Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Patience is no virtue on MSOP injustice

A federal judge seems willing to give the state more time. There's scant evidence it will be used well.

Guest essay by D. J. Tice, Minnesota Star Tribune*

For many years, critics of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program have worried that this state may be guilty of cruel injustices.

They’ve worried that Minnesota’s sweeping, inconsistent system for dumping sex offenders who have completed prison sentences into so-called “treatment centers” may be imposing retroactive life sentences on some “clients” who pose no serious threat to the public, while giving them no effective treatment.

As of this summer, this is no longer a worry.

Now it’s a fact.

It took experts appointed by a federal court about two months to find what Minnesota officialdom has been unable to find in two decades — people buried alive in MSOP who have no earthly business there and should be released or transferred to another program.

And they’ve barely begun to look.

Unfortunately, a combination of legal complexities and deference toward state officials has caused even U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank to let injustice continue awhile longer. Earlier this month,Frank declined to release or transfer the MSOP inmates his experts had asked him to liberate. Instead, he ordered an expedited trial of class-action claims that the entire MSOP program is unconstitutional.

About 20 states have “civil commitment” programs like Minnesota’s. Most were enacted in the crime-plagued early 1990s out of legitimate fears that some habitual sex offenders are too dangerous to be released. But many of the other states with such programs regularly review clients’ cases and have developed less-restrictive forms of supervision for offenders who are less dangerous or are making progress in treatment.

In Minnesota, attempts to contain or reform MSOP have repeatedly become politicized. The result is that the state boasts the largest per-capita population of committed offenders in the nation (nearly 700, costing about $120,000 a year each), in a program offering nothing but prison-like incarceration and no serious path toward success in treatment and release. Just two clients have emerged in the program’s whole history.

Only last winter, Gov. Mark Dayton released a letter to his Department of Human Services, which runs MSOP, noting that he likes the program just fine the way it is and ordering the department to abandon its efforts to move some clients toward release. He cited “gamesmanship” by his political opponents as the reason.

Judge Frank seems rather less sanguine about MSOP. In February, as part of the class-action suit challenging the program’s constitutionality, he put four experts to work examining MSOP — including a sample of individual client files. They quickly brought forward two cases they wanted the judge to see right away.

One involves 24-year-old Eric Terhaar, who has been in MSOP for five years on the basis of offenses committed before he was 15. Insisting that a juvenile record of this kind should be viewed differently than adult sex crimes, the court experts unanimously insisted that “there is little evidence to suggest that Mr. Terhaar is a dangerous sexual offender … .” He should be “unconditionally discharged,” they said.

The other case brought to the judge is that of Rhonda Bailey, 48, locked inside MSOP since 1993 as the program’s only woman. Suffering an “intellectual disability,” a deeply troubled victim of abuse and trauma since childhood, Bailey, the judge wrote, is being “housed on the St. Peter campus of MSOP as the only female on a unit of all male high risk sexual offenders.”

The court’s experts, unanimously, have “exceptionally grave concerns” about Bailey’s “current housing and treatment scenario.” They declare her situation “unprecedented in contemporary sexual offender treatment and management … .”

This “unprecedented” achievement isn’t the sort of distinction Minnesota usually boasts of. The experts have a notion that Bailey, while clearly needing treatment and supervision, might do better in “a facility where she can receive care and treatment that is sensitive to both her gender and her clinical presentation.”

Suddenly, the state seems to think so, too. Confronted with the Bailey and Terhaar cases in hearings before Frank this summer, state officials are now apparently scrambling to find an alternative treatment setting for Bailey and to move Terhaar toward provisional release. (It’s also worth noting that lately state courts have been scrutinizing MSOP commitments more rigorously.)

For now, Judge Frank seems willing to be patient while the state’s processes unfold. On Aug. 11, he declined to find continued confinement of Terhaar and Bailey unconstitutional, but said he would revisit the questions if the state’s efforts prove inadequate.

Meanwhile, Frank wants to get on with the trial in the broader class-action case. Last week, he set Feb. 9 as the trial date.

“It is obvious,” Frank wrote in his Aug. 11 order, “that but for this litigation, Terhaar … would likely have languished for years in the prison-like environment of MSOP-Moose Lake without any realistic hope of gaining his freedom. And of course it is of great concern to the Court that this may not be an aberrant case [but] symptomatic of a larger systemic problem. … This concern is heightened by the experts’ opinion about the grossly inadequate — even shocking — treatment of Bailey … .”

