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Sex Registries Give a False Sense of Security

October 22, 2009

csmonitor.com : 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.”

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