What happens when you zone registered sex offenders out of existence?

February 5th, 2013

Many jurisdictions enact laws that limit where registered sex offenders can live. For example, they can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, library, park, etc. This may seem like a good idea at first blush–assuming limiting where they live will in fact prevent them from harming others. Also, as the article notes, these laws place no limitations on where these offenders travel during the day, other than Halloween, when they are required to stay inside their homes all day (assuming they can find one).

However, in many dense urban areas, it becomes impossible to live anywhere, as everything is within 1,000 feet of one of those special places.

In New York State, laws prohibit sex offenders on parole or whose victims were younger than 18 from residing within 1,000 feet of schools or other child care facilities. In 2006, Suffolk passed a law extending the distance for all sex offenders to a quarter mile. Southampton later stretched that to up to a mile.

With limits as big as one mile it becomes impossible to live anywhere!

Mr. Moore, who served 20 years in prison, was evicted from his first home, which he owns, after Suffolk passed its housing law.

He bought another and received approval from his parole officer and the local police before moving in with his wife and child. But the authorities overlooked a private day care center that was operating next door and a playground up the road. Mr. Moore, who graduated college in prison and now works as an information technology specialist, was evicted again.

“No one wants to live next to a sex offender,” he said.

Offenders cannot even live with their families–a punishment not inflicted on almost any other type of criminal.

Now he is free on parole and studying to become a paralegal. But because there is a day care near his home in Central Islip, he cannot live with his wife and daughter.

“A murderer can live wherever he wants. A shooter, a robber can live wherever he wants,” Mr. Wallace said. “I have to live in a trailer.”

In effect, registered sex offenders–even those convicted of non-violent offenses–are zoned out of existence. “It is often difficult for convicted sex offenders to find a home that is legal. Landlords can be hesitant to rent to them. And neighbors can be hostile.” They are often forced to live on the outskirts of town, in campgrounds, and even under highway overpasses (such as in Miami).

Without stable housing after prison, sex offenders can be hard to monitor and are more likely to lapse again into predation, said Bill O’Leary, a forensic therapist who works with victims and perpetrators of sexual and violent crimes in the New York area.

“This forces them to be more transient, which gives them more exposure to society,” Mr. O’Leary said, referring to the residency restrictions. “Even those that are the more predatory are forced to be out in society.”

Consider this. Registered sex offenders are required by law to have a registered adress, but they can’t live anywhere. Failing to have an address is  violation of the terms of their release, as they. Think about that. The same law that tells the offenders that they can’t live anywhere requires them to live somewhere.

So what to do? In Suffolk County, New York, 40 sex offenders are living in government-owned trailers.

The men are not forced to live in the trailers, but typically end up in them because they have nowhere else to stay and fear being arrested if they are homeless.

Suffolk officials have tried to keep the trailers away from population centers. But one is in Southampton within walking distance of a retirement community, and residents there said they were worried about harm to property values and threats to visiting grandchildren.

The other trailer is in the parking lot of a prison. A bus service financed by the county transports the men between the trailers and pickup points, including train stations, in Suffolk.

County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, had vowed to remove the trailers by Jan. 1, but missed the deadline.

These trailers are in abysmal conditions.

The two trailers have a refrigerator, a microwave and rows of bunk beds. There were no showers until 2010, when a judge ruled this impermissible. Now one trailer has a shower that all 40 men share — the offenders in the other trailer take the bus there to bathe a couple of times a week. Guards from a private firm are assigned to oversee the men.

“It’s riddled with bedbugs, it’s freezing, your clothes are wet,” said Duane Moore, 53, a convicted rapist who spent a month in the trailers. “Guys were playing with knives, and I’ve got to worry about guys slitting my throat for sitting on their bunk.”

The county’s backup plan is to place the offenders in homeless shelters.

In property class, when I discuss zoning and the right to exclude, I talk about the plight of sex offenders. It is very hard to generate support for sex offenders (the law does little to distinguish between violent and non-violent offenders).

This example helps to illustrate to students the draconian nature of such laws.

The 1,000 foot rule also has some application for drug offenses. Drug transactions within 1,000 feet of a playground trigger a heightened sentence. Most housing projects have a playground. Per se enhancement for drug transactions in housing projects.