Dept. of unintended consequences

…local residents and city officials developed a plan to force convicted sex offenders to leave their neighborhood: open a tiny park.

Parents here, where state law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a public park, are not the only ones seizing on this approach. From the metropolis of Miami to the small town of Sapulpa, Okla., communities are building pocket parks, sometimes so small that they have barely enough room for a swing set, to drive out sex offenders. One playground installation company in Houston has even advertised its services to homeowners associations as an option for keeping sex offenders away.

In many cities sex offenders are finding it hard to live anywhere at all, or they cluster in a few park-less neighborhoods.  The article is, as they say, interesting throughout.


Well, I'm sure that a certain identifiable class of sex offender is saying 'thank god it is schools or public parks'

[Sex offender] Residents are under strict curfews and are not allowed to drink, use drugs or view pornography while living in the apartments.

Does not allowing a sex offender to view porn help or hurt his chances of recidivism?


And it's actually a question of great import...

Please forgive this off topic comment but ... I've always wondered why we have these kinds of restrictions on convicted sex offenders but lack such restrictions on convicted murderers.

Anyone know?

Probably a) a higher rate of recidivism and b) some possible connection between the locations and the crime. A murderer can murder someone anywhere. Most murderers don't murder children. I don't think there are certain locations known to act as triggers for murders. But sex offenders usually (?) victimize children, so if you can keep them away from the children...

What percent of sex offenders are child sex offenders?

I think most child molesters are family members or family friends - the type of people that this won't protect against until after they're caught.

Sex offenders have amongst the lowest recidivism rates of any class of criminal.


I'm not coming into the debate on the side of more restrictions on "sex offenders," but what we are concerned about with sex offender recidivism is surely repeated sex offenses, and not the overall rate of criminal recidivism. That link says that sex offenders are less likely to be re-arrested for any crime, but much more likely to be arrested for another sex offense. "The average recidivism of sex offenders committing new sex crimes since 1983 is approximately 9 percent". Seems fairly high. Probably higher than the number of murderers who get out and then get arrested for another murder.

Notably, murderers are the only class of criminal less likely to reoffend with their original crime than sex offenders.

Mostly c) irrational feel-goodism; "to be seen to be doing something".

Which reminds me that if enough places do the thing mentioned above, eventually there will be lawsuits from the offenders who can't find any place to live, and the courts might well start throwing out such laws as lacking rational basis. After all, at time of sentencing or the law being passed, there was no obvious intent to make it impossible for the convicted to live anywhere in a city or be able to hold any job, which is what the net effect ends up being at the limit of this policy.

(Some sex offenders are going to be recidivists, and target children. The rest are not at issue, because they weren't going to re-offend, or their offense had nothing to do with children. The "die-hards" who are going to actively target children are, shall we say, quite capable of traveling to find a target, rather than being stopped by simply not living by a park, I'd assume. 2,000 feet is not far.

[I'm not sure that the idea that sex offenders usually victimize children is true, either, though I haven't researched it. I'm especially dubious of it as against the entire class of "sex offenders", not all of which so much as touched another human being in the commission of their crime.])

There are a vast number of laws, regulations, norms, and customs that respectable people use to regulate who gets to move into their communities.

But wanting to enforce laws over who gets to move into your country is racist.

Heh. That's San Francisco, in a nutshell. "You're welcome to immigrate to my country, just not my city."

By chance, you didn't think this post nor that NYT article was applauding these developments did you?

"But wanting to enforce laws over who gets to move into your country is racist."

No. You're not a racist because of your immigration views. You just happen to be a racist. And you're not particularly good at hiding that fact, so I'm not sure why you're so sensitive about it.

Very pithy.

I especially agree that among his circle and fanboys being called "racist" is probably a high honor.

It sounds like an incentive to change your name, move to another state, and then lie about your past once parole is over.

Sex offender status is typically for life.

All three of those actions are typically prohibited.

Hmm, anyone for banning registered gun owners from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a public park...ah no, I guess that wouldn't work..

I'm as anti-police as the next guy, but that may be a bit extreme.

Most legally owned guns in the US are unregistered.

