CrimProf blog reports that some CA county officials must house registerd sex offenders in local parole offices because of so many restrictions on where they can live. Meanwhile, in Texas, municipalities are establishing similar residency restrictions, inviting the same problems facing California - too many offenders with nowhere to go. Reported the Dallas Morning News ("Critics question laws on offenders," June 2):
The stricter ordinances could cause sex offenders to go underground and avoid registering, some say, making it more difficult for cities to track the offenders.
"People are going to live someplace," said Ruth Epstein, who monitors sex legislation for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "If they can't live someplace legally, they'll live illegally.
"The biggest danger to our youth is that they will not be protected because the predators are around, but you can't find them," Ms. Epstein said.
State law prohibits certain sex offenders on probation or parole from living within 1,000 feet of schools and other places where children gather.
Cities are expanding that law to cover offenders who are no longer being supervised.
The broader ordinances essentially prohibit some offenders from living in about three-quarters of Carrollton and about half of Arlington.
Here's a great example of tuff-on-crime overkill leading to unintended consequences that are worse than those they're designed to prevent - these laws make it LESS likely sex offenders will abide by reporting restrictions, reducing whatever positive impact registration requirements might have. Urban residency restrictions might penalize rural communities more, said one expert, moving sex offenders to smaller communities that don't have a large enough police force to provide adequate protection. Reported the News:
About 15 states restrict where sex offenders can live, said Scott Matson, research associate for the Center for Sex Offender Management, a Maryland nonprofit group funded by the U.S. Justice Department.
Although his group doesn't take a position on the laws, Mr. Matson said some organizations have raised concerns about legislation that pushes offenders to rural parts of states, where there are smaller police forces to monitor offenders and less available treatment.
"While the overall intent is a good one, there are repercussions of doing such a thing," he said.
Ms. Epstein said that as cities pass tougher restrictions, sex offenders will be less likely to have contact with their family members and places that can help in their rehabilitation.
State Sen. Florence Shapiro said any unintended consequences should be handled by passing more laws with higher criminal penalties for failing to comply with sex offender reporting. But that's not going to work - if offenders literally have nowhere to sleep but the floor of the parole office, the law has placed them in an untenable circumstance. To punish them more because the Legislature passed a silly, unworkable law just isn't right. And it's unrealistic. The state can't enforce restrictions on sex offenders already in place, so the only offenders affected will be the ones who choose to comply, i.e., the ones who are trying to change their lives and behave, anyway. Others will simply abscond, and they're the ones officials should worry about.
These new laws virtually guarantee more offenders will quit registering so they can find a place to live. Will that make anyone safer?
Once again, this is an instance where good intentions matter less when writing laws than good design.