Joe Foster faces a huge job as AG

Foster's Daily Democrat, by Chris Dornin, April 15, 2013 - Joe Foster owns all the virtues people named praised at his confirmation hearing April 10 for the job of attorney general. The former Senate majority leader is a savvy, honest, hard-working, humble problem-solver who crafted good legislation most of the time. I hope he becomes a great chief prosecutor like Warren Rudman or David Souter. But he also championed the worst crime bill of the last decade, the child predator act of 2006.

He would have given prosecutors the power to demand a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for a high school kid who molests his 12 year-old cousin. The original bill would have stripped judges of all discretion about the length of sentence. Such mandatory minimum sentences are terrible policy because they fill prisons with people who deserve far shorter punishments. Fortunately, the House moderated the bill in conference committee.

The law lets prosecutors try to keep sex offenders in prison after paying for their crimes. Foster’s bill created a civil commitment process using a lower standard of proof than beyond reasonable doubt. The state can even impeach a defendant with confessions made in the sex offender treatment program before the predator act became law. Back in 2006, nobody could pass that program without making confessions. And sex offenders only won parole by passing the program.

Foster presided at the Senate hearing on the predator act. The transcript shows he disputed testimony by a defense lawyer that sex offenders have low sex offense recidivism rates and that they benefit from treatment. If the nominee still believes that, he will have a hard time keeping his recent promise “to work hard every day to protect public safety and ensure justice for all of our citizens.”

Foster accepted without question the testimony of former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte that sex offenders with child victims have recidivism rates between 90 and 94 percent. She took those figures from a Canadian study by Ron Langevin and colleagues that had already been thoroughly discredited by other scientists. The Canadian Journal of Criminology devoted an entire issue to debunking the Langevin research, even calling it unethical.

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies in the past decade show recidivism rates in the 1 to 5 percent range in state after state for new sex crimes in the first three years on parole. A recent study Florida sociologist Jill Levinson showed a cumulative new sex crime recidivism rate of 10 percent after a decade.

Foster was unaware that nearly half the sex crimes against kids are committed by kids. Family members and family friends commit almost all the rest.

The nominee sponsored an Internet predator law that lets a prosecutor seek a 10-year minimum sentence for each image somebody downloads off the Internet. A 10-second visit to an illicit site could impose 300 to 600 years on someone who has never hurt a child in person.

As a retired State House reporter I can tell you laws like these are popular with voters and party donors. That’s why Kelly Ayotte is now a U.S. senator. But there is nothing in Foster’s record to show he would solve the nearly intractable problems in the criminal justice system.

The plea bargaining process is stacked against the accused and their underfunded public defenders. County prosecutors seek sentences as draconian as possible to win re-election. We are losing dubious wars on drug addicts, immigrants and sex offenders by warehousing them at $36,000 a year, scapegoating them, and setting them up to fail.

From CCJR works for a just, humane, and restorative judicial and correctional system by means of research, public education, legislative advocacy, coalition building, community organizing, and litigation. We support rational, cost-effective programs and policies that reduce crime, lower recidivism, and make our society safer.