by Sandy Rozek
If every shred of evidence showed that traffic lights, while costing large amounts of resources to install, did nothing to decrease auto accidents and actually created a host of undesirable consequences, would cities still install them at every major intersection?
This is exactly what happens with the creation of what are euphemistically called “child safety zones.”
The emergence of sex-offender registration and notification laws in the mid-1990s created awareness of convicted sexual offenders living throughout communities and neighborhoods. This led to the notion that restricting these individuals from living (and often from just being) within close proximity to areas where children congregate would help prevent the sexual victimization of children. Today, 35 states have statewide residency restrictions, and many of the others allow individual jurisdictions to establish them.
This ignores the most basic fact about child molestation, a fact that has long been known but largely ignored: Children are not sexually abused by strangers lurking in parks and school playgrounds. Virtually all molestation of children is committed by those in the children’s lives in trusted positions, the majority in private residences.
The clamor for residency restrictions
Every month, new communities demand the creation of these “protected” areas for children. These are prominent headlines from the past few months.
In New York: “Cuomo seeks 1000-foot boundary for sex offenders around schools”;
In Maine: “Lawmakers seek to close loophole on residency restrictions for registered sex offenders”;
In Florida: “Possible ordinance would limit where sex offenders can live”; and
In California: “Vidak authors measure to limit where sex offenders can live”
Research shows these laws to be ineffective
The first research study done (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2007), showed that residency restrictions would not have prevented any re-offenses.
Since then, numerous studies — academic, private, and governmental — have been done. Not one has shown a different result.
California is one of the more prominent states for establishing these restrictions. Yet their own Sex Offender Management Board makes this statement: “There is no research which supports the use of these strategies [residency and proximity restrictions], there is substantial research showing that such policies have no effect on preventing recidivism, and there is a growing body of research which indicates that residence restrictions actually increase sex offender recidivism [for violations and petty crime, not for re-offense] and decrease community safety.”
An academic study published in Sage Journals (2002) by experts in the field concludes: “… the residence restriction policy was not associated with a meaningful change in sex crime arrests or sex offender recidivism after the policy implementation date, suggesting that the residence restriction did not achieve its intended goal of reducing recidivism.”
Likewise, a comprehensive Department of Justice study, published in July 2015, states, “[T]he evidence is fairly clear that residence restrictions are not effective. In fact, the research suggests that residence restrictions may actually increase offender risk by undermining offender stability and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work, and family support. There is nothing to suggest this policy should be used at this time.”
And finally, Kansas Department of Corrections officials are so strongly opposed to sex offender residency restrictions that they devote a full page on their website to enumerating and explaining 20 reasons why.
Problems, problems, problems
Aside from wasting resources on policy that does not even address the problem it is intended to solve and creating conditions that interfere with offender stability and rehabilitation, new problems have emerged.
2006 was the year that Tulsa, Oklahoma, implemented residency restrictions. “2006 just turned our world upside down, prior to that we had 15 to 20 (failure to register) violations a year. Since that we have hundreds of violations a year,” stated Sgt. John Adams of the Tulsa Police Department. “Legislators felt that if we put all of this off limits, they’ll just move out of state. That didn’t happen, they just stopped registering,” Adams continued. He noted that prior to 2006 there were about 680 registered sex offenders, but now, there are fewer than 400.
In California, communities found a huge increase in its homeless sex offender population. “Within five years of passage of a law that restricts where sex offenders can live, the number of them listed as transient had risen from 88 to 1,986.” Tom Tobin, vice chairman of the California Sex Offender Management Board, trying to explain why clearly contradicted policy is implemented, said, “We do things that are not so wise, because we want to do something.”
And in Michigan, homelessness and registry compliance are not the only problems. Homelessness means no available source of electricity, required on a regular basis for charging GPS systems, which some on the registry are required to wear.
“DOC records show some homeless offenders avoid this logistical challenge by absconding — removing their bracelets or letting them run out of power — which completely defeats the purpose of GPS monitoring.”
A totally failed system
Compelling logical, factual reasons to totally abolish distance restrictions in residence and presence for those required to be on sex-offender registries include: (1) absolutely no validation from empirical evidence; (2) conditions which contradict every valid opinion and statistic about rehabilitation; (3) a complete failure in solving the problem it is intended to address; and (4) the creation of problems that cause a decrease in public safety and destroy lives.
What are we waiting for?
Sources: thedailystar.com, wabi.tv, wjhg.com, hanfordsentinel.com, mn.gov, casomb.org, journals.sagepub.com, smart.gov, doc.ks.gov, ktul.com, ocregister.com, wpr.org
Sandy Rozek is a board member and communications director for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws – NARSOL –, an organization that advocates for laws based on facts and evidence and for policies that support the successful rehabilitation, restoration, and reintegration of law abiding, former sex offenders into society as the path to a safer society.
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