Tracking and treating sex offenders

May 11, 2010 5:27:17 AM PDT
Eyewitness News shares an extraordinary look at sex offenders and their lies, truth and treatment. Eyewitness News spent several weeks with Westchester County's probation department sex offender unit.

Our investigative unit watched how they track and treat sex offenders to keep them from claiming more victims.

The fact is, Westchester could be anywhere, USA, but bottom line, they are not the devil you thought you knew.

"I still feel like this monster," said one man in group therapy.

They share their secrets with those who share their sickness.

"I abused a 12-year-old girl I met on the internet, I didn't realize at the time I was destroying a life," said another man.

This is group therapy for sex offenders.

"My offense was against a child of 7 to 10-years-old and I groomed her over a period of three years," described a sex offender.

On any given night at the Westchester County Courthouse, doctors, architects, teachers and track workers, young and old, purge their souls.

"You know how society looks at you, you mentioned it, that people think you're the scum of the earth. But how do you see yourselves?" Eyewitness News asked.

"Sometimes, I feel that way, scum of the earth, like, I don't belong here anymore," said a sex offender.

"I'm very ashamed. It's a very shameful thing that we did," said another.

They're part of the probation department's sex offender program, 183 men and 3 women, intensely supervised by officers in the community rather than going to prison.

"There are sick people out there and unfortunately we don't have a system that says lock them up and throw away the key," said Veronica Glueck, a Westchester probation officer.

The biggest myth about sex offenders is the stranger danger, that there are perverts lurking in the bushes ready to snatch children at random.

The reality is that, the majority, up to 90% know their victims.

"We have rapists, child molesters," said Wanda Baskerville, the Westchester County Probation Supervisor.

Eyewitness News asked, "Why aren't they in prison?"

"They should be in prison. They are not in prison for a number of reasons, usually because a victim doesn't want to be further traumatized," explained Baskerville.

So, the reality is that sex offenders often get their charges pleaded down in court, and no jail time.

Rory Bellantoni is a former Judge in Westchester's sex offender court.

"You know the fear is, if as a judge, you know they come to you and they ask you, is this plea acceptable, and you say no, and you're gaveling the case and you know, Johnny rapist is there but the victim doesn't show up and Johnny rapist walks," said Bellantoni, "You say to yourself, what did I do?"

But, In Westchester, even if defendants do plead guilty to a non-sex offense, based on the original charge, they can still be referred to the probation department's sex offender unit for supervision. That supervision can last up to 10 years.

"The guys we're supervising are your next door neighbors and you have to watch your child at all times," said Jerry Kiely, a Westchester probation officer.

Unannounced Field visits are critical.

"You're going to find them on their best behavior when they're on your turf but you're going to find them in their world when you're doing home visits. You try to figure out their secrets. You want to catch them doing stuff when they don't expect it," said Kiely.

"We're not curing these guys, that's not what's going on. Our premise is that their behavior is a learned behavior that can be controlled, but not cured," explained Lou Conte, the Assistant Probation Commissioner in Westchester County.

The goal is to force sex offenders to stop living their lie, and mandatory polygraphs are the ultimate truth serum.

"There's a lot of denial at the beginning," admitted one sex offender.

"That changes everything. It causes you to be honest," said another.

What's uncovered in polygraphs cannot be used in court, but it is critical intelligence for treatment, which is also mandatory.

"When people say, therapy doesn't work. There's no helping these guys," said Eyewitness News.

"That's absolutely a fallacy. Absolutely, a fallacy," responded a sex offender.

"The thing is that we do change, with therapy, at least I know I've changed," said another offender.

Westchester's program is working, in the past five years, only two men have been re-arrested for new sex offenses.

Eyewitness News asked, "What do you think would happen if there weren't this program?"

"There would probably be more victims, yes, for sure," answered a sex offender.

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