Which makes us safer? Residency restrictions or enhanced rehabilitation for former sexual offenders?

Originally published in Criminal Legal News

By Sandy . . . Twenty years ago, at age 23, William committed a serious sexual crime for which he spent three years in prison and participated in an intensive treatment program – four hours a day, five days a week. He confronted the demons of his own childhood molestation and emerged, literally, a new man. After release, he met and married Ashley, and they have three children. Living in Florida, where residency restrictions against registered persons are strict and unforgiving, the family moved multiple times and were often separated and at times homeless due to these restrictions.

At one point of relative stability, they rented a home close to William’s job but in a restricted area. He would rush home after work, help with dinner, homework, playtime and bedtime rituals for the children, and then he would leave – he could not legally be in the home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. – and drove 12 miles to the end of a dirt road, an area outside of a restricted area, and slept in his van, sweating through hot Florida nights.

As ludicrous as this situation is, even more ludicrous is the pretense that it makes anyone safer, which is, after all, the premise upon which residency restrictions and restricted areas for registered sexual offenders is based.

Beyond ludicrous, however, is the only way to describe the situation of Gavin, whose family lives in Iowa. That state’s law defines where a registrant lives as where he sleeps. Gavin reports that he could stay in his home, which is in a restricted area, with his family as many hours a day as he could stay awake. IF the purpose of these laws is what legislators state, to protect the public from dangerous persons, then this law is saying that Gavin and countless others pose a potentially greater risk asleep than they do when awake.

Studies show that the more stability a former sexual offender has, the more effective rehabilitation will be. That fact alone makes our nation’s obsession with restrictions and exclusions for those with sexual crime convictions unfathomable.

Testimony from those who were released from incarceration following a sexual crime conviction show how de-stabilizing these restrictions can be.

  • Matthew: I was considered homeless when I got out of prison and was placed in a half-way house by probation. I had a public safety factor put on me which restricts where I could move. I finally found a home, but now probation has waited 30 days just to see it and will make me wait till after Christmas to get out of the half-way house and be able to live at my home that I am still paying rent on even though I am not living there.
  • Lazaro: I am one that just bought a home and even then, the city of Parma, Ohio, found a way to have me legally taken out of my home. I have fought all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, and they upheld the decision for me to be kicked out of my home that I bought and paid for. I did everything correctly, and still they legally found a way to do an injustice.
  • Jeff: For me I find it really difficult to find good housing. Everyone released from prison here is considered a level two, which triggers the local police department to send flyers to your neighborhood. Some housing communities want to have nothing to do with that.
  • Tom: I live in Rhode Island. I bought a condo prior to the enactment of the 300’ residency law. I was told I could not live there again because I wasn’t living there when I committed my crime (I was renting it out at that time). So, when searching for housing after my arrest, I could not move into a property I owned.

These examples are but the tip of a very nasty iceberg. In a national survey on the subject, 21 states were found to have state law forbidding a person on the registry from living within a certain distance, anywhere from 500 feet up to 2,000 feet, of various locations, primarily schools and child-care facilities. Some include the phrase “or anywhere children congregate,” which is open to limitless interpretations. Ten of the states restrict everyone who is on a sexual offense registry, no exceptions. The other eleven have varying degrees of specificity such as being on probation, being a child sex offender, or being a level 2 or higher. For these 21 states, the restrictions apply in every corner of the state.

Additionally, almost all other states allow for individual cities, towns, and counties to make their own restrictions regarding where registered persons may live. In 2007, An estimated 400 municipalities had enacted local zoning ordinances restricting where registered sexual offenders could live. Just in New Jersey, at least 113 municipalities had local residency restrictions. For example, the township of Jackson, New Jersey, restricts sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any park or playground, movie theater, or amusement park. In Florida, where, in 2007, more than 60 municipalities had residency restriction ordinances, registered offenders could not live within specified distances of parks, playgrounds, churches, libraries, bus stops or any other place where minors normally congregate. In Snellville, Georgia, the city council implemented an ordinance banning sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school, over twice the distance of the restricted area under the state’s residency restriction law.

