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Sex Offenders and Land Use Controls

March 4, 2009

Asmara Tekle-Johnson (Thurgood Marshall Law School) has posted two articles about sex offenders and land use controlls on SSRN:

The first is In the Zone: Sex Offenders and the Ten-Percent Solutions; here’s the abstract:

At first glance, sex-offender residency restrictions appear plausible because they ostensibly place a convicted sex offender’s residence out of reach of children. However, these regimes address less than ten percent of the very real problem of child sex abuse, as family members and acquaintances of children commit more than ninety percent of this abuse. On the other hand, many schemes effectively banish almost 100% of convicted sex offenders to society’s literal and social margins, condemning many low-risk offenders to a lifetime of isolation while breeding optimal conditions for high-risk offenders to reoffend. The practical implications of this policy choice, therefore, are dangerous and real, lulling the public into a false sense of security.

This Article challenges prevailing judicial orthodoxy that many sex-offender residency restrictions are constitutional under the Ex Post Facto Clause. The Article applies the analytical framework of Smith v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent case involving sex-offender legislation. It also forges a new way of thinking about these regimes as land-use policies that “negatively” zone individuals out of the urban cores. The Article proposes an innovative “positive” zoning scheme, the Sex-Offender Containment Zone, which zones high-risk convicted sex offenders back into the city in a manner that is effective, humane, and constitutional.

The second is Safe: Restrictive Covenants and the Next Wave of Sex Offender Legislation; here’s the abstract:

This Article examines the emerging phenomenon and implications of sex offender covenants, the latest wave of sex offender legislation, under common law property rules such as touch and concern and the doctrine prohibiting restraints against alienation. The paper theorizes that courts use common law property rules to strike down personal “who” covenants, such as those based on race, age, disability and often permanently debilitating sex offender status, that run afoul of public policy norms-most particularly, the wide availability of safe and decent housing for all.
The Article analogizes blanket sex offender covenants to their racially restrictive progenitors, arguing that both types of covenants are based on unsubstantiated fears that one population would sexually terrorize another. The modern-day fear is that convicted sex offenders will sexually prey upon children whereas the underlying fear in the era of racial segregation was that black men, this country’s original sexual predators, would sexually prey upon infantilized white women. Subsequently, this Article looks to the sordid history of racial segregation for lessons and solutions to the modern-day problem of convicted sex offenders. Finally, it asks whether the burgeoning phenomenon of sex offender covenants foretells the rise of similar private restraints based on sexual orientation.

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