We Need Sex Offender Programs that Work

October 12, 2009

unionleader.com : Sex offender bans: Maybe smaller is better.

When dealing with sex offenders, the public needs laws, regulations and programs that work. It does no children any good to pass ordinances that make us all feel better but that don’t actually protect kids.

Local ordinances that ban sex offenders from living in certain parts of the community sound great. We loved the idea when we first heard of it. But it turns out that such ordinances often fail to make our children any safer and might actually make them less safe. On top of that, courts are ruling that they are unconstitutional.

The latest instance of this comes from Dover. In 2005, the city banned sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or day care center. The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, and this week District Court Judge Mark Weaver found it unconstitutional and ineffective in protecting kids.

Weaver ruled that the law violated sex offender Richard Jennings’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law. He also found no evidence that the law actually protected kids. Foster’s Daily Democrat reported that police could show no significant decrease in prosecutions of sex crimes against children, and “in one case there was an increase.”

Former Dover City Councilor Matt Mayberry proposed the ordinance nearly four years ago. As a real estate agent, he said he was shocked to see how many offenders lived close to local schools, Foster’s reported. We are shocked by that, too. Unfortunately, restrictions such as this one don’t seem to work. Police officers have told us that such sweeping bans encourage sex offenders not to register, thus making them harder to track, which puts children in greater danger.

Maybe much smaller buffer zones would be both constitutional and effective. A buffer of a block or two, instead of eight football fields, might improve safety while passing legal muster. Local officials shouldn’t give up trying to find ways to keep kids safe. They just need to find methods that work and that fit their communities.

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