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When Residence Restrictions Go too Far

When Residence Restrictions Go too Far

Residence restrictions have proven to be a very popular measure across the country. Under these laws, sex offenders may not live with a set distance of a school or daycare. In some cases, these restrictions also apply to movie theaters, pools, and even bus stops. The distances that an offender must live away from these locations varies from 500 to 2500 feet.

Currently, Minnesota is one of a minority of states that has no residence restriction on the books. This does not mean that there are no residence restrictions in the state. Some communities have their own restrictions written into local law. For example, in the town of Wyoming north of the Twin Cities, there are only a few square blocks where an offender could potentially find housing. As one city official said, level three offenders “can’t get to live here, and that’s the end of it.” But do these residency restrictions help?

The Effect of Residence Restrictions

One of the only studies to take a serious look at the effect of residence restrictions on new offenses by a sex offender came in 2007 from the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Cited by Human Rights Watch in a report on residence restrictions in the U.S., the study showed absolutely no benefit from restricting where parolees could live. What it did find is that most re-offenses take place through social connections.

Making freed prisoners live away from where children gather, like schools and playgrounds, had no effect on the chances that a sex offender would commit another crime. A Minneapolis, MN sex crime attorney could be a great asset to help someone avoid jail time and having to register in the first place.

Many state and local governments continue to push for residency restriction legislation. Three towns in Maine passed 750-foot restrictions in the last year, along with similar laws in small towns from Texas to Rhode Island. But there is some reason beginning to show in the push to slow down these restrictions. In 2015, courts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and California overturned residence restrictions.

Offenders Lives Put on Hold or Worse

One of the unintended consequences of residence restrictions has been a drastic increase in homelessness among sex offenders after release from jail. For example, when California put its residence restrictions into place, it caused a mind-blowing 24 times increase in homelessness among paroled sex offenders. In 2010 when the report was released by the California Department of Corrections, about 1 in 3 parolees were living on the streets.

Homelessness has many different effects on sex offenders who are really trying to become a part of society again. First, it makes them very difficult to track. This results in more parole violations on technicalities like not reporting to their parole officer. This can put them right back into the prison system, at a huge cost to taxpayers. Next, it keeps them unstable so that they can’t find good work and access health care or family and social support systems that could help them to become functioning members of society again.

There are even cases where a registered sex offender has done the time and become a completely reformed and contributing member of society, only to have a state or local law force them from their home. Human Rights Watch discovered the story of an Iowa man who was forced to change his place of residency to a friend’s home out of state. Although he is allowed to be in his family home while awake, even taking a nap there would be a violation of the Iowa residence restriction law. He must travel hours each day to go sleep in his legal residence.

Who are the Offenders?

While many people might not be comfortable with the term, being a sex offender is much more common than they imagine. Those that could have to register as sex offenders include:

  • Teens who “sexted”  naked pictures of themselves to another teen
  • Those convicted of public urination
  • Teens who have consensual sex but whose parents press charges against the older teen
  • People who have solicited a prostitute, and
  • Mardi-gras breast flashers.

There have been cases where children as young as ten have had to register as sex offenders, and these labels stick for life.

Residence restrictions may seem like a good idea to some. They make great political issues for state and local politicians. The reality is that there are many unintended consequences. Many of these could require that a parolee in violation of their terms may again need to hire a Minneapolis, MN sex crime attorney. The incredible number of difficulties that these residence restrictions add to a a parolee’s life do not stop crimes from occurring. They may actually cause more crimes than they avoid.

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