Sunday, April 11, 2010

Residency Restrictions Make Neighborhoods More Dangerous

The Chicago Tribune reported that draconian residency restriction for sex offenders are actually making Illinois a more dangerous place. A series of laws that were championed by lawmakers as improvements in public safety have had the opposite effect.

According to the Tribune, thousands of sex offenders have remained in prison to serve their maximum sentence and then returned to the streets without oversight or treatment. The reason the offenders are not be released is two-fold. First, residency restrictions have dramatically reduced the areas where sex offenders can live. Secondly, the Department of Corrections has taken the position that an offender can not be paroled unless he or she has a specific place to live.

Sex offenders who are released after completing their full sentence, without parole, are less likely to register their addresses than those serving tightly monitored paroles in the community. They also are more likely to re-offend, sometimes repeating the same sex crimes, the review found.

Of the 1,292 sex offenders discharged in fiscal 2008 after serving their maximum sentence, 28 percent were listed as missing, not having registered their address or not being up-to-date with their registrations, compared with 23 percent of the 1,868 sex offenders paroled into the community, according to the Tribune.

The Tribune further reported that another 21 percent of the discharged offenders returned to prison, a slightly higher rate than those who were paroled. But in most cases, offenders monitored in the community were sent back to prison for technical parole violations, in many cases housing-related problems, while the discharged offenders were convicted of new crimes.

My Take

Residency restrictions do more harm than good. Rigorous restrictions often force convicted sex offenders underground. Residency restrictions are counter-intuitive to Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register their address so the public has access to information about offenders.

Dr. Jill S. Levenson of Lynn University in Florida, wrote in 2005, "Despite overwhelming public and political support there is little evidence that proximity to schools increases recidivism, or, conversely that housing restrictions reduce re-offending or increase community safety."

The reason residency restrictions have flourished in the face of increasing criticism and research suggesting ineffectiveness--politics. As Kaethe Morris Hoffer of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation told the Tribune, "There's a growing awareness that these housing restrictions make politicians feel good, but don't protect victims or prevent crime."

There will be little meaningful reform in the area of sex offender legislation as long as politicians can continue to win on the "lock 'em up" platform. Sex offenders have no constituency. No one is fighting for the rights of sex offenders, nor do I advocate that anyone should be fighting for the rights of sex offenders. Yet every parent should be out there fighting for laws that afford the most effective protection to children, not laws that just make for a good sound bite.

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