The Unintended Costs of Bi-Partisanship : Updated!!!

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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38 Responses

  1. Road Scholar says:

    And it can never, ever, ever be repealed or substantially modified, except to make it more draconian, for the exact same reasons it was passed in the first place. Meaning, I suppose, that the only possible remedy would have to come from the courts, on what basis I don’t know. Eighth Amendment perhaps, or maybe Due Process?Report

  2. Dand says:

    Feminists are pushing for the creation of a military sex offender registry:

    <a href=';Report

  3. Saul Degraw says:

    The issue here is that this seems to be an area that requires resisting emotion over what is and should be a very emotional topic.

    The problem is what you said above.

    Who wants to go around looking like they are lenient on violent sex offenders even really old ones who are no longer threats to society? I think a lot of Democratic politicians are still reeling from the 1970s and 80s when they were attacked and defeated for being “soft on crime”. No Democratic politician wants to be Michael Dukakis who flubbed a question on rape during a debate and subjected to the Willie Horton ad.

    I’ve said this before but a lot of my friends are now becoming the parents of young children. What I’ve noticed about my friends with children is that they seem substantially more likely to post Amber Alert type things on facebook. You can jump up and down about how Amber Alerts are largely useless and the data shows this and get an anecdotal counter-example or an appeal to emotion like “Come on, you would want people to spread the word if you’re child was missing…”

    Americans also still largely have a generally puritanical attitude towards crime and we seem to believe in long-opportunity costs for crime.

    I think this changing slowly. People are starting to realize that the Drug War is a waste of money and a crime against humanity. There are also people starting to realize that mass incarceration is a financially wasteful and immoral policy. The Times had a long article this week about the moral and financial costs of locking up people for decades. The problem is that coming up with proportional punishment might be the hardest thing in the world. We still live in a world where idiotic things like this happen:

    What is the appropriate level of punishment?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Amber Alerts aren’t even in the same ballpark as what Tod is talking about. Amber Alerts have virtually zero opportunity cost and, while they may be largely ineffective, they are also harmless. If you can point to evidence that they increase harm, so be it. But so what if a parent wants to post an Amber Alert? Is that inconvenient for your FB newsfeed?Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        Dunno about the Harmless part. Every time I get some stupid alert on my phone, I’m harmed because my productivity is reduced. IIRC most amber alerts are custodial parent issues.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        You should be able to turn those off, Damon.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        As Will notes, you can switch those off. But Saul wasn’t complaining about Amber Alerts in general, but people sharing them on Facebook. The only cost of people sharing them on Facebook is you have to scroll ever so slightly farther to find the cat videos.Report

      • kenB in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, there’s a bit of “boy who cried wolf” to worry about — the more “Important!!!!!” messages you see that aren’t actually important, the more you tune them out and the less likely you are to pay attention to the ones that really are important.

        There was an op-ed in the NYT recently regarding electronic medical records that included an anecdote where the doctor(s) didn’t notice a mistake in a prescription because the alert that came up was lost in a sea of routine alerts.Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:


        Sadly, my FB page has few cat videos. This is why I no longer log into FB. And I was agreeing with Saul about the alert’s effectiveness, but saying that it’s also on the phones. Really? That stuff is set to default on? It should be default off.Report

    • zic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Who wants to go around looking like they are lenient on violent sex offenders even really old ones who are no longer threats to society?

      My pedophile was in his late 60’s and early 70’s.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to zic says:


        And I am very sorry for that. There are always exceptions that prove the rule but the truth is for the most part, most crime is committed by young men and this decreases sometime when a guy his in his 40s. Not always and because the United States is large, you can and will find large numbers of older criminals but the data seems rather solid.

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        Study/article does not, specifically address sex offenders.

        I am no fan of sex-offender registries. I would do away with them for various reasons.

        But when discussing serial offenders, the age thing seems to matter less than for other crimes.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        depends on the personality type.
        Your more artsy, emotional manipulative bastards tend to stop as they get older (it gets harder to bang 16 year olds if you’re 40).
        But some people’s lusts get worse as they age (wifey withholds priviledges more?), and they find better ways to do it by moving into positions of authority.Report

      • anonymously in reply to zic says:

        ‘My pedophile was in his late 60’s and early 70’s.’

