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October 8, 2007

A town's plan for a total ban on sex offenders

This New York Times article reports on the latest development in the panic over sex offenders:

While dozens of New Jersey municipalities have tried to restrict convicted sex offenders from living near their schools and parks, officials in Newton are seeking to bar high-risk sex offenders from living anywhere within the borders of their 3.5-square-mile Sussex County community.

During the past year, courts have struck down three New Jersey towns’ ordinances prohibiting convicted sex offenders from living within specified distances of schools and parks.  Despite the prospect of a legal challenge, officials in Newton said they were confident that their ordinance, which would bar sex offenders classified as being at high risk of repeating their crimes, would win approval by the Town Council on Oct. 10....

Most New Jersey municipalities that have limited sex offenders’ residency have focused on creating boundaries around child care centers and schools. “In effect, a couple of towns, by doing this, may have made the town off-limits, but I’ve never heard of any municipalities saying it outright,” said Deborah M. Kole, staff attorney for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

Municipal and state efforts across the nation have also focused on keeping sex offenders from living near schools.  Dyersville, Iowa, may have the toughest restriction. In 2005, it barred any sex offender older than 21 from living there.  The law has yet to face a legal challenge, Mayor Jim Heavens said.  The Newton proposal would prohibit sex offenders listed on the state police’s Internet registry from living within the town limits.

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October 8, 2007 at 09:26 PM | Permalink

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I've argued that residency restrictions in the aggregate create de facto banishment of sex offenders. One New Jersey community is pursuing a clear policy of banishment. From the New York Times:WHILE dozens of New Jersey municipalities have tried to res... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 10, 2007 9:06:03 PM

Comments

I agree that some of the sex offender stuff has gotten a bit out of hand. But it really bothers me to see people talking in terms of "panic". The bottom line is that the idea of living near sex offenders petrifies a lot of people, and for good reason. There is a very long list of dead kids, killed at the hand of sexual predators. So this casual dismissal of the worries of voters by calling it "panic" or what have you is bothersome.

Let's think back to some of the "bad old days". Lawrence Singleton, remember him? Well, when it was time to parole this animal, they had to house him on prison grounds for a bit because no one wanted him to live in their neighborhood. A member of California's parole bureaucracy looked down her nose at the outraged citizenry sneering that Singleton had a right to enter society, blah blah blah. And, of course, she was right. Singleton did have that right, but that was beside the point. Does the government really expect that people are going to tolerate a guy like Singleton living next door to them? And does the government really expect that people are going to care a whit about Singleton's right to live around children?

The point, of course, is that the reason we these sex offender laws is precisely because of cases like Singleton, Megan Kanka etc. etc. The arrogance inherent in plopping an animal like Jesse Timmendequas in a suburban setting with kids running everywhere without even bothering to tell citizens is stunning, and Megan Kanka paid with her life for that arrogance. Citizens, of course, were going to react, and react they have.

I think a lot of these laws are counterproductive and needlessly cruel in certain circumstances. But I also think that the regime that they replaced, i.e., the appalling arrogance of a government bureaucracy who plopped Timmendequas in a neighborhood full of kids is far far more repulsive.

It is a shame that Timmendequas will not be executed for his beastly crime.

And it is a shame that academics fail to understand the legitimate concerns that underlie these laws.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 8, 2007 10:22:00 PM

Federalist, I share your feelings, but I disagree with you. There is a hysteria going on. If I knew that only child predators were in the sex offender list, I wouldn't have any objections. However, the fact is that the majority of the people in the sex offender registry are not sexual predators. They are people that commited a one time mistake, in fact most of the people convicted are young people. half of all sex convictions in this country are "children" under the age of 18, and the median age for sex convictions is 13. Teenagers are often charged for having sex between themselves, or for stupid pranks that in other times it would seem innocent. 10 year old are being label sex offenders for playing doctor. And boys are mostly the prime victims of the system. This stories dont come out in the media, nor are mention by the politicians seeking to profit from the highly publized, but rare child abductions in a country of 300 million people.

A big part of the second half of sex convictions are of people 18-through early 20s that have sex with a minor that in most advance countries would be able to consent to sex. Not mention young people that get trapped in the cp laws, and i'm talking about the 16-19 year olds that are caught with pictures of teenagers, and while is reasonable for them to be attracted them, it is illegal, and they too are force to register as sex offenders.

