Campaign official is ‘high risk’ sex offender

May 28, 2010
By

John Ruch

Candidate: Treasurer an ‘asset’

The full text of a written statement from Joel Pentlarge follows the article

Joel Pentlarge, the campaign treasurer for local state House candidate Jeffrey Herman, is a convicted child rapist who is registered as a Level 3 sex offender with a “high risk” of reoffending, according to the state.

Herman confirmed to the Gazette that Pentlarge is his treasurer and that he is aware of Pentlarge’s criminal past, adding that he would offer Pentlarge a State House job and considers him an “asset.”

“He’s already served his time. He’s been out for years,” Herman said of Pentlarge, who moved to Jamaica Plain in 2006 after being imprisoned for raping four boys ages 12 to 15 in the Central Massachusetts town of Ware.

“He’s a wonderful person. He’s absolutely brilliant,” Herman said of Pentlarge. “He’s a valuable asset to my campaign.”

Herman said that Pentlarge is especially an “asset” because of his expertise in reform of the criminal justice system. Those efforts include advocating for the abolition of sex offender registration, Pentlarge said in a Gazette phone interview, calling the system “prejudice” and “propaganda.”

“It’s no different than Jim Crow racism in the South,” Pentlarge said of the sex offender registration system.

Pentlarge said that he is not at “high risk” to reoffend and that it is “virtually impossible” for him to do so.

Pentlarge volunteers at a criminal justice reform organization based at his home on Barbara Street in Hyde Square. He said the sex offender registration system “absolutely” should be abolished.

The Gazette received an anonymous phone call about Pentlarge’s campaign role and registered sex offender status, with the caller expressing concern. Asked if he understands why people might be concerned, Herman said, “Yes, I understand,” without elaborating.

Herman is challenging incumbent state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez for the 15th Suffolk District seat, which roughly covers western JP along with Mission Hill and parts of Roslindale and Brookline, in this fall’s Democratic Party primary election. Sánchez declined to comment on the record about Pentlarge’s role in the campaign.

According to Herman, Sánchez is aware of Pentlarge’s past.

“Jeff Sánchez, when he sees [Pentlarge], will not shake hands with him,” Herman said.

Herman has a different take on Pentlarge. Asked if Pentlarge would be offered a State House job if Herman wins this fall’s election, Herman said, “I would hope so.”

“I am grateful to Jeff Herman for being able to look beyond the prejudice and stereotyping which attaches to anyone with a criminal record, particularly for sex offenses,” Pentlarge wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette. [See JamaicaPlainGazette.com for Pentlarge’s full statement.] In the phone interview, he added that campaign treasurer is a suitable job for him.

“Ninety-seven percent of people who come out of prison have to work somewhere,” Pentlarge said. “You may not want to put a bank embezzler in charge of financing a campaign. You might not want to put me in charge of an adolescent youth program. So put me in charge of the campaign finances and put the bank embezzler in charge of the adolescent youth program.”

“I’d like to think I’m capable of functioning in a number of dimensions…You don’t want to view everyone in black and white,” Pentlarge said.

Pentlarge was a well-known attorney involved in local government in Ware in 1998 when he was charged with sexually abusing boys. “He would befriend the children or their parents and then supply alcohol and/or drugs or gifts of money to gain compliance,” a Ware-area prosecutor previously told the Gazette about Pentlarge’s crimes.

In 2000, he pleaded guilty to five counts of rape and abuse of a child, according to Boston Globe archives. The sentencing judge called Pentlarge a “pervert, a charlatan and a sexual predator,” according to the Springfield Republican newspaper.

One of Pentlarge’s victims later himself became a child rapist, the Republican reported in 2007.

Pentlarge was released from a prison treatment center in 2006 after a jury hearing determined that he is no longer sexually dangerous. But upon his release, he was put on lifetime parole and is required to register with the state as a Level 3 sex offender.

Among other things, that means that his description and all home and work addresses are public information on the state Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) web site (accessible via the Executive Office of Public Safety page at www.mass.gov).

According to the SORB’s web site, Level 3 registration is made public because “these individuals have a high risk to reoffend and…the degree of dangerousness posed to the public is such that a substantial public safety interest is served by active community notification.”

Pentlarge’s release drew public attention at the time. In a 2006 Gazette interview, Pentlarge explained why he was moving to JP.

“I was hoping that JP would be tolerant of someone who is willing to obey the law,” Pentlarge said at the time. “A place where I’ll be held accountable, without prejudice, for something that I did over seven years ago.”

“I’m committed to not reoffending,” Pentlarge said at the time. “I’m going to be actively engaged in therapy for the foreseeable future.”

While in prison, Pentlarge, who had been disbarred as an attorney, became known for filing lawsuits over prison conditions, including a First Amendment case about what sorts of materials prisoners were allowed to hang on cell walls, according to Boston Globe archives.

Pentlarge remains active in legal system reform efforts. He is treasurer of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, which works on a variety of reform efforts, including of the system for reporting of criminal records to potential employers. (See www.cjpc.org.)

According to the ReformSexOffenderLaws.org web site, Pentlarge is or recently was the Rhode Island state organizer for efforts to reform sex offender registration laws.

Pentlarge blasted the sex offender database in the Gazette interview.

