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Human sexuality

Retributive justice increases
danger from sexual offenders

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On 2006-DEC-30, The New York Times published the following editorial titled "Sex Offenders in Exile." They described on the dangers to the community of enforcing retributive justice on sex offenders after their release from jail.

Of all the places that sexual predators could end up after prison, the worst is out of sight, away from the scrutiny and treatment that could prevent them from committing new crimes. But communities around the country are taking that risk, with zoning laws that banish pedophiles to the literal edges of society.

There is a powerful and wholly understandable impulse behind laws that forbid sex offenders to live within certain distances of schools, day care centers and other places that children gather. Scores of states and municipalities have created such buffer zones, then continued adding layer upon layer to the enforcement blanket.

This has placed a heavy burden on law enforcement agencies, which already must struggle to meet exacting federal and state requirements for registering and monitoring the ever-growing population of released sex offenders, many of whom must be tracked for life. ...

As the areas off limits to sex offenders expand to encompass entire towns and cities, if not states, the places where they can live and work are shrinking fast. The unintended consequence is that offenders have been dispersed to rural nowhere zones, where they are much harder to track. In confined regions like Long Island, they have become concentrated in a handful of low-rent, few-questions-asked areas -- an unintended and unfair imposition on their wary neighbors.

Many offenders respond by going underground. In Iowa, the number of registered sex offenders who went missing soared after the state passed a law forbidding offenders to live within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center. The county prosecutors' association has urged that the law be repealed, for the simple reasons that it drives offenders out of sight, requires 'the huge draining of scant law enforcement resources' and doesn't provide the protection intended.

The prosecutors are right that any sense of security that such laws provide is vague at best and probably false. Just as it would feel foolish to forbid muggers to live near A.T.M.'s, it is hard to imagine how a 1,000-foot buffer zone around a bus stop, say, would keep a determined pedophile at bay. If children feel secure enough to drop their wariness of strangers, that would be a dangerous outcome. And of course, no buffer against a faceless predator will be any help to the overwhelming majority of child victims -- those secretly abused by stepfathers, uncles and other people they know.

The problem with residency restrictions is that they fulfill an emotional need but not a rational one. It�s in everyone�s interest for registered sex offenders to lead stable lives, near the watchful eyes of family and law enforcement and regular psychiatric treatment. Exile by zoning threatens to create just the opposite phenomenon -- a subpopulation of unhinged nomads off their meds with no fixed address and no one keeping tabs on them. This may satisfy many a town's thirst for retributive justice, but as a sensible law enforcement policy designed to make children safer, it smacks of thoughtlessness and failure.

Notice:

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. sec 107: The news items contained in the above essay is provided without profit by the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance, Box 27026, Kingston ON Canada K7M 8W5 and are intended to be available to anyone interested in the topics included, for educational purposes only. Any editor, author, Webmaster, writer, publisher, news service, etc. that objects to being part of this listing may request that future works be excluded. We will also attempt to delete the above and previous entries from the same source.

In order to stay within the traditional 500 word limit for quoting copyright material, we deleted a sentence that noted that legislatures have often increased the responsibilities of law enforcement agencies without increasing their budgets to meet the costs of that enforcement.

Last update: 2009-JAN-28
Source: The New York Times, 2006-DEC-30

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