Sexual offender residency restrictions: unscientific, wasteful, useless

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By Sandy . . . The Missouri legislature is in the process of considering HB2142, a bill that would prohibit anyone on the sexual offense registry from entering or being within 500 feet of any of the nature or education centers controlled by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The stated purpose is for the protection of children who are frequent visitors, with their schools and their families, to these venues.

A great many of the persons who are registered on sexual offense registries are family men and women with children of their own. Many are individuals who have lived in the community offense-free since being punished for a single offense, often many years ago. Research shows that the factors most closely associated with the successful rehabilitation of former offenders are connections to family and community.

In Missouri, parents who are on the registry are already forbidden from taking their children to playgrounds, swimming pools, and museums designed for children’s interests. They are unable to participate in Halloween activities with their own children. They are only able to be involved in their children’s school lives with special permission and under special conditions, permission which may not always be granted and conditions which label the parent as someone outside the norm, causing shame and embarrassment to the children.

This proposed bill would close one more activity to registered parents who know how important it is for parents to be involved in their children’s lives and to engage in activities with them. Closing off every avenue by which these children may participate in normal activities with their parents creates future generations of children who are at increased risk for poor self-esteem and emotional and adjustment difficulties.

This would be bad enough even if this proposed bill would actually help reduce sexual crime against children, but it won’t. Children who are sexually abused are not victims of random strangers or those with whom they have no connection, and these crimes do not occur in public places such as swimming pools, parks, museums, or nature conservations. They are victims of those in their lives, their family members, peers, and authority figures, not by persons on the registry for having committed a previous assault, also most likely against someone in their lives before they were on the registry, and at least half of these crimes occur in the victims’ homes with the rest being in other homes or other familiar indoor settings.

Something must be done to stop the constant addition of post-punishment restrictions for those with sexual crime convictions. They are creating a class of sub-citizens whose chances of successfully reintegrating into society and fully accomplishing the rehabilitation expected by our justice system diminish with each new restriction and prohibition.

And they are for naught. People who already are on the registry are not the persons committing new sexual offenses. Approximately 95% of new sexual crime is committed by those never previously convicted and not on a sexual offense registry.

Missouri’s own research study shows how low sexual reoffense rates are there. The report is long and confusing and does what many do — muddies the waters in distinguishing a re-conviction for any crime from a re-conviction for another sexual crime. One chart in the report, however, makes it clear. For the population being studied and followed in this specific study, which is those released from prison in Missouri between 2003 and 2014 following a sexual crime conviction, the reoffense rates are 1% at 3 years and a tick over 2% at 5 years for those successfully completing the treatment program, and for those who refused or failed the treatment program, the rates are 2% at 3 years, 4 1/2% at 5 years. These figures are consistent with those garnered by state reports around the country, as well as national governmental reports. The chart is here, page 79, the bottom of the three charts.

Why are we wasting time contemplating laws that amount to nothing more than a solution in search of a problem, or rather a solution that does not in any way address the problem it purports to address? The test that must be met for the passage of any law is that it be based on facts and evidence, not on fear and myths. Missouri’s HB2142 fails this test.

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