Saturday, May 24, 2008

What did CPS think it was doing?

The FLDS case is not yet over; the Child Protective Service has appealed the court decision to the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, I think it's worth looking back at the history of the case in order to figure out what CPS thought it was doing and why it thought it could get away with actions that a court has now found to be totally without legal justification. Two possibilities occur to me.

The first is that the CPS knew its actions were unjustified but was relying on the prejudice of the population and the court system to get away with them. On this reading the real objective was to drive the FLDS out of Texas and/or to destroy it. That is consistent with at least some of the evidence. It seems clear that, about three years ago, a local legislator introduced a package of bills to the legislature, some of which passed, intended to target the FLDS. They included an increase in the legal age of marriage with parental consent from fourteen to sixteen and raising polygamy to a felony. It is even possible, on this reading, that the CPS expected to eventually lose in the courts but believed, perhaps correctly, that they could impose large enough costs on the FLDS families in the process to persuade them to go somewhere else.

It is worth noting that the only justification offered by the CPS for seizing male children was that they were being brought up to be child abusers—which is to say, being brought up in their parents' religion. It sounds from some news stories as though the implicit deal being offered to parents was that if they would accept suitable psychological counseling, they would eventually get their children back. Combine those two and it looks as though the idea was to force people to renounce their religion, holding their children hostage until they did.

The alternative interpretation is that the CPS believed its own story. Based on the picture of the FLDS painted by anti-polygamy activists, primarily ex-members, they may have expected to find lots of pregnant minors, some of them thirteen or fourteen, and lots more minors with children. Having found them, they would then have sufficient legal justification for a good deal of what they wanted to do and sufficient public support for all of it. And if the story they believed was true, they were in fact doing their job, protecting minors from abuse, even if they were stretching the law a little to do it.

When they actually got control over the children, they discovered that the data were strikingly inconsistent with the theory. Apparently none of the minors were pregnant and only five had had children--a rate not far from the average teen pregnancy rate for the state. The CPS officials were reluctant to either recognize that they had made a mistake or admit it, so tried in various ways to fudge up evidence to support their actions. So far as public opinion was concerned, they mostly succeeded, with the help of major media too biased to do a competent job of looking at and reporting the facts.

In their defense, they were not the only people to believe the story. I believed it too. While I might have suspected some exaggeration, I assumed that the account given by defectors from the sect was substantially accurate. If I had been asked to predict the number of pregnant minors on the ranch, my guess would have been substantially above zero.

The evidence now available suggests that the story was not true, or at least not true of this community of the FLDS. Either things have changed over time, or the Texas FLDS community was different from the Colorado City community, or the FLDS defectors were giving a false and biased report from the beginning.

All of those alternatives are possible. What is not possible is that, in a community functioning as the FLDS was said to be functioning, where girls just past puberty were routinely married to much older men and forced to have sex with them and bear their children, no minor was pregnant and fewer than a fifth of the minor women aged 14-17 had ever had children. Yet those, apparently, are the facts of the Texas case.

27 Comments:

At 12:29 PM, May 24, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

Where'd that Huben guy go, who criticized you for ignoring the "obviously pervasive child abuse" and quibbling over technicalities like due process?

 
At 1:12 PM, May 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people, being religious have a unique tool honed to deal with the cruel injustice of the event. It's called religion. The cruelty of the world melts away like a stain in the dishwasher when you can close your eyes and imagine all your enemies rotting in the fires of hell as you roll in the gentle warmth of paradise. I imagine a lot of these FLDS members are doing that just now. They're probably also drawing not-unjustified parallels to the biblical persecution of the Nazarenes.

 
At 1:13 PM, May 24, 2008, Blogger kindpastor said...

As for where Huben went, I imagine he goes wherever his limbic system takes him.

 
At 6:41 PM, May 24, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:35 PM, May 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only remedy for this sort of thing happening again would be that the people that orchestrated this kidnapping at gunpoint of hundreds of children serve some serious prison time. I don't believe that will happen, thus I have to believe we have a class system, government workers immune from common civil behavior and everyone else.

