Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: Residenct Restrictions and Sex Offenders

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
June 2, 2011

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down Allegheny County’s sex offender residency restriction ordinance.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote, “The Ordinance banishes many sex offenders from their preadjudication neighborhoods and support systems. The Ordinance also consigns all offenders to isolated suburban areas of Allegheny County that presumably will provide less access to transportation, employment, counseling, and supervision.”

Chief Justice Castille goes on to write, “Isolating all sex offenders from their communities, support systems, employment and treatment is an approach contrary to that of the General Assembly, which requires individually tailored assessments and assistance with rehabilitation and reintegration for appropriate offenders.”

Allegheny County’s ordinance, and many like it, are crafted to protect children from the stranger-predator who trolls the places that children frequent looking for new victims. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that strangers rarely sexually offend against children. In 2000, strangers were reported as offenders in three percent of sexual assaults of victims who were under age six, five percent of the sexual assaults of youth ages six through 11, and 10 percent of assaults of juveniles ages 12 to 17.

According to DOJ, the vast majority of sex offenses against minors are perpetrated by someone the child knows, such as an immediate family member, relative, friend or babysitter.

Some research has created doubts about the effectiveness of residency restrictions. Colorado researchers found that sex offenders who re-offended while under supervision did not live closer to schools or child-care centers than those who did not re-offend.

Researchers also found that placing restrictions on the location of supervised sex offender’s residences did not deter sex offenders from re-offending and was not effective in controlling recidivism. Most importantly, the research found that sex offenders who had a positive support system in their lives had significantly lower recidivism rates and fewer supervision violations than offenders who did not have community support.

According to a Minnesota Department of Corrections report, residency restrictions limit housing options for sex offenders and force them to move to rural areas where they are likely to become isolated with few employment opportunities, a lack of social support, and limited availability of social services and mental health treatment. Such restrictions can lead to homelessness and transience, which ultimately interferes with effective community tracking, monitoring and supervision.

Residency restrictions have the potential to do more harm than good.

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