Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Weekend list

I'm going to be away for a couple of days on farm and family biz, probably won't use your Internets till Sunday, so I'll leave a couple of items.

First, more on Wayne Chapman. In response to DPR, yes it required a 10-2 majority to decide the case. But the real problem for the offender is that very few jurors are going to take a chance on letting a guy go and having it turn out to be a mistake. For all practical purposes, jurors are going to interpret "likely to reoffend" as "any chance in the delta quadrant of the galaxy." The jurors were troubled about the issues of Mr. Chapman's rights, and denying a man his freedom is a serious burden that we all felt. But who's going to take a chance?

California indeed has a similar facility in Atascadero. It so happens that many years ago I met a therapist who did the penile plethysmography thing there, a very butch lesbian. These places are maximum security prisons, with an added layer of sophisticated psychological manipulation and coercion, including these bizarre sexual practices. One problem -- and it was a major problem for us jurors -- is that there does not appear to be any credible information about the extent to which this "treatment" works, or even what the actual risk is of reoffending even for people who not been "treated." The trial to a considerable extent consisted of dueling "learned treatises," i.e. journal articles, but we didn't get to read the actual articles, we only got to hear the expert witnesses read portions of them aloud and state what they thought it all meant. I knew enough to largely ignore all of that.

Here's another strange feature of this upside down trial. It will come as no surprise that Chapman was horribly abused as a child himself, that he has a low IQ, failed in school, had no job skills, and had a severe drinking problem. In a normal criminal trial, these facts would have been introduced by his defense as mitigating factors, likely getting him a somewhat more lenient sentence. In our looking glass trial, the prosecutors made sure we learned about them, because they made him seem more likely to reoffend were he to be released.

So DPR is right. Wayne was trapped, in part because he isn't very bright. Once he got to Bridgewater, he started denying the crimes. He used the Michael Jackson defense -- he just liked to get into bed with the girls, it was very sweet. (Not even his own expert witness even suggested that he was really innocent, however.) Apparently he thought that admitting the offenses would make it harder for him to get out. Playing the therapy game, convincing the scientists that you are really getting with the program, takes some IQ points that Wayne doesn't have. But whether somebody who is shrewd enough to advance in the program is also being "cured" I have no idea.

The reason I bring all this up here is because it's illustrative of a big problem we have right now as a society. The states have all gotten on the "Megan's Law" bandwagon. Sex offenders now have to register with the police, and their identities and home addresses are in many cases public information. People have been run outof town by mobs, houses burned down. Six Flags has even started printing on its tickets that sex offenders are excluded from its amusement parks. We had a headline on our local tabloid a couple of months ago -- in other words the whole front page -- to the effect that a small town police chief was renting an apartment to a registered sex offender.

I mean look, these guys have to live somewhere. They have to be able to get some kind of job. We aren't prepared to lock every child abuser up for life, it would cost more than the military budget (and we can't afford that either, nor should we). Most of them in fact will not reoffend. Some have worked very hard to overcome their problem and, hard as it is for many people to accept, deserve sympathy. They are often abuse victims themselves or struggle with powerful impulses that are loathesome to them but proved impossible to control. What on earth should we do?

Meanwhile, Revere is very worried about the bird flu. I can tell you on certain information that if Revere is worried, you ought to be worried. As for what you should do about it, that's another difficult question.

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