Leonard J Matthews In the last couple of years, the number of sex offenders living on the streets of Milwaukee has skyrocketed, from 16 to The sharp increase comes as no surprise to some. There are few places for them to live. In October , the City of Milwaukee began prohibiting violent and repeat sex offenders from living within 2, feet of any school, day care center or park.
That left just 55 addresses where offenders can legally move within the square-mile city. And their living options soon will become more limited across Wisconsin. Scott Walker signed a bill in February that prohibits violent sex offenders from living within 1, feet of any school, day care, youth center, church or public park in the state.
Cities and states continue to enact laws that restrict where convicted sex offenders can live, applying the rules to violent offenders such as pedophiles and rapists, and, in some cases, those convicted of nonviolent sex crimes, such as indecent exposure. And though the laws are meant to protect children from being victimized by repeat offenders, they do not reduce the likelihood that sex offenders will be convicted again for sexual offenses, according to multiple studies , including one from the U.
In all, 27 states, including Florida, have blanket rules restricting how close sex offenders can live to schools and other places where groups of children may gather, according to research by the Council of State Governments. And many laws are becoming more restrictive — along with Wisconsin, they expanded last year in Arkansas, Montana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. Restrictions can have the opposite of their intended effect, encouraging offenders to abuse again.
Many courts, such as in California and Michigan , have found the laws to be unconstitutional for being too vague or too restrictive in impeding where offenders can live. False Perceptions Psychologists who have treated sex offenders, such as Gerry Blasingame, chair of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending, say the impetus behind the laws — the belief that offenders who have been released will continue to seek out child victims who they do not know — is more perception than reality.
Most perpetrators abuse children they know; just one in 10 perpetrators of child sex abuse is a stranger to the victim. There may be merit in restricting housing for sex offenders who victimized a child they did not know, Socia said. But these laws often apply to all registered sex offenders, including anyone convicted of a sex crime, even nonviolent offenses such as indecent exposure and statutory rape.
Bureau of Justice Statistics study in , the most recent available, found that 5. Although researchers generally acknowledge that the recidivism rate may be low because these crimes are underreported.
Several studies, including one from Florida and another from Minnesota , have shown the laws have no effect. What they can do is make offenders even greater outcasts. And the board soon will release a study that will show that, once homeless, a sex offender is more likely to reoffend. The restrictions made 97 percent of rental housing there unavailable to offenders. Following the court decision, the state started to enforce the rules on a case-by-case basis. From February to October , the number of transient sex offenders without a permanent address fell by 20 percent, from 1, to 1, Advocates — such as Christopher of the ATSA and Kurt Bumby, director of the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project run by the Center for Effective Public Policy that provides guidance on how to best manage sex offenders — are encouraged by efforts in some states.
They point to Oregon, Vermont and Washington, where there is a more unified effort among state corrections and parole officials and nonprofits to provide a safe, structured re-entry for offenders, using monitoring, stable housing and access to treatment. In a state-run program in Vermont, Circles of Support and Accountability , community volunteers meet regularly with high-risk sex offenders to offer support.
Program participants have lower rates of recidivism. City officials there passed the law out of desperation, said Alderman Michael Murphy, who voted against the ordinance.
The rules ended up pitting cities against each other, Murphy said. But at least one state prohibits local government from creating the restrictions: Kansas passed a ban in , and New Hampshire is thinking of doing the same.
Since Milwaukee enacted its law, Dereck McClendon, who works with prisoners being released from jail, said he has watched more sex offenders released onto the streets because they have no place to go.
McClendon, a program director for Genesis in Milwaukee Inc. If not, he said, they will inevitably start to get into trouble. The law the Legislature passed this year that establishes the 1,foot rule for violent sex offenders also requires the state to release prisoners only to the county where they lived before, and allows a judge to rule that an offender being released from jail can live within a restricted area if there are no other options.
He introduced a bill that would ban local restrictions and create a 1,foot restriction statewide — a smaller restriction than some cities have currently.