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February 26, 2007

Starting to smell the residency restriction coffee

According to this USA Today article, some (but not all) state officiasl are starting to realize that common sense needs to temper broad laws seeking to banish all sex offenders from communities.  Here are snippets from an article entited, "Sex-offender residency laws get second look," which also has this accompanying table:

Oklahoma state Rep. Lucky Lamons was a police officer for 22 years.  He calls himself a "lock-'em-up kind of guy." Yet Lamons wants to loosen his state's law that bans registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center.  He says it forces many offenders to live in rural areas where they are difficult for authorities to monitor.  Also, he says, it does not differentiate between real predators and the type of men he recalls arresting for urinating in public, a sex offense in Oklahoma.  "We need to focus on people we're afraid of, not mad at," says Lamons, a Tulsa Democrat who wants the rules to focus more on high-risk offenders.

Lamons is among a growing number of officials who want to ease the "not-in-my-backyard" policies that communities are using to try to control sex offenders.  In the past decade, 27 states and hundreds of cities have reacted to public fear of sex crimes against children by passing residency restrictions that, in some cases, have the effect of barring sex offenders from large parts of cities. They can't live in most of downtown Tulsa, Atlanta or Des Moines, for example, because of overlapping exclusion zones around schools and day care centers.  Now a backlash is brewing.

Several states, including Iowa, Oklahoma and Georgia, are considering changes in residency laws that have led some sex offenders to go underground.  Such offenders either have not registered with local police as the laws require or they have given fake addresses.  Many complain they cannot find a place to live legally.  The push to ease residency restrictions has support from victims' advocates, prosecutors and police who say they spend too much time investigating potential violations.

They're battling a mountain of momentum, however, because residency restrictions remain popular. New or expanded ones have been proposed in 20 states this year. Some legislators are reluctant to pare back restrictions they passed only recently.  "We ought to give it time to work," says state Rep. Jerry Keen, author of Georgia's law, passed last year, which bans sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of where kids gather.  Keen, Republican majority leader of the House, says Georgia's rules put children's safety before the convenience of sex offenders.

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February 26, 2007 at 07:20 AM | Permalink

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» USA Today Article About States Rethinking Residency Restrictions from Sex Crimes
Via Sentencing Law Policy and a helpful reader, there is a really interesting article in USA Today about states reconsidering the efficacy of residency restrictions:Many of the state laws are known as Jessica's Laws because they were passed or expanded [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 26, 2007 9:54:16 PM

Comments

It is indeed a great article. What is even more interesting is the line at the very end, that Illinois is planning a conference on the effects on residency restrictions, to be held in April.

Posted by: Gideon | Feb 26, 2007 7:35:54 AM

News of a horrific crime, reporters telling the details over and over, mugshots of the suspect on the screen, revelation that the suspect is a registered sex offender. Even though such a crime might occur hundreds of miles away, I panic.

That crime could cost my son any remaining chance of a normal, stable childhood. It could cost me the choice to live peacefully with my husband, the right to live free of the terror that someone will show up on my doorstep intent on murder.

Why? Because in response to horrific crimes, society now lashes out at law-abiding citizens who, in the past, broke the law. Punishes them again by broadcasting their daily whereabouts to the world, driving them into joblessness and homelessness, banning them from walking down a city street or taking shelter in cases of emergencies. And the law thoroughly punishes their families. Spouses must either live under the same dangers, restrictions and privacy invasions, or abandon their marriage. Children lose friends, homes, and the right to be free of mockery and assault and fear.

We don't speak out often. Being legally required to provide personal information to those who wish to kill us tends to stifle public discourse. If a death threat is made, we cannot protect ourselves by staying with relatives or in a hotel for a few days. The law requires we keep the potential killer updated as to where we can be found. And that potential killer would have more rights under the law, even if he murdered us, than we do as people trying to remain in compliance with ever-changing laws.

