Residency restrictions cut back in Wisconsin city

By Patrick Leary . . . Because of recent legal challenges to similar ordinances, Racine is making adjustments to how restrictive it is about where sex offenders can reside.

According to City Attorney Scott Letteney, just 3.7 percent of the city’s housing stock is available to sex offenders under the city’s current ordinance. Under the new ordinance, which was approved Tuesday night, that number would increase to 19.6 percent.

To create the additional 16 percent in possible residences, Letteney said the city is removing churches that don’t have daycare programs and parks that don’t have playgrounds from the list of places that sex offenders cannot live within a certain distance of. Additionally, citywide buffer zones for properties such as libraries and schools will be reduced from 1,000 feet to 750 feet.

The reason for the change is purely legal, Letteney said, adding that the Village of Pleasant Prairie lost a recent lawsuit challenging its sex offender residence ordinance, and it included 10 percent of the city’s housing.

“Our concern is that there is such a small residential area available that it wouldn’t meet the constitutional standard,” Letteney said. “By increasing the percentage of residential properties, it’s more likely to pass constitutional muster.”

Chicago-based attorney Adele Nicholas opposed Pleasant Prairie in the recent case. She said that academic research doesn’t show that sex offender registry ordinances lower the rate of recidivism.

“Evidence actually shows that these types of factors actually increase recidivism for some sort of offense because people are cut off from stability,” Nicholas said. “What these residency restrictions are doing is increasing risk factors and decreasing public safety.”

Nicholas said the primary result of restrictive ordinances is increased homelessness of sex offenders.

“Making people homeless in your community is not benefiting public safety in your community,” she said.

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