David Siebers: A Failure of Leadership
Many people have asked why AnnMarie and I decided to take a stand on this controversial issue regarding David Siebers. There are a number of reasons, but our major concerns were the numerous inexcusable failures made by government officials and elected leaders.
See Update About the Leadership Failure Regarding David Siebers
Essentially, one can argue the primary objective of government is to protect the public's safety, whether that be from threats at home or abroad, i.e., criminals or terrorists in the country or from external military or terrorists abroad. After this is reasonably established (I'm sure we agree perfection in public safety, or a world without risk, is elusive.), government can extend itself to other goals.
In regard to Mr. Siebers, the State of Michigan released him into society after a combined period of incarceration of approximately twenty years. They immediately issued a warning to the public that he was not only dangerous, but likely to re-offend. Predicting an individual's future behavior is challenging. This is a dangerous encroachment on civil liberty. It represents a grave injustice to David. Shame on all of us!
This represents the first of many leadership failures. If the experts believe an individual poses a risk to society, they have a duty not to reintroduce the person into the general population. Yet who's to say any of us are fit? Had David been the first sexual offender in history, I would have greater patience with our experts. But he isn't. Statistics suggest sexual offenders are highly likely to re-offend. Some experts claim up to 90 percent of offenders will recidivate. Okay, let's assume this is accurate. We hope David is in the 10 percent group. Offenders over the age of 40 are more likely to have matured. How is this determined? How long do we wait for a better metric? We need a solution -- and we've needed a solution for years.
Legislators should be held accountable for the second failure. If public experts accept the claim of high rates of recidivism, then we need a different structure of laws. Why have those laws not evolved? Why weren't the laws in Michigan equipped to manage a controversial offender like David? This failure punishes society, as well as a person like David.
A third failure of leadership directly impacts David. Under the current legal structure in this country, he has paid his debt to society. He therefore has a right to re-enter society and be given a fair opportunity to reintegrate. But government officials stigmatized him. We don't do this with people who murder, those who deal drugs or who are convicted of drunk driving. Why are sexual offenders treated in this manner? In essence, we further a policy of double jeopardy, or lifetime jeopardy, as David is continually punished for past errors.
A fourth leadership failure occurred here in Albuquerque. Mayor Chavez's action was ill-conceived and disasterous. It appeared to many he was interested in election results, not the general welfare. Marty aired his concerns immediately to the media. His statements represented gossip and innuendo. This is not becoming of an attorney like the mayor or befitting of an occupant in the city's most prestigious office. This created a great deal of panic and fear in society. Leaders should not frighten the public. This doesn't help difficult situations. We deserve calm, rational and reasoned leadership.
The fifth failure of leadership also relates to the public disclosures by Mayor Chavez. Had he managed this issue more professionally, he would have kept operational details from the public. This is different from making the public more fearful and directly affects law enforcement. In my conversations with Darren White, Bernalillo County Sheriff, he expressed the position of law enforcement officials. They wanted to follow David quietly, remaining undercover. If David was to offend, as FBI experts felt was possible, law enforcement would have been positioned to apprehend him while in the commission of a crime, before something serious occurred. They could have returned him to prison for what might be a third and final time. On the other hand, if David behaved civilly as he has promised, authorities would have observed this.
Once Marty brought the media into play, David knew he was under intense scrutiny, as did the entire region. He is unlikely to do something threatening or behave anti-socially while being watched so closely. He is also backed into a corner by the unwanted and harassing attention. Law enforcement was charged with baby-sitting David. They aren't happy with that assignment. Does anyone believe this treatment is fair to David?
When I was with David last Saturday, we had an extremely agressive and tight police escort. I invited David to lunch and two APD officers sat only ten feet away. This made me uncomfortable. Imagine how David felt. When we left, they trailed us by less than ten yards. David needed some toiletries, so I stopped at a mini-mart. Due to the crowded conditions, APD actually opened the door for him. Disturbing!
It is my opinion that Marty Chavez believes this type of tail will harass David out of town. He's wrong for many reasons and this is the sixth failure of leadership.
