Vindictive Sex Offender Policies Do Little Good

In Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill which would expand restrictions on where people listed as sex offenders can live, and allow local communities to add even more restrictions.

According to this report, the restrictions are so severe that in some of Minnesota’s largest communities there would be essentially no place for these people to live at all:

The bill’s proponents argued that local communities know what’s best for them — but repeatedly stressed that the bill would not allow any municipality to bar sex offenders completely.

But in places like St. Paul — with a dense concentration of parks — that’s largely what the language would do.

In St. Paul, roughly 97 percent of all properties are within a half-mile of a park. In Minneapolis, the total is 95 percent, city officials said.

Check out this illustration to get a sense of just how big a problem this represents:

040416.N.STP_.SEXOFFENDMAP

This is absurd.

As a father I understand the anxiety the public feels about sex offenders living in their neighborhood, or near kid-centric areas like parks or schools. But how in the world can we expect someone convicted of a crime to maintain a productive and law-abiding life if we leave them, almost literally, with no place to live?

Sure, the don’t all have to live in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area. They could live in other communities. But what if those communities don’t have jobs for them? What if they don’t have support systems like friends and family? What if those communities enact the same sort of restrictive policies?

And even if we do successfully restrict the residency of sex offenders to these tiny zones, it’s not like they have to stay there. An offender bent on repeating their crimes can certainly walk to a park or a school. Certainly they would travel by them on their way to work or the grocery store.

So what are we really accomplishing with this, as public policy?

This seems vindictive.

If a given offender is so terribly dangerous that we must create maps like the one above to restrict where they live, then the should still be in prison or a treatment facility. Short of that, if we’re going to set them free, they need to be afforded the opportunity to live and work and prosper like the rest of us.

Otherwise we’re just making it more likely that they’ll continue to be a problem for society.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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