Sex Offender Registry

'Child Safety Zones' May Be Unfair and Ineffective, but They Feel So Good

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The New York Times identifies Orange County, California, as "the center of a new wave of laws restricting the movement of sex offenders." These laws, which have been adopted by the county and a dozen of its cities (with 10 more considering similar legislation), bar registered sex offenders from locations where children congregate, including not only schools and day care centers but also libraries, parks, beaches, and harbors. (No fishing for them!) Such laws have been enacted in other states as well, including Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and North Carolina. While some focus on offenders convicted of crimes against children, most do not, illogically putting public urinators, streakers, and people who had consensual sex with not-quite-16 girlfriends or boyfriends in the same category as child molesters. Even if the restrictions were more narrowly applied, and even if they were enforceable, these "child safety zones" would not provide much protection, since Justice Department data indicate that more than 90 percent of sexually abused minors are assaulted by relatives or acquaintances, as opposed to strangers in parks, while nearly nine out of 10 people arrested for sex offenses have no prior convictions for this category of crime and therefore do not appear on official lists of sex offenders.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is nevertheless a strong believer in child safety zones. "We need to protect our children," he told the Mission Viejo City Council before it enacted its ordinance, which authorizes a six-month jail sentence for registered sex offenders who stroll through a public park. "The danger is real." And even though only three sex offenders have been convicted of venturing into forbidden territory in Orange County so far, he says, "We're not going to know how many kids were not molested or groomed for later sexual contact as a result of this law." In other words, if the public safety benefits cannot be shown, we can just assume them. Amazingly, Huntington Beach City Councilman Joe Carchio concedes that the laws don't really work and that they senselessly punish people who pose no threat to children, but he likes them anyway:

[Carchio] said he felt bad for lower-level offenders whose convictions many years ago prevent them from taking their children to Little League games. Still, he wishes he could have made the restrictions even broader.

"In a lot of ways, it is a feel-good law; it makes people feel safe," Mr. Carchio said. "You make choices in this world, and I guess the choice that individual made is one that is going to follow him for the rest of his life."

Reason.tv recently noted the pointless punitiveness of these and other restrictions on registered sex offenders:

 

For more on irrational laws aimed at sex offenders, including residence restrictions that make even less sense than the park bans, see my July 2011 Reason article "Perverted Justice."