Criminal Justice

The Folly of Residence Restrictions for Sex Offenders

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The New York Times reports that 40 or so sex offenders in Long Island's Suffolk County live in two government-supplied trailers, one of them located in the parking lot of a prison, largely because residence restrictions make it almost impossible for them to find a legal home after they are released:

In New York State, laws prohibit sex offenders on parole or whose victims were younger than 18 from residing within 1,000 feet of schools or other child care facilities. In 2006, Suffolk [County] passed a law extending the distance for all sex offenders to a quarter mile. Southampton [a Suffolk County beach town] later stretched that to up to a mile. 

As I explained in a 2011 Reason article about sex offenders, there are several problems with such rules:

There is no evidence that residence restrictions prevent crime and little reason to think they would. Sex offenders are free to move around over the course of a day, and residence restrictions do not even notionally prevent them from finding victims more than 1,000 feet, a quarter mile, or a mile from their homes. Furthermore, data from the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey indicate that more than 90 percent of sexually abused minors are assaulted by relatives or acquaintances, not by strangers who happen to live near a playground or school.

Residence restrictions are indiscriminate. The rules are supposed to be aimed at people who pose a special threat to children. Yet New York's law applies to all sex offenders on parole, whether or not their crimes involved minors. Even a sex offense involving a minor, which triggers lifelong residence restrictions under New York's law, does not necessarily mark someone as a menace to children. An 18-year-old who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, for instance, is not exactly a child molester. The same might be true, depending on the details, of  the Southampton trailer dweller who was convicted of "disseminating pornography among minors."

Residence restrictions promote recidivism. By effectively banishing sex offenders from most (sometimes nearly all) of a city or county and forcing them to live together in trailers, in cheap motels, in campgrounds, or under bridges, often far from therapy and employment opportunities, the restrictions impede reintegration and rehabilitation, making new crimes more likely. They also undermine the registration systems championed by the same people who support residence restrictions, since it is hard to keep tabs on homeless sex offenders.

Even some advocates of residence restrictions concede they have gone too far:

"When you propose a law restricting sex offenders to 1,000 feet from any bus stop, that's just not going to work," said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center, who lives on Long Island. "You have to be reasonable."

Since their costs are clear and their benefits are unproven at best, it is hard to see how any residence restrictions count as reasonable. All they seem to offer is emotional satisfaction and a false sense of security.

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  1. Even some advocates of residence restrictions concede they have gone too far:

    “When you propose a law restricting sex offenders to 1,000 feet from any bus stop, that’s just not going to work,” said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, who lives on Long Island. “You have to be reasonable.”

    Do you think that they are making the case they’ve gone too far, or not far enough? Who are they saying has to be reasonable here?

  2. An 18-year-old who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, for instance, is not exactly a child molester.

    also not statutory rape in NYS, as there needs to be larger than two years difference in age.

    1. 18 years, 7 months and someone who just turned 16?

      Do they go by a full 365+365 or just the birth years?

    2. BUT THE CHIDRENZ!!!1!eleventy!!

    3. also not statutory rape in NYS, as there needs to be larger than two years difference in age

      Wait, a common sense provision in a NY law?

      I’m scared…

      1. I don’t know that 2 years counts as common sense.

        High school Senior meets High School Freshman, there is just shy of 4.5 years difference in age between them.

        When they start dating he is 17.5 and she just turned 13.

        It is hard to say that there is anything wrong with this relationship and yet the day he turns 18 he becomes a sex offender.

        I admit it is better than a 1 day over and 1 day under 18 split but it still is going to allow for perfectly normal relationships to be turned into statutory rape cases by prosecutors with an axe to grind.

        1. It is hard to say that there is anything wrong with this relationship and yet the day he turns 18 he becomes a sex offender.

          No, it’s really not. At least if that is my 13 year old daughter.

        2. I admit it is better than a 1 day over and 1 day under 18 split but it still is going to allow for perfectly normal relationships to be turned into statutory rape cases by prosecutors with an axe to grind

          Another good reason for fully informed juries. Sure, go ahead and create the statutory-rape laws, but the jury should be solely empowered to decide, case by case, whether the act constitutes a crime. The 20-year-old who beds a 13-year-old girl would likely go to prison, while the jury would have plenary power to free the 17.5-year-old in your example.


