Thursday, March 4, 2010

Four States: A Look at Sex Offender Residency Restrictions

The use of residency restrictions for sex offenders has become controversial. Recent studies have found that not only do such restrictions not work, they may even expose families to greater danger.

Some states with residency restrictions, including Iowa, Florida and Ohio, have conducted studies that have concluded that residency laws are actually counterproductive and often destabilize the offender. A 2009 study by Ohio State University found that residency restrictions may inadvertently exacerbate the factors correlated with recidivism.

Although the evidence regarding residency restrictions seems clear, not all policymakers agree. Recent news reports show that state and local lawmakers are going in many different directions.

Wisconsin lawmakers are contemplating enacting statewide residency restrictions. The proposed bill would supersede the patchwork of local ordinances. Green Bay, for instance, has an ordinance that limits certain offenders from living almost anywhere in the city. The ripple effect of the ordinance has caused neighboring communities to enact restrictions to prevent the migration of sex offenders to the suburbs.

In New Hampshire, the legislature is considering a bill that would prevent communities form establishing residency restrictions for sex offenders. The bill is in response to a court decision regarding the city of Dover's ordinance, which prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or day care center. The court found the ordinance unconstitutional in last summer after a challenge by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. "It's dangerous to restrict residency for sex offenders because it diminishes law enforcement's ability to track these offenders," said Representative Beth Rodd.

In California, the state paid $126,000 to relocate a sexually violent predator to a lightly populated desert community, according to the USA Today. His relocation last September to this remote area came about after a doctor, and then a judge in 2007 determined that the offender was no longer a danger to others. The judge determined with supervision and treatment he could be released to the community. Prior to that determination he was civilly committed to a state hospital for an indefinite period of time.

A Pittsburgh City Council member, Vince Gastgeb, has an even more draconian idea. The city already has a restrictive sex offender residency ordinance. Gastgeb is proposing that all registered sex offender be continuously monitored by global positioning satellite. Pittsburgh is a city in financial distress. GPS might sound good to Gastgeb constituents, but certainly isn't practical.

Each of these decisions or proposals have generated support or anger in the community and are clear examples of the issues states and local communities face as they pass or refine laws regarding released sex offenders and where and how they can live in the community.

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