Issue: Residency Restrictions

sex-offender-residency-restrictions.jpgUSA FAIR is committed to safe neighborhoods and knows that the keys to success for former offenders are the love of family, the support of friends, employment opportunities and the strengthening of community ties.  Residency laws, sometimes called "child safety zones", can destroy this entire support network and are thus counter-productive to achieving safe communities.

Residency laws don’t just harm law abiding former offenders.  These laws are one of the most significant inflictors of collateral damage on the entire family.  If applied retroactively, either the registered parent is forced to leave the home or whole families are uprooted.  Spouses sometimes have to move away from their jobs and children are forced to transfer out of their schools.  With potentially both parents seeking new employment under difficult circumstances, residency laws create poverty.  And where will these families move as spreading registry laws increasingly narrow their choices, sometimes creating sex offender ghettos?

These laws are made all the more senseless because research shows that residential proximity to places that children gather is not a factor in recidivism.

A 2008 study conducted by noted sex offense researcher Dr. Jill Levenson of Lynn University in Boca Raton Florida (and colleagues Zandberge and Hart) focused on the residential proximity issue in Florida.  Of all of the registered sex offenders in the State of Florida in 2004, 165 were rearrested for a new sex crime between 2004 and 2006.  The study found: “Offenders who lived within 1,000, 1,500 or 2,500 feet of schools or daycare centers were no more likely to reoffend sexually than those who lived farther away.  The study concluded in part: “These data do not justify the widespread enactment of residential restrictions for sexual offenders.  The time that police and probation officers spend addressing housing issues is likely to divert law enforcement resources away from behaviors that truly threaten our community in order to attend a problem that does not exist.”

USA FAIR strongly believes that residency laws are unconstitutional in that they inflict cruel and unusual punishment.  The extended safety zones, which frequently place entire municipalities off limits is a punishment that regresses back to the Colonial-era sentence of banishment and has no modern-era equivalent.  What could be crueler than to have all social and community ties cut and to be cast off?    It is such an unusual sanction that paroled murderers are not even subject to it.  The arguments of high recidivism that are used to justify sex offenders as a separate class of criminals needing such extraordinary controls and deterrence are not supported by the overwhelming body of research and evidence.

USA FAIR supports aggressive legal challenges to residency laws.  The encampment of former offenders who lived under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Dade County, Florida was a shameful testament to what can happen when emotion and fear causes a great nation to lose its way.

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