Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"NY TIMES" STILL IMPRESSES

I’ve gone over the 2nd and 3rd Parts of the Goodnough-Davey series of sex-offenders and the policy and science of sex-offenses (Part 1 was discussed in an earlier Post, “NY Times Impresses” yesterday). (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/05/us/05civil.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)

The series is a fine piece of reporting. But one point has to be made before we begin, and it is not the fault of the authors. Reflecting the (hardly accidental) vagueness that exists in this sex-offense stuff, the article mostly uses the term "sex offender" to cover a range of crimes and convicts that is vastly larger than what most of us see on TV news. The term "sex offender" as it is currently deployed in the media and in law and in public discourse covers a range of actions from a stranger-adult abducting, raping, and even killing a child (of the same or opposite sex) through the 'date-rape' type of case and on down through peeing (or technically: being seen to pee) in a public place (which might be behind a tree in a park in the night-time). Readers in matters related to sex-offenses have to continually ensure that they are not automatically equating the term "sex offender" with child-rapist/murderer or serial rapist, nor that they are allowing themselves to imagine a particularly vivid TV-news segment everytime they encounter the term "sex offense". The vast majority of persons classified by the very recent term "sex offender" are at the mid-lower levels of the range that defines the class.

Part 3 is the more significant for me. Part 2 recounts in detail the failure of a for-profit enterprise in – but of course – The Great State of Florida – where some market-driven company was contracted to come in and run the sex-offender civil confinement facility. Such facilities, we recall, are the key to the Supreme Court’s looking-glass fiction that if you lock people up as soon as they’re out of prison in order to get them therapy, then even if there’s no therapy to give, it’s not ‘punishment’ and it’s Constitutionally sweet. Ach ja!

As always in this sex-offense thing, we see the consequences of government’s removing the rules and opening everything up, having already whipped up a popular frenzy that panders to some folks’ lesser and more primitive instincts and subdues their ability to raise questions and think things through. (And does that sound like something connected to the Iraq war run-up?)

The courts’ substantive removal of such legal gate-keeping as Rules of Evidence, the guarantee that out of ‘respect’ and ‘sensitivity’ no claim would be questioned in court or in the media, the selective reporting of such claims as if they were facts and the automatic enrobing of claimants as ‘victims’ without any effort to verify their claims … all of this has been discussed at length in earlier Posts (see any Post with “Sex” in the title).

A “cottage industry” (and kudos to the authors for using the term) of “professionals” grew up around the now tax-fattened purses opened by state and national government to ‘do the science’ that must always accompany and smooth the path of the latest juggernaut. The relevant Advocacy spun its gambit as having been prompted by brilliantly and courageously discovered new-knowledge that had somehow escaped the notice of all the dumb, sleazy, secretive (and man-dominated) generations of humanity’s past umpty-thousand years,; now “professionals” would get to define their market-share by coming up with the “knowledge” about the awfulness of the whole thing and all of those ‘things’ now called “sex offenders”.

Of course, it had to be the correct “knowledge”. If you – say – did a very careful professional study of all the already-accepted studies that had been lying around quietly for years, and simply reported that you had noticed that those studies did not support the “knowledge” about the awfulness of it all, then you could find yourself in the dangerous position of having the national legislature itself pass a Resolution denouncing you. Much like scientists of an earlier era who had the bad luck to notice that Hitler’s Aryan race theory seemed to be a bit off or that Stalin’s theories about almost everything seemed to lack a basis in provable fact. Reichstag, Praesidium, Congress … they all get to seem the same after a while, I guess. At least when it comes to the pursuit of genuine knowledge. And of Truth.

Anyhoo, once the ‘civil confinement’ stuff came up (and it was seen as ‘cutting edge’ rather than as an ominous mimicry of totalitarian praxis), a whole new business opportunity opened up: private sector companies that would come in and ‘run’ these civil confinement facilities, creating jobs for pork-friendly communities while saving the host-state the expense of hiring more costly (and unionized) state employees. This was a refinement (so to speak) of the lucrative private-prison industries gambit that had sprung up a decade before.

Alas. The business plan for the private-prison industries was insufficient for the civil-confinement industry. The former merely had to keep convicts locked up; it didn’t need ‘science’ – all it needed was ‘law’ and it already had that. During the Twelve Years (abetted at every step by the Clinton administration) the goal of actually ‘correcting’ or ‘rehabilitating’ inmates in prisons was tossed out; warehouse the garbage and keep them off the streets – that was the plan. (That ‘plan’ - which was really more of a desire than a real plan – did not plan ahead to the post-confinement phase, when all these gentlemen would complete their sentences and come back to town … another curious similarity to the Iraq war script.)

