Archive for October 22, 2009

Sex Registries Give a False Sense of Security

October 22, 2009 Comments off : Somer Thompson lived near 161 sex offenders. Is that number high?

Authorities have found the body of seven-year-old Somer Thompson in a Georgia landfill 50 miles from her home. She was abducted Monday as she was walking home from school in Orange Park, Fla. Police have said it was a homicide but have not reported any motives for the crime. They are interviewing convicted sex offenders living in Somer’s community. Florida’s sexual offenders and predators registry, which is updated daily, shows 88 registered offenders live in Orange Park, and 161 offenders live within a five-mile radius of her home.

But experts say these figures are not out of the ordinary. With cities of all sizes increasingly limiting where sex offenders can reside, high-density clusters – sometimes with as many as 100 offenders living within one square mile – are becoming increasingly common.

“There are sex offenders living in all communities,” says Jill Levenson, a professor of psychology at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., who specializes in studying sex-crimes policy. The number of offenders in the area surrounding Somer’s home “may seem like a lot, but where do we think they’re going to be living?”

Florida – along with Georgia and Louisiana – tend to have the toughest sex-offender laws. It has the third most registered sex offenders in the nation and ranks sixth per capita. This may contribute to Florida’s relatively high number of offenders, but it also might provide a “false sense of security,” says Professor Levenson.

She criticizes the registry, saying it does not assess an offender’s risk to the community. “The registry is full of all kinds of different people,” she says. “There’s this huge list with little ability to distinguish between types of offenders.”

Report: Sex Offender Rules Cause Problems

October 22, 2009 Comments off : Report: Babylon’s sex offender rules can cause problems.

Babylon (New York) Town Supervisor Steve Bellone says current sex offender residency restrictions could be pushing offenders underground and away from law enforcement – citing a two-year analysis of the addresses of sex offenders living in the town that found nearly one-third were not residing at the locations listed on the state’s sex offender registry.

The report also stated that, as of Sept. 24, eight of the 17 sex offenders never lived at the locations where they were registered, and 50 of Babylon’s 57 registered sex offenders were registered at addresses from which they were barred by residency restrictions.

Bellone called on Gov. David A. Paterson to commission a statewide analysis of the rules governing where sex offenders can live, laws which vary by jurisdiction. Babylon uses Suffolk County’s restriction that offenders cannot live within a quarter-mile of schools, parks, day care centers and nursery schools.

Bellone proposed a different option: Apply residency restrictions at sentencing, with tougher rules for those more likely to re-offend.

“My concern is we often, in government, leap to do things that seem tough, but might actually undermine the goals” of laws designed to protect children, he said Wednesday.

Paterson’s administration will review the report, said John Caher, a spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Spokeswoman Janine Kava said the state registry – which includes 29,518 Level 2 and 3 offenders – is designed to make it “incumbent on the sex offender to get in touch with us about the change of address.”

Bellone’s findings seem to echo the sentiment of sex offender rehabilitation advocates who have said residency restriction laws merely push offenders off the grid and do not make children more safe.

Richard Hamill, president of the New York State Alliance of Sex Offender Service Providers, said the laws can discourage sex offenders from registering at all because they are left with few options for housing. Bellone’s report includes a map showing offenders are barred from living in more than 80 percent of the town’s land area. Fewer housing options can produce clustering, critics say, pointing to communities such as Gordon Heights, a Brookhaven Town neighborhood where officials say about 40 offenders live within a roughly half-square-mile area.

Long-term supervision is a more effective way to prevent sex offenders from committing more crimes, Hamill said. “As long as we keep the populations of sex offenders up in the air, moving from place to place . . . they are more likely to commit offenses,” he said.