Occasional Musings by the President
Change IS afoot at CASOMB
By Catherine L. Carpenter
President, Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws
Slowly, change is taking place at California Sex Offense Management Board (CASOMB). It is not change with a capital “C,” nor is it the widespread overhaul ACSOL is demanding. But even small positive changes are important in an advocacy movement. So, I want to take a moment to celebrate the small, but powerful shift I witnessed at this week’s CASOMB board meeting.
On Thursday, January 18, I attended the California Sex Offense Management Board meeting with our Executive Director, Janice Bellucci. It was held in Los Angeles (a rarity, Janice tells me). On the surface, the CASOMB board meeting was like any other meeting of a regulatory body. It was tedious and often slow moving.
But several things jumped out at me that I want to share with our community.
Language and labels matter. Part of the meeting was devoted to the review of CASOMB’s annual report for 2023. In its discussion of suggested edits to the report, one board member asked that the term ‘sex offender’ and ‘juvenile sex offender’ be replaced throughout the document with first person language like ‘persons convicted of sex offenses.’ She said that reading the term “sex offender” throughout the report made her cringe. This board member went so far as to say that CASOMB should investigate changing its own name, but that she knew this was not possible right now. Judging from the room’s reaction, other board members recognized that she was right.
This board member is correct. We know that language and labels matter. Scholars and other professionals have long decried the use of the term “sex offender.” As Bella Walker eloquently wrote, “Only in sex crimes is there a shift from being persons convicted of certain acts to becoming permanent carriers of an inherently degraded status.” If her editing suggestion is followed, CASOMB’s annual report for the first time will not include the term “sex offender.”
Empirical data matters. During the two and half hours I was there, several board members spoke openly and repeatedly about the low reoffense rate for adults and kids on the registry. They spoke often about the empirical data that supports this statement. Their acknowledgement is not without reason. It has come because of the fight in the courts They also repeated a fact that our community has known for a long time: reoffense rates, to the extent that they can be predicted, diminish over time to a point where there is no discernible difference among groups. Karl Hanson, guru of all of this, reports no discernible difference for a registrant who has been on the registry 16+ years without a reoffense.
Ageing out is a critical point. If there is going to be a registry (we argue vehemently there should not be one!) lifetime registration is never necessary.
Petition for Removal is an important statutory opportunity that should be honored. In discussing the statistics for petitions that have been approved or denied across the state, it became clear to the board that there was no consistency for a DA’s objection to a petition. Indeed, some DA offices routinely oppose all petitions, no matter when the crime took place, or the rehabilitation of the petitioner. One board member argued that automatic opposition was not what was intended by this section of the statute (he wrote it, and he should know). In fact, he stressed, the default position should be that persons eligible should be removed from the registry if they have completed their term without reoffense and their paperwork is in order. Upset to learn that DA Offices across the state are not treating Petitions for Removal in the way it was intended, CASOMB members are exploring training sessions across the state to ensure consistency in the treatment of petitions.
Recognition that the tiered registry needs to be fixed. In open session and at the break, board members recognized the damage that the Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee had done with last minute amendments to the tiered registry. As one board member acknowledged, CASOMB now must spend valuable undoing the damage she caused to put the tiered registry back to its original form.
My thanks to Janice. There are several reasons for the slow but perceptible shift I witnessed, but I want to acknowledge one: Janice Bellucci, our fearless Executive Director. And she is fearless. I am convinced that Janice’s presence, representing ACSOL and the registrant community, has made a difference. As Janice says, depending on the meeting and depending on her goal, she is there to “push them, or to gently prod them, or to thank them.”
Yes, movement is afoot at CASOMB. Let’s keep it up with Lobby Day just around the corner. JOIN US.