Due to the publicity generated by the mayor, David knows if he leaves Albuquerque, he carries with him an enhanced image or greater negative stigma. He therefore believes he must stand his ground -- here and now. Where can he go? Had Chavez not made such a national production of this matter, David might have been able to slip away "in the night," so to speak, to a community more receptive to these complexities.
As it stands, the mayor's manipulation of David's reputation proceeds him wherever he goes, and his public profile is becoming negatively worse, not better. While David has not done one illegal or anti-social act since leaving prison, people are more afraid of him now than they were when he was released in Sept '02. Our government officials are portraying him as a monster, and this virtually guarantees he'll find no peace, no place to live, and no place to work.
This leads to a seventh failure of leadership. Their combined irrational and self-serving policies may spur a person in David's position to re-offend, possibly not a sexual offense, maybe a murderous crime. This immature action of officials may drive a person into a corner. And, as experts argue, some offenders may be psychologically unstable. If so, extreme public pressure may cause the individial to freak out, possibly grab a gun and kill as many as possible before killing himself. I sensed something like this could happen when I first visited David in his Vergita, NM sanctuary. The harassing behavior of protestors and police would frustrate anyone.
Now, I would like to address an eighth failure, for our prisons are not accomplishing critical social objectives -- or we, as a society, are not demanding they accomplish what is important to all of us. They should be more than institutions for incarceration and punishment. They should focus number one on rehabilitating the offender. This is what keeps the public safe.
Keep in mind that, in general, once an offender enters the criminal justice system they will remain there for life. The overall rate of recidivation is about 70 percent. If a young man enters on a non-violent marijuana possession charge at 18 or 19, he's like to be in our system for 40 to 50 years. It costs about $40,000/yr per inmate or about $2,000,000 lifetime. Had our system done a better job, this individual might be paying tax revenues back into the system, instead of drawing down our limited funds.
Let me discuss a ninth failure. We currently assume sexual offenders make rational decisions. This may be an inaccurate understanding of the problem. It may be a better strategy to classify these individuals as "mentally ill." In this manner, they would be released when, and only when, a panel of experts determine they were safe to be returned into the general population. Or, we might create a hybrid designation. For example, at present we assign a static or MAXIMUM term of incarceration, say 3, 5 or 15 years. This does not take into account whether the person is rehabilitated. Why not assign a MINIMUM term, whatever society deems sophicient, but attach a mental review component? The offender would serve the minimum, considered the punitive phase, but then be released in to society only after the board or panel was reasonably sure the individual posed no threat.
In general, David's been given a life sentence without actually being sentenced. While it's appropriate to watch these offenders closely, it's not right to beat them, kill them or make it more likely they will re-offend. If you look closely at these individuals, you will find many have complex histories. Some were beat, abused or sexually offended as children themselves. One can argue they are victims from other offenders. Incarceration does not address this ... neither did the officials directing this circus.
This does not suggest sexual offenders should not be held accountable -- they must. But we need also stop the cycle that leads to continued victimization. And, that my friends, is the tenth failure of leadership. We are putting a bandaid on this problem, not solving it. And, this must end. When my wife and I stood up to call attention to this irrational behavior, we did so initially to protect David and keep the family who is currently hosting him from being harmed or possibly killed. Now, we're working to increase awareness of the overarching problem and demand government leaders stop failing all of us.
Keep this final statistic in mind. If the mayor keeps the two APD officers 24/7 on David, as he's currently doing, the annual cost is $436,800. And, at times, there have been up to five law enforcement officers guarding David. I consider this the eleventh failure. We could do a lot more with a half million taxpayer dollars than manage this challenge this poorly. For example, we could buy an offender a home in the coziest and most welcoming community, give him transportation costs, and a bit of pocket money for a lot less. Or we could rely on programs that ensure the offender is ready to meet the expectations of a rightfully concerned public.
Think about it! This is not the type of leaders I want running my country. We are a people who have fought to have self-determination -- we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And, although our primary premise is government leaders failed, we must acknowledge that each of us in turn failed. It's time to get involved. Make your voice heard in our system.
Scott and AnnMarie Goold
February 3, 2003
NHPNA4513 Oahu Dr. NE Albuquerque, NM 87111