Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Residency Restriction Fallacy

In my State, as in most (if not all) others, sex offenders are prohibited from living within a certain number of feet of a school. The list usually also contains parks, playgrounds, daycares, and a host of other locations, but I'm focusing on schools for this post. I happen to be a bit lucky; my State allows a sex offender to live within the prohibited zone if they had established their residence before the law prohibiting residency took effect.

I mention this because the lot my house sits on straddles the boundary of the prohibited zone, which, of course, means that the entire property would normally be off limits for me to live there, had I not bought my house several years before the law took effect. The ironic part is, the house directly behind me would be perfectly legal for me to live in. Both houses are on the corners of parallel streets that intersect the main street used for children walking to and from the school.

I measured the distance from the school boundary to the edge of the prohibited zone, because I was curious. That boundary lies exactly 3 feet from the threshold of my front door, so technically, I don't live in the prohibited zone, but the law is not concerned with the house itself, but rather the property as a whole.

But this begs a question: if the law recognized that the structure is separate from the lot, how do those 3 feet make the children of that school any safer? Suppose that the boundary crossed through the middle of my house: why would they be safer if I lived in a back bedroom instead of a front one? Under the current interpretation, why are they safer if I lived in the house behind my house (which would put me approximately 77 feet outside the exclusion zone, based on property lines)? If anything, that particular house sits closer to the sidewalk those children would walk down than the house I currently live in.

The answer is: they aren't, and the reason why has nothing to do with my probability of re-offending. It has nothing to do with my proximity to their school. It has nothing to do with anything related to me, because those children are 20 times more likely to be molested by a family member or trusted friend.

To paraphrase a line from a movie: "We've tracked the molester - they're already in your house."

At best, residency restrictions and online registries are distractions from the real dangers facing your children. At worst, they provide a false sense of security, lowering your guard when it needs to be at its highest level of alert. Those multi-foot bubbles around schools and other locations don't magically prevent harm from happening, and yet, we act like they do.

Facts remain facts, whether or not you choose to accept them. And those facts say that 95% of all new sex crime is committed by someone who is not listed on any online registry, who is free to live within a prohibited zone. The young men in the Steubenville case. Jerry Sandusky. These are but two examples of a list that goes on and on.

Does the registry have value? Perhaps, but only if it could effectively identify the highest risks. Do residency restrictions have value? Again, perhaps, but only for those who pose the highest risk. It might seem strange for someone on the registry to make these statements, but understand: I'm not against the registry as a concept. It's the overly-broad application of the registry that's the problem. If someone cries "wolf" every time they see a dog, eventually, you stop caring because every time the cry goes out, it turns out it's not a wolf - and then one day, a wolf shows up and you fail to heed to call. This is the state of the registry and laws today.

There's wolves out there, and they're already amongst your flock, because, right now, they look and act like the loyal family dog.

1 comment:

  1. I am actually against the registry, or at least the public aspect of it. If there must be a registry, it should ONLY be for the use of law enforcement, and only to be viewed by them.
    As you say, only the people who are reliably identified (and no measures currently employed are sufficiently reliable) should even be on such a registry. Having such a thing available to the general public only causes the offender in question to be isolated from any support system which may exist. This, as any corrections official worth his salt can tell you, will increase the likelihood of recidivism.
    Circles of Support and Accountability, in their initial group in Canada, took a man under their wing who, on release from prison was rated to have a 100% chance of re-offense. Decades later, he died a natural death, NEVER HAVING OFFENDED AGAIN. This shows how far a good support system can change the odds of recidivism.
    The moral of this real-life story is simple. The registry is unnecessary and unproductive.
    Thank you for this blog. I'm glad a friend gave me this link.