This weekend I will be welcoming the ATSA Program Committee here to Chicago to finalize the program for our upcoming 25th annual conference, which takes place September 27 – 30 and is titled “Effective Practice to Informed Policy: Navigating the Winds of Change.” The theme of this year’s conference is how to better shape and work with public policy. Of course, we will invite many experts in the field of research and treatment to cover adult and youth issues and they will share their knowledge with the many attendees who visit Chicago. But the one overarching issue that confronts all of us daily is the flurry of bills being drafted by “well meaning” lawmakers in an attempt to ‘keep communities safe from sex offenders’. I, along with many others, have spent countless hours reviewing bills both on the Federal and state level. These bills could potentially affect where our clients attempt to live, work, and try to survive in this frightened public climate.
So many issues face us -- In the minds of many lawmakers there is no longer a need to separate juvenile courts and the rights of juveniles because as one legislator told me – ‘once a sex offender, no matter what age they are always a sex offender. Treatment does not work!!’. Another lawmaker told me that ‘all sex offenders should be put on a barge sent down the Mississippi River and left there to rot like garbage’. It seems that for some legislators, intelligent reasoning has flown by the wayside. In my attempt to educate lawmakers, my first statement is that I am not here to advocate for sex offenders – but I am attempting to help you, Ms. Lawmaker, craft laws that reflect evidence-based knowledge in the field of sexual abuse. Of course, we need to protect women and children. And we need to assess levels of risk to the best of our ability. By determining the level of risk for reoffending assists us in knowing how to keep communities safe. Yes, sexual crimes are terrible and I too, as a mother of 3, want to protect children. But, restricting ALL those who have committed a sexual crime, from living in a more urban area, with access to treatment and monitoring only helps to isolate the offender Evidence-based knowledge informs us that isolation of sex offenders can potentially increase their level of risk to re-offend. But alas, I am singing to the choir when I address you, the members of ATSA. We are all faced with the same issues daily.
Along that vein, I am glad to report to you that the Board recently moved forward with our RFP process for a Public Policy Consultant. We have contracted with Alisa Klein through the end of this calendar year. Alisa will work directly with Executive Director John Gruber and the Public Policy Committee Board representatives. The goal is to have Alisa help draft a strategic plan, develop a media package, and monitor legislation through our state chapters and regional representatives. Alisa will be available for our members through the Public Policy committee as we work together to craft ATSA’s message for lawmakers and the media. Alisa will also contribute to the Forum in the coming months.
Mark your calendars for the 25th Annual Conference in September here in Chicago. As a lifelong Chicagoan I will TRY to bring you good weather. But I can promise you an informative conference. I look forward to seeing you all of you.