Tuesday, May 02, 2006

McDonald's A Growing Mecca For Sex Offenders

McDonald's is one of the world's most successful marketers to kids. An estimated 96% of American kids recognize Ronald McDonald, second only to Santa Claus. With so many of their restaurants equipped with "Play Places", McDonald's boasts that it operates the world's largest network of children's playgrounds. However, a three-month investigation by Nashville's NewsChannel 5 (WTVF) uncovered dozens of sex offenders working at McDonald's restaurants nationwide. Some of those offenders are child molestors.

Customer Thomas Wesley was shocked when he visited a McDonald's restaurant in Franklin, TN, and found Nicolas Aloyo working there. Not only was Aloyo convicted of soliciting sex from a minor, but he had previously approached Wesley in a public park, soliciting sex. Wesley recognized Aloyo from that encounter. While Tennessee authorities considered him a high-risk re-offender, they paroled him on the condition that he accept no employment requiring contact with minors. Aloyo has since been re-arrested, this time for possession of child pornography. McDonald's terminated him upon his re-arrest.

NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams uncovered sex offenders working for McDonald's in state after state. This includes Alaska, where 14 sex offenders were found to be working at McDonald's restaurants in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Palmer, and Sitka. One of those Alaskan offenders is a convicted child molestor. Alaska is one of the few states which tracks the employment of sex offenders on their registry.

McDonald's formal response was that while they ban the employment of former sex offenders at their 8,000 company-owned restaurants, they impose no such policy on their 18,000 franchised restaurants, leaving personnel decisions in the hands of local managers. They also don't require their franchise managers to conduct background investigations to identify sex offenders amongst job-seekers.

Jody Gorran (pictured at left), the founder of the National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (NFPCSA) was interviewed. He stated that a sex offender's impulses are difficult to control, and they'll do what's necessary to get near a child. McDonald's not only offers them that opportunity but pays them for it.

Analysis: The Alaska Department of Public Safety maintains a Central Registry where the status of registered sex offenders can be checked. However, one must check offenders individually, one at a time, to determine employment status; I could find no way to selectively sort for McDonald's employees only.

One of the difficulties is that child molestors have such a high recidivism rate. Consequently, to protect kids, we've pre-emptively narrowed the offender's options upon their release, placing restrictions on their residency, movement, and employability. While well-intentioned, this makes these people more likely to require public assistance. If we completely shut out sex offenders from working anywhere that kids might show up, we risk rendering them completely unemployable, forcing them to claim even more public assistance. We must develop a strategy so that in protecting ourselves and our kids against sex offenders, we don't end up denying sex offenders the ability to support themselves altogether.

However, there's no reason why employers cannot be required to make a quick 1-minute check of Alaska's Central Registry and see if a prospective employee's name is in there. We also should modify parole conditions; instead of "no contact with children", it should be "no unsupervised contact with children". We must also continue to exclude former child molestors from any employment with an enterprise catering expressly to children, such as schools, day care centers, and even school bus drivers. Perhaps child molestors should never be eligible for parole or early release; require them to serve their full terms. Recently, we in Alaska took a major step forward by passing and implementing SB 218, which doubles and even triples incarceration for sex offenders, and requires periodic polygraphs for paroled sex offenders. We've placed our state amongst the leaders in aggressively dealing with this problem. We can be proud, but let's not rest on our laurels. Even now, there's a guy driving around in a red sedan who tried to grab two kids near Willow Crest Elementary School. He was unsuccessful because the kids were trained on how to react.

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