    4. An 18-year-old who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, for instance, is not exactly a child molester.

      also not statutory rape in NYS, as there needs to be larger than two years difference in age.

      He might be ok in some states… until he receives a naked pic of his girlfriend. Then he’s in for some serious shit and will be on the sex offender list for sure.

  3. When you propose a law restricting sex offenders to 1,000 feet from any bus stop, that’s just not going to work,” said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, who lives on Long Island. “You have to be reasonable.”

    I would ask Ms. Ahern just how these laws got passed if not at the behest of her and fanatics like her? And if they are unreasonable, what is she doing to fix them? What a lying sack of shit. They push these laws through. Then when they turn out to have embarrassing and cruel results claim “well we really don’t support that” while doing nothing to fix the damage.

    1. And if you want to reform them, well your next opponent will run an ad:

      “Megan’s Law protects our children. So why did Congressman Smith vote to repeal provisions that keep child molesters out of schools?”

      1. With money provided by Ms. Ahern and her group. But she really wants to be reasonable about this. My ass.

      2. Clearly, Cong. Smith needs to back mandatory background checks for any person who want to come within 1,000 feet of a school or he is in favor of child molestation (and probably a Republican too).

      3. “So why did Congressman Smith vote to repeal provisions that keep child molesters out of schools?”

        Would that be Congressman STEVE SMITH?

  4. emotional satisfaction and a false sense of security

    That’s the rationale behind most legislation these days. Bribery of voters explains the rest.

    1. At least they did SOMETHING.

    2. It’s the only rationale behind gun control laws, for one example.

  5. The residence restrictions (and registries to some extent) are just NIMBY-ism as far as I can tell.

    Here’s what I think. Stop using the catch-all term “sex offenders”. Everyone hears that and thinks rapists and child molesters, when there are lots of far less serious, and even sometimes victimless crimes that fall under that classification. If a rapist or kiddie-diddler is so dangerous that they can’t be allowed to resume their life in a normal way, then just keep them locked up. Fuck it. If you rape someone, you deserve whatever you get. But if you are released from prison, at some point you need to be allowed to resume normal life. And for fuck’s sake, consensual sex with a sexually mature teenager is not pedophilia and it should not be treated the same way under the law.

    1. I’d go the other way. Use the term “sexual predator” then limit the list to the few offenders that are actually dangerous.

      One of the main problems with curent lists is that there are so many other people on them the folks you need to know about get lost in the clutter.

  6. Obviously the solution is to prohibit sex offenders from residing within a mile of another sex offender.

  7. these laws serve no one. You can’t “heal” child molesters or predators. Put them in jail and the rest of the population beats the hell out of them. Put them into society and they were the modern-day scarlet letter practically. And that leaves out the broad application of “sex offender”.

    If this person can never live normally, put them in their own ward of a prison and never let them out. If they can, then let them out like those convicted of murder, robbery, or other crimes.

    1. these laws serve no one.

      Why do you hate people who write sex offender mapping software?

  8. “Chester the Molester” is largely a myth, but it’s what is driving things like Megan’s Law. Most children are molested by someone they know. It’s a heinous crime, but Megan’s Law does nothing to prevent recidivism, since that person is largely free to associate with their family and all others in the community.

    And don’t even get me started on the victimless crimes that have been categorized as “sex offenses.”

    1. All very true. You want to know the best thing you can do to keep your kid from being molested? Don’t get divorced. It is very rare that kids are molested by their biological parents. But step parents on the other hand..

      But since that doesn’t fit the feminist narrative, divorce and mom dragging in various boyfriends in and out of the house is never listed as a cause of kids getting molested.

  9. The Folly of Residence Restrictions for Sex Offenders

    Because there is a MR SHOW sketch to illustrate *everything* about the universe…=

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKE9W0O8bX8

  10. “An 18-year-old who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, for instance, is not exactly a child molester.”

    No, but getting treated as one could be letting him off easy compared to what her dad might do.

  11. Joey Smackdown over there seems to know what tiem it is!

    http://www.Go4Anon.tk

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