 
At 3:36 AM, May 25, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Joe, I'm still here and still marveling at David's obsession with this case.

You, however, should be ashamed at making up false quotes and attributing them to me.

If you want to see what I wrote, and how David did not respond, see:
http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/04/and-yet-more-on-flds-phone-call.html
My arguments stand up pretty well still.

David's obsession seems to be getting worse: he attempt mathematical analysis despite the obvious GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) problems with his analysis.

If he really wanted to criticize government, he should have criticized the appeals court for an obviously shoddy buck-passing judgement. Given that whatever they judged, this would go on to the TX Supreme Court (and maybe the US Supreme Court), they had a free pass to spout whatever they wanted to please the public or themselves. No legal content was needed for that purpose, and it shows.

Even stranger was that David didn't seem to understand just how limited the judgment was: it applied to only one family. In principle it could have applied to almost all: but that would still leave the state empowered for some families in ways David objects to.

I think David needs to reread his own chapter in TMOF about problems with libertarianism, and then he could addressmy questions from the link above.

 
At 9:09 AM, May 25, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Even stranger was that David didn't seem to understand just how limited the judgment was: it applied to only one family."

I gather you didn't actually read what the court said.

"Relators are thirty-eight women who were living at the ranch and had children taken into custody ... "

You don't explain why you assume that the facts reported in the opinion are garbage--other than that you don't want to believe them--and I am puzzled as to how the fact that there were only five minors found who had born children could be consistent with your view of the case.

It also seems a bit odd to accuse the appeals court of buck-passing, just because you don't like the result. Any appeals decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

I don't think I am the one demonstrating an obsession.

 
At 9:36 AM, May 25, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

Mike,

Here's what you actually wrote:

"What amazes me is David's obsession with whether a government agency was wrong, rather than the other basic question of whether there is something being done wrong to children by the FLDS.

It's that darned libertarian NAMBLA logic again: overlook gross crimes for the sake of principled consistency."


It was a mistake for me to use quotation marks--I didn't intend to quote, but rather to paraphrase your point, and I think I paraphrased accurately. I apologize for using quotation marks; I didn't intend to imply that I was quoting you (although I recognize that's what I did).

If he really wanted to criticize government, he should have criticized the appeals court for an obviously shoddy buck-passing judgement. Given that whatever they judged, this would go on to the TX Supreme Court (and maybe the US Supreme Court), they had a free pass to spout whatever they wanted to please the public or themselves. No legal content was needed for that purpose, and it shows.

Even stranger was that David didn't seem to understand just how limited the judgment was: it applied to only one family. In principle it could have applied to almost all: but that would still leave the state empowered for some families in ways David objects to.


I agree that it sounds like you didn't read the opinion. (1) You're incorrect about to whom the judgment applies, (2) you appear to dispute factual findings even CPS doesn't dispute (if not, what factual findings are you disputing?), and (3) you say that "no legal content was needed for that purpose [pleasing the public or themselves] and it shows."

(1) Besides the fact that you simply haven't read the opinion to learn who it concerns, it's my understanding that appellate rulings are generally taken as standards to be applied in similar cases. The facts in this case (as you'll learn when you read the opinion) are shared by the cases of almost every removed child.

(2) You think the factual findings (undisputed by CPS) are incorrect? Why do you then believe CPS doesn't dispute them? What errors do you see in the legal reasoning in the judgment?

(3) I work in the child protection field and am in court for this sort of stuff all the time, and what the court did appears to be perfectly in line with the relevant statutes, which provide standard requirements that the state prove imminent danger and/or attempt to remedy the situation without removing the children. They're the same standards we have here in Florida, and they were obviously ignored in this case. If you think the laws should be different, that's fine, but you appear to think that applying the laws constitutes a lack of "legal content," whatever that is.

 
At 1:49 PM, May 25, 2008, Anonymous Sam Boogliodemus said...

