Civil Liberties

New York Post Outraged That Sex Offenders Accepted at City Homeless Shelters With Children


Up on Drudge is a New York Post story that wants to bring you the alarming news that sex offenders, even those convinced of truly heinous acts including raping a 9-year-old and sodomizing an 8-year-old, are allowed into city homeless shelters, even though those shelters also sometimes house families with children.

State sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) made this disturbing report (and in fact initially complained about this problem four years previously) and the story quotes concerned parents who have stayed in these shelters. And the problem, tilts the Post, is that people "refuse to close loopholes" that let these ex-cons stay at the shelters. Also, "privacy laws prohibit shelter officials from alerting their residents to the predators among them." Basically, the law is tilted in an overly Samaritan fashion and that's not good.

But this is a fundamental problem that comes from the U.S.'s "S" for "sex offender" scarlet letter way of sentencing. Perhaps someone who raped a 9-year-old has no business being outside of jail. Or, if they do, after hopefully being actually guilty (nearly always a question) and serving a very long time indeed, that should be it. The notion behind the sex offender registry — first started in New Jersey in 1994 — is that sex criminals have a particularly high rate of recidivism. But that's not hard and fast. Numbers are difficult to pin down, but studies have found 5-24 percent rates (the former from a Department of Justice study over three years, the latter a Public Safety Canada study over 15 years). The high end of those numbers are similar with robbery and less severe crimes. 

It's a lot easier to find sympathy for sex offenders who don't deserve punishment, namely not the horror stories of 17-year-olds that had sex with 15-year-olds and were pariahs for life. The people who actually harm children may not deserve any sympathy but the various laws — excellently critiqued by Jacob Sullum — that require them to move house, lose all privacy, or even in one extreme example, congregate in hobo camps under a bridge, since in some locations they are barred from living within 1000-odd feet from places where children reside, are not helpful. They further alienate people who have little to lose from communities. And in the most egregious examples, federal sex offenders can even be indefinitely detained if they are seen to be dangerous enough. That should disturb anyone, regardless of the guilt of these men, knowing that some have been detained for up to four years without a hearing.

Fundamentally, if you have served your time, you have served your time. And where else is someone just out of prison likely to end up but a homeless shelter? Some of these offenders need help, too. There should be a way to do that without endangering children.