Monday, July 29, 2019

The failure of sex offender residency restrictions

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first sex offender registration law. In 1994, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, 42 U.S.C. 14071, which required states to create procedures to track the whereabouts of sex offenders.
In 1996, Megan’s Law, 42 U.S.C. 13701, allowed states to publicize information about registered sex offenders, and now all states are required to maintain publicly accessible Internet registries.
According to Jill S. Levenson of Barry University, writing for the ABA, community notification has increased awareness about the locations of sex criminals, resulting in the enactment of laws restricting where convicted sex offenders can live. At least thirty states have passed laws preventing registered sex offenders from residing within a specified distance of schools, parks, day care centers, school bus stops, or other places commonly frequented by children.
No empirical evidence exists to support the notion that restricting where sex offenders live protects children from sexual abuse.
Sex offenders do not molest children because they live near schools. They abuse when they are able to establish relationships with children and their families and misuse positions of familiarity, trust, and authority. According to the Justice Department, 93 percent of sexually abused children are molested by family members, friends, or acquaintances.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that transience, homelessness, and instability interfere with effective tracking, monitoring, and probation supervision, undermining the very purpose of sex offender registries. If sex offenders cannot find compliant addresses to register, their whereabouts may become unknown. Many research studies show a clear link between housing instability and increased criminal recidivism. Therefore, according to Levenson, laws that foster instability for offenders simply will not serve the best interest of public safety.
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