There is as yet no explanation, the judge wrote, of “how this troubling state of affairs came about.”

That one’s easy, your honor. It came about because too many judges over too many years have been too patient waiting for Minnesota’s politicians to do the right thing.

* * * * *

*D. J. Tice is Commentary Editor for the Star Tribune, and is a member of the newspaper's Editorial Board. He has been a writer, editor and publisher in Twin Cities journalism for more than 30 years. A former political editor, he is the author of two books of popular history. This essay originally appeared in the Star Tribune on August 26, 2014 and was reprinted with the written permission of Mr. Tice. 

Previous guest coverage of the Minnesota civil commitment crisis by Minnesota social worker Jon Brandt can be found HERE.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Announcing blogger sabbatical

Dear Blog Subscribers and Readers,

If you have detected a decline in blog frequency of late, it's not your imagination. After more than seven years, I have made the difficult decision to take a sabbatical break from regular blogging in order to direct my energy toward some larger writing projects.

As some of you know, in addition to juggling forensic case work, trainings and teaching with family life, I have also experienced a considerable increase in professional travel. This represents exciting professional growth for me, but I am finding that this schedule makes it hard to pursue more in-depth writing projects along with regular blogging. By carving out this opportunity to write in a different way, I hope to refine my ideas, and return to blogging with the enthusiasm I have felt from such a rewarding pursuit.

I enjoy the connections that blogging has allowed me to forge with mental health professionals, attorneys, criminologists, students, writers, scholars and others around the world. I’ll be back, and in the meantime I hope you continue to share your insights and observations with me through venues such as Twitter.

Feedblitz subscribers

If you receive this blog via a Feedblitz subscription, there is no need to do anything. I may blog occasionally during my sabbatical, as time and/or inspiration permit. I also hope to periodically re-post a few reader favorites. With your Feedblitz subscription, you will be the first to know when I'm back at full throttle.

Paid subscribers

If you are one of my loyal paid subscribers, you may want to temporarily suspend your PayPal payments and just stick with the Feedblitz subscription until I return to more regular posting. I deeply appreciate your ongoing support, but there is no need to donate to the blog when it is not producing.

Australian followers

A special message to my followers in Australia: Keep an eye out for me in October. I will be doing some trainings as well as keynote talks at Bond University in Queensland and at forensic conferences in Brisbane and Sydney, and would love to see and/or meet you. Look for a blog announcement with further details.


The blog archives contain almost a thousand posts on a multitude of topics pertaining to forensic psychology and criminology. The posts will still be there, even while I am away. So if you are doing some research, feel free to search the archives. There are two easy ways to do this. One is to browse by topic on the blog's home page (look down the right column, under the word "labels"). The other is to use the search box, again on the home page, to do a more specific search, for example by a keyword or author. 

Tweet, tweet!

Finally, if you have a Twitter account, I'd love to see you over on Twitter, where I remain active. Follow me @kfranklinphd

So -- sit back, relax, and stay tuned. I'll be back in a flash.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Innovative international risk assessment service is expanding

Try your hand at answering these questions:

  1. When evaluating Aboriginal offenders, how valid are standard risk assessment protocols? 

  2. Among Canadian men, how well does the Danger Assessment (DA) predict domestic violence? 

  3. For sex offenders in Vermont, what instrument is more accurate than the widely used Static-99 for predicting recidivism? 

  4. In screening U.S. soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, is there a valid tool that would help allocate limited therapeutic resources in order to decrease violence risk? 

  5. Finally, what the heck are the Y-ARAT, the CuRV, the START, and the VIO-SCAN, and what (if anything) are they good for?

With the frenetic pace of risk assessment research and practice developments, you couldn't be faulted for not knowing the correct answers to all of the above questions. Hardly anyone does.

That’s where the Executive Bulletin comes in.

Back in February, I told you about the launch of this service for clinicians, attorneys and researchers who want to stay abreast of developments in the field of risk assessment. The publishers scour more than 80 professional journals and create a one-page summary for each article relevant to violence and sex offending risk assessment among adults and juveniles. Using an appealing, easy-to-read format, each summary highlights the study's clinical implications and relevant legal questions, while minimizing statistical jargon. 

In the months since my announcement, the Bulletin has been gaining traction around the world. It now reaches more than 11,000 practitioners, researchers, and policymakers in the United States, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Israel, the Netherlands, Mexico, Lithuania, Norway and Denmark. Among its largest subscribers are the California Department of State Hospitals -- which requires that its forensic evaluators read each monthly issue in order to stay abreast of peer-reviewed research into evidence-based practice -- and the public-policy oriented Council of State Governments in the United States.

