January 5, 2012

N.J. bill restricting where sex offenders live wouldn't help kids

1-5-2012 New Jersey:

The basic premise is inarguable: Who doesn’t want to protect children from sex offenders? Yet in the name of doing so, lawmakers have proposed feel-good legislation that’s more likely to do the exact opposite.

This bill, expected to be heard in the Assembly today, would allow municipalities to forbid sex offenders from living within 500 feet of a school, playground or day care center. Its sponsors, including Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), insist it will help sex offenders avoid temptation. As she puts it, “If you’re going on a diet, you wouldn’t want to see chocolate in front of you all the time.”

But would moving somebody 500 feet away from a supermarket make them any less obese? Not likely.

Think about the practical impact of the bill. Right now, nearly half of all sex offenders are concentrated in cities, where there is a school, playground or day care center on nearly every corner. So the effect of this bill would be to uproot massive numbers of sex offenders, forcing them to move to the suburbs, or go into hiding.

Their relationships with parole officers, family members and any other support network would be disrupted. And experts say that would make them even more dangerous. That’s why victim advocates, such as the National Alliance To End Sexual Violence, oppose residency restrictions.

In Iowa, since the state imposed residency restriction laws in 2005, the number of sex offenders who are unaccounted for has doubled. “We’re lucky if we know where 50 to 55 percent of them are now,” said Don Zeller, sheriff of Linn County.

In Miami, a homeless tent city under a bridge overflowed after the city enacted restrictive residency laws for sex offenders. That is no way to improve public safety.

Nobody wants their kid anywhere near a sex offender, of course. But the vast majority of sex offenders were not strangers; they chose victims they already knew. To protect kids, we have to watch them, educate them and communicate with them.

Tightening the circle around sex offenders gives us the illusion of safety. But in reality, it would leave our children less safe. ..Source.. by Star-Ledger Editorial Board

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