This is an article about the group I work with in Dutchess County New York. The Dutchess County Sex Offender Management Project
was funded for two years by the Department of Justice and many productive results emerged including the "Road Show"
we present around the county, and plan to continue even though the project funding has ended.
I'm really proud of these folks... the place was full and it was wonderful to see so many people working toward the same goal. Symposium examines ways to prevent sex crimes
Agency praises Dutchess policies
By Larry Fisher-Hertz
April 1, 2006
Dutchess County's comprehensive approach to dealing with sex offenders — and providing help for victims — is a model others should copy.
That was the message to local leaders Friday from an official of a Washington-based agency that helps communities find ways to fight sex-related crime.
"Dutchess County has a real commitment to gathering the facts before deciding how to proceed," said Peggy Burke, a staff member of the Center for Sex Offender Management. "From my work across the country, I can tell you Dutchess County has made choices we would hope all communities would make in addressing sex offenders."
Burke was a speaker at a symposium and luncheon at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel hosted by the Dutchess County Sex Offender Management Project. About 200 people, including county officials, judges, law enforcement officials and counselors attended the three-hour session.
Over the past two years, county officials and other local agencies have been working together to develop and refine strategies to prosecute and monitor sex offenders and provide assistance for their victims. The project was funded by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Center for Sex Offender Management acted as a consultant for the local consortium.
Those involved in the project said the county had taken numerous steps to improve the way it handles sex offenses since the initiative began, including educating judges and the public.
Gary Christensen, administrator of the county jail and a member of the Sex Offender Management Project's steering committee, said the group's reliance on evidence-based research had convinced him he had some misconceptions of his own about sex offenders.
"I thought they were basically incorrigible," Christensen said,"but that's not true."
He said he had learned the recidivism rate rises for sex offenders who are punished through criminal sanctions alone. But for those who receive appropriate treatment and counseling, the likelihood they will commit another sex crime actually drops by 30 percent, Christensen said.
Senior Assistant Public De-fender Nancy Garo said she and a fellow member of the steering committee, Senior Assistant District Attorney Marjorie Smith, had worked with probation officers, counselors and judges to refine sentencing procedures for convicted sex offenders.
"As a defense attorney, my concern was some of my clients were being set up to fail," Garo said.
Under the new protocol, sex offenders who are sentenced to probation and treatment programs are returned to court six months after their treatment begins, so experts can analyze how the defendant is responding to treatment and suggest possible ways to improve that treatment.
"This six-month review gives us the opportunity to tweak the orders and conditions of probation and make them more specific to each person," she said. "This has been a tremendous benefit in helping my clients succeed in community treatment."
Smith said it was important to ensure offenders receive the appropriate treatment because even those sent to prison will be returning to the community.
"The reality is, there are sex offenders on our streets," she said. "These people are here, so we must evaluate them properly."
Robert Rolison, a Town of Poughkeepsie detective and member of the county Legislature, said he and other members of the steering committee plan to continue to host community forums to raise public awareness about sex offenders.
"We want to let people know what we're doing and what we're not doing, what we can't do," Rolison said.
The committee wants to explode some common myths about sex offenders, including the belief most of them are strangers.
"Sex offenders are most often someone the child knows," he said.
With that in mind, he said the steering committee had published a "Parent Guide" alerting county residents about some of the methods sexual predators use to commit their crimes.
County Executive William Steinhaus, another speaker at the event, said the two-year project was an example of how the county addresses problems by forming coalitions and alliances of people with diverse backgrounds and skills.
"We have great individual assets in this county — brain power and passion and compassion," Steinhaus said. "This initiative is an outstanding example of what can happen when all these top-shelf resources come together to make an impact on a serious social issue."
Larry Fisher-Hertz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org