Miami’s Sex Offender Dilemma

April 20, 2009

Miamiherald : Broward faces knotty issue of sex offenders.

A 2,500-foot rule that would essentially eliminate all feasible housing for registered sex offenders.

The commissioners heard a series of experts warn about the folly of a Draconian residency restriction that force sex offenders into homelessness. They were told that offenders forced into unstable living conditions become more difficult to supervise, more likely to abscond, more likely to re-offend.

Lori Butts, a lawyer and psychologist who runs a South Florida sex offender treatment program, warned that stable housing was necessary for their jobs, monitoring and treatment. Banishing them to live under bridges, she warned, would leave sex offenders with “nothing to live for. Nothing to lose.”

During the two-hour hearing on Tuesday, no one pretended that public safety would be much enhanced if sex offenders were banned from residing within 2,500 feet of a school, park, playground or school bus stop.

And Broward sees the ugly conundrum Miami-Dade County has created for itself with the 2,500-foot radius — 63 sex offenders forced to live in under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

But none of the well-reasoned arguments addressed the peculiar dilemma facing the Broward Commission. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and most of Broward’s municipalities already embraced the get-tough 2,500-ft. restriction. ”I’ve heard a lot said about these laws being irrational and unconstitutional,” Broward Commissioner John Rodstrom said. “Maybe I tend to agree with them. They are probably irrational and maybe unconstitutional.

”But the problem I have is that everyone else has enacted this law,” Rodstrom said. The perverse effect has been to convert the few remaining slivers of unincorporated Broward into havens for registered sex offenders.

Juan Formoso, the president of Broadview Park, an unincorporated Broward neighborhood with about 6,000 residents, told the commission that the number of registered sex offenders living in his community has risen from 30 to 104 in three years.

”I believe [the 2,500-foot restriction] only gives people a false sense of security,” Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said. “But it exists. And it constricts where sex offenders can live. It has concentrated them in our unincorporated areas.”

The commission, reluctantly, enacted its own 2,500-foot rule but only for 90 days, hoping that in the meantime a county task force can come up with a more rational solution. But it’s doubtful that any one city or county commission — however enlightened — can fix this escalating mess unilaterally.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg, the Fort Myers Democrat, might have the answer. He has authored a tough, rational bill creating ”a single, consistent 1,500 foot residency restriction throughout Florida.” It includes ”child protection zones,” prohibiting sex offenders from loitering 300 feet from schools, parks, libraries, bus stops.

Aronberg’s office said his proposal, “backed by law enforcement, prosecutors and child safety advocates, ends the confusion caused by 129 different ordinances and will eliminate the homeless sex offender problem that endangers public safety.”

Aronberg’s bill would also give South Florida a way out of an embarrassing dilemma.

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