While no more recent comprehensive report seems to have been compiled, evidence is clear that the number of local jurisdictions enacting such ordinances has increased significantly.

There are, however, glimmers of hope amidst this more-than-gloomy landscape.

Citing empirical evidence, the Kansas Department of Corrections has posted a blistering indictment against the use of residency restrictions.

Some jurisdictions have eliminated their residency restriction requirements due to lawsuits brought and won on behalf of registered individuals.

A handful of other have scaled back or eliminated them due to negative fallout such as marked increases in homelessness and failure to register cases. The entire state of Arkansas is being forced to look at their restrictions in light of a number of problems that the restrictions have caused. Jennifer Dean Jordan, an area manager of Arkansas Community Correction, said that in order to help the homelessness issue, current laws need to be reviewed. “‘The first step is to conduct research to determine if residence restrictions are actually doing what the legislative goal was,’ she said. ‘And that is to protect children.’”

This is what needs to be done in every state, city, and town that legislates where those on sexual offense registries may and may not live and in some cases even be or pass through. The research has been done; they just need to find it. There is no shred of evidence that supports the use of residency, distance, or proximity restrictions for those with past sexual crimes as effective public safety strategy.


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Sandy Rozek

Sandy 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.

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  • Author
    • #67520 Reply

      I simply don’t understand residensity restrictions at all. SO’s can drive, take a bus or even walk if they have to. SO’s dont need to ‘live in a neghhood’ if they are hell bent on doing something. Let them live in the neighborhood and simply control your kids.

    • #67530 Reply

      Preventing justice vs perverting justice one wonders what is worse. Yes, fighting for the rights of people are good or do we all have the right answers of every situation that comes down the pike. i,e, well lets give him or her probation or lets make an example for him or she’s a bit of a hot pants and not productive to society so we’ll lock her up teach her a lesson. So were does truth and understanding come in.

      Yes fightening all the same who is taking advantage or who? Rights are good, even for those wrongfully convicted in this sex registry ordeal. Much of this is a bit to much in may instances certain circumstances. Rules of wisdom or rules of understanding get more complex today in this sex registry issue. One wonders is its men and women behaving badly or government behaving badly.

      Seems like everything is connected in this moral for truth and justice in a lot of this vainity way and this vision of true justice. Sure life can be a slippery slope or someone walking by a tightrope but were is the honor in much of this or is one all out to make a reputation for oneself in this maze of moral for true justice. One wonders who calls the kettle black or dictates measures of confinement. Who’ is getting who’s goat with much of this jumbuled up justice and yes one can go with biblical understanding or moral understand that can bring strong delusion on all in this creating or challanging registry. So who sets up people or who today grooms one into all much of this debauchery. Where is the true principal behind all this safety or responsible factor as government calls it. Who is abusing with this slippery slope.

    • #67540 Reply
      Tim in WI

      These facts describe exactly how wrong the Majority was in Alaska V Doe.
      The majority decided to play the “congressional deference” ignorance card when faced with statute that began, ” a person who was in prison, on probation, parole, aftercare supervision……a sex crime. ”
      Can anyone imagine a case when Congress would NOT emphasize ” public safety” when opting for utilizing the words ” was\is incarcerated” in statute?
      IMO the founders understood that could never be the case and thus opted for the words: Congress shall pass NO LAW. Meaning civil or criminal laws ex post are patently destructive and harmful to government’s good faith credibility toward the people. It is a simple regulatory function of the clause Art. sec10, applies specifically to Congress and no other branch.

      The potential usefulness of the database infrastructure however was too advantageous politically to be ignored and unfettered use was needed to fully capitalize.

      Violating Constitutional

    • #67589 Reply

      “‘The first step is to conduct research to determine if residence restrictions are actually doing what the legislative goal was,’ she said. ‘And that is to protect children.“

      Ok, so I shall reiterate what I’ve been saying for a long time…
      What was it like back in the 1960’s, the 1970’s and the 1980’s long before there was a Megan’s Law and a Jessica’s Law? Were there any residency restrictions back then for people with sex crimes? And if not, was there a spike in sex crimes when those individuals got out of prison and lived wherever they wanted?
      If no, then where in the heck did these restriction ideas come from other than fear mongering?
      There was a time with no registry and no residency restrictions. So why do people act as if sex crimes STARTED with Jessica Lundsford and Megan Kenka?