Like I said before, If I was sure that only real sexual predators would be in the registry I would have no problem with it, but the reality is that the registry and all this restrictions only make life miserable for regular people looking to rebuild their lives, while the real predators sometimes dont even register

Posted by: EJ | Oct 9, 2007 12:26:46 AM

EJ, I hear ya. There are a lot of societal resources being tied up in some of these overbroad sex offender policies, but it is unfair to dismiss the concerns of a citizens who remember well the "bad old days". The condescension is palpable and unseemly.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 9, 2007 12:49:26 AM

"half of all sex convictions in this country are "children" under the age of 18, and the median age for sex convictions is 13."

Cite please? I find this hard to believe.

Posted by: Steve | Oct 9, 2007 2:50:57 AM

federalist, with all due respect, seriously, read your post again. It's panic. According to you there is a Singleton and Timmendequa on every corner just waiting to rape or kill YOUR child. Many believe that. There is a better chance a child will be struck by lightening. That is what makes it panic.

The Kanka's neighborhood knew sex offenders lived there even if they didn't know Timmendequa specifically did. Since there were 3 of them, that means 2 of them, 2/3, did not know of the crime and were not involved at all. So even that tragic case argues against your argument. Two of them were NOT Timmendequa.

And when there is a real Singleton moving into the neighborhood, the people protest and picket because they know there is a difference between dangerous predators and the catch-all that is the registry, which has never saved any child. If only it had!

It's a panic because the laws were not well-researched, well thought out and well implemented. They are driven by one sensational news story, such as the two you recite, after another. Tragic, yes, of course, but what makes it a panic is saying, like you do, that everyone is a Singleton, or a Timmendequa or a Couey or a Duncan. They are everywhere!

Notice that those men were caught and are facing the full extent of the law. That is what justice is. Just because the civil restraints following these tragic crimes are civil that doesn't mean they weren't at least in part revenge and therefore punishment for the crimes of others. So it is either panic, rage and revenge or fear, probably some of all of the above. That you agree they are overbroad is concession enough. When they are not overboard they will not be based on panic.

You're right though. A lot of it is not panic but is intentional political manipulation which is how California's 3-strikes law passed, as if everyone was a potential Richard Allen Davis. It's absurd.

Posted by: George | Oct 9, 2007 3:10:26 AM

Wouldn’t society’s purposes be better served if every man, at the age of 14, was required to take a penile plethysmograph test. The ones that responded inappropriately would be banished. Obviously this idea would cut crime the most and people that oppose it want to coddle criminals and are pro-crime.

(Of course, the best place to banish people to is New Jersey, itself, which is nothing but chemical plants, gangsters, and sex offenders, as far as I know.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 9, 2007 7:38:25 AM

Steve asked:
"Cite please? I find this hard to believe."

From the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project of the Department of Justice:
"Sexual assaults committed by youth are a growing concern in this country. Currently, it is estimated that adolescents (ages 13 to 17) account for up to one-fifth of all rapes and one-half of all cases of child molestation committed each year (Barbaree, Hudson, and Seto, 1993). In 1995, youth were involved in 15% of all forcible rapes cleared by arrest—approximately 18 adolescents per 100,000 were arrested for forcible rape. In the same year, approximately 16,100 adolescents were arrested for sexual offenses, excluding rape and prostitution (Sickmund, Snyder, Poe-Yamagata, 1997)."

I believe the number of juvenile arrests and convictions have increased over the last decade, and will try to find the cite for you.

Posted by: Ilah | Oct 9, 2007 9:19:46 AM

"And it is a shame that academics fail to understand the legitimate concerns that underlie these laws."

It is not usually a failure to understand a legitimate concern (the fear a child will be abducted), but rather the success in understanding the failure of current laws to address the concern.

Posted by: Ilah | Oct 9, 2007 11:43:07 AM

Panic is founded on myths:

Experts Debunk Myths About Online Youth Victimization and young lives are destroyed.

Take a look at that second link. How can that be "child advocacy"?

That is what myth and panic does.

