71 Fed. Probation 2 (2007)
Sex Offender Residence Restrictions - Sensible Policy or Flawed Logic

handle is hein.journals/fedpro71 and id is 2 raw text is: 2    e     si     l FEDERA PROBATIO                                                   Voum 71w e  Number?
Jill Levenson, Ph.D., Lynn University
Kristen Zgoba, Ph.D., New Jersey Department of Corrections
Richard Tewksbury, Ph.D., University of Louisville

SEXUAL VIOLENCE IS a social problem
that inspires immense fear and wrath in our
society. As such, public policies designed to
monitor and restrict sex offenders are becom-
ing increasingly popular in the United States.
Since 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Act has
required convicted sex offenders to register
their addresses with law enforcement agents
to facilitate better tracking and monitoring
of these particular criminals. Megan's Law,
enacted in 1996, modified the Jacob Wet-
terling Act by allowing registry information
to be disclosed to the public. These laws were
the initial stepping stones and evolved from
registration to notification and now include
housing restrictions. As a result of this pro-
gression, at least 22 states and hundreds of
local municipalities in the U.S. have passed
laws prohibiting sex offenders from living
within close proximity (usually 1,000 to 2,500
feet) to schools, parks, playgrounds, day care
centers, and other places where children
congregate (National Conference of State
Legislatures, 2006; Nieto & Jung, 2006).
The effectiveness of residence restrictions
policies on sex crime prevention is largely
unknown because empirical investigations of
this topic are virtually absent in the literature.
While there is wide consensus on the need for
improved community safety from sex offend-
ers, there is considerable debate as to whether
current criminal justice responses intended
to reduce sexual offending are successful
(Edwards & Hensley, 2001; Levenson, 2003;
Levenson & D'Amora, 2007; Petersilia, 2003;
Prentky, 1996; Welchans, 2005; Zgoba, 2004).
Hampering the ability of stakeholders to
make informed decisions is the complete lack
of empirical data on the effects of residence

restrictions on rates of sexual offending and
recidivism. Yet, sex offender housing laws
have enjoyed overwhelming support as they
have swept across the United States.
Review of Relevant Literature
Twenty-two states now have laws restricting
where sex offenders can live, with 1,000 to
2,500-foot exclusionary zones being most
common (National Conference of State Leg-
islatures, 2006; Nieto & Jung, 2006). Since a
series of highly publicized murders of several
young children by convicted sex offenders
around the country in 2005, hundreds of
cities and towns nationwide have also passed
local ordinances, often increasing restricted
zones to 2,500 feet. Some of these regulations
have allowed a grandfather clause for sex
offenders who established residency prior
to the passage of the law, and some (but not
all) waive restrictions for juvenile or statu-
tory offenders. Some localities have made it
a crime for landlords to rent to sex offenders,
making it more difficult for them to secure
rental properties.
When the constitutionality of residence
restrictions has been challenged, these laws
have generally been upheld (State v. Seer-
ing, 2005; Doe v. Miller, 2005), and the U.S.
Supreme Court has declined to rule on the
issue. However, the legal status of such laws
has not been firmly and consistently estab-
lished. A Georgia law banning sex offenders
from living or working within 1,000 feet of
school bus stops (with no grandfather clause)
has been granted class action status and a
temporary injunction preventing enforce-
ment of the law is in effect (Tewksbury, in
press). A judge in California ruled after the

overwhelming recent passage of Proposition
83, a comprehensive bill requiring sex offend-
ers to live 2,000 feet from a school or park,
that the law could not be retroactive. Two
judges in New Jersey have declared township
ordinances unconstitutional because they
violated the state's Megan's Law, which
prevents sex offender registration status from
being used to deny housing or accommoda-
tions (Elwell v. Lower Township, 2006; G.H. v.
Galloway Township, 2007). A Kentucky judge
ruled that retroactive housing laws applied to
those who established residences before the
law took effect violate ex post facto protec-
tions (Commonwealth v. Baker, et al., 2007).
He opined that residence restrictions are
clearly punitive and that to argue otherwise
is intellectually dishonest. He added that such
laws are minimal at best and completely illu-
sory at worst (p. 26) and that they appear
to be little more than a political placebo,
offering false comfort to pacify the public's
fear (p. 27).
Effects on Recidivism
No research has yet been conducted to mea-
sure the efficacy of existing residence laws,
but one study investigated the potential for
sex offender residence restrictions to prevent
repeat sex crimes (Minnesota Department
of Corrections, 2007). Though no statewide
residence law exists in Minnesota, research-
ers analyzed the patterns of 224 sex offenders
released from Minnesota correctional facili-
ties who sexually recidivated between 1990
and 2005. The results showed that not one
of the 224 cases likely would have been
deterred by residence restrictions. A minor-
ity of the 224 offenders initiated contact


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