      Brining up the way things were PRIOR to these laws would be a great thing to add to legal arguments against these laws/ordinances.

    • #67590 Reply

      You’re asking parents to be parents? How dare you! We NEED big brother to babysit for us and teach us how to be parents. 1984!!! Hello, McFly!

    • #67638 Reply

      I continue to state:. NARSOL is not against the Registry Scheme at all. All you ever report on are the “rules” of the registry.

      In this case particularly. Residency restrictions…. There is no evidence, YES you are correct.

      Why are you not arguing against the Registry Scheme itself because there is absolutely ZERO evidence that such a scheme makes anyone safer & it absolutely does not make children any safer either. They are political arguments only. Our own govnt resources have published these fundings for decades.

      Do you need help compiling this info or something? I can send it to you.

      Even the ACLU knows this and is starting to do something about it, starting in Michigan.

      How about we hear that NARSOL is connecting with the ACLU of each state to bring class action suite against each state, and then the Fed Govnt?

      Your report on residency restrictions was a waist of everyones time.

      • #67643 Reply

        You have a lot of misinformed assumptions in this comment, Phil. I suggest you visit a few of the tabs on the top menu to learn what NARSOL is about.

    • #67712 Reply
      Sandy Rozek
      Sandy Rozek

      Phil, since you are not informed correctly about NARSOL’s stand on the registry in general, these might help:


      The Sex Offender Registry: A Gorilla on the Basketball Court

      Deadly collateral consequences of the “non-punitive” sex offender registry

      The sex offender registry: a non-punitive civil regulatory scheme

      Vision, Mission and Goals

      In the states where the ACLU is willing to work with NARSOL’s affiliates and contacts, it happens. In the states where they are not willing, it doesn’t.

      And if you feel that pieces about residency restrictions are a waste of time, then you would probably be happier not reading them.

    • #67734 Reply
      Tim in WI

      No reasonable persons may logically dispute a people’s right to have a database of known convicted persons. However, reasonable basis exists to dispute the intent of the plain indenture to the machines insatiable maintenance! If no liberty at stake, who would complain?J.P. Stevens.

      The government registry use goes waaaaaaay beyond mere public notice!
      When the regime severely outpaces stated legislative intent there is serious room for argument the ulterior motive is to revisit passed crimes, not prevent future attacks.- DH Souter
      With registration came tracking of the individual by states and federal agents with eyes and expectations wrought via electronic infrastructure. Underlying the regime’s conception was first the widespread collection of citizens data.
      This is what the party elites are up to, solely for the purposes of political security. NARSOL would have a much larger footprint on social media sites if registered persons we’re permitted to participate in peaceful assembly therein and by.
      In fact a man used FB content to clear his name by exposing a wrongful accusation and subsequent conviction for rape. Former prosecutors pushed FB etc. to exclude individuals listed on sex registries. Outright complete bans upon sex offender use has been passed into law by the people. Their intent required the clearest proof of unconstitutionally to overturn. The higher courts have found it to be as ex post so-called punitive, MI, CO, NC, PA yet the path of repeal is blocked.

      Hmmmm what could it be? The loss of individual tracking privileges perhaps, and all wrought by the regulatory regime made ” civil. ”
      Blatant violation of a single person is evil enough, but blatant attack upon the masses by a deregulated electronic government another faaar more onerous evil.

    • #67787 Reply

      Phil excuse me for butting in but yes their are restrictions and I even hate to say that. Sure one can all be upset but Sandy is right and so is Brenda Jones, Janice even Robin and a whole host of advocates. Maybe I’m wrong for even coming on here at times but I’m here to learn and be informed in many ways also. I’m sure we are not in or on this sex registry for our health.

