Homeless, Jobless Rehabilitation

Banishment of sex offenders is unfair and ineffective

When Georgia's legislature drew up a list of places where sex offenders were not allowed to live, the majority leader of the state House said he hoped the restrictions would be so intolerable that sex offenders "will want to move to another state." By overturning those restrictions, the Georgia Supreme Court has created an opportunity to reconsider the mindless harsher-is-better approach they exemplified, which is neither fair as a matter of criminal justice nor sensible in terms of public safety.

Despite all the talk of protecting children, registered sex offenders are not synonymous with predatory criminals, let alone child molesters. In Georgia they include many people who were guilty of nothing beyond consensual sex as teenagers.

Even if they have never demonstrated a propensity to abuse children, the 10,000 or so sex offenders covered by the registration requirement have to regularly report their whereabouts to local law enforcement officials, who in turn make the information publicly available. Failure to report triggers a prison sentence of at least 10 years.

Yet until the Georgia Supreme Court intervened, sex offenders also had a strong incentive not to register, since doing so enabled the government to enforce residence restrictions that made nearly all locations in urban areas off limits. The penalty for violating those restrictions was the same as the penalty for failing to register.

Georgia's law barred sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, church, day care center, or any other location where children might congregate, including parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, skating rinks, and school bus stops. Even if a sex offender managed to find a legal place to live, he could be ordered to move again and again, depending on how his neighbors decided to use their property.

Anthony Mann, the registered sex offender who successfully challenged Georgia's law, bought a house in Clayton County with his wife in 2003. At the time, it was a legal location. But then a day care center opened nearby, rendering it illegal.

"Under the terms of that statute," the state Supreme Court noted, "there is no place in Georgia where a registered sex offender can live without being continually at risk of being ejected." Concluding that the law "precludes appellant from having any reasonable investment-backed expectation in any property purchased as his private residence," the court unanimously ruled that it violated the Fifth Amendment's ban on uncompensated takings of private property.

Georgia's law also prevents Mann from working at the barbecue restaurant he co-owns, since it's within 1,000 feet of a day care center established after the business was opened. Because Mann did not present enough evidence of economic harm, the Georgia Supreme Court did not overturn the work restrictions, which have been challenged in federal court as well.

Constitutional issues aside, closing off employment opportunities for sex offenders, who already are handicapped by criminal records, is not exactly conducive to rehabilitation. Nor is forcing them to cluster in the boondocks, far from employers and treatment programs, or encouraging them to go underground.

In Iowa, which bars sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or day care centers, police and prosecutors have concluded that such residence restrictions do not prevent recidivism, since people can readily travel beyond their immediate neighborhoods, and that they discourage registration. After Iowa's law took effect, the number of sex offenders whose whereabouts were unknown more than doubled.

Last year the chief sponsor of Iowa's law, state Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone), conceded that he may have gotten a bit carried away. "If you draw a map, pretty soon you can make it so no area in town is available to live in," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It would have been better if we had put it at 1,000 feet."

But who can be bothered to look at a map when there's important grandstanding to be done? "The bottom line," Behn explained, "is it's all about protecting children." Or seeming to.

© Copyright 2007 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    They should have a drug dealers registry. That way people would know who in their neighborhood dealt drugs. It's for the children.

  • Episiarch||

    They should have a drug dealers registry.

    This could prove...useful. As long as it had phone numbers, addresses, and hours of "operation".

  • ed||

    I'd like to see a registry of all dentists in my area.
    You just can't trust 'em, the pick-wielding pervs.

  • ||

    Can we have a politician registry, and ban them from living within 2,000 feet of a church, day car center, or school?

  • Deric Ondero||

    You motherfuckers don't even realize that some of these sex offenders are ISLAMOFASCISTS who are PLOTTING TO DESTROY OUR WAY OF LIFE!!!

    I am so FUCKING SICK of you PACIFIST PUSSIES trying to destroy MY MOTHERFUCKING LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT! I take dumps that are more impressive LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENTS than anything you MOTHERFUCKERS have ever accomplished.

  • ||

    I would like a prostitute registry, with prices, coupons, and hours of operation available.

  • jtuf||

    Deric,

    If an offender is still dangerous to others, keep him in jail. What type of logic says a convict is too dangerous for one neighborhood but safe enough to release from prison into another town?

  • ||

    Well played, Deric. Made me chuckle once I took a closer look at the name.

  • ||

    It is totally unacceptable to create registries of any group of people in particular. If you have endured a prison sentence you are free and clean, you have paid your debt. If you still pose a danger to society, stay in jail. If not go out and live a normal life. If we punish people forever there is no justice, and no incentive to try and behave. There is by the way no more sex offenders in the US than in other parts of the World. But as the age of consent often is lower here in the US, teenagers are branded as sex offenders. I am a sex offender, too. I had sex when I was 13, with a 16 year old woman. But luckily that was in a country where the authorities are not uptight and "see" sex offenders everywhere. America, snap out of it! (by the way yes, I am an American citizen today).

  • ||

    I actually wouldn't have a problem with the registries if:

    1) If it was restricted to truly predatory sex offenders -- violent rapists (actual rape, not statutory rape) and predatory child molesters. Not even child molesters who prey on their own families, since they're likely not a danger to anyone else.

    and

    2) If it wasn't ex post facto. If it was part of the sentence from the start -- and the law didn't draw in people whose convictions were far before the law was passed.

