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Cruel and Unusual: Residency Restrictions Force Registrant to Die Among Strangers

by Eike Blohm, MD

A Texas woman was prevented from caring for her bedridden dying father in her home because she lived 894 feet from a playground.

Similar to many states, the Lone Star State enforces residency restriction for individuals on its sex offender registry. In the case of the City of Shenandoah, Texas, registrants must not live with 1,000 feet of a school, park, or playground.

This local ordinance was adopted in 2018, and despite pleas from the family of a dying man who is a registrant, the city council refused to amend it or grant an exemption. The chief of police also rejected any form of leniency, fearing that, “if something were to happen, then it falls on me.” He further argued that an exemption granted once might result in an onslaught of petitioners – a weak line of argument in a city with a grand total of two registrant citizens but then very few aspects of sex offender registries are rooted in fact and logic.

The 1,000 feet residency restriction is reflective of the “predator panic” so pervasive through U.S. law and politics. Individuals who have committed a sexually-based offense are seen as incorrigible and a lifelong danger – despite mountains of evidence to the contrary – even after they have completed their prison term and sex-offender treatment programs.

In reality, individuals with a sexual-offense history have one of the lowest recidivism rates, especially when compared to drug or violent offenses. Yet, while a bank robber can still live next door to a bank after release from prison, a registrant is forbidden to live anywhere near where children congregate.

The proscribed distance of 1,000 feet is utterly arbitrary. The vast majority of hands-on sexual offenses do not victimize neighbors, and there are no data to support the notion that residency restrictions for registrants enhance the safety of the community. It is naïve to think a person destined to re-offend would be unwilling to travel more than 1,000 feet.

To keep a bedridden person from dying in the comfort of their loved ones is nothing short of cruel but unfortunately not unusual in the U.S. 


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