“When you say ‘high risk sex offender,’ you’re stating that as presumptive fact, and really you’re accepting—hook, line and sinker—the propaganda of a government bureaucracy” that is bloated and ineffectual, he said.

He said his opinion might be different “if my status as a sex offender told anybody anything useful, like [about] my ability to balance Jeff Herman’s books.”

The Gazette noted that Pentlarge committed his crimes while holding positions in local government, and that he is once again becoming involved in local government. Asked whether he understands how that might raise concerns, Pentlarge noted that he served as chair of the Ware Conservation Commission and that there were no allegations that he directly used that power to commit his crimes. His crimes also did not affect his government service, he said.

“The Conservation Commission in Ware functioned most effectively in the 10 years I was chairman,” he said, adding, “Can I prove that? No.”

He added that, while his was disbarred for committing crimes, there were no allegations that he mismanaged clients’ funds when he was a lawyer.

Asked whether his activism to abolish sex offender laws is self-serving, Pentlarge said, “Self-serving?” The Gazette noted it would be convenient for him if there was no registration, and that he is not an unbiased authority on the subject.

“No, but the people I’m citing are,” he said, referring to what he said are numerous studies that sex offender registration laws are “defeating the purpose, which is to reduce crime.” Registration can make it hard for an offender to find a job or a place to live, possibly pushing them into property crime, he said.

Asked about his own likelihood to abuse children again, Pentlarge said, “I’ll be 60 at the end of June. I’ve been out of prison four years.”

“My actual crime is not rape, but statutory rape,” Pentlarge said, making the distinction that his rapes did not involve direct use of force. He described statutory rape as “in effect, consensual relationships with people below the age to legally consent.” Asked to clarify that he agrees that such acts are crimes, he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah.”

People who commit such rapes have very low rates of repeating their offenses—1 to 2 percent, Pentlarge claimed, speaking frequently of his crimes in an academic context.

Asked how he judges his personal likelihood to reoffend based on his own self-knowledge, Pentlarge said, “I think it’s extremely unlikely, virtually impossible.” But, he added, “Anecdotal evidence gets you nowhere. You have to look at the big picture.” He urged the Gazette to investigate studies on how ineffectual sex offender registration is.

Herman has criticized Sánchez for a supposed lack of effort on criminal justice system reforms. Herman cited Pentlarge’s legal reform work as a significant contribution to his campaign.

“He would be such a great asset to my campaign and the state of Massachusetts if what we know from scientific evidence [about a reformed judicial system] were put into effect,” Herman said.

The Gazette noted that Pentlarge is also involved in attempted reforms of sex offender registration laws, and asked if Herman also supports such reforms.

“I don’t know,” Herman answered. “I think that may have to be done on a case-by-case basis.”

Herman noted that it is possible for two young people to have consensual sex that is ruled illegal, placing them in a sex offender registry. “Things like that I’m sure need to be reformed,” he said, suggesting that the laws need to be “modernized.”

“Just a little side bit—until 1938, it was illegal in Massachusetts for men to go to the beach without covering their breasts,” Herman added as another example of laws that “modernize” over time.

Pentlarge said he has asked for Sánchez’s assistance on two legislative efforts and was disappointed by Sánchez’s lack of action.

One was a bill Pentlarge wanted Sánchez to introduce in the state legislature. The bill called for putting prisoners out on parole much sooner and ending mandatory minimum sentences on drug offenses, all to save money and reduce repeat offenses.

“He wouldn’t file it. He felt I was going too far,” Pentlarge said of Sánchez.

“My other big beef with [Sánchez] is his unwillingness to look at medical marijuana,” Pentlarge said. In a controversial move earlier this year, Sánchez allowed a bill that would legalize the medical use of marijuana to die in a House committee. Herman has cited the issue as a main reason for his campaign.

Pentlarge’s statement

Joel Pentlarge’s May 17 written statement to the Gazette, sent via e-mail:

I first learned about Jeff Herman’s candidacy for State Representative for the 15th Suffolk District from an article in your paper. After reading your article, I met with Jeff Herman and was very impressed at how open-minded and politically progressive he is. Jeff Herman does not allow conventional prejudices and stereotypes to distort his opinions. He is not a politician, but we need someone who will both accurately represent the progressive constituency of Jamaica Plain, and who will confront head-on the very difficult problems we face without first calculating what is the best political position for him.

I am grateful to Jeff Herman for being able to look beyond the prejudice and stereotyping which attaches to anyone with a criminal record, particularly for sex offenses. Just the experience of being convicted, publicly excoriated and spending 5 and ½ years in prison (3 ½ as a sentence, 2 as an extended sentence misnamed civil commitment) makes me a different person today. Jeff Herman is able to look at me as I am today and appreciate that I can help him stay in strict compliance with the plethora of campaign finance regulations. Jeff Herman put me in this position knowing that every contribution and every expense will be a public record, open and available online for inspection by everyone, as it should be.

I consider it a privilege to be able to work for Jeff Herman’s candidacy. I know what it is to be disenfranchised. (Since November 2000, convicted felons cannot vote in Massachusetts while they are in prison.) The right to vote is precious, and its value is enhanced when you can actively work to elect a progressive candidate like Jeff Herman.