On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that studies show residency restrictions for sex offenders do not work. This is a contentious topic that is currently being litigated by the ACLU. Allegheny County is attempting to enact a provision that prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 square feet of any school, child care facility, recreation center, public park, or community center.

According to the article, Megan’s Law sex offender residency restrictions do not prevent sex offenders from committing further crimes. Also, the restrictions create a problem of homeless sex offenders. The reasoning behind this issue is simple: at least where an offender is registered, the state is aware of the offender’s whereabouts. The homeless population is notoriously difficult to track. Additionally, research indicates that the residency restrictions often serve to hamper a sex offender’s rehabilitation. The goal of rehabilitation is to reintegrate an offender as a law-abiding member of society. Dr. Jill S. Levenson said, “Criminal offenders who have stable housing, stable employment and support systems in their lives, those people are less likely to go on and commit new crimes.”

The article also points out that while the restrictions prevent sex offenders from living near locations frequented by children, they do nothing to prevent offenders from simply being near those locations. In other words, “though residency restrictions might prohibit a sex offender from living in a certain neighborhood, they can’t keep such a person from sitting across the street from a playground.”

As this topic gathers steam in Allegheny County, one is reminded of a similar situation in Florida. In Florida, news of homeless sex offenders living under bridges have been in the media for over a year and a half. Several Florida cities passed similar ordinances barring Megan’s Law offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools and other locations children may gather. A major issue inherent in the design of these ordinances is that it is often impossible for offenders to find any housing in the area that is compliant. Therefore, the ordinances created a two pronged problem: they increase homelessness and cause sex offenders to “go off the grid” due to homelessness.

An interesting alternative to these restrictions lies in Florida State Senator Dave Aronberg’s sex offender residency restriction legislation. In Aronberg’s legislation, Megan’s Law offenders would be prohibited from residing within 1,500 feet of locations children may gather. Also, the legislation would create “no lingering zones” that would prohibit offenders from loitering within 300 feet of a school, playground, etc. The benefit of this legislation is two-fold. First, sex offenders would have reasonable places to live, which would permit them to stay under supervision. The second aspect of this law eliminates the problem of sex offenders not being permitted to live near a school, but being permitted to loiter near one.

For more information, go to:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08300/922948-85.stm

http://www.cnn.com/2007/LAW/04/05/bridge.sex.offenders/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23028345/

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/apr/02/na-senate-committee-oks-sex-offender-bill/