Monday, June 12, 2006

Sex offender laws must move beyond fear: Residency restrictions worsen public safety

The headline from yesterday's Beaumont Enterprise says it all: "Sex crime fear spreads residency restrictions from city to city." That's exactly right. Everyone recognizes that sex offenders must live somewhere, but fear it might be their town:
"We don't want to find ourselves in a position where we are one of the cities that don't have an ordinance," Dan Robertson, [Pinehurst] city manager and police chief, said Thursday. "We don't want to attract sex offenders because we don't have one."
Fear - that's what's driving the move toward Texas municipalities restricting sex offender housing, not any rational debate. It's a familiar spectacle, isn't it? If a politician repeats the words "sex offender" enough times, often it seems like they think any ridiculous idea may then be justified to the public. Sadly, that appears to be pretty much true. (I partly blame local TV news' "if it bleeds it leads" crime coverage for that.) At a certain point, though, people who've done their time deserve the right to build a new life and try to move on. These laws make that impossible for some.

Fear drives bad decisions everywhere in life. Security decisions, by contrast, must be driven by an analysis of targets, risks, rewards and resources to actually increase public safety. Even in the scariest situations, the best decisions are made by those who keep their head and calmly analyze what to do, not those who react to their fear. (To this day the best framework for making security-related public policy decisions I've ever seen was laid out in the estimable
Bruce Schneier's post-9/11 treatise, Beyond Fear.)

By any cost-benefit analysis, local sex offender residency restrictions are a public policy disaster. At best they only move the risk around, at worst they create a situation where sex offenders must drop out of sight of authorities simply in order to find a place to live. In California, some sex offenders who can't find places to live because of these laws must sleep on the floor in local parole offices, but others will simply abscond. At that point, they could be living anywhere and authorities wouldn't have any idea where to find them


That's too big a downside. As I
wrote a couple of weeks ago, however well intended, the unintended consequences of these laws actually make the public less safe.

5 comments:

Ma Justice said...

Research shows that proximity has nothing to do with reoffense.

Research overwhelmingly shows that sex offenders have a very LOW reoffense rate (DOJ, FBI, state's DOCs), contrary to popular "belief" it seems people would rather chew broken glass than give up that cherished myth.

Residency restrictions are making INNOCENT CHILDREN homeless. The majority of registrants have families, and banishing the registrant banishes their wife and children also.

These are possibly the most foolish and poorly thought-out policies in our history. They are certainly not worthy of our great nation.

They are shameful, wasteful and appalingly ineffective policies that are harming people by the thousands, while at the same time making everyone exponentially LESS SAFE.

It certainly makes much more sense, since 96% of ALL sex offenses are committed by someone who is NOT on the Sex Offender Registry, to create treatment centers so those who are having issues can get help BEFORE THEY OFFEND, thus shifting the policy from the "after-the-fact" to being proactive.

This approach would be much more effective (since most sex offenses are INITIAL, not reoffenses), viable and fiscally responsible, not to mention a much better use of our meager resources.

SOhopeful International is an organization that is working with professionals and putting forth some really common sense recommendations that policy-makers and anyone who is concerned about this issue would be smart to at least check out. You can find them here, and their Resource Library is filled with a lot of official studies and research papers.

We all owe it to ourselves to be educated on this issue - at the very least, we are paying for these policies - it is in our best interests to make sure that they are working, and if they are not, that they be changed so that they are.

SOhopeful's positions are based on what the government's own documents state and what the experts all say: these policies aren't working and they never will because they target the wrong group.

We can do better - for our children's sake, we MUST do better. We must work together to create change.

OSAPian said...

Mr. Justice, I don't know what research you are looking at but about 50% of convicted child molesters and rapists do reoffend. And often. I think the studies you mention throw those convicted of what California calls unlawful sex in the mix.

Having said that, I do agree that the current political-media driven hysteria concerning where released (or never incarcerated) sex offenders should live DOES NOTHING to protect society. All residency restrictions do is drive sex offenders undergound, they won't register and they won't report to their parole or probation officers.

I supervised parole caseloads made up primarily of what California now calls high risk sex offenders in one urban area (Fresno) and one rural area (Kings County). High intensity supervison of these offenders from a control orientation can have some positive effect from a public safety standpoint. Most of what passes for "treatment" of these offenders is pure claptrap.

The wrong argument is in vougue today. There are many child molesters and rapists who should never be released from custody in the first place, especially repeat offenders.

Anonymous said...

Recidivism rates can be argued forever, because the manner in which one defines sex offender (diagnosed pedophile with previous conviction versus first-time offender convicted of sexual battery against an adult), recidivism (sex crime only versus inclusion of non-sex crimes such as technical violations of supervision conditions), the length of time (zero to five years after release, in which the majority of recidivism occurs, versus ten to fifteen years, in which the rate drops as low as 3%), and which state's offenders are used in the sampling (those without treatment during incarceration, which have higher rates, versus those that do offer treatment prior to release).

With regard to residency restrictions, they imply that community notification does nothing to protect the public. If knowing the precise residence, physical description, and photograph of an offender still leaves parents and law enforcement believing they are incapable of protecting themselves and others, what good is having the information?

And yes, the public ignores the collateral damage done to innocent family members. They can get away with it because family members usually fear speaking up. When it's socially acceptable to harass, assault, and vandalize the property of offenders and their families whose address is available to the world, the public and the media enforces the silence with that very real threat.

Anonymous said...

I am a registered sex offender in Texas. I am also disabled physically and mentally. My physicians have told me I would get better care at an independent living center. I checked into alot of these. Most cost over $3000 a month just to simply have a room.

I have found a place in Austin that is absolutely perfect for my needs, but they receive HUD funding. I did some research and found that if you are required to register for life, you CANNOT live in anyplace where HUD even distributes a dollar. So, in essece, I will soon have nowhere to go, and I won't be able to get help with my disabilities.

My crime? Sexual Assault. A 13-year old boy said that I molested him. I am an openly lesbian woman. His mother was attracted to me, but I never reciprocated. If I were to tell you MY side of the story, you would see that there was no physical evidence found. Since my attorney told me to plead "no contest" to the charges (which I didn't understand at the time that I could not appeal the court's decision), I was sentenced to 10 years of deferred adjudication probation and a stipulation is that I have to register for life. I don't have to put a sign out where I live, but I can't go to playgrounds and places of that nature. Ok, fine...I never went there anyway.

The only thing barring me from getting into this facility are the fear-based laws that the media broadcasted and politicians accepted.

My state mandated therapist does not beleive I committed the crime, my former probation officer does not beleive I did it, even the policeman who took me into custody (NO HANDCUFFS) in certain words told me he did not beleive the alleged "victim", but had to charge me anyway.

When everyone beleives you except the justice system, something is wrong.

I register every year to my local police department and the DPS and I follow the rules.

Since I am disabled, I only get Social Security Disability benefits, which are $970 a month. My medications cost me $500 a month because Texas Medicaid says I make "too much money" to qualify.

Now this. Can someone please tell me where I am supposed to go?

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