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Let Them Live With the Other Large Reptiles: The Failure of Residency Restrictions
By Chris Dornin, Retired Statehouse reporter
Published: 05/14/2012

Housing law America has a lot of harsh laws against sex offenders that shame and banish this unpopular group. Miami sends them to live in the swamps with the poisonous snakes and boa constrictors. Georgia bars them from living or working within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. Pretty much the whole state is off limits for employment or domicile. California bans them from living in just about any of the cities. Those laws are under serious legal challenge, and the Georgia bus stop code is on hold pending the outcome of a marathon lawsuit that started six years ago. But draconian less restrictive limits remain in force.

Those life-time punishments pale next to maybe the worst sex offender legislation of all time. Rep. Fran Wendelboe of New Hampshire sponsored HB 1647 two years ago to ban a registered sex offender in New Hampshire from living within 25 miles of their victim or from any relative or in-law of the victim. A violation would have been a class B felony earning another three and half to seven years in prison, if not more, counting the aggravating factor of being a recidivist.

The Raymond Guay bill

Her legislation aimed at a single convicted child murderer on federal parole named Raymond Guay, who had settled in Wendelboe’s district after being run out of half a dozen towns. Guay had escaped from prison and he had stabbed another inmate on the inside, so he was arguably the worst of the worst.

He was not listed on the public sex offender registry because he was never charged with a sex crime. Every time the neighbors found out they were living near this man, they caused an uproar in the media and pressured his landlord, and selectmen and federal authorities to send him packing.

To their credit, members of the House Criminal Justice Committee voted HB 1647 inexpedient to legislate by 17-0. The sponsor was undaunted. She took the bill off the consent calendar a week later and gave a fist thumping speech against all sex offenders, even threatening to campaign in the general election against any lawmaker heartless enough to vote no. She read a litany of places where Guay had stayed before ending up in Ashland: Hollis, Nashua, Washington, Concord, Manchester and Chichester.

“This clearly was a sex crime,” she maintained. “The prosecutor would have asked for the death penalty if we had had one. How in the world did he get out of prison?”

HB 1647 contained no grandfathering clause to exempt sex offenders already living in the wrong place. Many, if not most, sex offenders would have faced eviction, with little chance of finding somewhere else to live.

Rep. Shannon Chandley led the floor opposition to HB 1647, reading her own litany of close and distant relatives a sex offender would have to identify, locate and avoid: mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, wife, grandfather, grandmother, grandson, granddaughter, great-grandchildren, step-parent, step-children, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece and former spouse, not to mention in-laws.

“The residency restriction is unenforceable,” Chandley warned.

The scary part is not that Guay made parole. It turns out he had become a Christian in prison, maybe an authentic one. I attend a small men’s fellowship a couple times a month, and one day we got a surprise. One of our members brought Raymond Guay. I can’t tell you his conversion was real, because nobody knows another person’s heart. But he prayed like a Baptist elder, and he had major parts of scripture memorized from attending jailhouse Bible studies for a decade. The woman who brought him to the Lord also recruited me to be a prison volunteer. According to news reports at the time, the pastor who hosted Guay in Chichester was getting death threats. Guay has been crime free on the outside now for four years despite all the attention he draws.

Federal law wisely makes inmates like him spend at least 15 percent of their sentence under close supervision, with badly needed help toward re-entry. The scary part is that 105 lawmakers voted to drive out not just Guay, but a huge class of labeled, demonized and unwanted American citizens, just send them off to any other state as if they were Japanese Americans living on the West Coast in 1941 or literate members of the Cherokee Nation prior to the Trail of Tears.

Wendelboe had designs on higher office, state senator. She lost in the Republican primary, but was right about playing the sex offender card. A month before the general election, a convicted sex offender on parole got charged with inappropriately touching a woman. Under a new and progressive justice reinvestment law, the accused man could only return to prison for 90 days on a parole violation.

Demagoguery works

A barrage of Willie Horton-style attack ads, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth funded by Americans for Prosperity, said the Democratic incumbent governor had signed a the law that let dangerous felons out early. The 90 days expired after the election, and the defendant transferred straight to the county jail awaiting trial on his new charge. Tough-on-crime Republicans, Tea Party activists and Free Staters swept to power. One of their strategists later told me the attack ads had tremendous traction. The new people gutted the law, which had reduced the prison population by several hundred inmates in a single year. Those savings on prison costs balanced the budget instead funding community services for ex-offenders as planned. The prison population is climbing again. So is recidivism.

