Education

Bill Would Revoke Pensions for Massachusetts Teachers Convicted on Child Porn Charges

As it stands, convicted child pornographers in the Bay State can still retire on the state's dime.

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Tim Ellis/Flickr

A new bill in the Massachusetts legislature would ensure that public-school teachers convicted on child-pornography charges will not receive state retirement benefits. Good news, right? Of course, the flip-side of this development is that, until now, Bay State teachers caught with kiddie porn have been perfectly entitled to receive taxpayer-funded pensions. In fact, a recent investigation by The Boston Herald revealed that at least five retired Massachusetts teachers convicted on child-pornography charges are currently collecting pension money from the state.

The new legislation was recommended by the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement Board and referred to the legislature's Public Service Committee in January. On November 30, the committee finally held a hearing on the legislation and endorsed it. The bill specifies that crimes requiring pension forfeiture for teachers include conviction for knowing purchase or possession of child pornography or a conviction for any sex offense in which the victim was under 18-years-old.

The issue came before the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2014, with the high court ultimately ruling that a teacher who pled guilty to 11 counts of purchasing and possessing child porn could still collect teacher-pension benefits. "Although cognizant of the severity of the offenses of which [the teacher] was convicted," wrote Justice Robert Cordy, "we concluded that on the specific facts of this case, those offenses neither directly involved his position as a teacher nor contravened a particular law applicable to that position, and therefore did not come within the forfeiture provision of [the law]." 

Though the case received a lot of attention in Massachusetts, state officials apparently didn't see fit to address the issue for more than a year after the court's decision. As a result of the inaction, "taxpayers could soon be subsidizing the retirement checks for a former Southbridge middle school teacher accused of soliciting live-streaming sex shows of young Filipino children," the Herald notes.  

A similar situation exists in Pennsylvania, where former teachers convicted on child pornography, rape, and even murder charges can still collect state pension payments. Check out this map from Governing.com for a full breakdown of state laws on public-employee pension forfeiture. 

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  1. Sounds like the solution to any pension crisis in Mass will be to place child porn on all the teachers’ computers.

    1. Your thinking….I like it.

    2. I consider compulsory education to be a form of child molestation/pornography anyway. There are bound to be security cameras in gym locker rooms.

  2. If you go to a 401(k) rather than a lifetime pension, this goes away too…just sayin’.

    1. Those are for serfs, obviously.

  3. I call on Reason to start revoking pensions for bad links.

    1. Start with 30 days in the monocle grinding shop?

  4. Given how broadly child pornography and sex offenses are defined, I’m not 100% sure I’m on board with this. Do we know what protections are in place?

    1. Given that it would apply to pubsecs, do we care?

      1. Something, something, rule of law, something. Oh, that’s right, equal protection only applies when you want it to.

        1. I know, I know, I was being a snot.

          Try this:

          Given that it would apply to pubsecs, and would administered and enforced by pubsecs, why would anyone worry about a pubsec actually losing a pension?

        2. Plus, geez, Tonio. Let it go already. I thought the EP argument for gay marriage was incredibly weak, resting as it did on a stolen base. You won. Try not to be a sore winner. Its not a good look for anyone.

          1. Yes, I read this.

    2. I remember there was some outrage a couple of years ago about this issue. And some of the laws being discussed would cut off retirees from pensions for convictions of any felonies. Granted, we are talking about gov’t teachers. But even still, a teacher retires, and then gets convicted of shoplifting (I am an old man! I was confused!), it has nothing to do with his fulfilling his contract. However, I think one can definitely make the argument that child pornography would have a direct connection to that person’s teaching. Although your point is well taken about how broadly these crimes are defined.

    3. It’s a Catch-22. The way we criminalize simply the viewing of “child pornography” and manage our dangerously broad and life-ruining “sexual predator” list is horrible and we should not have the government doling out even more punishment on questionable standards. However, keeping bad teachers from stealing more of our money for their absurdly lucrative pensions is definitely a good thing. I think this works out about even.

      1. Pornography depicting cartoon children is also included in many/most laws against child pornography.

        One is unable to make an argument that the production or consumption of this material has any direct effect on children, yet it is still ZOMG CHILD PORN THAT SHOULD RUIN YOUR LIFE IF YOU EVER SAW IT.

        So like, that tasteless and gross cartoon I once saw of Barney Rubble getting it on with Pebbles is just as much “child porn” as, you know, actual child porn that was produced through the victimization of actual human children. Because logic.

        Count me on the side of people skeptical of rending consumers of “child porn” rights-less pariahs based on the current formulation of “child porn.”

    4. “Given how broadly child pornography and sex offenses are defined…”

      Yeah, my first thought. Besides, if they put in the work, and kept their nose clean at work, I don’t see what one has to do with the other.

  5. OK, I get it. Child porn is icky. And it’s a major breach of trust for teachers, particularly elementary school ones, to be caught with that. But having said that, they earned those pensions (to the degree that any public employee does). Are there any other classes of crimes for which specific groups of public employees can lose their pensions? Would this apply to, say, animal control officers convicted of animal cruelty?