The poor civil-confinement entrepreneur was handed a truly wormy apple by the Supreme and the lesser Courts: in order to justify the legal fiction that allowed this game in the first place, the confiner would have to come up with at least a reasonable simulacrum of ‘scientific knowledge’ upon which some now or future ‘therapy’ could be based, or at least hopefully asserted.

So to Part 3 where the authors gamely raise the issue of the lack of “scientific” and “professional” grounding, not only for the “civil commitment” gambit but for the whole “sex offense” category itself. They quote some “experts”, and here I have to note something tactical before we get to the content. The two “experts” are from differently-named organizations: the “Justice Research Institute” and “New England Forensic Associates”. The “Justice” entity does not easily show up in Google, but the name of the expert shows up, under another umbrella organization; the “New England” entity shows up, but that expert is also listed on the other expert’s entity. Both seem to be commercial or at least private enterprises, and not associated with any major institution of learning or medicine; both entities and both experts seem to have strong ties to law enforcement and criminal-justice education.

And the town in which the “Justice” entity’s actual organization is supposed to be located – “Accord, MA” – doesn’t exist … the zip code is assigned to a single PO Box number, the PO Box number given as the address of the “Justice” entity. All of which shows to go ya: there are many of these for-profit, free-lance outfits, with a surfeit of “Doctors”, “Directors” and so forth – sorta like think-tanks in Washington; these worthies have “treated” hundreds and thousands of sex-offenders and “forensically evaluated” even more hundreds and thousands; they are all very closely-connected to law enforcement and criminal justice type operations, where they have lectured, taught, advised, and otherwise greatly – if vaguely – surfed the Great Wave.

My thought is that the above oddnesses represent an effort to inflate the 'expert' network while simultaneously hiding its actual (small) size. 'Experts' who at first glance belong to different organizations are actually simply using different business cards that they had printed up; quoted as if they were two laregly separate professionals creates an 'echo' effect that lends to their comments a heavier weight. Offices that aren't actually accessible (perhaps even existent) prevent the curious from seeing just what shoe-box operations are really being run in this thing.

Two significant content-problems plague these heroes. First, sex-offensery (may I?) has “never been regarded as a legitimate and recognized topic for research by psychologists”. We are left to presume – these ‘experts’ no doubt hope – that this is due to the evil and secretive machinations of stodgy and male-dominated bureaucracies that for eons have with-held or suppressed the saving knowledge that would – through the well-remunerated services of these ‘experts’ – save many from much suffering and pain and ensure much ‘healing’ and ‘closure’. Actually, the mainstream science and research community seems to have realized a scientifically invalid monstrosity – this sex-offender ‘diagnosis’ – for the media-created, politically useful cultural artifact that it actually is, and backed away from getting itself mixed up in the whole thing. The American Psychiatric Association, if memory serves, said as much years ago.

This also helps to explain the second problem: “[S]ex offenders present major challenges as research subjects”. Yes, especially since most serious and competent researchers aren’t going to go near this hydra-headed, hydra-hearted Ponzi-scheme with a ten-foot pole, especially since if they have the (very probable) bad luck to find out that reality doesn’t agree with the sex-offense Script as it has become codified, then they and their institutions and colleagues could lose government funding and get a Resolution passed against them by Congress (which up until recently has had lots of time on its hands, since it had let the Unitarium run the country and the war). But that, of course, has left the ‘field’ wide open to the claims, assertions, ruminations and reminiscences of the for-profit, ad-hoc, criminal-justice roadies and freelance ‘experts’.

And while it is in no way suggested that all persons caught up in the toils of the sex-offensery are ‘innocent’, no rational being in his (always ‘his’) right mind would want to be forthcoming to ‘researchers’ who are clearly law-enforcement roadies or victim-oriented or Script/ideology-driven or simply amateurs. And let’s not forget that the chances have always been excellent that anything an already-convicted or a suspected offender says to a ‘researcher’ would very likely wind up as evidence when the research notes found their way to authorities.

