Free-Range Kids

Harsher Sex Offender Restrictions Won't Make Anyone Safer

"Contrary to popular belief... registered sex offenders have one of the very lowest recidivism rates."

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Chain gang
Patrick Denker / Wikimedia Commons

Steve Blow and Josh Gravens are two of my new heroes. I met them both when I went to Dallas three weeks ago to speak at the Reform Sex Offender Laws convention. Gravens is a sex offender who also spoke at the convention. I went with him to see what it's like to register and that became a story in itself.

Blow is a beloved columnist at The Dallas Morning News. He's a local institution. Last week, he wrote a column about me and Free Range Kids.

In his latest column, Blow talks to Gravens and explains why harsh laws restricting sex offenders' movements are unwise:

We've talked here lately about how our laws on sexual misconduct have gone badly overboard. And now the City Council looks at joining in.

In a briefing session last week, the council heard a proposal to impose residency restrictions on registered sex offenders — setting distances on how far they must live from parks and schools and such.

Josh, a Lake Highlands resident, was among those who spoke against the idea. He introduced his wife and five children.

Josh and I talked at length the next day. "It would be one thing if these residency restrictions had some proven safety benefit," he said. "But there is not one study that has found any benefit."

Don't take his word for it. Here's what the experts say: "Residence restrictions are simply not a feasible strategy for preventing child sexual abuse." That's from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

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Blow goes on to quote more experts who concur "that—contrary to popular belief—registered sex offenders have one of the very lowest recidivism rates."

Really, it is very hard to get anyone to believe that point, although all the evidence (as opposed to hearsay) I've seen reaches the same conclusion.

The evidence also concludes that 1) Residency restrictions don't make anyone safer, although they do make it very hard for sex offenders to live normal lives and hence gives them less incentive not to re-offend. And 2) Sex offender lists are teeming with people like Gravens who pose no actual threat to kids. As Blow concludes:

Evidence is mounting that our broad-brush approach to sex offenders is doing more harm than good. We mistakenly came to equate "sex offender" with "pedophile predator."

A tiny percentage truly fall into that second category. And they need close monitoring, which can be accomplished through better parole and probation oversight.

The rest pose little or no threat of re-offending. And we only increase that possibility by preventing them from working, from living in decent housing, from reuniting with family.

It may take a bit of courage, but if the Dallas City Council wants to make a decision based on evidence, it will stay off the hysteria bandwagon.

Amen.