Court Throws Out Residency Restrictions

August 21, 2009

nhpr.org (New Hampshire) : Court Throws Out Sex-Offender Residency Restrictions.

Dover has until the end of the month to appeal a recent court ruling. The Dover District Court has thrown out the city’s ordinance that restricts where sex offenders are allowed to live.

The case hinged on Dover’s failure to prove that its policy actually improved child safety.

And in the fall of 2006, the Dover City Councilors unanimously adopted a provision that barred any registered sex offender from living within 2500 ft., nearly half a mile, of a school or day-care center.

Barbara Keshen, of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, says if the government takes away someone’s rights in the name of a greater public good then the government’s got to prove the policy works. But she says, Dover officials couldn’t do that.

TAPE: there’s no evidence, there’s no statistics, there’s no studies, there’s no reports that actually back that up.

It didn’t help that prosecution for sex crimes against children went up in Dover the year after the city adopted its ordinance.

The state of Iowa relaxed a similar law this year after law enforcement complained it drove offenders underground.

“I would say 9 out of 10 peer reviewed studies find that they generally don’t work”, said Bridgewater State College Professor Richard Wright, who teaches Criminal Justice. Wright says researchers have discovered a series of unintended consequences that come with these sorts of policies.

TAPE: residency restrictions really do undermine an offenders capacity to re-enter society and not offend. You are taking away their family. You are taking away a stable form of housing….you may be affecting their opportunities for employment.

Despite the well-documented drawbacks, ordinances restricting where sex offenders can live are popular.
Newsweek magazine reports that 30 states and hundreds of cities and counties have embraced such laws.

In some places, the result of such laws are sex offender ghettos. For example, in Miami more than 70 offenders with no place else to go, live under a causeway in makeshift tents.

Ultimately, Professor Wright argues if the goal is to reduce sex crimes against children, forcing people away from society only puts children in greater jeopardy.

TAPE: it’s far easier to point the finger, to blame and say these sex offenders are horrible people, evil animals….they are not fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, boyfriends. It’s far easier to make the problem this abstraction that can be solved by demonizing people and isolating them.

Statistics show that 80- 90% of sexual assaults against kids are done by someone kids know. That means the likelihood that some stranger is stalking random children from their apartment across the street from a playground is rare.

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