The vast majority of Americans take their day to day freedoms very much for granted. Frankly, we live in a world in which we can afford to do that. We can go where we choose, do what we choose to do, and we can do so without having to be accountable to anyone but ourselves. This is as it should be.
God help you, though, if you’ve been convicted (or in some cases merely accused) of a sex offense in Texas. Here in Harris County, that means that, no matter what, you are NEVER truly free. You can pay your debt to society, be released back into the general population, and even be a functioning and contributing member of society. Unfortunately, having that scarlet “S” on your chest means that the state always has you by the short hairs.
A holiday known for feasting around crowded tables found Raymond Young feeling empty and alone, confined to his house for Thanksgiving.
“I couldn’t go spend no time at all with nobody in my family,” Young said last week. “I had to sit at home all day. My wife went to visit her family, but I had to stay at home.”
Young and 560 other Texas prison parolees in Harris County were ordered to remain at their residences throughout the Thanksgiving weekend ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ from 5 p.m. Nov. 24 until time to go to work Nov. 29 ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ under a “sex offender lockdown,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials.
In theory, this is a good thing. After all, who wants to worry about sex offenders over the holidays? No one wants to have to worry about the safety and innocence of their children, nor should anyone have to worry about the threat of any other type of sexual predator.
What happens, though, when the system’s dragnet collects people with no sex crimes conviction on their record? What happens when the only reason that some of these folks are place on a “sex offender lockdown” is that they were ACCUSED of a crime at some point in time? Are we somehow made safer by denying people who may well be innocent their basic civil rights?
But lawyer Bill Habern, who specializes in parole matters, said some of those confined to their homes over the extended Thanksgiving weekend ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ including Young ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ have no sex crimes on their records.
“We’ve had a surprising number of people call that have no conviction for a sex offense,” Habern said. “We think the constitutionality of it in many cases is subject to serious question.”
Policies that include confining sex offenders to their homes on certain holidays dramatically reduce the number of rearrests of parolees, said Bryan Collier, director of the parole division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice….
Collier said 3,910 people classified as sex offenders are under parole supervision in Texas.
Of that number, he estimated that “probably less than 100” do not have sex offense convictions. In such cases, he said, the parole board notices “something in their criminal background that looks funny” and requires a sex offender evaluation as a condition of parole.
No reasonable person would argue with the utility of the goal of protecting the innocent from the threat of sexual predators. When this protection gieves the state cause to infringe upon the civil rights of those with no record of sex offenese, something is very, very wrong. How can it be considered acceptable that Harris County can control the movements of an individual who may have merely been accused of a sex crime at some point in time? If a case was dismissed, of if that individual was acquitted, how can that personally legally be subjected to the same constraints as someone who was convicted of a sex crime and may well be a legitimate threat?
Lawyer David O’Neill, who practices with Habern, said he has talked with several men who have no sex convictions and “are complaining that they’re prisoners over the holidays.” He described typical circumstances, similar to Young’s situation:
“They get into the system on a burglary or a drug case and they go to parole them out, and somebody in parole looks at their file and sees, ‘Oh, this guy was arrested 15 years ago on an allegation of a sex offense. It was dismissed, but we’re going to put him on the sex offender supervision rolls,’ ” he said.
“Then everything takes off after that ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ sex offender therapy, then these notices come out about the holidays and they get roped into that, as well. It’s absurd.”
The tougher holiday restrictions resulted from a major overhaul of sex offender parole policies about a year and a half ago, Collier said.
“In the years past,” Collier said, “we wouldn’t have had officers out on Halloween at all, and the same thing Thanksgiving weekend. You would have had a four-day stretch when you knew that a parole officer’s not going to come around my house.
“So if you were a sex offender wanting to offend, you knew when your opportunities existed. And our goal is to try to minimize that as much as possible.”
We have apparently arrived a a place where we as a society are willing to accept the virtual imprisonment of the innocent for the protection of the Greater Good. After all, it’s happening to Someone Else, right? What we fail to realize, though, is that this could well be the crest of what may well become a very slippery slope. If we are willing to accept the curtailment of civil rights of the innocent and the merely accused out of our broad, generalized fear of sexual predators, where will this stop? How long before the rule of law becomes something unrecognizable and unaccountable to anyone but the rich and the powerful?
HOW LONG BEFORE THEY COME FOR YOU??