    1. I’m earning my Social Security right now!

      1. You’re not earning it, you’re paying for it.

    2. Came to these comments to say just about this.

      1) real solution is no state pensions for our feudal betters
      2) but if you promised them a pension and the contract didn’t have a clause that said that such crimes invalidate the pension
      3) I don’t see the legal (or ethical/moral) justification for removing it

      I can even probably consider such language legitimate, if it exists and the crime relates to the duty (Sandusky molesting kids AT THE COLLEGE HE WAS EMPLOYED AT, AT WORK)… but if the language does not exist, I can’t get from here to there.

      (It should go without saying that I understand the “logic” in use here is… “Fuck Child Molesters, That’s Why”)

      1. 2) In the case of public employees passing a law is amending their contract for employment, so from here on out the teachers have a clause saying that these crime invalidate their pension.

        1. Sure, but that means the people who currently have their pensions keep their pensions. Which at least OP seems to think is a bad thing…

          1. Yep, but with ex post facto laws being forbidden there isn’t much they can do about that.

            1. As part of their punishment upon conviction, they can have assets/property seized (happens all the time). I think it could be done perfectly legally, and not as an ex post facto law.

            2. “There ougghta be an ex post facto law!”

    3. I would say anything that is an abuse of office or authority means losing your pension. Hypocrisy, as common and sickening as it is, is not an abuse of office.

      So, an animal control officer who beats her own pets should be fired and prosecuted but, not lose her pension. If that same animal control officer beats an animal while on duty should be fired, prosecuted and lose her pension.

      1. That would have the effect of anyone in office or authority either erring on the side of doing nothing, for fear that any negative and unforeseen consequences or difficult situations would be deemed “abuse of office or authority”, or simply ignoring their pension and stealing enough with their office that they didn’t need the pension if they should be caught.

    4. And it’s a major breach of trust for teachers,

      Since when did we start trusting teachers?

  6. 5 people? Clearly an actual crisis.

  7. a former Southbridge middle school teacher accused of soliciting live-streaming sex shows of young Filipino children

    Woah, woah, woah…he wasn’t subscribing to a Peter Scully feed, was he?

  8. You can strip any right, including property rights, from someone after due process. That’s how we confiscate property, remove voting and gun rights, hell, even imprison people after they have been convicted of a crime.

    I don’t see a jurisprudential problem with stripping someone’s (property) right to a pension as part of their punishment for a crime on a similar basis.

    That said, I could see suspending their pension why they are in jail (its not like they need it to live on). For life seems a little much, especially since a lot of pubsecs don’t participate in SocSec and without their pension they have literally nothing to live on.

  9. The question of the actual harmfulness of “child porn” is still far from resolved, and is the subject of ongoing debates in the psychology/social sciences community and in scientific journals.

    Scientific studies based on credible empirical evidence do not support the mass hysteria and moral panic that currently surrounds so-called “child pornography.” According to several objective research reports, some of which are discussed in the essay linked below, the viewing of this material is most often harmless and does not always lead to behaviors which are currently considered to be criminal. Many ? perhaps most – of those charged with possessing and viewing “child pornography” have never been involved with a child. Also, the conjecture that all “pornography” is taken without consent is not borne out by empirical facts, and the delusion that children are hurt every time their image is viewed simply is not rational ? the child most likely never knows about such viewings. For an essay discussing this subject published in a reputable scientific journal, see http://www.shfri.net/effects/effects.cgi

    For a free downloadable 94 page book on these issues which includes voluntary anonymous testimony from now grown former child “actors,” see http://www.shfri.net/shfp/beyond/beyond.html

    1. I’ve always thought that child pornography should become property of the victim. Upon their eighteenth birthday they can decide to destroy or distribute it (for profit or free their choice). If their is a market of legal porn it should take away a good chunk of the market for the illegal stuff. Plus it allows victims to get some compensation for what they were put through.

      1. This is a bizarre and interesting idea, but it assumes 1) that the material hasn’t been freely distributed well before the child turns 18; 2) that the child-victim portrayed in the media even knows of its existence, which may be a factor in several different types of scenarios, for instance, child was so young they don’t remember the abuse and it is never discovered; or in cases where no prosecution, or even accusation of the creator–so the media is never seized, etc.

        So this may work when the abuse is discovered and before the media is released through the underground channels where it is copied and shared ad infinitum. But even if that was the case all the time, the idea of creating a legal market for child porn would pretty much go down like a glass of cold barf. I like your creativity, though.

        1. Yeah, it has problems. The main thing I want is a legal source of child porn that doesn’t harm the victims further against their consent (for those who remember, it can be traumatic to know someone is getting off to what happened to you).

          A good first step would be legalizing animated child porn. Drawings on paper don’t victimize anyone and victimless crimes shouldn’t be illegal.

          1. The main thing I want is a legal source of child porn

            Umm, phrasing?

        2. would pretty much go down like a glass of cold barf

          I lolled.

