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A report from Miami in Friday's New York Times dramatically illustrates the impact of misguided attempts to protect the public with residency bans.
In 1995, Florida became the first state to enact a statewide residency ban, prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of where children congregate. Miami Dade County later enacted a broader ban in 2005, banning sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, day-care center, park or playground Thanks to the expanded ban, 70 offenders now live under the the Julia Tuttle Causeway that links Miami to Miami Beach.
The conditions are squalid, and life under the bridge is often chaotic. But housing is so scarce that probation officers are sending offenders to live under the bridge, and at least one camper's driver's license lists Julia Tuttle Bridge as his official address. Some of the offenders have jobs but can find no place that's legal for them to rent. Some were convicted of heinous crimes. Others had consensual sex with an underage girl when they themselves were still young.
No one thinks it's a good thing for sex offenders to live under a bridge. And authorities worry that offenders who are cast out of society and who fail to register with authorities and meet with parole officers are more likely to commit another crime. But sex offender bans are popular with the public, and few politicians are willing to speak out against them.
That's true in New Hampshire, where sex offender residency bans have been enacted by Franklin, Tilton, Northfield, Dover and Boscawen. Such bans are bad public policy, bad law and, when it comes to protecting children from sexual predators, counterproductive. Fortunately, court decisions in other states are likely to mean that most such laws, including those passed by New Hampshire cities and towns, will eventually be overturned.
In May, New Jersey's Supreme Court found that town laws that ban sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools and parks conflict with a more lenient state law. The laws also worked to defeat the point of Megan's Law, the federal act that requires sex offenders to register with law enforcement.
Some 236 offenders who've lived under the Florida bridge stopped registering with authorities, and their whereabouts are unknown. That's a typical result when offenders are forced into ghettos far from family and support systems, and it defeats the basic purpose of the law: to keep children safe.
In July, Indiana courts, including that state's Supreme Court, found that by forcing a sex offender out of a home he had owned since before he committed an offense and before his community's residency ban was enacted, the government had unconstitutionally deprived him of the use of his property. Two years earlier, Georgia's Supreme Court found that that state's residency ban - which prohibited offenders from living within 1,000 feet not just of schools and churches, but the state's 150,000 bus stops - left them virtually no place to live and thus deprived them of their property rights.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union has challenged Dover's 2005 ban, which prohibits a convicted sex offender from living within 2,500 feet of a school or day-care center. That case is pending.
New Hampshire courts, if they want to protect children and help rehabilitate offenders rather than force them to live in squalor, should throw out the bans enacted by this state's communities as soon as a case comes before them.
Such laws give citizens a false sense of security, rob people of their dignity and make it more, not less, likely that sex offenders will commit another crime.
Tags: sex, sexual, offender, issues, sex offender, sexual offender, florida, miami, miami-dade, homeless, julia tuttle, julia tuttle causeway,
Location: Miami, Florida, United States (load item map)
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