The ‘experts’ intimate to us unwashed that the problems are due to the Sex-Offender (as a type) being “secretive”. It is not unreasonable to imagine that any criminal would want to keep quiet about divulging fresh evidence against himself to authorities, and it is granted that the intricate internal dynamics of the human psyche in matters of sex often result in a certain reticence. It is also not unreasonable to note that such a ‘mysterious’ subject would also serve as an ever-ready cover for the lack of any serious (and ‘correct’) results of such ‘research’ as might be conducted.

But the authors – and they really are full of surprises, given the media’s performance in this whole thing to date – reveal on their own that another reason for the paucity of research is that “there are far fewer convicted sex offenders that most other kinds of criminals”. Now this gives one pause. Yes, the Advocacy has pre-positioned an explanation for this eventuality: there are – we must believe – 5 or 10 or ‘X’ times as many cases of ‘molestation’ and ‘abuse’ as are reported to the authorities, but everything related to sex is so ‘secretive’ and ‘mysterious’ that nothing can be proved but this itself only proves that we need more laws and more millions of bucks and more of everything, and for a long time.

But there are plenty of Americans still above-ground who remember the missile-gap and the bomber-gap before that; many more who recall the Gulf of Tonkin and the consequences that went on long after it was admitted to be an artifact; many many more who recall national security estimates of Iraq and its WMD. If We are to People this country nowadays then – at the very least – assertions of vast numbers of anything, even rabbits, must be looked at carefully. Had that been done just five years ago, what might have been prevented for which We and the world must now pay?

Another possible explanation for the paucity of sex-offender research subjects is that there just aren’t that many of them. That even after all the restraints upon untruth had been compromised and the definition of a sex-offense had been expanded to include everything but ‘bad thoughts’ and all the consequences for untruth had been removed and all the media had put everyone on alert … even with all that, there simply aren’t that many sex-offenders – at least, compared to what we have been led to believe: slavering hordes, working individually or in cells, either mindless, sex-addled golems or mysterious and powerful super-perps working alone or in concert, but also your local store-keeper, your local priest, your uncle and your dad, and as always, the ice cream guy. Just about, it is clear, every type of monster in every grade-D 1950s sci-fi or monster flik.

And thus we come, courtesy of this valuable series of reports, to this exquisite and so predictable bureaucratic gambit: since there is so little reliable research, why then few of the civilly-confined can be released. That they were confined on the basis of almost no scientific ‘knowledge’ is irrelevant; that they cannot be released without such scientific ‘knowledge’ is self-evident. Yah. No wonder Bush and Cheney figured We would fall for anything.

The ‘science’ of “risk assessment” is brought back, but not too deeply. None of these ‘experts’ wants to risk revealing the Justice Department’s own sex-offender unit’s report (a matter of public record) that sex-offenders have a lower recidivism rate than almost any other type of convict.

Dr. Eric Janus is quoted; he is the author of a book discussed on this site in the second half of the Post “Prosec Nation”. A law school professor, he tries to square the circle by admitting that we know almost nothing about sex-offenses and -offenders, but that feminism has contributed hugely to what little knowledge we do have, and that if we were just to put more money into research we’d know a lot more someday.

This begins to sound like a Pentagon general currently describing the Iraq war. It refuses to speak the huge and profound question it raises: if we know so little now, then on what reliable and justifiable grounds have we for years now frightened the citizenry, punctured the legal and constitutional walls precisely designed to protect the Republic from excessive intrusion by the police power of the government, un-Truthed our society, and created a new scape-goat class of ‘dangerous other’ upon whom all manner of venom and civic-disablements have been heaped? What – it may be asked – in hell have We gone and done? On what grounds? Or is that too ‘masculine’ a question? Too ‘insensitive’ an approach?

Janus is to be thanked for pointing out that we should be putting our money into ‘research’ and not into ‘punitive’ measures, and that’s nice enough. But it still begs the sturdy 1940's question: is this trip necessary? Is there actually a sufficiently large and identifiable reality that poses a large enough threat that We should so lasciviously endanger the vessel of this Republic to explore and conquer it? If a commanding officer loses an aircraft carrier and its entire crew of five thousand by trying to save ‘just one’ person adrift on the horizon, is that a desirable outcome? Hard questions. Not really telegenic for TV news or for soundbites. But then again, neither were the questions that – if properly deliberated and answered – would have prevented the mistakes of the Iraq misadventure.

We are at the point now where We are repeating mistakes before We have even forgotten the history. Indeed, the mistake was that We created no history of questioning in the first place. This is a peculiarly American type of doom. Weirdly American. We need not surrender to it.

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