The newly rebranded Global Institute of Forensic Research (GIFR), with the ever-energetic forensic psychologist Jay Singh at its helm, is currently rolling out a new features and services, including a new website, a podcast version of the Bulletin for commuters, and expert risk assessment trainings (free to subscribers) that are eligible for continuing education credits from the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association.

The service is subscription-based. At $35 per month (and $350 for group subscriptions) it isn’t cheap, but Dr. Singh points out that the alternatives are also costly. It’s both costly and time consuming to stay abreast of important risk-related articles from more than 80 journals, most of them fee-based. Thus, without a synthesizing service such as the Bulletin, practitioners risk falling behind and inadvertently violating relevant standards of practice.

Among my own main concerns if I am going to allow someone else to find and synthesize research for my consumption is the degree of fidelity and expertise that the reviewer brings to bear. Here, the field is fortunate to have someone upon whom we can confidently rely. What I find most valuable about the Bulletin is the level of critical analysis that the expert reviewers bring to bear on each of the 15 or 20 articles they summarize each month. (Indeed, my confidence is why I accepted an invitation a while back to serve on the Institute’s advisory board.)

Singh, an epidemiology professor at Molde University in Norway, has published more than 40 cutting-edge articles on violence prediction (a few of which I have featured in prior blog posts). Formerly a fellow of the Florida Mental Health Institute and a Senior Researcher in Forensic Psychiatry for the Swiss Department of Corrections in Zurich, he has also trained and lectured widely on mental illness and violence, including at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania.

To date, his Institute has conducted exclusive interviews on tips and tricks in forensic assessment with leading practitioners and scholars including Jodi Viljoen, Nicholas Scurich, Annelies Vredeveldt and -- most recently -- Jennifer Lanterman of the University of Nevada at Reno. Next month’s featured expert is Seena Fazel of Oxford University. You can browse the website and find a sample issue HERE.

If you decide to sign up (or, better yet, get your institution to sign up), Singh is offering my blog readers and subscribers a special 10 percent discount. Just click on THIS LINK, and enter the discount code INTHENEWS.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Film to explore gay-bashing in friendly, liberal community

Lawrence "Mikey" Partida's injuries
It was a tragic end to his 32nd birthday celebration. As Lawrence “Mikey” Partida left his cousin’s house, a young neighbor confronted him, hurling antigay epithets before beating Partida unconscious. The slightly built long-distance runner and grocery clerk was left with a fractured skull and a piece of wooden fence post embedded behind his eye. He underwent months of surgery and rehabilitation.

The event shocked the idyllic university community of Davis, California. Nestled between San Francisco and the state’s capital city of Sacramento, the town of 65,000 is ranked among the best places to live in America, with a reputation as safe, welcoming, liberal, educated and bicycle-friendly.

Perhaps more surprising than the assault itself was the identity of the perpetrator, and his kid-gloves treatment by the criminal justice system.

Clay Garzon
Clayton “Clay” Garzon, then 19, is the son of two well respected physicians, one of them a prominent humanitarian. Yet notwithstanding his privileged and progressive upbringing, this was not his first violent attack; he was awaiting trial on charges stemming from a drunken brawl the year before in which four young men were stabbed. Despite the fact that he was out on bail already when he mercilessly beat Partida, he was approved for bail of only $75,000, allowing his immediate release yet again. He ultimately pled guilty to assault, battery and hate crime charges in exchange for a sentence of five years in the local county jail, under a prison realignment law (AB 109) intended only for non-violent offenses.

Despite having used antigay slurs before, during and after the assault, Garzon and his attorney insisted that the attack was not motivated by antigay animus.

Forensic linguistics

Of potential interest to this blog's audience, the defense called an expert in the new field of forensic linguistics, who opined that Garzon's use of the term faggot was "more consistent with challenging [Partida's] masculinity" than with hatred. William Eggington, a linguistics professor from Brigham Young University, testified at Garzon's preliminary hearing that a tolerant family upbringing in a liberal community "would lower the possibility that this would be a gender- related crime." 

