Sex Offender Residence Restrictions

Sexual violence is a serious social problem and policy-makers continue to wrestle with how to best address the public’s concerns about sex offenders. Recent initiatives have included social policies that are designed to prevent sexual abuse by restricting where convicted sex offenders can live. As these social policies become more popular, lawmakers and citizens should question whether such policies are evidence-based in their development and implementation, and whether such policies are cost-efficient and effective in reaching their stated goals.

Residence Restrictions

Many states have prohibited sex offenders from residing within close proximity to a school, park, day care center, school bus stop, or place where children congregate, with the most common restriction zone being 1,000 feet. In Spring 2005, after a series of child abductions and murders by convicted sex offenders, hundreds of jurisdictions across the U.S. began initiating housing restrictions with increasingly larger buffer zones, often 2,500 feet, or about one half mile. These laws have essentially banned sex offenders from living in some cities.

The constitutionality of residence restrictions was challenged in Iowa, and the state’s 2,000 foot restriction law was overturned in 2003. The Iowa Supreme court, however, later ruled that any infringement on sex offenders’ freedom of residency was superseded by the state’s compelling interest in protecting its citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue. Housing restrictions have passed in most localities with little resistance. Child safety is rightly the primary concern when sex offender restrictions are imposed. It seems to makes sense that decreasing access to potential victims would be a feasible strategy for preventing sex crimes. There is no evidence, however, that such laws are effective in reducing recidivistic sexual violence. On the other hand, such laws aggravate the scarcity of housing options for sex offenders, forcing them out of metropolitan areas and farther away from the social support, employment opportunities, and social services that are known to aid offenders in successful community re-entry (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2003). Sex offender residence restrictions Levenson, page 3 Are sex offender residence restrictions evidence-based?

Housing restrictions appear to be based largely on three myths that are repeatedly propagated by the media:

1) all sex offenders reoffend; 2) treatment does not work; and 3) the concept of “stranger danger.” Research does not support these myths, but there is research to suggest that such policies may ultimately be counterproductive.

All sex offenders reoffend. There is a common belief that the vast majority of sex offenders will repeat their crimes. In fact, several large studies by both the U.S. and Canadian governments have found that sex offense recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed. The U.S. Department of Justice found that over a three year period after being released from prison, 5.3% of sex offenders were rearrested for a new sex crime (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). Studies by Canadian researchers involving over 29,000 sex offenders from North America and Europe found a 14% recidivism rate among all sex offenders; child molesters were re-arrested at a slightly lower rate of about 13%, and rapists at a slightly higher rate of 19% (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004). Despite the belief that sex offenders have the highest recidivism rates of all criminals, the Department of Justice found that sexual perpetrators were less likely to be rearrested for any new crime than were other types of offenders (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). Official recidivism data always underestimate true reoffense rates, but it is clear that the majority of sexual offenders are unlikely to be rearrested for new sex crimes.

Treatment does not work. The myth that treatment can not be helpful to sex offenders is based largely on a highly publicized meta-analytic study that was unable to detect a treatment effect among outcome studies conducted in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Furby, Weinrott, & Blackshaw, 1989). Recent data have reported more promising results, suggesting that cognitive-behavioral treatment reduces sex offense recidivism by nearly 40% (Hanson, Gordon, Harris, Marques, Murphy, Quinsey, & Seto, 2002; Losel & Schmucker, 2005). Again, recidivism rates were lower than commonly believed; 17% for untreated offenders, and 10% for treated offenders (Hanson et al., 2002). Even in studies where significant overall treatment effects are not detected, researchers have found that sex offenders who Sex offender residence restrictions Levenson, page 4 successfully complete a treatment program reoffend less often than those who do not demonstrate that they “got it” (Marques, Miederanders, Day, Nelson, & van Ommeren, 2005).

Stranger danger. Sexual offender policies are also based on the myth of “stranger danger,” despite the fact that most sexual perpetrators are well known to their victims. The Department of Justice found that perpetrators reported that their victims were strangers in less than 30% of rapes and 15% of sexual assaults (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997). A study reviewing sex crimes as reported to police revealed that 93% of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser; 34.2% were family members and 58.7% acquaintances (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Only seven percent of child victims reported that they were abused by strangers. About 40% of sexual assaults take place in the victim’s own home, and 20% take place in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997).

