Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sex Offender Residency Restrictions Revisited

Say What?

Residency restrictions are when sex offenders are restricted from living near places like schools, parks, and other places children gather. Exactly where and how far away the offender must be can depend on the location. Some communities have gone out 2000 ft, some have only required 500 ft. Some communities have restricted libraries and arcades (you know, because people still use arcades, right?), while other communities only stick to schools and parks.

What Is The Controversy?

Apparently some people think their children are more at risk with a sex offender living nearby, and they think it makes sense to keep these sex offenders away from their children. After all, it seems like common sense, right? I mean, sex offenders are a clear danger to children, all of them... right? Maybe not so much...

Some Facts Before The Studies

You have heard me cover these here before:
  1. High sex offender recidivism is a myth: Sex offender recidivism, on average, is very low: 12% for sexual crimes, and 30-40% for any crime whatsoever (typically failure to register, probation/parole violations, gun ownership, etc.). Those rates can vary widely, but it is extremely rare for a sex offender to commit a new sexual crime, and more common for them to violate their probation or parole by, say, looking at pornography, owning a gun, or being an inch too close to a school.
  2. Sex offender recidivism varies based on the crime the sex offender committed. For example (rates are on this resource page), child molesters have lower rates of reoffending overall than rapists, and rapists have lower rates than exhibitionists (flashers). Across all of these offenses (and more), it is extremely rare for a sex offender who only has committed the one offense to commit another- these are called first-time offenders
  3. Not all sex offenders, even those who have hurt children, are any more of a risk to children than you are. Some sex offenders are people who got caught having sex with their 14-year-old girlfriend when they were 18. In some states, it is a sex offense for a minor to have consensual sex with another minor, so if a 15-year-old has sex with another of the same age, that can be a sex crime. There does not appear to be any correlation in research between sex abuse material offenders and child molestation: Viewing abuse images does not preclude sexually abusing a child in person. 
  4. 95% of sex crimes are those committed by first-time offenders, which ties to point number 2, which is that sex offender recidivism varies.
In short, the paranoia around sex offenders is overblown. While it may seem to make sense at face value, the fact of the matter is, it is far more likely that a child will be abused by someone trusted in the community with no criminal record. 

Studies On Residency Restrictions Find...

...pretty much what you would expect from the facts I just listed. If you want a nice and concise read (2 pages), see this 2008 brief. If you prefer a news article, see here and here: Both articles discuss what happened when some cities in Wisconsin passed residency restrictions. If you prefer something more recent, see here for a MN-ATSA 2016 brief on the subject. And, of course, if you prefer a more objective look, you can peruse Google's 369,000 results on the subject, or if you want more scholarly information, Google's 19,600 results on the subject.

The long and short of all of this information is this:
  • Residency restrictions cause homelessness in sex offenders (frankly speaking, I personally do not care about the homelessness as much as what it means for safety in the community, because a homeless, jobless sex offender is at higher risk for recidivism than one with stable housing and employment).
  • Residency restrictions are correlated with higher recidivism rates.
  • Residency restrictions are not supported by any study that has been done to date on the subject. 
  • Focusing on sex offenders, who are not responsible for more than 5% of new sex crimes, means you are distracted from the 95% who do. I doubt anyone would advocate painting the windshield of a vehicle black and expecting to operate the vehicle safely, and the same applies here.
If you are thinking about pestering your city's leaders to enact an ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live, think twice: Doing so may put your community at increased risk for sex crimes. Do what is effective at keeping children safe, and do not cow to NIMBY nonsense. Ask your legislators to make preventing sex crimes more of a focus than endlessly punishing and attempting to deter crime.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated to ensure a safe environment to discuss the issues and difficult content in this blog.