Florida popularized residency restrictions. Powerful Florida lobbyist Ron Book pushed this novel zoning code through the state legislature with little opposition after he learned his grade-school daughter had been raped repeatedly, threatened, and physically abused by her live-in nanny for several years. The resulting statute, based on one horrific case, had nothing to do with the law it triggered. The threat against the Book family had come from within. Book apparently missed the early signs something was wrong with his daughter because he was too trusting. Or he believed the mean stranger myth of sex offending that holds such power in the public consciousness.

The goal of these policies is to protect children from predatory strangers with many victims and high recidivism rates who stalk children near playgrounds to kidnap and rape them. People who fit that stereotype are rare, but they get all the publicity.

We know from the experiences of Iowa, Georgia, Florida, California, and other states that these policies make thousands of public registrants homeless, break up their families, stop them from registering and isolate them without public transportation far from jobs, treatment, medical care, and social supports. Iowa lost track of 42% of its sex offenders under a 2,000-foot residency restriction law. The homeless rate among paroled sex offenders in California soared 800% in the first year of residency restrictions. Georgia is driving its sex offenders literally into the woods. Florida is banishing them from large coastal sections of the state into the Everglades and squalid camps below highway bridges.

Prosecutors and victims’ advocates around the country have begun opposing these laws because they paradoxically endanger children. Research shows that paroled sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rates of all criminals except murderers. And they pose the least threat of re-offense if they have jobs, loved ones and a stake in the community.

The research on residency restrictions is clear

Surveys of sex offenders confirm that these laws do vast harm to them and their families. The research also shows that children and teenagers, and not dirty old men in the bushes, commit up to half the crimes against children. In other words, half the so-called predators addressed by housing limits already attend the places the town ordinances would safeguard.

90% of sex crimes are committed by people who are not listed on any registry. Most crimes against kids are committed by peers, by family members or by teachers, coaches, priests, and other friends of the family. In fact, the arrest rate for new sex crimes by paroled sex offenders in state after state ranges between 1- and 5 percent in the first three years after prison.

A 2005 survey of 135 Florida sex offenders by researchers Jill Levenson and Leo Cotter found that residency restrictions had forced 22% of this group to move out of homes they already owned. 25% were unable to return to their homes after release from prison. Respondents agreed in varying degrees with these additional statements about the impact of residency restrictions on their lives:
  • I cannot live with supportive family members: 30%
  • I find it difficult to find affordable housing: 57%
  • I have suffered financially: 48%
  • I have suffered emotionally: 60%
  • I have had to move out of an apartment that I rented: 28%

A 2007 report by the Minnesota Department of Corrections tracked 224 sex offenders released from prison between 1999 and 2002 who committed new sex crimes prior to 2006. The first contact between victim and offender never happened near a school, daycare center or other place where children congregate.

The report concluded, “Not one of the 224 sex offenses would likely have been deterred by a residency restrictions law.” The study warned that these laws isolate offenders in rural areas with little social and treatment support, with poor transportation access, and with few job opportunities. The resulting increase in homelessness makes them harder to track and supervise. “Rather than lowering sexual recidivism,” the report said, “housing restrictions may work against this goal by fostering conditions that exacerbate sex offenders’ reintegration into society.”

Child advocates and prosecutors oppose these ordinances

The Iowa County Attorneys Association issued a position paper in 2006 opposing a 2,000-foot residency restriction against sex offenders from places where kids congregate. The prosecutors said, “Law enforcement has observed that the residency restriction is causing offenders to become homeless, to change residences without notifying authorities of their new locations, to register false addresses, or to simply disappear. If they do not register, law enforcement and the public do not know where they are living. The resulting damage to the reliability of the sex offender registry does not serve the interests of public safety.”

A position paper by the Iowa Association of Social Workers says that concentrations of Iowa sex offenders are living in motels, trailer parks, interstate highway rest stops, parking lots, and tents. The site notes many other unintended consequences:
  1. Families of offenders who attempt to remain together are effectively subjected to the same restrictions, meaning that they too are forced to move, and may have to leave jobs, de-link from community ties, and remove their children from schools and friends.
  2. Physically- or mentally-impaired offenders who depend on family for regular support are prevented from living with those on whom they rely for help.
  3. Threat of family disruption may leave victims of familial sexual abuse reluctant to report the abuse to authorities, thereby undermining the intention of the law.
  4. Threat of being subjected to the residency restriction has led to a significant decrease in the number of offenders who, as part of the trial process, disclose their sexual offenses; consequently, fewer offenders are being held accountable for their actions.
  5. Loss of residential stability, disconnection from family, and social isolation run contrary to the “best practice” approaches for treatment of sex offenders and thus put offenders at higher risk of re-offense.
  6. No distinction is made between those offenders who pose a real risk to children and those who pose no known threat.