Tragic cases of child abduction and sexually motivated murder receive extraordinary media attention, and the publicity of such events creates a sense of alarm and urgency among citizens. In reality, such cases are extremely rare; it is estimated that about 100 stranger abductions occur in the United States each year (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2005). About .7% of all murders involve sexual assault, and in fact, the prevalence of sexual murders declined by about half between the late 1970’s and the mid 1990’s (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997). About 75% of sexual murder victims are adults (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997). In contract to sexual assault in general, the majority of sexually motivated murder victims were attacked by strangers or acquaintances.

Do residence restrictions work? Despite overwhelming public and political support, there is no evidence that proximity to schools increases recidivism, or, conversely, that housing restrictions reduce reoffending or increase community safety. Advocates of residence restrictions believe that such laws will diminish the likelihood that sex offenders will come in contact with children whom they might potentially victimize. In Colorado, however, it was found that molesters who reoffended while under supervision did not live closer than non-recidivists to schools or child care centers (Colorado Department of Public Safety, 2004). In Minnesota, sex offenders’ proximity to schools or parks did not increase the likelihood of reoffense (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2003). Sex offender residence restrictions Levenson,

Continue readingSex Offender Residence Restrictions

McNeill v State

Appellant was a convicted sex offender on lifetime supervision. When Appellant had been on lifetime supervision for five years, the State Board of Parole Commissioners imposed additional conditions that were not enumerated   McNeill v. State McNeill v. State - 132 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 54 LAW.JUSTIA.COM  http://law.justia.com/cases/nevada/supreme-court/2016/66697.html

The Adam Walsh Act: An Examination of Sex Offender Risk Classification Systems

The Adam Walsh Act: An Examination of Sex Offender Risk Classification Systems Kristen M. Zgoba, Michael Miner, Jill Levenson, Raymond Knight, Elizabeth Letourneau, and David Thornton Abstract This study was designed to compare the Adam Walsh Act (AWA) classification tiers with actuarial risk assessment instruments and existing state classification schemes in their respective abilities to identify sex offenders at high risk to re-offend. Data from 1,789 adult sex...

“FRIGHTENING AND HIGH”: THE SUPREME COURT’S CRUCIAL MISTAKE ABOUT SEX CRIME STATISTICS

“FRIGHTENING AND HIGH”: THE SUPREME COURT’S CRUCIAL MISTAKE ABOUT SEX CRIME STATISTICS

Ira Mark Ellman* Tara Ellman**

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.’

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Papers.cfm?abstract_id=2616429

In McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24,33 (2002), the Supreme Court reversed two lower courts in rejecting, 5-4, Robert Lile’s claim
that Kansas violated his 5th Amendment rights by punishing him for refusing to complete a form detailing all his prior sexual
activities, including any that might constitute an uncharged criminal offense for which he could then be prosecuted. The form
was part of a prison therapy program that employed a polygraph examination to verify the accuracy and completeness of the sexual
history which program participants were required to reveal. Lile had earned placement in a lower-security prison unit, but the
automatic punishment imposed on him for declining to complete this form included permanent transfer to a higher security unit
where he would live among the most dangerous inmates, and lose significant prison privileges, including the right to earn the
minimum wage for his prison work and send his earnings to his family.


Justice Kennedy, justifying this conclusion for the fourperson plurality, wrote that the recidivism rate “of untreated offenders has been estimated to be as high as 80%.” The treatment program, he explained, “gives inmates a basis … to identify the traits that cause such a frightening and high risk of recidivism.” The following year in Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003) the Court upheld Alaska’s application, to those convicted before its enactment, of a law identifying all sex offenders on a public registry. It reasoned that the ex post facto clause was not violated because registration is not punishment, but merely a civil measure reasonably designed to protect public safety. Now writing for a majority, Justice Kennedy’s Smith opinion recalled his earlier language in McKune:


Alaska could conclude that a conviction for a sex offense provides evidence of substantial risk of recidivism. The legislature’s findings are consistent with grave concerns over the high rate of recidivism among convicted sex offenders and their dangerousness as a class. The risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is “frightening and high.” McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 34 (2002).

