to a Quick Fix
experts caution against moving ahead with the civil confinement
of sex offenders
Eliot Spitzer last year as a candi-date and this year as governor
has expressed his resolve to enact a civil-commitment law,”
said Christine Pritchard, a spokeswoman for the governor’s
office. He made this resolve very clear in his first budget
by allocating $46 million to the state Office of Mental Health
to civilly confine in its facilities violent sex offenders.
While this budgetary move is sure to be a popular one, there
are many people in the mental-health community who regard
it with concern.
is something that has been proposed in the past, creating
these units in mental-health facilities geared toward holding
sexual offenders,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health
Association of New York State. “But it is something that we
have fought for several years, on several fronts. We just
don’t think that this is good public policy.”
mental-health system should not be identified as the resource
for sexual offenders,” he added. “I think it is absolutely
detrimental to mental-health patients.”
Liebman’s reasons are threefold. First, there is a safety
issue. People with mental illness, he said, are 12 times more
likely to have been abused in their lives than the average
individual. Placing a predatory criminal into a vulnerable
population could be disastrous.
Second, he continued, there is already a stigma attached to
mental illness. In using mental-health facilities to confine
sex offenders, there is a latent equating of the mentally
ill with sexual offenders, which is incorrect and dangerous.
sets us back years,” he said.
The third major issue is funding. Though Spitzer’s budget
is an improvement on past budgets, mental-health funding is
not spectacular, he said.
funding in the mental-health budget to house sexual offenders,
we fear there will eventually be less money to house people
with mental illness,” Liebman said. “You look at the people
who will be housed as sexual offenders, and that number will
likely increase, not decrease.” With this increased number,
he said, the mental-health community at large could see its
vital resources depleted as money shifts to the specific needs
of housing sex offenders.
have not seen one study that shows that civil commitment is
effective in reducing the number of sexual assaults in our
communities,” said Richard Hamill, president of the Alliance
of Sex Offender Service Providers. “It has a negligible effect.”
In fact, he said, the majority of states don’t use civil commitment,
and two of the states that do are working now to dismantle
the systems that they have set up. The No. 1 reason that states
abandon civil commitment is cost. Due to the unique legal
requirements of civil commitment, which include 31 hours a
week of treatment, the cost of holding violent offenders is
roughly $250,000 per person per year. And in a system that
only 1 to 3 percent of the people committed to ever leave,
the costs quickly become overwhelming.
of us who work in the field have come across someone we don’t
feel should be in the community,” Hamill said. “There are
some really dangerous sex offenders. Our hope is that they
would be kept in corrections facilities where they cost $30,000
[per person] as opposed to the mental-health facilities that
cost a quarter-million.”
What experts in the field of sexual offenses are suggesting,
Hamill said, is that the justice system do a better job evaluating
sex offenders prior to sentencing and give the most dangerous
much longer sentences, including lifelong probation after
I am hoping the governor will do is draw together a task force
to take a look at this and then to craft a much broader kind
of bill that would address sex-offender management. We need
to take a look at all of the components that ought to be put
The governor and the lawmakers, he said, need to take a look
at the comprehensive picture of dealing with sex offense.
From prevention and education programs in the schools, to
assisting investigations, to what can be done for victims,
the issues surrounding sex offenses are complex and intertwined.
am afraid that we will create a system that will be very hard
to undo,” Hamill said, “and that we are going to be fashioning
all the other sex-offender-management strategies in the state
around [civil commitment]. It will become more of an obstacle
than something positive.”
Way to Make History
journalist and video blogger Josh Wolf has now
been imprisoned more than six months—longer than
any journalist in U.S. history—for refusing to
turn over footage he shot of a protest in San
Francisco. Authorities issued a subpoena to Wolf,
24, demanding that he turn over his footage, which
depicted a protest of the G8 summit during which,
authorities allege, protesters attempted to blow
up a police car. Wolf refused and was found in
contempt of court. Although California’s Shield
Law provides protection for journalists, the federal
government provides no such protection. And, because
the federal government funds the San Francisco
police for things like terrorism response, Wolf’s
case is a federal one.