Corrections.com author, Chris Dornin, is a retired State House reporter and the founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform.

Other articles by Dornin


Comments:

  1. diehard25fl on 08/04/2012:

    hi everybody. my name is Daniel Jay Goichman, born 8/31/1962. i was arrested for having sex with a fifteen yr old girl on 8/19/2001. I broke the law and I am sorry it happened. Since being placed on the registry I have lost jobs. I have moved several times I have lost all contact with friends and people I was very close to at one time. My life has been destroyed a million times over. I can't get off the registry. They refuse to downgrade me I have no assets I live off food stamps and support from my mom. It's impossible to live a normal life again and it's impossible to support myself no matter how hard I try. There are thousands of people like me living around the country with nothing to live for and no reason to try any more. Has the criminal justice system gone too far in not only making sure that sex offenders are punished for their crimes but destroying their lives as well? Have the laws gone too far in handing out a punishment a million times worse than any harm imposed on any victim, any age, anywhere in the country? Did i make the victim lose her job? Did I make the victim spend $20,000 to hire a lawyer? Did I make the victim hated by her friends, co-workers,and family? Did I make the victim permanently poor by a background check that is being done by every employer in the USA as I write this? I didn't think so. So why are doing this? Why are we ruining the lives of people who have already learned their lessons and paid their dues back to society? I know because the lawmakers, criminal justice system have nothing better to do. They don't. There is not one shred of evidence on any paper ever written that shows these laws make people safer. There is not one shred of evidence that any of these laws passed after 1994 reduce crime. None. You won't find it anywhere. Every crime that was committed before these laws was preventable with good parenting and knowing where your kids are. It didn't require 1.5 Billion dollars to make kids safe. How much does it cost to hire a babysitter? 40 bucks? Not a lot of money. How much does it cost to know where your kids are? Let's see. A cellphone in a family plan costs about $20.00 a month. You leave specific instructions to have your child call you and let you know where they are. 20 cents maybe. But no these measures require a little bit of time and some common sense. Something that has been lacking in this country since 1994. There is no common sense or logic in any of these laws. None. Zippo So instead of hiring babysitters and giving children cellphones. We spend $1.5 Billion dollars on five million laws that do absolutely Nothing to protect children and prevent "NON-DANGEROUS AND NON-VIOLENT" people from moving on with their lives and getting work in the fields they went to College for and living like ordinary citizens again. Barney Frank came up with the idea to pass a law to prevent sex offenders from getting small business loans. When did receiving a business cause a child to get harmed? It's kind of humorous when these laws don't apply to you, but when they apply to someone you know it's really not funny at all. It's sick. Let's look at another really useful, practical law. Preventing sex offenders from living in shelters. Now these people have already been excluded from any high paying job in this country and now they are banned from shelters and supposed to live in the forest or under a bridge. Another law that would be humorous if it was a joke and not a reality. Makes you want to throw up when you think about the harm it has caused millions of non-dangerous people. people you have known your whole lives that made one mistake. not two not three not many. one. Where did I put that vomit bag. I'm getting sick again. Now let's look at background checks. Well every single employer in the USA is doing them. How many jobs is that , I'm going to guess 3 million jobs. Now you are banishing 750,000 people from 3 million jobs every day because it's easier than getting rid of the registry and letting people who leave jail or prison lead normal lives again. I pray every day your son, daughter, best friend, neighbor, co-worker gets put on the registry and you get to attend his funeral after he commits suicide because these laws cause nothing but punishment and an early death to those it affects. But who does it affect? Hard-core serial rapists? Sure but it also affects the 40 yr old man who downloaded child porn and the 15 yr old kid who had sex with an 11 yr old girl. 85% of all sex crimes are committed by people not on the registry. Location has no impact on where a sex crime occurs. Who are we protecting with these idiotic laws? I know where protecting the jobs of people who never broke the law because there is no competition now for their jobs. I know we are protecting people from accidentally making the mistake of enjoying their lives any more. We are protecting people from making choices for themselves We are protecting people from having money in their wallets and bank accouts. We are protecting people from doing fun things that give them pleasure because they dont have enough money to pay for rent or food. I know but everyone is safe. they were safe before these ridiculous laws were passed. They will be safe after every one of these unconstitutional laws gets thrown out by the supreme court if these men and women ever wake up and smell the coffee. I have to admit I have done a lot of really bad stuff in my life but I have never prevented anyone from makig a living or enjoying their life or having money in their pocket or doing something fun with their friends. No nothing I have ever done has stopped or prevented people from doing these things. Hmmmm. Let's see who is responsible for doing a really bad thing? What I did or what the Law did to me with their civil(remedial, non-punishment laws that last for ever until I get the courage to kill myself or be the lucky recipient of some half-crazed vigilante that has found my number. Well to the all people responsible for these useless laws and the enforcement of these useless laws, sleep good. Have a good night.