This testimony highlights a vexing problem with so-called “hate crime laws.” Their very name fosters a misimpression that bias crimes are necessarily motivated by hatred. As I found in my research with antigay assailants, this is far from the case. Such crimes are often driven more by instrumental goals such as fitting in with a peer group or demonstrating visible proof of masculinity than by outright animus. As the prosecutor, Jonathan Raven of the Yolo County District Attorney's Office, pointed out, hatred is not a requisite element of a hate crime: “One simply has to be motivated by a bias, in whole or in part.” The idea behind the enhanced penalty is that by attacking a person based even in part on his or her group membership, one is causing fear in the targeted class. As Raven noted in a statement, “certainly the crime in this case caused those in the LGBT community to be fearful.”

Further complicating Garzon's motivations is the fact that he lashed out at Partida when the gay man told him to stop pestering Partida’s female cousin, whom Garzon had been aggressively pursuing all night long.

Unpacking violence

Disentangling the complex and multifaceted roots of violence is the goal of anthropologist and filmmaker Daniel Bruun, who is producing a film, “Davisville 2013,” on the case.

Bruun, a Davis native, closely followed the case for a year as it wended its way through the legal system, recording more than 50 hours of courtroom proceedings and interviews. He even tracked down the victims in Garzon’s other case.

Ironically, while Partida experienced an outpouring of support from the Davis community, including an appeal from Sikh leaders for higher bail, Garzon’s other victims, young working-class white men who were not a member of a protected minority, were not feeling the love. As candlelight vigils were held in Davis for Partida, police in nearby Dixon couldn’t even be bothered to investigate, according to Bruun’s investigation.

“If [Garzon] never would’ve done that [hate crime], he probably never
Candlelight vigil for Partida
would’ve gone to jail -- ever,” lamented one of the forgotten stabbing victims. “It hurts that they didn’t really care for us.” 

In a front-page interview in the Davis Enterprise last week, Bruun said he first started contemplating the causes of seemingly senseless and random violence when he was in junior high school, and a 14-year-old Davis boy was beaten, robbed of two dollars and pushed into a moving train by three local teens. “I was affected by it, but I felt like the story was never told in a complete way,” Bruun told reporter Lauren Keene.

He seized upon the Davis case as a chance to tell a bigger story, about the causes of male youth violence as well as its impact on victims, communities, and even the assailants themselves.

“It seemed like an opportunity to tell a story like that in the best way possible -- to be involved in it as the story is unfolding.”

Filmmaker (right) with Partida
Bruun’s prior documentaries included anthropologically informed explorations of underground cultures in Manchester, England and The Bronx; his short film Temporary Sanity is on the Royal Anthropological Institute's recommended curriculum for anthropology undergraduates in Great Britain.

Bruun is kicking off a month-long fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, a San Francisco-based fundraising website. He hopes to raise $10,000 to complete the project.

Bruun plans to interview me along with prominent hate crime expert Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis. I realize that I just put the word out about fundraising for another documentary, on violence against transgender women of color (again involving me as an expert), but if you feel so inclined, here’s a link to donate to Bruun’s worthy Davisville 2013 project as well. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Special journal issue on new HCR-20 V3 risk instrument

The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health has just published a special issue on the HCR-20 Version 3, an update to the most widely used structured professional judgment method for assessing violence risk. Those of you without access to academic databases will be happy to learn that the entire issue is available for free download.

The work covered in the special issue is international in scope, spanning seven countries. Separate articles present the latest data on the instrument’s scientific reliability and validity, with a special focus on the most critical question of how well the HCR-20 does what it is supposed to do – predict risk. The authors represent quite a range, many of whom you will recognize. 
The articles, which can be downloaded directly by clicking on the below links, include the following:
  • The HCR-20V3 in Germany by Sebastian Kötter, Fritjof von Franqué, Manfred Bolzmacher, Sabine Eucker, Barbara Holzinger & Rüdiger Müller-Isberner
Of related interest:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Film to highlight violence against trans women of color

The pace of social change is sometimes mind-boggling. The cover of next week's issue of Time magazine features actress Laverne Cox on the "transgender tipping point," with transgender rights heralded as the new civil rights movement.

Much of the increasing public awareness can be credited to Laverne herself, a charismatic and inspirational spokeswoman best known for her role as a trans prisoner in the blockbuster Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.

I was honored to meet Laverne earlier this month, when she interviewed me for the film “Free CeCe,” a documentary on violence against trans women of color being co-produced by award-winning filmmaker Jacqueline Gares. (Her first documentary, Unraveled, about Alzheimer's and genetic testing, won a Freddie Award.) 