English or . . . Don’t
Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed a bill this week that
would have required all government communication
to be in English. The Nashville Metro Council
passed the bill last week as a slap at illegal
immigration. The authors of the bill acknowledged
that the act was mostly symbolic and would have
had a large loophole because federal laws mandate
multilingual communication in a number of instances.
“If this ordinance becomes law, Nashville will
become a less safe, less friendly and less successful
city. And as mayor, I cannot allow that to happen,”
said Purcell, who is not seeking reelection.
Least in Name
Terror-Free Oil Initiative opened its first American
gas station this week in Omaha, Neb. The goal
of the initiative is to eliminate the dependency
on oil imported from all Middle Eastern countries,
countries that it assumes support terrorism. With
the annual franchise cost of $1, the founders
of the initiative hope to make “every gas station
in America terror-free.” The problem is that while
the initiative buys its oil only from companies
that don’t import oil from Middle Eastern countries,
the initiative does buy its oil from companies
like Sinclair Corp., which purchases much of its
oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange. By purchasing
oil on the open market, companies like Sinclair
cannot ensure the oil’s country of origin.
targeted at LGBT community receive financial boost in Spitzer’s
For nearly a decade, In Our Own Voices has provided health
and human-services programs to lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender people of color throughout the Capital Region.
The organization, which operates out of an office on Albany’s
Lark Street, is one of several LGBT groups that span the state
as part of the New York State LGBT Heath and Human Services
The mission of network member organizations is supported financially,
at least in part, by state funds, including a portion that
is allocated through the governor’s executive budget. Last
year, IOOV shared from a pool of more than $2 million as specified
by former Gov. George Pataki. Under Gov. Eliot Spitzer, that
pool amount may nearly triple if the Legislature approves
Spitzer’s call for an increase to $6 million. While it’s unclear
how such a figure would be spent specifically, the increase
may allow for the funding of additional health and human services
providers or the expansion of existing programs.
[Spitzer’s] campaign, he certainly talked about how he would
prioritize funding for LGBT health and human services, so
we did have high hopes that there would be an increase,” said
Ross Levi, director of public policy and governmental affairs
for Empire State Pride Agenda. “We didn’t have any sense of
how much that would be, however, but we are certainly pleased
with what has come out.”
As part of its work as an LGBT civil rights and advocacy organization,
Empire State Pride Agenda coordinates education and advocacy
for the network, whose member organizations total more than
50 and reach residents in most counties.
provide services that are unavailable to our community or
would be offered in another setting that wouldn’t respond
to the unique needs of LGBT people,” Levi said. He offered
an example involving a member of the LGBT community with substance-abuse
issues whose only option for support services may involve
attending a program through a religious organization. “In
fact, one of the contributing factors to your risk behaviors
might be dealing with your sexual orientation, and that not
only might not be addressed in another setting but the harm
might be compounded.”
In addition to substance-abuse treatment programs, network
members, as well as a handful of state-funded providers not
affiliated with the network, offer a variety of other services.
Some, such as the Unity House of Troy’s Safety Zone, serve
the youth population. Others provide health and wellness programs,
mental-health treatment and crime-victim assistance, to name
a few. All network programs are designed to be non-HIV-focused.
an important founding principle of the network,” Levi said.
“It’s not that organizations involved with the network aren’t
concerned with HIV funding. In most cases, we very much are,
but we also understand that there needs to be a powerful voice
advocating for the non-HIV needs of our community, and that
was one of the reasons that the network formed.”
IOOV projects in the Capital Region include advocacy and education,
substance abuse and recovery, and anti- violence programs.
Money from the governor’s budget accounts for about 70 percent
of IOOV’s total operating costs, said Tandra LaGrone, executive
director. “It really is the foundation of our whole operating
Members of the network receive the bulk of executive budget
funding. Although all network groups receive some level of
state funding, not all receive it through the governor’s spending
plan. Many receive funds from the Legislature’s budget, which
allocated about $1.3 million last year.