Continue reading“FRIGHTENING AND HIGH”: THE SUPREME COURT’S CRUCIAL MISTAKE ABOUT SEX CRIME STATISTICS

Low risk sex offender shares fear of online registry

RENO, Nev. (NEWS 4) — A nearly decade long battle started in Nevada after President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Act in 2006.The federal law is also known as the Sex Offender Registration & Notification Act. It stemmed from the 1981 abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh. In 2007, Nevada lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 579 to make the state compliant with the federal law. “It’s...

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Governor Brian Sandoval, First Lady Kathleen Sandoval, State Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta, and other legislative and community leaders gathered on July 12 at the Nevada State Supreme Court to launch an effort to strengthen public safety and improve outcomes for youth who are involved with the juvenile justice system. At the event, the governor announced that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency...

Myths About Sex Offenders

There are many commonly held misconceptions about sexual crimes and the people who commit them, according to the Center for Sexual Offender Management, which is a project of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.

Myth 1 — Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim or the victim’s family, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.

For adult victims, statistics indicate that the majority of women who have been raped know their assailant. A 1998 National Violence Against Women Survey revealed that among those women who reported being raped, 76 percent were victimized by a current or former husband, live-in partner, or date. A 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that nearly nine out of 10 rape or sexual assault victimizations involved a single offender with whom the victim had a prior relationship as a family member, intimate, or acquaintance.

Among children, approximately 60 percent of boys and 80 percent of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family, according to a 1998 study. Relatives, friends, baby sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.

Myth 2 — The majority of sexual offenders are caught, convicted, and in prison.

Only a fraction of those who commit sexual assault are apprehended and convicted of their crimes. Most convicted sex offenders eventually are released to the community under probation or parole supervision.

Many women who are sexually assaulted by intimates, friends, or acquaintances do not report these crimes to police. Instead, victims are most likely to report being sexually assaulted when the assailant is a stranger, the victim is physically injured during the assault, or a weapon is involved in the commission of the crime.

The National Crime Victimization Surveys conducted in 1994, 1995 and 1998 indicate that only 32 percent of sexual assaults against persons 12 or older were reported to law enforcement. There are no current studies on the rate of reporting for child sexual assault, but it generally is assumed that these assaults are equally under-reported.

The low rate of reporting leads to the conclusion that more than 90 percent of all sex offenders are living in communities nationwide without ever having been charged for their crime.

Some 60 percent of convicted sex offenders are supervised in the community, whether directly following sentencing or after a term of incarceration in jail or prison.

Continue readingMyths About Sex Offenders

A Defender Office for Supreme Court Advocacy?

By Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson, Bloomberg BNA An “independent federal public defender office charged with representing poor defendants before the United States Supreme Court” is necessary to fill gaps in legal services to the poor and “better balance the scales of justice between the government and the defendants,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said earlier this month. Booker introduced the Clarence Gideon Full Access to Justice Act, S. 3144, July...

Research Should Influence Sex Offender Laws

Lawmakers have long treated sex offenses as different from other crimes, but the recent legislation known as Sex Offender Registration and Notification has drastically changed the way sex offenders are managed in the community upon release from prison. Specifically, these laws require the sex offenders to immediately report to the local police department upon prison release in order to register as a sex offender. This means providing information like name, address, phone number, employment, marital history, criminal history and license plate number, along with a DNA sample and a list of contacts. These registration laws also place restrictions on where sex offenders can live; for example, they are not permitted to live within a certain distance of parks, schools, day care centers, etc. Continue readingResearch Should Influence Sex Offender Laws

Ballotpedia – The Encyclopedia of American Politics

Ballotpedia is the online encyclopedia of American politics and elections. Our goal is to inform people about politics by providing accurate and objective information about politics at all levels of government. We are firmly committed to neutrality; here's why. Ballotpedia's articles are 100 percent written by our professional staff and a small group of guest editors. All content written by our guest editors is reviewed and fact-checked by...

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