The levels of anti-trans violence are staggering. Trans women of color make up an estimated 8 percent of the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community, but nearly half of its murder victims. They are also disproportionately victimized by job discrimination, homelessness, extreme poverty, police harassment, and incarceration; in prison, their victimization is ubiquitous.

Just walking down the street

CeCe McDonald, the focus of the documentary, knows about all of this first-hand. A 23-year-old fashion student, she was walking to the grocery store with some friends when she was accosted by a group of rowdy drunks outside a Minneapolis tavern one night in 2011. The group hurled insults: “Faggots!” “Niggers!” “Chicks with dicks!” One of the drunks slashed CeCe in the face with a cocktail glass. With blood gushing down her cheek, she pulled a pair of scissors and stabbed a man who was advancing on her, killing him.

If she had been George Zimmerman, the legal outcome would most likely have been different. But she was charged with murder, and the judge excluded evidence relating to self defense. She was barred from raising Dean Schmitz’s propensity for violence or racism, as evidenced by his multiple assault convictions and the swastika tattoo on his chest, from his days as a white supremacist in prison. Nor could she mention the methamphetamine found in his system, which might have made him more aggressive that night.

Faced with a stacked deck, CeCe pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter (criminal negligence) in exchange for a 41-month sentence. She was released from men's prison this January.

Rather than going down quietly as just another everyday injustice, the case garnered national attention and CeCe drew widespread support -- culminating in the current film project. I got a chance to meet CeCe at this month's filming at my office. Despite enduring a lifetime of physical and verbal assaults from strangers as well as family members, she told me that she remains haunted by the tavern incident. Growing up in a segregated community in Chicago, she had never before encountered such raw racial hatred, and she never imagined that she would ever have to kill someone or go to prison.

Why such hatred?

Your blogger with Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald
My role in the film is to explain the basis for the widespread moral outrage and violence directed at transgender people. My dissertation research focused on the motivations of antigay hate crime perpetrators, and I later expanded this work into a broader theory of masculine violence as theater.

Trans women of color are a uniquely perfect storm, producing insecurity by transgressing against dominant notions of gender, race and identity. When dehumanized (as “its”) and hypersexualized, they become an abstract symbol of deviance, a dramatic prop through which young men in particular can prove their masculinity and reinforce their adherence to traditional gender norms.

Ramping up hostility toward transgender people is the notion that they are trying to trick or deceive others, lying to those around them about their "real sex." Indeed, this perception of deception underlies the trans "panic defense" that has been invoked in murder cases such as those of Gwen Araujo and Lawrence King.

Public antagonism toward transgender people emboldens violence-prone individuals such as those who attacked CeCe and her friends at the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis, who believe that they are not only justified, but righteous in defending societal norms of gender and race. Such ideas run deep in our culture, reinforced through everyday microaggressions like snickering, jokes, hostile stares, and discriminatory treatment.

In a brilliant essay, Koritha Mitchell, an English professor at Ohio State University, draws a comparison between anti-transgender violence today and the early-20th century sexualized lynchings of African American men in the U.S. South. Both forms of brutality, she points out, are aimed at denying citizenship, marking “who belongs and who does not…. Because violence most often plagues those whom society encourages us to abandon, denouncing violence empowers us to embrace them.” 

The good news is, as we have seen with gay men and lesbians, public visibility can dramatically reduce hostility. Humanization as coworkers, neighbors, fellow parents, or family members short-circuits attempts to stereotype sexual minorities as abstract symbols of deviance. The rate of attitudinal change in the United States and around the world, especially among young people, is nothing short of amazing.

The Time magazine cover story illustrates the remarkable speed of change in regard to attitudes toward transgender people. It also illustrates the power of social media. Time's exclusion of Laverne from last year's list of 100 most influential people produced a Twitter backlash, #whereisLaverneCox. And the mood shifted further when Laverne famously stood up to TV personality Katie Couric in January; the video of her shifting the narrative from prurient talk of genitalia to the more pressing topics of violence and social justice went viral. 

Donate to the film

Free CeCe is still in production. The producers have raised more than one-fifth of the $465,000 budget, and are soliciting grant funding and individual donations to complete the project.If you would like to contribute to this important project, the filmmakers will gratefully accept your tax-deductible donation (HERE).

* * * * *

Of related interest: 

Prison pipeline for transgender youth: Poor and minority especially at risk (March 26, 2008)

(c) Copyright Karen Franklin 2014 - All rights reserved

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