Shaming the Constitution

Shaming the Constitution: The Detrimental Results of Sexual Violent Predator Legislation by Michael L. Perlin and Heather Ellis Cucolo, Temple University Press 2017 is a must read for registrants and their families.

This book provides interesting and accurate information courts and justices across the country should be relying on when they’re making decisions about people’s lives, rather than relying on thirty year old Psychology Today articles.  It points out the failures in our justice system when it comes to sex offenders and provides common sense ideas about where courts have gone wrong and what they need to do better.

Shaming the Constitution is exactly what it says it is, a kind of tell-all book that highlights the shameful ways our Constitution abuses the rights of convicted sex offenders.

The authors question what we already know about sex offender laws and offers different and more humane ways of viewing offenders.

One chapter of the book’s focus is on the part media-hype plays in promoting  “moral panic” which fuels legislators into drawing up stricter and stricter sex offender laws. Headline stories, outrage at whatever sex offender is “today’s news” colors and distorts our views of all sex offenders.  We no longer make a distinction between types of offenses because the media has merged every sex offender into a universal offender.  Single headline tragedies take on a life of their own with outcrys for punishment and revenge for all.  The media causes us to react without thinking, to pickup pitchforks and go after the monster. The laws and bills that affect registrants today were all started by media hype resulting from single incidents that made headlines. Media exposure rarely includes exposing the public to news about low recidivism or the rarity of “stranger” sex crimes, there’s no hype in that.

The constitutionality of civil commitment for sexually violent offenders is discussed in great length. Case studies are presented and the case made for offenders to have the right to adequate and effective representation in court. This, I have learned through reading, is not necessarily the norm. The idea that the sole purpose of civil commitment is to punish, isolate and incapacitate rather than provide any meaningful treatment is also reviewed.

Risk Assessments tools, Static-99, MnSOST/Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tools, RRASOR/Rapid Risk Assessment for Sex Offender Recidivism and the like are discussed, their usefulness as well as their inaccuracy.  We are reminded that these are tools, but they are not infallible and the authors question whether their use which can result in civil commitments and taking away people’s liberties should be used when they are not 100% accurate.

The idea that we ask judge and jury everyday to decide on an offender’s “potential future risk” based on subjective interpretation of risk assessment tools that can in no way be considered 100% accurate may be an eye-opener for many. We also learn how susceptible a jury is to being tainted by a judge’s 100% confidence in or a one-sided interpretation of risk assessment tools.

Another chapter’s focus is International Human Rights and how our own country betrays the rights of sex offenders through the use of humiliation as a remediative tool,  sex offender restrictive zoning ordiances and registries that bar offenders from the freedom to go where they want to go. Our country uses shame, stigmatization and denying meaningful reintegration into society as a deterrent to future offenders. This in turn forces offenders who have served their sentence for crimes commited to zones outside their communities to live as moral lepers without support of family or friends.

Shaming the Constitution is a book that makes you stop and think.  After reading it I had one of those “there but for the grace of God go I” kinds of moments. You realize any of this could happen to any of us. Our Constitution was never meant to humiliate, shame and belittle the very same citizens our forefathers meant to protect?  And yet, we’ve allowed the media and the courts to make a mockery of justice and to destroy the basic human decency of a class of people that we’ve labeled sex offenders.

Hopefully this book will open some eyes in the justice system and become the new standard for thoughtful analysis before we institute anymore laws that Shame the Constitution.
















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