  2. xicana29 on 08/02/2012:

    Well written. I just hope more and more people will wake up to the madness and advocate for them. I believe in having a registry but not a public one and only for second time offenders. It sad but a terrorist in Guantanamo Bay has more rights than a Citizen sex offender. Educating kids what is right and wrong and restoring morality and values into our society will prevent abuse. Sex education needs to be taught in school. I remember when I was in High School and a Planned Parenthood rep came to our school to discuss birth control etc. BUT she also asked us if we had a boyfriend or girlfriend older than us. She said if you do remember that when they are 18 it is illegal.

  3. Artaxias on 05/17/2012:

    Leviticus 13:45 "And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, 'Unclean, unclean.'"

    I am a sex offender who was convicted in 2002 for a six year sentence and completed my term according to the state. Within the state of Missouri I have to register for the rest of my life, even though I have not and will not re-offend.

    http://www.ky3.com/news/ky3-woman-sentenced-to-30-days-in-jail-plus-holidays-for-role-in-fatal-wreck-20120516,0,6818095.story Woman sentenced to 30 days in jail, plus holidays, for role in fatal wreck Sharon Foster must spend 30 days in the county jail, plus holidays through 2014, for causing wreck that killed expectant mother and her unborn twins.

    http://www.1800duilaws.com/common/legalstats.asp Approximately 1.5 million drivers were arrested in 1999 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 121 licensed drivers in the United States.

    About one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol are repeat offenders.

    http://brandon-bartley.suite101.com/criminal-recidivism-in-the-united-states-a258893 Prevalence of Criminal Recidivism In the United States 70 percent of prisoners who were released from prison were re arrested within three years. …66.7% percent of drug offenders re-offended…

    http://www.csom.org/pubs/recidsexof.html
    • Hanson and Bussiere (1998) reported an overall recidivism rate of 13 percent.
    • Grumfeld and Noreik (1986) found a 10 percent recidivism rate for rapists.
    • Gibbens, Soothill, and Way (1978) reported a 4 percent recidivism rate for incest offenders.


    I know I screwed up. I spent six years changing my life to become a better person, because when I realized what type of individual I had become, it terrified me. I know within my heart that I will never re-offend. Why? I choose not to. I choose to live a better life - a life absent of hate, absent of bitterness, absent of self loathing.

    These laws against sex offenders do not protect children. If a person wants to assault someone, he or she will do so no matter where that individual lives. These discriminatory laws against sex offenders merely watch over those who have offended; it in no way protects victims from those who are currently offending or are planning to offend.

    These laws do nothing but promote hatred and animosity against an already ignorant system towards sex offenders.

    I challenge anyone to look up the sex offenders within a specific area, as well as those convicted of drug offenses within the same area. Who is the real threat? The sex offender who has the lowest recidivism rate, except for murderers? Or, the drug dealer who sells narcotics to children and anyone who will buy?

    Am I minimizing my own crimes? Absolutely not! Am I justifying or defending sex offending? In no way!!! I am guilty and I deserved -NEEDED- to go to prison, for I was a danger to society.

    I am not saying the sex offender should have pity. What I am saying is we are NOT the real danger to society. Yes, there are pedophiles and rapists who are a danger to society and will always be so. These people should be watched closely. Should every sex offender, including those convicted of child molestation (with no future sex offenses), be giving lifetime supervision and be forced to live in the remote areas under constant scrutiny? Should he or she be forced to live a life under the government’s eye even though no other sex offenses have been committed?