      Even Janice which I haven’t text to her in years would like me to to give her a call but she is a busy lady and so far I can’t honestly complain. I even asked these both ladies about this plight and their take and both were understanding and appauled at a lot of this registry ordeal. I live right across the street from kids and I live by myself. Housing is a somewhat big disadvantage but so is many more issues with this sex registry. Phil everything comes out in the wash or do law enforcement still do drip dry, dry cleaning or do they get too much starch in their collars.

      Narsol is for rational laws and yes we all should understand that a lot of these sex law’s tend to hold people back from living space. Isn’t liberty and living peaceful a good reason why NARSOL and others are in all this or is being Rational some behavior disfunction.

      Phil understand NARSOL is for you and me and everybody else that wants to see much of these laws in a Rational view or should we all get irrational about the quality of food they serve today or the suffering some go thru, or the sleepless nights we all can go thru. Maybe I don’t make any sense but you need to apologize up front about that commet.
      Its almost what I told my PO the first day I met him “It is what it is until it is what it isn’t” or maybe I should of used the word ain’t, and he looked at me and said what’s that suppose to mean but me and my Po are on good terms or should one turn one’s backs on one another in all this discord.
      Being reasonable is being reasonable or who shows love in much of this punishment in many of these ordeals. So being irrational is not good.

    • #68035 Reply
      R. Arens

      I just wanted to say that in the “situation with Gavin,” it may not be what it appears to be. Iowa technically doesn’t have a exclusion zone for tier one and tier two offenders. Tier 3 offenders still abide by the 2000 foot rule but there’s not very many of those compared to the other 2. Iowa does have “loiter laws” that prohibit sex offenders from staying in one place 300 feet from any school, park or library. Basically, you can’t live across the street from a school but you could live down the street from it as long as you’re at least 300 feet away from the schools property line. If “Gavin” was a tier 3 or he moved in some place 200 feet from a school, park, library, that’s pretty much about the only thing he could get flack for unless his parole officer (if he had one) had any conditions where Gavin was required to live. Aside from having a questionably unconstitutional special sentence law they apply to everyone regardless of the nature of their offence, Iowa really ain’t that bad of a place to live as a sex offender. I personally enjoy certain liberty’s here that other states by law have stripped away from it’s sex offenders.

    • #68037 Reply

      Hello, well the whole thing (registry) is based on a lie, ive said many times about federal government did a study on recidivism in 1994 and results show 9% and every study by the government since shows below 5% & i tell people if you dont believe me go on the Doj & Smart.gov website the studies from 1994 are right there for everyone to see and get a copy of but it dont seem like anyone believes me, so i i took a snapshot of it which shows web address plus each front page says it comes from the Doj & Smart.gov & the front page states they did the study in 1994 and it states recidivism was below 5%, now from what i understand the Federal government has committed fraud because they knew the recidivism rate below 5% yet allowed Megans law to be enacted and not correcting the Supreme Court & allowing them and everyone else to believe recidivism is ” High & Frieghtening” and “80% recidivism” knowing the truth, i believe if as many people as possible get a copy and pass it onto lawmakers and media a hit them with the truth that Federal Government proved it in 1994 that So’s have the second lowest recidivism rate. I have two snapshots plus both studies but i dont think im allowed to put the snapshots on rsol, if i can i will.

    • #68039 Reply

      Here’s something to knaw on : Why were lawmakers so quick to pass Jessica’s law, demonizing people without distinction on the urging of a man who had deleted images of child pornography in his own computer the day his daughter went missing in Homasse, Florida in 2005? Why wasn’t John Lunsford charged? Why wasn’t his 18-year-old son required to register as a sex offender several years later when he pleaded guilty to sexual contact with a minor? Why, finally, the double standards?

      Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that possession of pornographic images on a computer makes a person a sex offender or a danger to society. If Mark Lunsford had such images in his possession the day his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered that should not make Lunsford a criminal.

      But the prisons are filled with men who did no more than Jessica’s father did. Why are those men in prison? Why are they required to register as sex offenders on release and to be forced into substandard housing, labelled a public health menace and then prosecuted for technical violations of the law?

    • #68635 Reply

      I like what Phil is saying why are we not , filing suites and joining with aclu and going federal and state levels.?

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