Posted by: George | Oct 9, 2007 11:58:43 AM

You know, does it really matter whether something is a "myth" or not? Lots of policy is based on myths, anyway. So what is the big deal?

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 9, 2007 12:12:37 PM

Thanks Illah. although alot of the 87% of kids who were there just for child molestation are there because they had consensual sex with people in their similar or close to their age.

Posted by: EJ | Oct 9, 2007 12:51:01 PM

It doesn’t matter what we call it, myth or panic, these laws encroach on real people, their families and even their own children. It is a BIG DEAL! As the wife of an ex-offender who committed a crime (not with a child) when he was 19 years old (he is now 37) I have had to endure ridicule and move from a home that I loved. The vast majority of these people are not monsters and since when in “the land of the free” are people considered irredeemable?

Posted by: Stephenie | Oct 9, 2007 11:12:50 PM

Stephenie, why a wife has never sued for herself and for her children is a mystery. Why is it always the "defendants" who are no longer defendants that sue?

"Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race. The power to sterilize, if exercised, may have subtle, far-reaching and devastating effects. In evil or reckless hands it can cause races or types which are inimical to the dominant group to wither and disappear. There is no redemption for the individual whom the law touches. Any experiment which the State conducts is to his irreparable injury. He is forever deprived of a basic liberty. We mention these matters not to reexamine the scope of the police power of the States. We advert to them merely in emphasis of our view that strict scrutiny of the classification which a State makes in a sterilization law is essential, lest unwittingly, or otherwise, invidious discriminations are made against groups or types of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of just and equal laws. The guaranty of "equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws." When the law lays an unequal hand on those who have committed intrinsically the same quality of offense and sterilizes one and not the other, it has made as invidious a discrimination as if it had selected a particular race or nationality for oppressive treatment." SKINNER v. OKLAHOMA, 316 U.S. 535.

As long as the welfare of your children are not at risk, you have to right to procreate with whomever you wish. You also have a privacy interest:

"The Bowers Court was, of course, making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral, but this Court’s obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 850. The Nation’s laws and traditions in the past half century are most relevant here. They show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex. See County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U. S. 833, 857. Pp. 6–12.... Casey, supra, at 851—which confirmed that the Due Process Clause protects personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education." [Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558.]

Seems a wife and her children should have at least the rights of an habitual criminal and a gay person.

Posted by: George | Oct 10, 2007 1:23:12 AM

"Seems a wife and her children should have at least the rights of an habitual criminal and a gay person."

IIRC, wives and children were part of the case brought in Iowa. The court refused their claims because, even if the law forced husband and wife to maintain seperate homes, the couple could still procreate and participate in the rearing of children. Therefore, the law was not punitive.

Posted by: Ilah | Oct 10, 2007 1:58:37 PM

It was a factor in the recent Maine Supreme Court decision (PDF), however.

What if the wife believes in the sanctity of marriage, refuses to get a divorce for religious reasons and believes her husband should live with her to protect her family and help raise their children? There is more to procreation than ****ing for conception.

In the Maine Doe case, the wife was afraid for her children and stated she would have to leave him.

How can the Right justify this?

From the Left, does a woman have a right to choose or not? Roe v. Wade was in part founded on the above cited reasoning.

Both the Left and the Right would have to exercise a great deal of hypocrisy to justify the burden placed on a wife and her children. The contradiction is most flagrant in incest cases, where both the offender and the victim are required by statute to wear the scarlet letter. What the child must suffer in the form of teasing and bullying is likely difficult to document, however, so out of sight, out of mind.

The only way the state could justify this would be to prove the offender, male or female, is personally and currently a danger to the welfare of the children, so it should be a due process issue.

We'll see what happens in the Maine case.

Disclaimer for those who don't realize it's obvious: I'm not a lawyer and there is a good chance real lawyers are rolling their eyes at my reasoning.

Posted by: George | Oct 10, 2007 4:44:05 PM

George, thank you for your thoughtful reasoning and research. As I, of course, agree with your theory, I have run into the same roadblocks laid out by llah in my quest for resolution. I can only hope that some sense of sanity is recaptured in this country since so many families are being turned upside down. Including the lives of the victims who are less protected by the smokescreen of these laws.

Posted by: Stephenie | Oct 11, 2007 1:46:11 AM

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