Banishment II

by on November 22, 2006 at 7:55 am in Law | Permalink

The Washington Post has an article today on sex offenders and banishment.  Georgia is again the focus where a new law forbids offenders to live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, church or school bus stop.  As a result, there are many counties where not a single house meets the requirements.  The sponsor of the bill is clear about his goals:

My intent personally is to make it so onerous on those that are convicted of these offenses…they will want to move to another state.

See my previous post on negative spillovers and federalism.  And for those whose first thought is to roast sex offenders in hell it should be noted that the list includes "a 26-year-old woman who was caught engaging in oral sex when she was in
high school, and a mother of five who was convicted of being a party to
a crime of statutory rape because, her indictment alleged, she did not
do enough to stop her 15-year-old daughter’s sexual activity."

1 Keith November 22, 2006 at 8:12 am

Alex’s examples always point to the seamy underbelly of these “get tough on obviously bad people” laws. Inevitably, some religious nuts lobby to preserve laws that throws fairly normal and harmless people into the same category as the real bad people. And for whatever reason, politicians just never find it advantageous to stand up for people’s rights to engage in their relatively harmless little sins, or at least not to lump those people in with the real sickos.

2 dan November 22, 2006 at 10:34 am

At the current rate, 20 years from now, sex offenders will all be put on a ranch, and you’ll be able to buy tickets to shoot them.

3 jim November 22, 2006 at 10:54 am

Maybe the ones you mention should move to another state! I would.

4 Joe Grossberg November 22, 2006 at 11:46 am

Politicians pandering to voters by looking “tough” on crime and demonizing all perpetrators, no matter how minor their offense … gee, why does this sound familiar?

5 Lee November 22, 2006 at 1:33 pm

Three things:

1. This is going to be the next war on drugs. Once it becomes nearly impossible for sex offenders to inhabit an area legally, I expect there will arise a black market in allowing sex offenders to live where they are prohibited by law. Since being forced to live more than 1000 feet from school bus stops pretty much compels sex offenders to live nowhere with any substantial economic activity, it seems to me the potential benefits to living in an illicit neighborhood have just shot way up, and so have the rents that can be captured by subverting the law.

2. This is going to lead to much more clustering of sex offenders. Since there will be few areas for them to live, sex offenders will tend to live in close quarters to each other. As mentioned, those areas will probably have little economic activity. Grouping together large numbers of convicted criminals without opportunities for gainful employment sounds exactly like what we need to do to decrease crime!

3. This is going to compel judges to hand down fewer convictions for sex offenses, or to find alternative charges that aren’t subject to these restrictions. For future offenders, this at least mitigates some of the concern over who will be subject to these living restrictions.

In short, I’m not only unconvinced that this is a fair policy, but I’m unconvinced that it will lead to a reduction in the number of sex crimes. In fact, based on the clustering factor alone, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if it leads to an increase.

6 Justin November 22, 2006 at 1:47 pm

And libertarians wonder why they are not more popular?

First let me clear something up. In this context, religious nut = all parents (except for the vanishingly small subset of people who remain ideologically pure libertarians after marriage and childrearing). Second, there are two possible responses:

Response #1: look at the religious nuts!

Response #2: Whoa! Some people are being put on these lists that do not belong. Lets try to get them sorted out.

When it comes to child abuse, the dangers of a false negative are much greater than the dangers of a false positive. Most parents know this, libertarians do not.

7 agent00yak November 22, 2006 at 3:44 pm

Justin, you are right that libertarianism doesn’t appeal to many parents. It seems that many parents lose all ability to do a cost benefit analysis when they value their children as much as they do. This is a good reason to prevent parents from voting. That said, banishment should be seen as an option for some crimes. It gives the problem to someone else, but so does giving homeless people bus tickets to SF… Just because the solution stops working once everyone does it doesn’t mean that first movers shouldn’t try it as a solution while it works. Enforcement problems might exist, but it is different from drugs – (assuming it is total banishment and not a distance from school ban) in order to stay in the state the banished people will have to find a job in the informal sector when many of them have skills more suited to the formal sector.

8 Jason Voorhees November 22, 2006 at 4:52 pm

There are many elements to this. But one element being ignored is that by raising the cost of sex offenses, it is attempting to increase the related stigma costs, which we hope should also have a deterrent effect on these crimes. What is missing from this is an empirical study estimating the deterrence effect of “stigma” laws like these (sort of the modern equivalent to the Scarlet Letter it sounds like). Do they deter sex offenses, or do they as Alex suggests simply cause sex offenders to move out of state? And if both, what is the effect on net?

9 Jason Voorhees November 22, 2006 at 6:45 pm

Dick – I am unfamiliar with the literature on the characteristics of sex offenders. You say they do not offend because of lack of economic opportunity. Is there a survey article that talks about the offenders’ characteristics?

10 Ted November 22, 2006 at 8:13 pm

>Women are more likely to be raped by strangers than men, but for pretty much
>everything else, but men are quite a bit more likely to be mugged, assaulted or
>murdered.

Michael, that’s only if use the wrong denominator of the set of all men or all women. If you measure it against the denominator of “men willing to walk the street alone” and “women willing to walk the street alone”, men almost certainly come out safer.

For example, 20 year olds are more likely to be mugged, assaulted, or murdered, but that doesn’t mean that it’s safer for an elderly person to walk through a bad neighborhood at night than for a young male.

11 jason voorhees November 22, 2006 at 10:59 pm

I quoted you correctly it looks like upon reading your clarification. You wrote as though you had seen something about the correlates of these offenses, and I was just curious where I could find material on that. I suspect you are right that pathologies, rather than economic opportunities, mainly drive sex offense, like peophilia, but I have never seen anything on it and was hoping you had. That’s all.

12 Chairman Mao November 22, 2006 at 11:59 pm

Prof. AT,

‘Although the legal actions have focused attention on the rights of convicted sex offenders, he noted, the victims “have been given a life sentence.”’

If the courts agree with that reasoning, the new law is valid.

Otherwise, it seems to be excessive. I am particularly disturbed by the idea that consensual sex between minors and poor/negligent parenting can be considered sex offenses.

A searchable Internet database that includes rapists and pedophiles seems reasonable.

What is the economic motive for such stringent action?

13 Michael Foody November 23, 2006 at 10:13 am

That all of these rules apply to sex offenders no matter what the offense and not to other more serious violent criminals suggests that maybe we are not doing these things to actually make society safer but as a reaction to sexual paranoia. That a crime is sexual in nature does not necessarily make it more severe than other crimes. It does not necessarily make it more useful or necessary for the community to know about it. This all strikes me as a bizarre manifestation of peoples natural fascination of other peoples sex lives and not a pragmatic tool for having a safer society.

14 quadrupole November 23, 2006 at 12:57 pm

Just at thought… might it perhaps provide at least *some* moderation if the designation as a sex offender was an additional part of the sentence, applied by the judge in the sentencing phase based upon jury recommendation rather than an automatic attribution due to a guilty verdict? It might prevent some of the more ridicules misapplications.

15 jalmari November 25, 2006 at 3:22 pm

A little common sense would go a long way. “Sex offender” should be reserved for dangerous predator types, not teenagers going at it under the bleachers.

Anyone too dangerous to be allowed near a school bus stop is too dangerous to be out of prison.

Georgia’s scheme to stealthily exile its most dangerous sex predators, thereby pawning them off on neighboring states, is just mainstream conservatism at work.

16 Anonymous October 13, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: