Laws Push Sex Offenders Into High Density

November 23, 2009 (Arkansas) : Laws Push Sex Offenders Into High Density.

Changes in Arkansas state laws in 2003 and 2007 created small concentrations of sex offenders throughout Northwest Arkansas near many residential neighborhoods. Laws restrict how close sex offenders can live to businesses and institutions.

“Certain offenders can’t live within 2,000 feet of a school, public park or a licensed day care center,” said Detective Leonard Graves, Fayetteville’s representative on the Northwest Arkansas Sex Offender and Violent Crime Task Force. “That starts eliminating a lot of a city.” A city like Fayetteville, with about 65 schools and day care centers and numerous small parks, doesn’t have much space left that is eligible, Graves said.

John, a convicted sex offender said,“Every year there’s more restrictions. When I got out of prison, I could live anywhere I wanted to. Now I’m on the registry for the rest of my life. If I was a murderer who was paroled, I wouldn’t have to do anything now.”

It’s been 20 years since John was paroled. He spent 10 years on probation after his release. He has never been in trouble since leaving prison, he said. His good behavior, however, didn’t mean anything when he moved the last time, from an apartment building to a house next door. “People left nasty notes in my mailbox, they put a sign in my yard, they broke out windows trying to get me to move,” John said.

Arkansas set up its database after the passing of the Sex and Child Offender Registration Act in 1997. Those convicted of a sex crime, or those found not guilty of a sex crime on the grounds of mental disease or defect, must register. They are required to register in each law enforcement jurisdiction where they live, attend school or are employed.

Stricter laws forcing people out of more neighborhoods are not the answer, said Paula Stitz, manager of the Arkansas sex offender registry. Tougher laws in other states have led to situations such as in Miami, where sex offenders live under bridges, Stitz said. New legislation in Florida eliminated most of Miami as a living site for sex offenders, according to a story by the Associated Press. In 2007, five male sex offenders started living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway when they couldn’t find a place to live. The number of offenders living under the bridge and nearby grew to 52 by March 2009.

“That’s not a good situation,” said Marc Klaas, founder of KlaasKids, a foundation formed to prevent crimes against children. Polly Klaas, Marc Klaas’ daughter, was kidnapped from her home in California and murdered in 1993 when she was 12 years old. “Sex offenders in close contact tend to network and exchange information that could lead them to committing another sex crime”, Klaas said.

So let’s get this straight; the manager of the state sex offender registry and a national advocate for sex offender laws both believe that these stricter laws are actually compromising public safety. So why are the public and lawmakers still pushing such laws?

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