. This is highway robbery at the point of a gun, with the sex offense as a pretext. Thank the vile feminist lawyer, and its male running dog.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 19, 2009 6:27:08 PM

That kid may now have an ADAA beef. Paruresis is a disability, so ruled the court.


I have that. I not only want to be catheterized for drug testing, I am applying for a handicapped placard to park closer to the bathroom at malls. Furhtermore, I want a badge allowing me to empty the bathroom of all current occupants and to close it until I am done.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 19, 2009 6:55:28 PM

Then let sex offenders pay for them.

With what? Unfortunately, the Iowa legislature cannot make these people employable; indeed, the collateral consequences of conviction seem designed to make it as difficult as possible.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jul 19, 2009 7:07:44 PM

Marc --

It is not the public's duty to bear costs it did not create. Release of sex offenders, and thus avoiding the higher costs of imprisoning them, is thought to be the more frugal, and humane, course. But it will require monitoring, and there will be bills for monitoring. It is not my job or yours to pay other people's bills; I have enough of my OWN bills.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 19, 2009 7:28:23 PM


I agree we should not have to foot the bill but isn't a bit unrealistic for someone living under a bridge to pay cost for someone to monitor them?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 19, 2009 8:17:14 PM

Anon --

In my view, what is unrealistic is to fret continuously about the increasing costs of law enforcement, and simultaneously turn away any suggestion that the people who're causing the strain should pay the bills. I didn't figure out where convicted defendants got the money to pay their fines, either. If the financial strain is too much for the public to bear, someone else will have to bear it, and the natural candidate is the person who caused it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 19, 2009 9:48:55 PM

Here's a guy that found the best solution:

Sex Offender Begs For More Jail Time

Posted by: George | Jul 20, 2009 12:02:22 AM


Iowa Community Based Correction (CBC) clients do pay fees for supervision, monitoring and drug tests but they also have to pay their fines, restitution and child support that have a higher priority. The CBC clients on probation were twice and those on parole are four times as likely to be unemployed as normal when the economy was strong now no doubt things now are much worse.

One of the reasons the costs are so high is the legislature mandated GPS tracking and there are many false positives that have to be checked out. Checking false positives uses up almost all of the time of the POs and supervision of other clients is reduced as is public safety. I have been at meeting where all of this was reported to the legislators and they know they screwed up but they are afraid to change it to something that will work because of public anger toward sex offenders.

We have had prisoners refuse parole because they knew they could not pay the CBC fees and they did not want to be supervised. The man who murdered the Gage girl (a family friend) was one of them.

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 20, 2009 8:13:29 AM

Bill, I have no argument with the concept that offenders should pay the cost of their punishment, if they are able. But you have to recognize that many of them will not be able, so taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jul 20, 2009 8:46:53 AM

If all this expense is caused by public anger at sex offenders, is it possible to encourage the media to report the truth, that is that MOST so called sex offenders either merely touched a child in the wrong place, or are teens who had sex with another teen who happened to be under 16. (Never mind that teen was himself only 16.) The media has sensationalized a few murdered children who were molested, to the point that the public believes that any and all sex offenders on the registry are potential murderers who will bury their little tiny girls alive. The media has created this, they should take some of the responsibility for correcting the situation. The tax payers should be angry at the media.

Posted by: DLJ | Jul 20, 2009 11:24:33 AM

Thank the media. The profession in utter failure in every self-stated goal of every law subject.

Save one. Rent Seeking. At that, it is a spectacular success.

The profession has the structure and methods of a criminal cult enterprise. It is a criminal syndicate itself. It controls the public and, therefore, three branches of government, and there is no recourse save self-help.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jul 20, 2009 11:53:03 AM

Bill Otis,

One question I would ask, at what point do those costsprovide such diminishing returns that the tool actually becomes a drag on the entire system? I would argue that by the time you reach the point that Texas has, with 10 year olds being required to register for life after public urination that you have actually crossed the 0 threshold.

If someone is so untrustworthy that they must remain on lifetime probabtion they simply shouldn't be trusted outside a prison.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 20, 2009 1:04:38 PM

"merely touched a child in the wrong place"

Merely, he says. Sounds kind of like an accident. Sort of like accidentally making a wrong turn on the way to the store.

Posted by: frump | Jul 20, 2009 7:44:39 PM

"It is not the public's duty to bear costs it did not create."

This left me speechless. What theory of law are you operating under? The madman theory.

Of course society created the costs. It created the law. All of use are born into a legal system that we did not create and do not shape until we are 18. Even after 18 our ability to shape the law is minimal as an individual matter. If society creates the law it creates the criminal ergo either you are saying that societies don't create laws hence they cannot create criminals or that there is some extra social social basis for the law. The first is a denial of reality and they second I reject as a scientific matter, though I recognize that some believe it.

Sometimes I agree with you Bill and sometimes I disagree. But that's a rather wild statement to make.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 20, 2009 10:37:13 PM

Isn't the issue resource allocation? Needlessly long times on a sex offender registry probably harms society more than it helps. Like I said, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to being tough on crime. But, really, is some 15 year old kids convicted of a sex crime supposed to be on this registry for 70 years? If the crime was that bad, he needs to be in jail. If not, then there there should be some end point. These monitoring costs, as a practical matter, are going to be picked up by the state, and I'd rather have the money spent to incarcerate people and focus on dangerous released sex offenders. The more people monitored, the more people will slip through the cracks.

In another thread Bill's attitude was basically tough sh**. Unfortunately, that kind of attitude can be counterproductive. We do want to encourage criminals to become full members of society, and registering some 30 year old who, when he was 18, had consensual sex with a 14 year old seems a bit much if he has gotten his life together, both from a resource allocation standpoint and a fairness standpoint.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 21, 2009 1:55:57 AM

It's easy to say that the sex offender should pay the costs of compliance with sex offender legislation, like restitution. But we forget one important factor: in the majority of cases these additional burdens have been deemed legal because they are necessary for "safety of the public" as that is the way around ex post facto arguments. So, how can you argue that one must pay for his own punishment, if it is -- by definition -- not punishment at all?

Posted by: slim | Jul 21, 2009 9:52:57 PM

slim --

A person should pay for the costs he creates, whether punishment or not. My fee for using a state park is not punishment, but it is justly charged to me, because my use of the park creates costs for maintenance, groundskeeping and so forth that someone has to pay. Why should someone else pay for what I use?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 22, 2009 8:34:26 PM

The media has whipped the public into a misleading sex offender frenzy with sensationalized stories about only the most violent predators. Legislators pass laws for easy votes from the misinformed public, who think that everyone on the registry is a threat to abduct and rape their little children. Sheriffs and detectives arrest as many as possible to charge as sex offenders, because it is a feather in their political/career caps. My 21-year-old son was in a legal chat room (must be 18-yrs. old or older)and a police undercover detective told him she was a few years younger than him (would have made her 19) when he asked. He told her several times that he didn't want anything to do with anyone underage, and that 15 or 16 was too young (she asked how young was too young). She kept right on being ambiguous, and then, towards the end of the conversation, she said she would be "16 in a month or two." He discussed consensual sex with her after that, and, even though he never went to the place to meet her, he is a convicted felon in jail (DA didn't want to appear soft on sex crimes even though judge recommended misdemeanor). He will be punished for the next 50 or so years of his life by being on the registry. He was a 3.6 college student who has never been in trouble with the law before, scholarship athlete, church volunteer, etc., but his opportunities to move forward are essentially over. What are we doing? Who are we protecting? Why are we ruining the lives of young adults?

Posted by: common sense | Sep 2, 2009 9:17:43 AM

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