I wonder how much of this has to do with the then apparent candidacy of Mitt Romney. Texas Democrats have already shown their willingness to pervert the justice system to achieve their wacky leftist agenda. I.E. Tom Delay and the fake but accurate reporting of Dan Rather

 
At 2:11 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

Sam, I think Romney's campaign was over, or virtually over, before this all went down.

Texas' treatment of FLDS appears to be a bipartisan effort. Yes, most of the people in CPS are likely democrats, but the republicans in the legislature and local government have been supportive of the raid. The state legislator who suggested the FLDS be forced to pay the costs of the raid was, IIRC, a republican.

 
At 3:39 PM, May 25, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For anonymous at 1:12 PM, here is another parallel they might draw, from somewhat less ancient history:

"When the Arabs heard of the festival which took place at the monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite in the region of Antioch, they appeared there and took captive a large number of men and women and innumerable boys and girls. The Christians who were left no longer knew what to believe. Some of them said "Why does God allow this to happen?"

-Michael the Syrian, writing in the 600s AD during the Muslim conquest of then-Christian Syria.

 
At 4:24 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Well, this is bone-headed, but I will confess it. I misunderstood "Relators" because I skimmed past the sentence defining it. I was quite puzzled by it, and guessed that it was a family name, instead of a legal term of art.

Even so, my conclusion stands correct that "that would still leave the state empowered for some families in ways David objects to."

On the other hand, David plainly misreads me and doesn't seem to understand the comp sci term of art "GIGO".

I did not criticize any facts in the findings. Cite me if you think I did.

The appeals court did not attempt to pass the buck: perhaps I should have written more clearly. Because it was obvious that whatever way they ruled, the case would be appealed, they were free to rule in any way they wished with any logic they wished because the supreme court's ruling would be decisive. It's not a matter of whether or not I like the judgement: I don't find it convincing nor do I have confidence in that appeals court in these circumstances.

Thanks for the apology, Joe. Though I do not think your paraphrasing was right.

 
At 5:47 PM, May 25, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

All of those alternatives are possible. What is not possible is that, in a community functioning as the FLDS was said to be functioning, where girls just past puberty were routinely married to much older men and forced to have sex with them and bear their children, no minor was pregnant and fewer than a fifth of the minor women aged 14-17 had ever had children. Yet those, apparently, are the facts of the Texas case.

Either I disagree with this or I don't understand what you're claiming "is not possible."

The summary of the court's decision I read [1] clearly stated as a matter of fact, facts not disputed by the court or CPS, that 20 females had become pregnant when they were between 13 & 17, tho their marital status at that time is now in question.

Granted, Texas law may allow girls as young as 16 to get consent, but as far as I can tell that consent hasn't been established, nor do we know how many were under age 16 at the time, which in any case would be illegal.

Also, according to the same summary, 5 females who had evidently become pregnant when they were between 15 & 17 may have been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse.

I also read an AP report [2] that said of the 400+ children taken into custody, over half of them were infants, that is <=5 years of age. The paternity of the majority of these 200+ infants is still in question, but if in fact they turn out to be children of mothers who were living on the ranch (regardless of age), that could certainly be interpreted as a pattern of reproduction you were earlier assuming was unlikely.

Again, I'm no apologist for CPS or any other state agency, but I think there's a great deal about this case that remains to be made a matter of fact before anyone can say with reasonable certainty "what is not possible."

[1] http://tinyurl.com/4neh5p
[2] http://tinyurl.com/5uoga3

 
At 8:22 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

Mike,

Your criticism of DF's mathematical analysis, which relies on the factual findings of the court, appears to imply that the court's findings aren't trustworthy.

What do you find unconvincing about the legal reasoning in the opinion?

There is no guarantee that the TX supreme court will accept the case, and even if they did, it's every proper court's goal to engage in an accurate legal analysis that won't be overturned. Why would your reasoning about this appellate court's incentives not apply to every decision the court made? Every decision they make is likely to be appealed. You're just certain this appeal will be accepted for further appellate review?

