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Today in the Systemic Persecution of Sex Offenders

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We all agree that the issue of sex offenders’ return to post-prison life is a tricky issue. While the definition of sex offender has become ridiculous and persecuting a 19 year old man for the rest of his life for having sex with his 17 year old girlfriend is a horrendous miscarriage of justice, there are real child molesters. And they have to live somewhere after they leave prison. But wherever they live, people freak out. Earlier this year, Rhode Island overwhelmingly passed a law forcing Level III sex offenders to live at least 1000 feet from a school, from the previous 300 foot restriction. This throws a lot of people out of their homes–about 50 percent of the state’s Level III offenders who are not in prison. But they can’t go to homeless shelters either because so many of those are within 1000 feet of a school. What are they supposed to do? Plus, research suggests that the best way to get these offenders to commit more crimes is socially marginalizing them, which this law does. Not to mention that the law makes no sense except as sheer post-prison persecution:

One of the problems, experts say, is that Level III offenders are not all the same.

Some are recidivists, but most are not. Of the 175 offenders in Rhode Island who are not incarcerated, at least 124 — or 71 percent — knew their victims. Some victimized adults, not children.

And nothing in the law prohibits a sex offender from spending all of their waking hours within 1,000 feet of a school, as long as they go outside the zone to sleep at night.

Levenson, who has studied the impact of residency restrictions in Florida and co-authored books about sex-offender treatment, said the laws are often passed out of fear and panic of sex offenders snatching children off playgrounds. In reality, most victims are known to the offenders.

She co-authored a study into a 2,500-foot rule in Jacksonville, Florida, that concluded there was no significant differences in citywide sex crimes or recidivist sex crimes. Other studies, including one from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, have concluded that sex offenders were less likely to be rearrested than other criminal offenders.

Five percent are re-arrested for another sex crime within three years of being released from prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, their proximity to schools and daycares didn’t make any difference in whether they were more likely to re-offend against children, according to another study that Levenson also co-authored.

The important factor isn’t distance, but stability. “When people have stable employment, housing and support, they are less likely to go to a life of crime,” Levenson said. “But if you disrupt their lives, it increases the risks.”

The American Correctional Association and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers have both warned about the “unintended consequences” of broad residency restrictions on sex offenders that can leave them struggling to find places to live where they can be supervised and cooperate with treatment programs. That’s why Day One, the statewide agency that supports victims of sexual abuse, opposes residency bans of any size.

Of course the legislator who sponsored this, which being Rhode Island was of course the head of the state Democratic Party, doesn’t care at all and openly admits to just wanting to punish these offenders.

“Yeah, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them,” McNamara said this week.

He scoffed when he was told that the police were concerned that some offenders may end up homeless. “I don’t believe it,” McNamara said. “I think there’s enough affordable housing.”

McNamara said he sees his legislation as an effective deterrent against sex crimes. As for the offenders, he said, “Maybe some should think twice before they destroy a child’s life.”

“I don’t believe it.” Oh, OK. I’m only a state legislator. How am I supposed to actually find out this information? Who can I ask, being so uninformed and powerless???

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