Tuesday, February 23, 2010

California - Internet Animal Abuse Registry

Senator Dean Florez has introduced a piece of legislation (SB 1277) in California that would create an internet registry of felony-level animal abusers. It would be funded by a tax/surcharge on the sale of pet food (California's fiscal crisis requires legislators to get creative about how their proposed programs will be funded). You can read the bill's language here.

There are some discussions on this subject over at KC Dog Blog and Animal Rights and AntiOppression, which I think both offer various opinions on the subject.

I can think of only one system in place that is perhaps comparable - the sexual offenders database. It is federal law, all states must have it (which has brought up state v. federal issues).

Do these databases reduce the risk of recidivism?

Generally speaking, no. A 2006 report found no statistical difference in recidivism based on community awareness. That is, even with a high level of community awareness, convicted offenders were no more or less likely to recommit. A 2009 analysis of data showed that the internet registry used did not predict recidivism. The Justice Policy Institute believes these registries fail our youth. Other studies show sex offenders do not have significantly lower rates of recidivism in regards to sex offenses, even though every single state must provide public access to where sex offenders reside.

So far, and this is with little data since it's relatively new, using GPS on the most dangerous offenders has helped reduce the risk of recidivism (since the tracker can place you at the scene and time of a crime, yo).

Canada approaches this issue differently and their recidivism rates are much lower. This is because they treat sex offenders as opposed to further criminalizing them after they are released. A 2009 study shows that the national program, Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) has helped to significantly reduce the recidivism rate and has done so for the past 15 years.

Will the same thing happen with a database of animal abusers?

I don't know, but I tend to think so.

The questions to ask: Will this deter others from abusing animals? Will this reduce repetitive animal abuse (i.e. recidivism)?

This type of program, in my view, only has merit if it deters others from abusing animals and reduces the likelihood of repeat offenses. That is, I will toss aside privacy issues if the results improve animal welfare and reduce repeat offenses. This has not proven to be true in the case of sexual offenders, even with community awareness.

I like creative programs. I think it is good to be provocative and think of different ways to tackle problems. At the same time, it is important to be cognizant that creative does not translate into effective or right. Since there is no proof that comparable programs do not reduce crime or improve safety, but there is proof that an alternative program does reduce repeat offenses....well, why go with the broken system? Why not look north to Canada and consider a comparable program for animal abusers? A program that does not further criminalize and disenfranchise but offers an opportunity for real change?

Certainly, I am missing other arguments against and in favor of this program. I don't think people will like to pay more for pet food to fund this program, though I applaud Florez's team for coming up with a built-in payment solution. There are other ethical and legal issues too. But in the end, for me, I just don't think this will truly help either nonhumans or humans.

But I welcome dissenting opinions. You may sway me to your side!

1 comment:

CyborgSuzy said...

Thanks for actual results of the sex offender registry. I've never seen them (never gone looking, either).

I'd love if we would re-think this, too, and look to programs like Canada's that actually show success. Unfortunately, like BSL or MSN, it's the type of solution that is very immediately appealing, while something like long-term treatment is not. It feels good, so it's hard for many to hear that it won't succeed. I'm a reader of the Fugly horse of the day blog and she's been calling for something like this for years.