 
At 10:26 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike writes:

"The appeals court did not attempt to pass the buck: perhaps I should have written more clearly. Because it was obvious that whatever way they ruled, the case would be appealed, they were free to rule in any way they wished with any logic they wished because the supreme court's ruling would be decisive."

This is true of pretty nearly any high profile case. The only sense I can make of your accusation of buck passing is that you disagree with the court's opinion.

 
At 10:47 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"The summary of the court's decision I read [1] clearly stated as a matter of fact, facts not disputed by the court or CPS, that 20 females had become pregnant when they were between 13 & 17, tho their marital status at that time is now in question."

That's not twenty minors, that's twenty women out of the entire population--I'm guessing (from the number of minors) something between one and two thousand people. There's nothing unusual about that--currently, somewhere around half of all women have had sex by the time they are 18.

A woman who is 17 or older now could have been married at 14 in Texas or someone else. She could have gotten pregnant at 17 without being married without any laws being broken. In Colorado, she could have gotten pregnant as young as 15 without any laws being broken. If there were only 20 women in the whole population who had gotten pregnant before they were 18, that looks like an unusually low rate, not an unusually high rate. Of course, it's possible that the records weren't good enough to identify all of them--but they pretty clearly were good enough to identify the ones still minors.

According to the court, there were only 5 current minors who were claimed to have gotten pregnant while minors--fewer than one in five. If you accept the standard account, getting pregnant young is the norm, not the exception--so how come more than 4/5ths of the female minors hadn't gotten pregnant? How come the teen pregnancy rate for the FLDS was similar to the teen pregnancy rate for Texas?

"Also, according to the same summary, 5 females who had evidently become pregnant when they were between 15 & 17 may have been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse."

I think you are misreading it. What it says is that there is no evidence that any of the others had been victims of physical or sexual abuse.

The only evidence mentioned for those five is the simple fact that they became pregnant--can you find anything else? I read that passage as referring only to that fact, saying that their pregnancy could possibly be a result of abuse but doesn't have to be, since we don't know their marital status, and that there is no evidence at all with regard to anyone else.

"nor do we know how many were under age 16 at the time, which in any case would be illegal. "

Not if they married at 14 three years ago, when doing so was legal in Texas--which is consistent with their being 17 now. Not if they got pregnant in Colorado, where the age of consent is 15.

I agree that we don't know that what the FLDS is accused of routinely doing is never done. But it can be done routinely, or the CPS, with control over all of the minors plus the adults they claimed were minors, would have been able to find more than a fifth of the 14-17 year old women who had had children.

 
At 10:49 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

(My "can" near the end of the previous post should have been "can not.")

 
At 11:46 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

The Texas state supreme court is reported to be working on this case hot and heavy over the weekend. IMHO this means we can expect a ruling by them this week, possibly as early as Tuesday. I do not know enough about the character of the Texas State Supreme court to venture an opinion, other than to say that the 3:0 ruling by the lower court of appeals does not bode well for Texas CPS.

 
At 10:46 AM, May 26, 2008, Blogger Will McLean said...

Your assumptions about the FLDS birth rate are faulty. First, the Texas pregnancy rate for 14-17 year olds isn’t a little bit less than the rate for 15-19 year olds. It’s a lot less. 2002 gives a pregnancy rate of 45 per thousand 15-17 and 29 per thousand 13-17.

http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/famplan/pdf/TeenPreg2002_021505.pdf

Second, you can’t just multiply the rate by some figure to bring in past pregnancies, because last year the 14-17 year olds were 13-16.

Third, you can’t assume that the CPS can detect all of the current pregnancies.

Look at another way. Suppose you have 28 female minors age 14-17, and assume for simplicity all expect to get married the day they turn 16. You have seven each with average ages of 14.5, 15.5, 16.5 and 17.5 years. The 16 year olds have been having sex for half a year, the seventeen year olds for a year and a half. If the chance of conception is 25% a year, you end up with “only” 3.5 pregnancies. And the reported rate for the FLDS minors is more than that.

