Army sex offender argues that prison’s ban on contact with his children violated rights
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 29, 2019
A soldier convicted of a sex crime involving a child will argue in the military’s top court next week that a prison policy preventing him from contact with his own children violated his rights and unduly punished him.
Lawyers for Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lamont Jessie will on Nov. 5 tell the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that the policy at Fort Leavenworth’s prison violated constitutional protections of freedom of association and his right not to incriminate himself.
The policy, since changed, prohibited sex offenders who had not completed a treatment program from all contact with minors, including their own.
To be accepted into the treatment program, offenders were required to admit to their crimes. Jessie, convicted in 2016 of the statutory rape of a close friend’s 13-year-old daughter, declined to do so.
Jessie is one of two soldiers to claim the policy violated constitutional rights in appeals over the past year to the Army appellate court. The other, Staff Sgt. Michael J. Guinn, was convicted in 2017 of sexually abusing a sleeping 6-year-old at his daughter’s birthday party.
Both men were sentenced to four years in prison.
The Army Court of Criminal Appeals narrowly ruled against both, saying it had no authority to change prison policies, and that Fort Leavenworth prisoners may file suit on such matters in U.S. District Court in Kansas.
Jessie’s claims are “sound in his constitutional rights as a person, as a parent, and as a criminal defendant,” his lawyers wrote in their brief. “This absolute and unyielding severance in the relationship between parent and child failed to advance any government interest and actually resulted in harm to the same children it purported to protect.”
Government prosecutors said that however unpleasant, the policy did not rise to the level that required action by military appellate courts. Jessie “was not tortured (or) randomly ordered into solitary confinement,” they wrote.
Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, said that blanket prison policies prohibiting child sex offenders from contact with children they haven’t abused, although not uncommon, are not helpful.
She said that denying contact can further harm the offender’s family and make the offender less amenable to treatment, failing in their goal of promoting public safety.
“Decisions in terms of potential harm or risks should be done on an individual basis, not a blanket policy,” she said.
Likewise, she said that the opinion on how much sex offenders must disclose to receive treatment has changed over the years to a more individualized assessment. “It is possible to provide intervention services that do not require disclosure,” she said. “Denial is not always yes or no.”
A year ago, the prison’s policy was amended to allow prisoner contact with children under certain conditions and after an individualized assessment of the inmate’s risk, according to court documents.