My husband was convicted decades ago of a sex crime against an adult. He served time, he participated in years of treatment during and after release, he spent additional years under supervision. Then a court, and a panel of mental health experts, deemed he was no longer a danger to anyone. Not medium risk, not low risk. No risk. He set out to do what hundreds of thousands of ex-cons do--build a new life--and he succeeded. We married and had a child. We worked hard, contributed to our community, raised our son, made plans for the future.

Then society demanded a do-over, and contrived to do so through "regulation." So another court decided there was no punishment attached to retroactive registration of sex offenders, nor in the highly publicized dissemination of their whereabouts. Even though we are no longer subject to criminal supervision, "civil" laws have taken our privacy, our right to live and travel where we choose, and our right to be free of harassment.

Politicians, the media, and the public make it clear to us: We are human garbage. Toxic waste. Unfit to breathe the air. Unworthy of life. Deserving of death at the hands of vigilantes.

Yes, I say "we," even though my husband is the only sex offender in the family. For years, the public, politicians, and certain advocacy groups have gotten away with failing to acknowledge the swath of collateral damage their law-making has inflicted. If a mere third of offenders are married, almost a quarter million spouses are recklessly placed in jeopardy by the laws. If a third live with a parent, almost a quarter million family members are at risk. If a third have a single child, almost a quarter million children are--daily-- endangered by public notification and the prevailing, rabidly encouraged public sentiment that any registered offender should be tormented at every opportunity. Our lives are ones of fear.

To those who say I knew what I was getting into by marrying a man with a sex crime in his past, consider this: We married five years before the first law that affected us was passed, and nearly ten years before the current crop became law. Ten years ago, no reasonable person would have predicted that, absent any wrongdoing in that time, we'd suddenly be violating the law to live in a home we own, to drive down certain city streets, to take a vacation without notifying law enforcement, to buy or rent a new home or hold a job without updating the public--all because of a decades-old conviction. All these penalties came to pass after our marriage, and after the birth of our child.

There is no way to appeal it. There is no escaping it. No matter what we do--no matter how well or how long we abide by the laws--we lose more and more rights and freedoms every day. And that loss is based upon pure hysteria and statistical manipulation. The testimony of mental health experts is ignored by politicians and the mainstream media. True recidivism rates are under-reported, or are not reported at all. Even victim advocacy groups and prosecuting attorneys are disregarded when they speak against these punishments. And discussing the consequences of the laws is, apparently, taboo in the public forum.

Some will say it would be shameful to repeal laws intended to protect children. I tell you the recklessness with which hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens have been triumphantly stripped of their privacy, family, and safety is shameful indeed. Politicians and advocates tell us that such "civil" abuse heaped upon sex offenders is worthy if it saves a single child. By default, they name the pain and loss and endangerment inflicted on other children worthy as well. Shameful indeed.

I don't ask that you welcome us with open arms. We ask for something far more simple: to be left alone, just as we were all those years in which we did nothing wrong under the law. However, if you demand that every offender be eternally punished for his or her past, then show the moral courage to hold yourself accountable for the present.

When you demand offenders be pushed out of your community, say out loud, "and their children should be hounded out of their home, too."

When you demand longer and broader notifications, state bravely, "and I want their children to be shamed whenever they leave their home, to live in terror of vigilante violence forever."

When you demand offenders be banned from schools, proclaim as well, "and I want their children to be mocked and beaten by their classmates, to never have a friend."

When you demand the government step in to 'protect the children,' say to the offender's child, "But you I will purposefully endanger. Your family I will destroy, and claim its destruction as my victory."

When you demand an offender be again punished for a decades-old crime, at least have the decency to say you're willing to inflict certain damage on thousands of children in exchange for the many-times disproved promise of better security for yours.

Don't like the way that sounds? Neither do we. But you have the option of turning away, of ignoring it, of justifying it with sound bites. We don't. We live according to the whims of civil madmen every day.

Ilah June 06
www.sohopeful.org

Posted by: ZMan | Feb 27, 2007 6:41:40 PM

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