 
At 12:58 PM, May 26, 2008, Blogger Don said...

It seems to me that they were worried about waiting too long and finding out that there had been a lot of child abuse. I assume that the Warren Jeffs case and all the testimony from people leaving this group had them worried. I remember after Columbine that there was a situation in L.A., at a Jewish Community Center, where when the police arrived they went right in. I remember that someone commented that the police didn't want to be seen waiting outside while someone was still shooting inside, which some said happened at Columbine. Whether rightly or wrongly, this seems to me to explain their actions.

 
At 4:51 PM, May 26, 2008, Blogger James A. Donald said...

If one takes children hostage to prevent hostile behavior from parents, one will treat the hostages well.

If, however, one kidnaps children in order to extract concessions from parents (presumably the parents were expected to undergo psychological counseling and renounce their religion as mental disease), one will severely mistreat the children. I predict that when the children are returned, we will find that a fair proportion of them were raped and beaten.

We shall see. On the internet, one's predictions come back to haunt one.

 
At 6:58 PM, May 26, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

That's not twenty minors, that's twenty women out of the entire population--I'm guessing (from the number of minors) something between one and two thousand people. There's nothing unusual about that--currently, somewhere around half of all women have had sex by the time they are 18.

The undisputed fact was that the 20 girls were minors at the time they became pregnant. I'm assuming that by "minor" the court means under 18.

Merely having sex before 18 isn't the relevant statistic, it's how many become pregnant and under what circumstances.

A woman who is 17 or older now could have been married at 14 in Texas or someone else. She could have gotten pregnant at 17 without being married without any laws being broken. In Colorado, she could have gotten pregnant as young as 15 without any laws being broken.

Girls younger than 17 can become pregnant legally, but it minimally requires the permission of one or more legal guardians. Do you know as a matter of fact that the FLDS girls obtained that permission?

If there were only 20 women in the whole population who had gotten pregnant before they were 18, that looks like an unusually low rate, not an unusually high rate.

Only a few dozen of the children taken into custody were teenage girls.

According to the court, there were only 5 current minors who were claimed to have gotten pregnant while minors--fewer than one in five. If you accept the standard account, getting pregnant young is the norm, not the exception--so how come more than 4/5ths of the female minors hadn't gotten pregnant?

We don't know how many minor girls had ever been pregnant - the court merely said the evidence presented by CPS that more had been pregnant hasn't so far been persuasive. There has been a great deal of suspicion by parties on both sides, making it difficult to get at the truth.

How come the teen pregnancy rate for the FLDS was similar to the teen pregnancy rate for Texas?

But that's the point, we don't that it was.

I think you are misreading it. What it says is that there is no evidence that any of the others had been victims of physical or sexual abuse.

Misreading? What you just wrote is nearly exactly what I wrote. Saying there is no evidence that any other children except the 5 under question had been abused, implies that there was evidence that the 5 had been physically or sexually abused. Do I have the evidence? No, but I'm assuming the court does, since that also was an undisputed fact in summary I cited.

I think CPS erred in taking all the children, and evidently at least one court agrees, but I'm not the least bit surprised they did, they're charged with protecting children after all.

 
At 8:46 AM, May 27, 2008, Blogger Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Girls younger than 17 can become pregnant legally, but it minimally requires the permission of one or more legal guardians. Do you know as a matter of fact that the FLDS girls obtained that permission?

Isn't this putting the cart before the horse? They are not innocent until proven guilty? My understanding of the 3rd Court's criticism of CPS here (and I am no lawyer) is that they hadn't even bothered to *try* to find out, they just assumed guilt and went with it. I might believe that none of the marriages are legal- but I can't justify the fact that CPS removed 450+/- children on the basis of their assumptions about five of them, particularly when the record doesn't demonstrate that they made any effort at all to ascertain the facts.
In fact, Angie Voss was asked in court if she'd made any effort to find out if the pregnant minors were made pregnant by minor males- their peers. Angie said she did not know if she'd try to find that out or not.

