Sex Offender Registry

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


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." 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."

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  1. Why do you hate the children?

    1. Why do you hate the children?

      Because they have so many potential sex partners, if the intrusive state would just get out of the way.

      1. Obviously the only possible reason someone could even question this law is that they want children to be molested.

        There is no other excuse possible.

        Either you support this law or you support child molestation.

        False dichotomies are fun! And they win! Wheeeeeeee!

        1. *raises hand* To be fair, I actually do support child molestation.

          Now I can never run for elected office, because somebody will dig up this post and make an attack-ad out of it.

          "You think child molestation is something to laugh about! Tell Gojira this November that our children's buttholes are not the butt of jokes!"

    2. I've always believed that in order to work at Reason, one had to produce one's NAMBLA membership card.

  2. To me this is where you really tell who actually cares about civil rights. I think sex offenders are as bad as anyone. But the law is the law. And once someone has paid their debt to society, they have a right to start over. They have made these laws so extreme that these people literally can't live anywhere. And I don't care if they were touching five year old kids, that offends my sense of justice.

    "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."

    And yours son was apparently to be a completely ignorant asshole.

    1. I had this exact conversation with my grandmother of all people when I went back to visit the family last summer.

      She was telling me a local sex offender was mowing people's lawns to get by, since he can't get any other job, but she refuses to hire him, because he's a sex offender.

      I asked her if he'd served his time, paid the fines, etc. She said sure, but it doesn't matter; he'll always be a sex offender, and he shouldn't have ever been allowed out of jail in the first place (he was an adult and slept with a teenage girl, IIRC).

      Basically everyone in my family was in agreement; the guy should have been lynched. Small town friendliness for you. I don't think people who idolize small-town life realize how much tribalism and back-biting really go on unless you've lived there yourself.

      1. I grew up for the most part in small towns in east Texas, so yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about. There's something to be said for the anonymity of a large metropolitan area.

      2. I wish it was only small town America. The suburbs and cities are just as ignorant and bad.

        1. Oh I know the authoritarianism is just as bad, but as Loki pointed out, in a city, you can "disappear". Not so in the place I grew up. I guess you could always just leave your home and all your friends and start a new life, but that still sucks.

    2. It should also be kept in mind that not all sex offenders are created equal. Anything from rape to child molestation to public indecency to consensual sex with your six-months-younger girlfriend can get you a life sentence on an offender registry. Most registries don't list the actual offense either.

      1. A friend of a friend of mine is a register sex offender, his crime? He got drunk and was urinating in public.

      2. A friend of a friend of mine is a register sex offender, his crime? He got drunk and was urinating in public.

      3. Haven't people been placed on it for public urination?

        1. Fuckin' squirrels

        2. He urinated on the squirrels? Kinky.

          1. Squirrelmosexuals are people too, Tonio.

          2. Can't you read? He was fuckin' squirrels.

  3. I feel dumber knowing that not only do these people repreent the county I live in, but that there is a sizeable number of people willing to vote for them. I knew it, I'm surrounded by assholes.

  4. "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."

    The feel-good of the many outweighs the needs of the few.

    1. Banning blacks and Hispanics would no doubt make a lot of white people feel good and safer. Are we on board for that too?

      1. No, that would be discrimination. Everyone's pink on the inside.

        1. Except Nancy Pelosi.

      2. Only if they don't touch the gun-toting White Hispanics.

      3. I have a friend who would.

  5. The idiotic thing is that the vast majority of kids who are molested are molested by a step parent, coach, teacher or someone they know. Almost no one is molested by the stranger in the park.

    In that sense, these registries make sense. The way these people pray on children is they get jobs or date people who have children so they can get access. If I were a single mother, I would want to run a check on anyone I date before I got serious with them. If I ran a school or a little league, I would want to check on the people who volunteered to coach.

    But the living restrictions make no sense. Since children are almost never molested by strangers, they do nothing to protect kids. All they do is make it impossible for anyone on the list ever to rehabilitate themselves and live productive lives.

  6. What about TSA checkpoints? Do registered child sex offenders have to stay away from those?

    1. Apparently they can work at those.

  7. Maybe it's just because I'm a curmudgeonly old bachelor, but it seems to me that children are pretty much everywhere. So in addition to being unjust, these "child safety zones" are futile.

    1. Of course they are everywhere. And thanks to our current bout of societal insanity, you as a single male would have to have a screw lose to go near one. In more sane times, men used to actually take part in children' lives. Kids grew up and they knew men who were not their fathers and learned things from them. Now thanks that no longer occurs. Now any man who sees a kid bleeding to death stops to help at his own risk.

      Great society these people have created isn't it?

      1. Even with kids, 2 boys, I wouldn't even consider being a baseball/soccer/whatever coach. There's no way that I would ever be victim to the modern child molester witch hunt.

        1. I coach children in football and can tell you that never happens. There seems to be an unspoken and unwritten rule that situations like that, where it looks so dangerous, are exceptions where everyone looks the other way, because otherwise the activity could never take place, and it's optional activity, not a necessity like school.

          1. See also my comment below.

  8. OK see that just makes no sense at all to me dude, none.

  9. Can these laws work the other way?

    Meaning, if a sex offender bought 5 acres in an exurb where the nearest house was 5 miles away, then the area started growing, could his presence prevent a school being built within X miles of his house?

    Just trying to find a way for the anti-sprawlers to find some strange bedfellows.

    1. No dice. As soon as that land was determined to be a school, then the sex offender would be in violation of the law. To me, this is just one more example of how the sex offender registry is in fact an ex post facto law.

  10. This a blatant violation of the Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws. In Smith v. Doe (2003), the Supreme Court ruled that requiring a sexual offender to register on a list of sexual offenders was not an ex post facto law for the simple reason that the act of registering on a list was not punitive. However, once you start tacking on these additional prohibitions, you are clearly creating a punitive ex post facto law, which would be illegal under Smith v. Doe. Where is the ACLU when you need it!?

  11. One thing I never understood was why, if former sex offenders are so dangerous, they're not forbidden to marry or have children. It would seem their spouses and kids would be in greater danger than any of these strangers in parks, etc. So I have to conclude that although the law considers ex-sex offenders to be dangerous, their spouses and children are considered fair game!

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