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Sex Offender Bans Are Counterproductive

March 29, 2009

Concordmonitor.com : Sex offender residency limits don’t make kids safer
Bans turned out to be counterproductive.

Voters will be asked to decide whether their town will join the handful of others in New Hampshire that restrict where convicted sex offenders may live. The voters should say No.

Sex offender residency restriction laws forbid convicted sex offenders from living near child-oriented places like schools or playgrounds. The theory is that if children are out of sight of sex offenders, they will be safe.

At first blush these laws might seem like a good idea. On the surface it makes sense that prohibiting convicted sex offenders from living near a school or playground might deliver them from temptation. But many experts have come to the opposite conclusion: These laws don’t protect children and, in fact, might hurt them.

Why is that?

Sex offenders are least likely to re-offend when they reside in stable, supportive environments with friends or family or receive counseling or are closely monitored by probation and parole officers.

Laws that make it difficult for offenders to live with family or near their counselors destabilize them. When offenders are destabilized, they are at greater risk for re-offending.

By design, these laws push offenders out of the majority of affordable housing, forcing them to live in clusters at the outskirts of town. Since the stock of available housing is greatly diminished, many offenders can’t find housing at all and are forced to live on the streets or under bridges, as was reported in Florida. Some offenders take the risk of living with their family and not registering.

Iowa was among the first states to enact sex offender residency restrictions. After years of experience with the law, the Iowa County Attorneys Association issued a statement supporting its repeal. The experiment with these restrictions, the county attorneys concluded, was a failure.

The law caused offenders to become homeless, to change residences without notifying authorities of their new location, to register false addresses or to simply disappear. The county attorneys cited offenders’ families that “were unfairly and unnecessarily disrupted by the restriction, causing children to be pulled out of school and away from friends, and causing spouses to lose jobs and community connections.”

Rehabilitation of offenders was jeopardized, putting the public at greater risk, and the information available to the public on the sex offender registry was unreliable and incomplete.

Victims’ groups like the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence also reject these laws. They recognize that they do little to protect the victims of sexual assault. Molestation of a child by a stranger is extremely rare. How rare? Each year there are 60,000 to 70,000 arrests on charges of child sexual assault, according to the U.S. Justice Department. On average, about 115 of those arrests involve abductions by strangers.

Laws like these divert attention and resources away from the greatest source of abuse – family and close friends – and provide a false sense of security.

There are proven ways to make children safer from abuse. California is home to the nation’s largest population of convicted sex offenders.

The California Research Bureau found that “intervention strategies that combine therapeutic treatment, risk assessment, specialized supervision, and global positioning monitoring have some effect on reducing sex offender offenses and recidivism rates.” Restricting where sex offenders live does not.

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