While LGBT health and human services funding from the governor
and Legislature fluctuates from year to year, this year is
all but certain to be the largest to date. Previously, the
largest year resulted in around $5 million from both sources,
to be clear, as exciting as [the executive budget] money is,
a huge chunk of the network groups don’t get funding from
this pool and are dependent on the Legislature providing funding,”
Levi added. “The next few months will be vitally important,
as the budget process moves, for the LGBT community to advocate
for the funds it needs from the Legislature.”
During the 1990s, an assessment study to determine what levels
of funding would be needed to effectively service the LGBT
community established $25 million as the target amount. “And
that was in 1990s money,” Levi said, “so even with this exciting
growth, it is a drop in the bucket.”
the Sun Shine
Michael McNulty cosponsors a bill to extend expiring tax credits
for alternative energy systems
Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) said that while he was
impressed with President George Bush’s mentions of promoting
alternative energy in the last few State of the Union addresses,
the president has never come through on the issue. “The current
administration has been a huge disappointment in this regard,”
he said. “We need to get things rolling, get things done.”
Citing the need for increased investment to make alternative
energy more affordable, last month McNulty and cosponsor Rep.
Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced legislation to Congress that
would extend two-year solar and fuel-cell tax credits, set
to expire at the end of this year, that were included in 2005’s
Energy Policy Act—a wide-ranging policy that McNulty said
was nothing but “a big multibillion dollar giveaway to the
The legislation, called the Securing America’s Energy Independence
Act, was first introduced in April 2006, but Congress concluded
session before the bill came to a vote.
The bill would extend for an additional eight years the 30-percent
tax credit for solar systems purchased for both residential
(capped at $2,000) and business applications. The use of fuel
cells provides an investment tax credit of 30 percent per
kilowatt (capped at $1,000), which will also be extended.
Supporters say that the original two-year credits are too
short to have a lasting effect on the industry. McNulty said
the credits may eventually need to be extended even further.
What McNulty is doing is “ensuring that the good portions
of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 stay on the books,” said
Robert Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates
of New York. Moore agrees with McNulty that 2005’s energy
policy was full of giveaways. “We commend him for that,” he
Moore said that much of New York’s delegation, Democrat and
Republican alike, opposed that energy policy, but he added
that New York could be doing more to promote alternative energy.
McNulty expects this legislation to stimulate growth in companies
that develop alternative energy technology. Plug Power, a
fuel-cell company based in Latham—one of several local alternative
energy companies—anticipates increased investment as a result
of the tax credits.
Cynthia Mahoney White, director of marketing communications
at Plug Power, said that the tax credits will encourage companies
to invest in and adopt technology they may be uncertain of
because, while not unreliable, they are not as time-tested
as things like batteries. “As long as we can continue to get
[the tax credits] extended, we will,” White said. “It’s always
good to have that benefit.”
McNulty said that he hopes to be a part of any legislation
that will encourage the development of alternative energy,
whether regarding fuel cells, solar power, or wind power.
“We need to do a lot” to promote these industries, he said,
in order to make them more affordable.
The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that the
long-term extension of these tax credits will result in approximately
55,000 jobs nationwide in the fast-growing solar industry
by 2016. The solar power industry has more than tripled in
size since 2001.
PHOTO: Alicia Solsman
literally live in a world that is different than the world
we see around us,” said the Rev. Robert Edgar Sunday (Feb.
11) at the First Lutheran Church in Albany. “Fifty percent
of the people on planet Earth will go to bed tonight hungry.”
Edgar, a former U.S. congressman, was the keynote speaker
at Recovering Our Voice: Calling Truth in a Culture of Subterfuge.
The symposium, sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance, was designed
to help reshape conversation in the religious world, away
from the polarizing subjects of homosexualty and abortion
toward the “more pressing issues” of poverty, war, and tolerance.
loose ends this week-