        Convicted, meaning apprehended, arrested, court adjudication, prison, parole/probation, therapy. After being convicted , the re-offense rate is 1.8%, Unconvicted fixated, non-situational sex offenders who never have taken responsibility for their crimes like ‘your pedophile’ are less likely to stop their crimes, if they are the fixated type. If ‘your pedophile’ was convicted, then post-conviction, ‘your pedophile’, would have at least a 98.2% chance of not repeating his crime, but that number would probably skew even higher because of his old age.
        Unconvicted ephibophiles, Mark Foley, Author of Sorna, and John Walsh, chief proponent of Sorna both have had their crimes identified, one admitted it, the other one was investigated by Florida officials and like in the cases of Mark Lunsford and his son, the Florida officials didn’t choose to prosecute, as they do not want to complicate acheiving their tough on crime goals of sex offender demonization. To be fair to the creators of Sorna, Foley and Walsh, they have a lower chance to reoffend than say, someone whose underage sex crimes have not been identified, but still without the conviction and likely therapy they would have received, they have a higher chance to be continuing their sex crimes than the convicted.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        well, there is the thing that if you’re any good, you don’t go to jail.
        And the thing where it’s remarkably legal — or at least without consequence — in many other countries.Report

  4. greginak says:

    This doesn’t really seem like a problem of bipartisanship per se. It seems like there are all sorts of narratives this could be put on this: of course i’d favor the one where people should listen more to experts and focus a good data. But of course there were expert types pushing for these laws although the data never really supported it.

    Sometimes popular things aren’t a good idea.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    I believe Radley Balko used to champion both “There oughta be a law…!” and “Laws named after people” over at The Agitator. Or, really, he argued that both mindsets tend to lead to awful laws.Report

  6. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Like I’ve said before, the D’s lost the messaging to the GOP with regard to “soft on crime” back in the 70s & 80s, but that doesn’t mean they have to keep being dishrags about it. One of the “safe” Dem states could try things that are more rehabilitating & research based, rather than maintaining the status quo, but honestly, I don’t think the Democratic party/politicians/players really care that such draconian approaches tend to do more harm than good.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    I’m struck, reading Our Tod’s piece at The Beast, that the ministers and parishioners of the profiled church were right: Jesus, it is written, aimed his ministry at the least respected members of his society. IIRC, he counseled his apostles to do the same. Christianity in its truest and deepest realization is a difficult way to live, and a deeply admirable one. It is also exceeding uncommon.

    What is also interesting is the really low reported rate of recidivism. What’s the source for this — I can’t help but think I’ve seen some figures suggesting that recidivism is really high for sex offenders — although there may be an apples-to-apples issue going on.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Yeah, similarly, there really seems to be a bunch of weird investigations when 12-Step programs. They want to figure out whatever it is that these programs do, capture it, and figure out a way to reproduce it without all of the 12-steppery.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt, here are a couple articles suggesting low-ish rates.

      However! Sex crimes are notoriously unreported, so we don’t know the extent to which they commit new crimes and are never caught. Which is true of all crimes, but not equally true of all of them. It’s also the case that low recidivism rates often refer to “arrested again for any crime” and so you have a case where sex offenders can have higher rates for their same crimes, but lower rates overall because they’re a different sort of offender.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

      @burt-likko The statistics we used in the Beast article were taken from the fed’s National Criminal Justice Reference Service. FWIW, they are in line with all of the independent academic studies we reviewed.Report

  8. Michael Drew says:

    Other examples: No Child Left Behind; USA PATRIOT Act; Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994; Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996; Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

    I’m definitely in favor of forging bipartisan support for legislation when it’s good legislation. But when a fetish for it produces bad legislation (not saying that was the main dynamic driving the enactment of each law referenced above), that’s to be regretted.Report

  9. Eric Knight says:

    Don’t forget that John Walsh was having sex with his wife when he was in his early 20’s and she was 16 in a state where age of consent (AOC) is 17. This would make John Walsh a registered sex offender in every state with AOC above 16. In many states he would be the highest predatorial level.