    If those two thins happened, like I said, go registries go. As for now, no way.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I would like a prostitute registry, with prices, coupons, and hours of operation available.

    Troy, from what I've heard, there's one heir.

  • ||

    just cut their throats...no offenders, no problem and no pesky registry

  • ||

    "The bottom line," Behn explained, "is it's all about protecting children." Or seeming to.

    I nominate this phrase as the best ever for the 1st decade of the 21st century.

  • Rhywun||

    If those two thins happened, like I said, go registries go. As for now, no way.

    If they're likely to be a danger to others, they should remain in prison. Otherwise, free. It's as simple as that. It's a matter of principle. Once you let the cat out of the bag and start creating lists of former criminals, where does it end? Which crimes are considered worthy of lifetime punishment and which arent't?

  • ||

    If you have endured a prison sentence you are free and clean, you have paid your debt.

    Afetr prison/jail/probation/parrole is done with, ALL OFFENDERS should have ALL RIGHTS RESTORED. That includes voting, the right to bear arms, the right to hold public office and the right to live and work wherever they desire.

    I expect some will disagree with that position, but it is a moral and practical stance.

  • ||

    I expect some will disagree with that position, but it is a moral and practical stance.

    Are you kidding, these are people that have shown a propensity to harm children. If we must free them due to overcrowding, etc., the least we can do to protect children is have them identified and registered.

  • ||

    Thomas, they have been identified and registered as criminals via the justice system which tried them, convicted them, and sentenced them. Their fingerprints have been taken, as have their photos. How does more registration help? The problem with these systems is that, OK, we know where they are living, working etc, but how exactly does that make anyone safer? Where does the rubber meet the road?

  • ||

    Thomas, maybe we should just put numbered tattoos on them?

    (oh snap! Instant Godwin! Everyone drink...)

  • ||

    Are you kidding, these are people that have shown a propensity to harm children. If we must free them due to overcrowding, etc., the least we can do to protect children is have them identified and registered.

    If they are so dangerous they have to be registered and tracked because they will rape again, then they shouldn't be released in the first place.

    Oh, prisons are overcrowded, you say? Then time to set some priorities, no? What's more important, keeping baby-rapers locked up, or keeping pot dealers locked up?

  • Danny||

    Thomas,

    Since your "overcrowding" problem as been debunked, what exactly is entailed in the "etc." that followed it? If we need to lock people up, lock them up... If they are deemed harmless, (aka free and not in jail) then leave them the hell alone. If they keep screwing up, keep them in jail. It's 1 or a 0. True or false. Are they or aren't they a concern?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    People get put on the list for bullshit reasons. Problem with a coworker? Think about how easy it would be for them to get your ass thrown in jail. The list isn't just about kiddie touchers. Urinating at the side of the road or some dude accidently taking a shit in a women's bathroom could be grounds for being put on the list. It can happen to anyone. Same goes for just about every other law.

  • ||

    Urinating at the side of the road or some dude accidently taking a shit in a women's bathroom could be grounds for being put on the list.

    Society has decided that those people are child predators and a danger to children unless registered.

  • ||

    Society has decided that those people are child predators and a danger to children unless registered.

    And society is, like the law, an ass.

  • Jorgen||

    "Afetr prison/jail/probation/parrole is done with, ALL OFFENDERS should have ALL RIGHTS RESTORED. That includes voting, the right to bear arms, the right to hold public office and the right to live and work wherever they desire."

    So a person who has committed homicide with a gun should be allowed the same right to keep and bear arms as anyone else or should be left in jail forever? It doesn't make more sense to let them out when it seems they are okay, but keep them on some restrictions as a precaution? It's impossible to have a debt to society that tapers off a little bit?

  • douglas gray||

    Even if one is a child molester or a teen rapist, does living 2,000 feet away from a day care center or a school make the kids safer than if the criminal lives 500 feet away? The distance thing is absurd. How does making someone walk an extra few minutes make anyone safer?

  • ||

    So a person who has committed homicide with a gun should be allowed the same right to keep and bear arms as anyone else or should be left in jail forever?

    Yes. IMHO, firearm restrictions would be ignored by a recidivist anyway. They serve no purpose other than demonstrating that "free man" isn't really a full member of society. I am very uncomfortable with how that would affect his thinking. Remember, he's out, not on parole, there is no monitoring of his activities. The little bit of leftist that still lives in me says rehabilitation is in the best interests of everybody.

  • ||

    I want to know when some enterprising investigative reporter is going to do the kind of workup on teenagers convicted of having sex of the sort that Radley Balko and Cato (with their map) have done on SWAT raids.

  • ||

    "Remember, he's out, not on parole, there is no monitoring of his activities. The little bit of leftist that still lives in me says rehabilitation is in the best interests of everybody."

    That is exactly what we need to look at. A judge and or a jury of their peers determined how long the offenders needed to be punished. Once they are out of the custody of the state or city and have completed all terms of their probation/parole, how can we justify continual punishment and tab keeping on these individuals. In michigan first time sex offenders are required to register for 25 years, and if they got more then one offense then it is a LIFETIME registration. How would you like to be that high school kid having sex with his girlfriend then registering his whereabouts for the next quarter century?

  • ||

    Why can't we just kill them - No registry - No tracking - No neighborhood restrictions or gathering place problems. No recidivism.

    Clean

    Neat

  • JohnD||

    How interesting that Sullum is so concerned over child molesters. That says a lot about what kind of low life person he is.

    I knew most Libertarians were druggies but I didn't realize they were also perverts.

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