    Had I sold drugs, I would already be out of prison and allowed to live unsupervised wherever I choose. If I murdered someone, I would be allowed to live within any community without problem. Had I committed home burglaries, I would be permitted to live where I chose and no one would know my past.

    Most of us simply want to live our lives in peace and not bothered by the law and people who seek out sex offenders to harass us. We have been given a leprous mark within society. With the way laws against sex offenders are heading and the media's incessant publicity campaign, which is nothing but for ratings and money, how long before we are forced to yell out in public, "Unclean, unclean?"

    When does it end?
    When are we allowed to live?

  4. KarenY on 05/16/2012:

    Wow. This is really a good article. Very well thought out and written.

  5. ddgala on 05/16/2012:

    Good article. It illustrates the problems that need greater research. I wonder why some of the university research types haven't jumped on this problem. Maybe it doesn't have a lot of pizzazz, since it may show that these laws are more harmful than originally known. Sometimes, this isn’t a popular stand to take by academics.

    Regardless, society needs to remain vigilant in its oversight of these former sex offenders, although within reasonable limits, which may require an assessment on a case-by-case basis. To be anything but vigilant would be irresponsible.

  6. jamestown0509 on 05/16/2012:

    In New York convicted sex offenders must register with the state when they are convicted and sentenced as an offender and if the subject is released from custody at any facility they must register with a valid address and phone number if known. Failure to register is a serious offense.

    The County Sheriff's Departments, State Police and Department of Criminal Justice Services all have sex registry databases available for the general public to look up on the internet.

    As most of you are aware sex offenders are in danger when they are incarcerated either in a county or state facility. Known sex offenders are often severely beaten, stabbed or killed (especially in state prison).

    This was a good article.

  7. anothen on 05/15/2012:

    Great Article, good job. I commend the author of this article. There is so much hype regarding the Sex Offender issue that it is refreshing to see some sanity within the news media. (ShanaRowan) HAHA, you beat me to it, I was going to say something similar. It is stories like this that show just how backwards the system is regarding Sex Offenders. We have a politician with the power to garner votes by threatening to expose the "Sex Offender" sympathizers, a Sex Offender who has shown an obvious change in life banished from one community to another. I also see someone else besides me seeing a pattern develop that can be compared to the banishment of the American Japanese during WWII and even a mention of the Trail of Tears that not many Americans are really aware of. It can also be compared to the banishment of the Jews in Germany during the 1930's and even the Salem Witch hunt. I have also seen evidence of comparison to the black slavery in early America. All of these are an embarrassment in the pages of our American History. Albeit, I have even seen a comparison to the persecution of Christians in Rome under Nero 64 - 68 AD. Propaganda tactics are interesting in how it effects a society. Even our Revolutionary War in it's early stages used propaganda, especially during the Boston Massacre era, and it worked. It stirred up patriotism in nearly every red blooded American that read the article. It was however exaggerated from both sides.
    However, it is reckless and foolish to stand against science. All of us would consider it to be silly if anyone believed that the world was flat and that all of the stars in heaven revolved around the Earth. But there was a time that people believed it.
    And so we have the Sex Offender era, which will be another embarrassment in our American History only because we have acted foolishly on propaganda tactics which were full of errors.

  8. topwop on 05/15/2012:

    This is one of the most “factually correct” articles I have read.
    It all comes down to three things.
    One; these laws are not for the purpose they are being sold as and that would be public safety. These laws in FACT have the opposite repeatedly proven effect.
    Two; these laws ARE about the public’s perception and misinformation. One is that the politician is hard on crime for the sole purpose of garnering votes and two that the media can always create a headline.
    Third; money, it is all about the money. Every aspect of this registry is driven by money; private industries are springing up to reap profits. In cash strapped Illinois they have taken away federal money specifically for this purpose from the cities and counties and channeled it to the financially broke State Police. Then they are increasing registration times and raising fees to make up for their losses at the local level. Registrants must pay this or go to jail. All this and more coming to this newly created segment of society that can least afford it.

  9. ChronoTrigger on 05/14/2012:

    Great article. Don't forget to add how Iowa repealed the law for most registrants. oncefallendotcom

  10. ShanaRowan on 05/14/2012:

    Another excellent article by Chris Dornin. Now, let's just wait for the "kill them all" crowd to pop in, showcasing perfectly how ignorant you have to be to resort to that kind of response. No vaguely intelligent person could read this and still support residency restrictions unless they had something personal to gain.


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