By Sandy . . . The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government in Maine and Representative Danny Martin who heads that committee are pushing for legislation that will expand residency restrictions for those on the sex offender registry in the areas of the state that have them.
Maine does not have statewide mandated residency restrictions, and a report published by another legislative committee ten years ago in Maine raises major concerns and questions about this current proposed legislation.
In 2008, that committee produced a report titled, “Maine’s Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee Study of Sex Offender Registration Laws.” It is a 37-page report representing hundreds of man-hours of research and meetings examining the effects of SORNA in their state and the alterations that were needed. SORNA, incidentally, does not require residency or proximity restrictions.
On the bottom of page 19 and continuing onto 20 of the report is a brief section dealing with residency restrictions. It acknowledges that some communities in the state have adopted these restrictions for their individual jurisdictions. And then it goes on to say:
Hearing testimony on these bills and educating ourselves about other states’ experiences with residency restrictions, the committee finds, and the research supports, that such restrictions do not increase public safety. Residency restrictions make it more difficult for sex offenders to reenter society and find stability (living and working arrangements) and make it more challenging for law enforcement to find and monitor offenders. Based on these findings, the committee recommends that the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee of the 124th Legislature considers introducing legislation that would preempt the field of sex offender management and prohibit municipalities and other entities from adopting their own restrictions on sex offenders.
One little paragraph that says it all. What a shame it is that they did not proceed with the proposed legislation or, if they did, that it was not successful.
The question is, why is this current committee so determined to compound something that already has been condemned as not only ineffective but detrimental to overall public safety?
Of course, they are not the only state to do so. California, one of the harshest states historically in its erections of residency and proximity restrictions, goes directly against its own Sexual Offense Management Board, which said, “There is no research which supports the use of these strategies [residency and proximity restrictions], there is substantial research showing that such policies have no effect on preventing recidivism, and there is a growing body of research which indicates that residence restrictions actually increase sex offender recidivism and decrease community safety” (p.2).
Other states as well have jurisdictional or statewide restrictions that are in total opposition to the recommendations of the sex offender management boards that they have commissioned to give advice and oversee sexual offense laws and ordinances.
While Texas has no statewide restrictions, certain Texas cities have restrictions so stringent that registrants have been forced to give up desperately needed jobs that they were offered. There was literally no way they could navigate, by car or by bus, the route between where they lived and the location of the job without going into or through a restricted area around a school or daycare facility, and there was no place they could live closer to the job.
The report rendered by that Maine legislative committee ten years ago, that statement by the California board, and every single study or report examining the efficacy of residency and/or proximity restrictions for those on the registry are uniform in their conclusions. These restrictions are ineffective and actually harmful to public safety.
Any legislator who is advocating for such restrictions, including Rep. Danny Martin, should be made to answer directly this question: Why are you asking your constituents to spend tax dollars implementing laws that are shown by every available source to be not only useless but actually harmful to your state?
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.