A more focused proposal for regulating where some registered sex offenders can live in Amarillo didn’t clear up questions two Amarillo city commissioners have about whether such a law would make children here safer.
“I just honestly can’t find any clear and existing and compelling evidence that an ordinance of this sort will do what you think it will,” Commissioner Brian Eades said during a work session discussion about the proposal.
Commissioners began discussing residency restrictions for sex offenders registered on a statewide law enforcement database in late 2011 but slowed the debate to collect more research.Further, "Eades and Commissioner Ellen Robertson Green continued to raise questions Tuesday about whether the ordinance would actually accomplish the intent of protecting children from predators. Eades has cited research that shows a majority of victims are abused by people they know. Experts who work with abused children also raised that point during a November public hearing about the proposal."
The proposed ordinance would bar convicted sex offenders from living near public or private schools, state-licensed day cares, and public parks and pools. The measure would make it illegal for offenders to live within 1,000 feet of those places, plus public recreational areas, youth centers and video arcades.
State law prohibits certain convicted sex offenders required to register on a Texas Department of Public Safety database from living within 1,000 feet of schools and other locations where children gather. But while they still must register their residences once their supervised release ends, the state-mandated residency restriction does not continue, police officials said in November.
Bully for commissioners and children's advocates who're subjecting this proposal to rigorous questioning, despite the Mayor's bum rush to get the thing passed before it can be thoroughly vetted. To what additional group of ex-offenders would this apply residency restrictions, specifically? What are the recidivism rates among that group, preferably by risk level? What percentage currently live somewhere that would violate the proposed ordinance, and would they be grandfathered in? What has been the policy result from expansive residency restrictions in other jurisdictions? After all, these two city commissioners aren't the only people with serious questions about the approach.
There's little evidence residency restrictions reduce recidivism, and indeed a 2009 report (pdf) from NIJ found that "recent research suggests that such restrictions have almost no impact on sex offender recidivism and may compromise public safety." That NIJ bulletin found that "Of the 3,166 sex offenders released from Minnesota prisons between 1990 and 2002, 224 male offenders [ed. note: 7.1%] were reincarcerated for a new sex offense before 2006." Of those recidivists:
Most of the offenders victimized someone they knew, which helps explain why 85 percent of the offenses occurred in a residential location such as the offender’s home. Furthermore, 113 of the 224 cases involved offenders who gained access to their victims through another person, typically an adult. For example, a male offender may develop a romantic relationship with a woman who has children. The sex offender recidivists would use these relationships to gain access to the women’s children.With just five members on the Amarillo City Commission including the Mayor, critics of the residency restrictions need only convince one more commissioner to put a stop to this ill-conceived proposal. Commissioners Jim Simms and Lilia Escajeda earlier had previously supported the proposal - Simms told the Globe-News he backed the measure in order to “protect the children” - though it's possible one of them could still be swayed. He and rookie commissioner Lilia Escajeda are definitely the swing votes both sides will be courting to prevail.
Sex offenders rarely established direct contact with victims near their own homes. Sex offenders would be recognized more easily in their own neighborhoods, which may have made them directly contact victims elsewhere. When these offenders look for a victim, they usually go to an area within 20 miles of their residence, but still far enough away (more than 1 mile) to decrease the chances of being recognized.