And the sexual abuse in question regarding the five girls is merely the possibility that they were not legally married when they were impregnated, and the possibility that they were impregnated by men old enough to constitute sexual assault.

Of the 5, one of them is married (legally or not, I do not know) to a man just under three years older than her- they were 16 and 19 a year ago when the Bishop's List was filled out in March, IIRC, but I think she was just a month or so shy of her 17th birthday then.
One of them is married, whether legally or not I don't know, to a man just around five years older.

The only pregnancy they have below 16 is the 13 year old who is now over 20. The FLDS wasn't even in Texas when she conceived. I'm not aware of any 14 or 15 year olds.

 
At 11:06 AM, May 27, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

Isn't this putting the cart before the horse? They are not innocent until proven guilty?

No, but if there is no record of said permission having been granted, a requirement if this was a legal marriage of a minor, then it raises a suspicion that the marriage wasn't legal, and more likely it was an FLDS ceremonial marriage only. Unless I misread him, David has suggested these girls may have been legally married, in which case documentation shouldn't be difficult to obtain. From the office of vital statistics, for instance.

I might believe that none of the marriages are legal- but I can't justify the fact that CPS removed 450+/- children on the basis of their assumptions about five of them,

If you read more carefully my previous comment you'll find I agreed with this.

particularly when the record doesn't demonstrate that they made any effort at all to ascertain the facts.

That's not true. The summary of the record I cited included a number of evidential findings agreed to by both CPS ("the Department") and the court, one of which was this:

"While there was evidence that twenty females had become pregnant between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant other than the general allegation that the girls were living in an FLDS community with a belief system that condoned underage marriage and sex;"

Again, is it possible these 20 girls had been legally married as minors in Texas or elsewhere? Sure, but then the records ought to be easily obtained.

Once again I want to stress I'm not defending the Texas Dept. of child & family protection services, per se. I'm merely pointing out that David's criticisms of them rely on a number of conjectures and assumptions that I think are unjustified given what we know from relevant press releases.

 
At 11:29 AM, May 27, 2008, Blogger Justin said...

The alternative interpretation is that the CPS believed its own story.

This seems the most plausible explanation to me.

As a rule, I find it pretty consistent that people want to believe that they are The Good Guys, and that they are honest and sensible. Add to that the way that (in my observation) cognition seems to be pattern-based, and is biased towards fitting facts into established mental frameworks, and you get a story that's very easy to believe.

CPS started out believing a number of "well-known facts". News came in that supported those presuppositions, and they acted on that news. Some of the data didn't fit the presuppositions, so they found ways to rationalize away that data. After it started to become clear that they had made mistakes, they got defensive and admitted only the barest minimum of error, defending both their preconceptions and actions as appropriate.

Abstracted that way, it's a pretty common story -- a normal interaction of human and bureaucratic behaviour...

 
At 5:17 PM, May 27, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

will, the below is more useful.

http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/famplan/pdf/Teen01.pdf

1/40 teen girls 13-17 give birth in Texas, 13.1% are repeat teen birth givers.

Also when broken down by ethnicity Hispanic girls are 62% of the females giving birth younger than 18, with white non-hispanic at 22% and blacks at 16%.

One might make an argument that the problem is more a racial one in that Texas authorities are just fine with underage hispanic girls getting pregnant, but go ballistic when it is white girls.

FYI the racial difference in sentences for crimes is much more linked to the race of the victim, than of the perp. Juries will punish the killer of a white person much more harshly than the killer of a Black or Hispanic person regardless of the race of the perp.

 
At 7:24 PM, May 27, 2008, Blogger Stephen said...

--a rate not far from the average teen pregnancy rate for the state

The real problem is that they grabbed enough people in the net that you can do statistical comparisons -- and the rates for the FLDS are below those of the State of Texas, which has caused a number of problems for most analysis.

Good point that CPS probably believed they would find something much different than they did.

 

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