We have commented previously upon Megan’s Law and Community Supervision for Life (“CSL”), now known as Parole Supervision for Life (“PSL”). The two ongoing problems with the regime that these laws create for the supervision of sex offenders still exist. First, there is little, if any, empirical evidence that the laws accomplish anything positive, which is particularly troublesome in light of the substantial administrative costs they generate, which are borne by the taxpayers. Further, these laws are fundamentally unfair. They stem from a belief that the best way to manage sex offenders is to have them live in the community subject to terms and conditions of supervision. However, at the same time, many of the terms and conditions pursuant to which they must conduct themselves are so burdensome that they make life incredibly difficult, and the parole officers who supervise them frequently act in a manner that can only be described as sadistic. The end result is that parolees are whipsawed – they are directed to live in the community, but their daily lives are made almost impossible by unreasonable restrictions and abusive parole officers.
We can all agree that Internet access is a staple of modern life. Imagine life with restricted Internet use or, worse, a complete ban. Internet usage by sex offenders is frequently regulated by the terms and conditions of their parole supervision. In many cases, those restrictions go far beyond what is necessary to manage a parolee’s conduct in a way that ostensibly protects the community and satisfies other necessary goals. On March 21, 2017, our Supreme Court decided JI v. New Jersey State Parole Board, which addresses this problem. The JI Court considered two issues: whether a total ban on a parolee’s internet usage is so overbroad that it serves no meaningful purpose, and whether the parole board must grant the parolee a hearing to challenge those restrictions.
JI, a sex offender, was sentenced to, among other things, CSL in 2003. Upon release from custody in 2009, the parole board prohibited him from accessing social networking sites or chat rooms. In 2010, it was discovered that he had visited websites that depicted child pornography. He was not charged with violating his parole, but his sex offender treatment provider opined that the viewing of this material would not further his rehabilitation. The board then prohibited him from using any device that could access the Internet. Later in 2010, he was arrested for possessing a phone with which he accessed the Internet, and a board panel found him guilty of violating his terms and conditions of supervision. He was imprisoned in 2011, and released in 2012. Continue reading