    2. Pedophile detected.

      1. Someone incapable of arguing about this topic in any sort of objective fashion detected.

      2. Even if you disagree with what they’re saying, and even if they are a pedophile, does not make throwing the word “pedophile” at them a good argument.

        Not to mention I see far too often in comments and even articles on this “libertarian” site, people conflating pedophile with child rapist.

        As if merely having a thought go through your mind is akin to rape. Not much different from calling someone a murderer for merely thinking about killing someone once.

        Woodchippers anyone?

        1. Calm down, Plopper. These are Reason.com comments, not Letters to the Editor at Critical Inquiry. I can be a jerk as much as I want!

          Having said that, I will engage in a bit of ped…antry myself. I was quite obviously not making any argument at all. I do agree with you, though, that pedophile and child rapist are too often conflated. Personally, I find the use of pedophile in any context of adult sexual contact with anyone under the age of 18 to be more problematic. Ephebophilia is not pedophilia, and treating people that bone teens like people that are attracted to children is infuriating and contributes more to the hysteria surrounding the sexuality of youth.

          For the record: Children and teenagers disgust me in any context.

          1. Yeah sorry heheh. I realized that after I made the comment. Was in a bad mood.

            And yes, the teenager vs prepubescent children thing is also another pet peeve of mine.

  10. So the state taketh away and then regiveth under the account of poverty. How about the state donating said pension to the collective poverty fund so the schmuck may not only finance his own damn self-imposed poverty but chip in for a few other deadbeats with the chump change. Hey, what a savings.

  11. Honest to God, is this really a libertarian institution? Just imagine the headline: States Can Welch On Their Debts To Sufficiently Disgusting and Unpopular People. (And making laws against sexual feelings, without actual molestation of real children, is looking rather like a gray area given gay rights today.) But here’s a greater danger: if pensions can be canceled on the basis of moral outrage, what’s to be next– canceling pensions for “racists”?

    And these are debts. What’s this twaddle about “taxpayer-funded” pensions? Are these pensions not already-earned compensation for services rendered? Are the services tainted? Would the compensation not have had to be higher if the state didn’t keep part and administer it in old age? (And if it had been higher, would it be capable of being clawed back?) So…why is Reason trying to spin them as some sort of generosity to the state’s contractual counterparty?

    Sure, these are people with disgusting emotions– IF they were appropriately convicted, and Reason is certainly energetic enough in questioning the accuracy of convictions and prosecutions in other areas involving horrific and often sexual behavior, such as rape accusations like those at Duke and Columbia. But either way, populist lawmaking based only on moral outrage strikes me as something to be awfully, awfully careful about.

    1. Sometimes I wonder from some of the comments I read on here if it isn’t just some sort of paranoia that libertarians will be thought of as sympathizers of child rapists if they were consistent on matters such as these.

      But considering libertarians can’t even garner 2% of the vote, I’m not sure what good sacrificing their integrity for this will do… Especially once society progresses beyond the whole paranoia and witch hunts surrounding this subject.

  12. Are these “child pornographers” the new Salem witches?

  13. Good news? You cheer for people losing their retirement savings (and that is what public pensions amount to) over what is essentially a thought crime, without due process? Disgusting as those thoughts are, that is in no way a libertarian position.

    I also suspect that might not survive an equal protection challenge. If people are to be deprived of property, that should required due process; that is, a court of law should order their pension seized, and that should be possible also for professions other than teachers.

  14. Why am I reading a Reason article acting like this is some kind of moral panic worth pearl-clutching over?

    This isn’t that hard. If a teacher gets caught banging or voyeuring one of their own students (I wouldn’t really even object to saying any student in their school, whether or not the teacher ever had the kid in class, since they still have some amount of authority over the kid), fine, take away their pension. But if a teacher gets caught downloading kiddie porn or traveling to Thailand to bang little kids, I mean, that’s gross and the teacher should probably be fired so that they’re no longer in a position of authority over kids, but I don’t see why they should lose their pension. Their actions had nothing to do with their position as a teacher.

    Let’s also take a step back and remember that kiddie porn and statutory rape are strict liability offenses in the US. Someone could post a link in the comments here that purported to be a link to cute pictures of puppies, but was actually a kiddie porn video–doesn’t matter, as far as the feds are concerned all that matters now is that kiddie porn was downloaded onto your computer.

    1. Or in one particularly egregious case, this 16 year old girl stole a woman’s expired driver’s license, used it to get a a new ID with her picture on it, and also used it to get Social Security office to give her an authentic (but obviously fraudulently obtained) Social Security card reprint, and then used these as ID to go get work doing a porn movie. The porn company wouldn’t even let her do the job with just the DL, they made her come back with her Social Security card. They tried to do their due diligence, they were presented documents that even someone trained to spot fake ID would not have been able to spot since they weren’t actually fake documents, and STILL the guy who had sex with her in the movie got charged with statutory rape and everyone else got charged with some crime relating to enabling the situation.

      It seems particularly egregious to tie revoking a contractually-promised pension to something where you could literally just be tricked into doing it.

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