    In fact, over 100,000 registered sex offenders exist for this VERY THING.

    NOTE: He admitted all this in his book “Tears of Rage.”Report

  10. Henry says:

    You are right, it is severely cruel, and in many cases, goes well beyond their actual punishment of sentencing for their offense.

    But you are wrong in blaming it nearly all on those two bills and on bipartisanship. In fact, since as you now realize — but not nearly so much as people subjected to it — this is severely cruel, you should ask: How is it that this was ever approved by the courts? In fact, the courts have said it not only is not cruel, they say it is not punishing in any way whatsoever! They have lied through their teeth time and again in every single last legal challenge brought to this, whereas instead they should have been ruling it is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. They don’t care about the law or our constitution, they simply want what they want, and so they time and again simply rule that red is blue in order to justify a cruel law.

    With all those legislators out there, and politics being what it is, it is not surprising that illegal laws get passed, although of course it is unacceptable. What is unconscionable is that the checks and balances have been completely thrown out the window when it comes to sex offenders. The courts are not checking and balancing, they are making matters even worse by ruling it isn’t any punishment at all, so go ahead and do any barbarous thing you want to sex offenders, we will approve it. Its cruelty can’t even be challenged if it is not even punishment. And saying that it is not any kind of punishment means it can be applied retroactively – and in California, that is all the way back to 1947, and all registrants must register for the rest of their lives with no way out other than to apply for a pardon – and no sex offender, other than a celebrity such as Peter Yarrow, will ever get a pardon.

    And this, even as the FBI has studies out for at least 15 years now saying recidivism by sex offenders is only about 2% – despite high recidivism constantly cited as why registration is needed. In fact, sex offenders have a much lower recidivism rate than other offenders. And California has a study out in October 2013 saying the recidivism rate for sex offenders is only 2.x%Report

  11. anonymously says:

    theres also sex offenders in prison escaping prison nightly , committing sex crimes on the outside , then breaking back into prison every morning and then repeating this throughout their entire sentence. If you’re that good, anything is possible right?Report

  12. anonymously says:

    If sex offender parolees can’t avoid getting sent back to prison for minor inconsequential parole violations like having beer in their refrigerators, not charging their GPS on time, etc , they can’t be getting away with sex crimes under under the noses of their probation/.parole officers. Once off parole, re-offense rates of registrants after a certain period of time, I think 15 years, drops to that of a non-registrant. Let’s focus attention to the sex crimes committed by non-registrants which is 95+% of all sex crimes committed. Getting rid of the registry, which gives a false sense of security about non-registrants is a good place to start.Report

    • Mark in reply to anonymously says:

      For over 20 years, I have fought to have my wrongful conviction overturned. Over 15 years ago, my accuser came forward, or his own volition, to admit that he had lied during the legal proceedings. I continue to fight in the courts of appeal where the federal court ganted me a stay and instructed me to return to the state court in order to exhaust a couple of claims. Today, I won a small victory but a victory nonetheless, when I presented a modification order granting me permission to attend and pray at Native American sacred ceremonies (even if children are present) in accordance with my spiritual beliefs, the right to access the law library for the purpose of conducting legal research and accessing a computer to include using the internet to communicate with my private investigator and other non-illegal activities such as available community services for pariahs such as myself. The fact that prior to this court ruling, I could have been taken into custody for violating an onerous condition of my probation such as attending a sacred event or conducting legal research, illustrates just how intrusive the government can be long after one has paid his debt to society. The fact that discussions are being held and articles are being written calling into question the constitutionality or legal necessity of ostracizing and demonizing a person for the rest of his life, is progress and I couldn’t be more relieved. Today was the first good day I have add in a long time and I just want to thank those who seek the truth above all else no matter what the politicians or media would have you believe. My hope that my 20 year old nightmare will end this year. Thank you all for your comments, opinions and discussions.Report

  13. Mark says:

    Sorry about the typos.Report