In quite a few states "sex offender" includes crazy things like people convicted of consensual statutory rape, even if with the person that they've been married to for fifteen years. (In the linked case, he was 19, she was 15, and her mom was not happy when it started.) Laws that carefully distinguish between situations, such as by using the FBI's official term of "forcible rape" for what most of us think as rape, could avoid some of those problems. However, apparently even thinking in that direction is a horrible, evil thing, according to one of our political parties.

(For the truly awful cases of abusing a minor that people are thinking of, most states have a separate class of offense. Again, differentiating between situations is useful, but it can get particularly tricky when federal laws are considered, given how different states have different terms and laws, which is why FBI terminology is used.)

One of our political parties? Don't both parties support this?

Statutory rape is generally a bad construct and should be deconstructed.

But maybe they want to keep teen pregnancies down and misrepresent this as protecting people from sexual violence.

How do they manage to spend $300,000 on a 1,000 square foot park?

It is pretty smart. It goes to show that you really need a comprehensive approach to deal with sex offenders.
Also, the rate of recidivism is not necessarily the most relevant statistic. Child sex abusers in particular often have dozens of victims before being caught. Just because they don't have a high likelihood of being prosecuted again doesn't mean they aren't a risk.

Can you outline your version of this "comprehensive approach"? These sneaky hack of park-warfare seems neither fair nor smart to me.

Also, not all sex offenders are child-sex-offenders.

It would involve more than just sanctions on the offenders. Extensive, publicly financed treatment would be a start. I don't think the park laws are necessarily the "fair", but they are a smart workaround for the localities. How many sex offenders do you think should live near your kids? Honestly.

I know that not all sex offenders are pedophiles, that's why I clarified that those are the particular types of sex offenders that have many victims before a conviction, if ever. However, some other types of sex crimes are also reported at relatively low levels.

Why assume unintentional? In response to the problem mentioned with these rules, I believe many would respond "oh well, he shouldn't have raped children."

(I don't agree with this attitude)

Gem of a quote at the end of the article from a local government official:
“We need more resources in place so these guys don’t reoffend. But that’s beyond the city’s resources. It has to be at the state level.”

Over criminalization, zero-tolerance and FUD.

From an August 2009 article in The Economist:

The registry is a gold mine for lazy journalists.

Many people assume that anyone listed on a sex-offender registry must be a rapist or a child molester. But most states spread the net much more widely. A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers.

Georgia has more than 17,000 registered sex offenders. Some are highly dangerous. But many are not. And it is fiendishly hard for anyone browsing the registry to tell the one from the other. The Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board, an official body, assessed a sample of offenders on the registry last year and concluded that 65% of them posed little threat. Another 30% were potentially threatening, and 5% were clearly dangerous. The board recommended that the first group be allowed to live and work wherever they liked. The second group could reasonably be barred from living or working in certain places, said the board, and the third group should be subject to tight restrictions and a lifetime of monitoring. A very small number “just over 100” are classified as “predators”, which means they have a compulsion to commit sex offences. When not in jail, predators must wear ankle bracelets that track where they are.

So laws get harsher and harsher. But that does not necessarily mean they get better. If there are thousands of offenders on a registry, it is harder to keep track of the most dangerous ones.

Money spent on evicting sex offenders cannot be spent on treating them. Does this matter? Politicians pushing the get-tough approach sometimes claim that sex offenders are mostly incorrigible: that three-quarters or even nine out of ten of them reoffend. It is not clear where they find such numbers. A study of nearly 10,000 male sex offenders in 15 American states found that 5% were rearrested for a sex crime within three years. A meta-analysis of 29,000 sex offenders in Canada, Britain and America found that 24% had reoffended after 15 years.

That is obviously still too high. Whether or not treatment can help is disputed. A Californian study of sex offenders who underwent “relapse prevention”, counselling of the sort that alcoholics get from Alcoholics Anonymous, found that it was useless. But a meta-analysis of 23 studies by Karl Hanson of Canada's department of public safety found that psychological therapy was associated with a 43% drop in recidivism. Some offenders—particularly men who rape boys—are extremely hard to treat. Some will never change until they are too old to feel sexual urges. But some types of treatment appear to work for some people and further research could yield more breakthroughs.

Publicising sex offenders' addresses makes them vulnerable to vigilantism.

Comments for this post are closed