Friday, July 15, 2011

Admit It, You Did It!

The Iowa Supreme Court holds that prison sex offender therapy programs that insist on inmates admitting crimes they deny are constitutionally valid even though they are coercive in the sense that inmates refusing to participate are denied "good time" reductions in their prison sentences.  In this story from the Des Moines Register via Jeff Eckhoff we come up against that age old question, do I really have to testify against myself?  In Iowa, if you want to get out of prison--you do:

Locked-up Iowa sex offenders can be compelled to admit their crimes as part of prison treatment programs without triggering a violation of the inmates' right against self-incrimination, a narrow majority of the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.  Four of the seven Iowa justices found that the Mount Pleasant Correctional facility didn't violate Robert Harkins' Fifth Amendment rights by denying him time off for good behavior if he refused to participate in a treatment program.

The remaining justices said they would have allowed the requirement only if the state offered immunity to prevent any admissions from being used against Harkins in court.

Iowa law says state prison inmates can earn 1.2 days off their sentences "for each day the inmate demonstrates good conduct and satisfactorily participates" in any program he or she is determined by prison officials to need.Harkins, convicted of third-degree sexual abuse in 2006, argued in court pleadings he filed himself that linking those "earned-time credits" to completion of sex-offender treatment violated his constitutional rights because the treatment required signing a contract that would have forced Harkins to "assume full responsibility" for his past offenses and behavior.

Harkins was still on a second round of appeals in his criminal case at the time he brought a lawsuit in Webster County court. Both sides appealed after a Webster County judge restored part, but not all, of Harkins' time credits.

"I cannot enter treatment because this would be an admission of guilt and would perjure myself in changing my story," Harkins said in court filings. "Also, it would hinder any chance at a new trial if I would sign a confession."

But the majority of justices - Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield, Bruce Zager and Chief Justice Mark Cady - ruled Friday that state prison officials have "important rehabilitative goals" in using the possibility of a longer prison term to compel sex-offender treatment.

"The state is not using a threatened loss of credits to try to extract testimony; instead it is attempting to administer a bona fide rehabilitation program for sex offenders who have already been found guilty under a statutory scheme that afforded them all required due process," Mansfield wrote in a 27-page opinion for the majority.

"Harkins had every right not to be a witness against himself. ... Now that he has been convicted as a sex offender, though, the State of Iowa may constitutionally establish an incentive for him to obtain treatment in prison by withholding earned-time credits if he declines to participate."

Justice Brent Appel, author of a 30-page dissenting opinion on behalf of a minority that included Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht, said the case boils down to a tough choice for Harkins: "Simply put, if he chooses to remain silent by not participating in the program, he likely will be incarcerated for a substantially longer period of time."

Appel's opinion concludes that Iowa has imposed "an impermissible penalty for the exercise of (Harkins') Fifth Amendment rights" and argues that "the state may force Harkins to choose" between self-incrimination and a longer sentence "only if it provides Harkins with use and derivative-use immunity from prosecution."

Fred Scaletta, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections, declined to make Harkins available for an interview based on the possibility of future appeals. Scaletta said prison officials were "pleased with the ruling because it allows us to continue with the treatment program, which we think is very effective."
Does the prohibition against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution mean anything, anymore? 

A recent case in the news relates to encrypted computer files and the ability of the government to compel the turnover of passwords and encryption keys.  Perhaps we will soon learn if there is any remaining area where the Fifth Amendment protection remains robust.

By the way, during the month I was incarcerated at the CCA in Youngstown, Ohio I voluntarily attended  Drug Therapy program classes since 12-Step programming was unavailable.  Frankly, it was pretty stupid. The class was taught by an "educator" who was not a recovering person and who shared with us that he really didn't get the whole-prohibition against marijuana-thing.  Essentially his class consisted of running videos with a few minutes of pointless chatter. 

Prison therapy programs may involve well-meaning and motivated persons, but in my experience is that the program offereings are rarely well-thought out or executed.  Additionally, nothing offered at FCI, Morgantown disabused me of this impression.

1 comment:

  1. Immunity doesn't mean anything. It will be used against you, and the justice system is already heavily biased against SOs. That means they will just convict or deny appeal and say it was another reason.