f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

August 26, 2007

courageous mayor vetoed flawed sex offender laws

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 11:26 am

  Metro West Daily News of Framingham, Mass., had an excellent editorial last December, on the subject of sex offender “exclusion-zone” laws, which I wish I had known about in time to submit to the Schenectady County Legislature this past week (or sooner). See “Wise veto of a flawed law” (Dec. 4 , 2006; erroneously dated Aug. 26, 2007, in the first version of this post – – sorry for any confuseion) The editorial starts with the politically-obvious, “Everyone hates sex offenders, especially those that prey on children. People want them kept as far away as possible, and they’ll welcome any government action that promises to do that.” It notes that the City of Marlborough “is the first MetroWest community to jump on this bandwagon,” and explains:

“Its City Council last month approved an ordinance that would prohibit those convicted of sexual offenses against children from living within a half-mile of any school, day care or recreational place — a zone that ends up covering at least 95 percent of the city. Those offenders also could not visit parks, playgrounds or other recreational places where children congregate. Offenders who own homes could stay, but renters would have to leave town, either now or when their leases run out.”

The reasoning is so good and universally-applicable, that I am going to reprint most of the rest of the editorial here, and hope that you will click the link and read the entire piece:

“The proposal is politically popular but, as we’ve argued in this space, impractical and misguided. While the city’s police chief and solicitor raised objections during the council debates, Mayor Nancy Stevens was quiet — until Thursday, when she wisely vetoed the measure.

” ‘I am concerned about the constitutionality about it,’ Stevens said at a press conference. ‘I believe this particular piece of legislation will give people a false sense of security.’

“She’s right, on both counts. Similar ordinances are being challenged in what The New York Times this week called “a national wave of litigation.” Marlborough’s law is vulnerable on several grounds. Because its restricted zones cover so much territory, it amounts to banishing offenders from the city. It imposes a new penalty on those who have already served their sentences, without affording them due process. The exemption for homeowners and those whose offenses were against adults, could be ruled discriminatory.

“Marlborough is still smarting from a lawsuit filed by a man who served 10 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Taxpayers can’t afford to spend years and thousands of dollars defending a faulty law.

“Defending a law that won’t work is especially wasteful. . . . Do people really think child predators will steer clear of Marlborough just because of this ordinance?

“Law enforcement experts even believe such ordinances can make matters worse. . . . If they cannot find a place where they can legally live, they will just go underground. . . .. “We congratulate Stevens on having the courage to question this popular, but misguided, ordinance, and urge City Council to sustain her veto.”

While the Schenectady County Legislature was voting to reaffirm its unwise sex offender residency law (prior post), I wish they had the example of Marlborough’s Mayor Nancy Stevens in mind. Mayor Stevens had the courage to veto the politically-popular sex offender law sent to her by the City Council.

A few days ago, we told you below the fold about the excellent report from Gatehouse News Service, titled “Sex Offenders: A Flawed Law,” which we hoped would be picked up by newspapers across the country. I’m pleased to say that a group of Gatehouse newspapers in the Greater-Boston area of Western Massachusetts (covering Brockton, Fall River, Framingham, Milford, Quincy, Taunton, Waltham, and more), and including the Quincy Patriot Ledger, ran the first of the two-part series today, with “Sex Offender: A Flawed Law – Right Next Door” (and see MetroNewsWest.com, Framingham, MA, Aug. 26, 2007). The feature also includes “Costs mounts to support sex offender laws,” and “Violent sex attacks led to tough laws.” I urge you to take a look. [update (Aug. 27, 2007): You can see installments of Part II of this series at MetroWest Daily News, by going to “Political Pressure: Legislators quick to target sex offenders,” and “If sex offender laws don’t work, what does?” (Aug. 27, 2007)]

update (1:30 PM, Aug. 26): My guardian angel at Blawg Review saw this posting and immediately wrote to tell me about Dunan Riley’s post yesterday at TechCrunch, “See all sex offenders in your neighborhood” (Aug. 25, 2007). Riley describes a free “Peace of Mind” [POM] service from Vision 20/20 that lets you pinpoint on a map all sex offenders living near any U.S. location. He explains, “Users simply add their address, city and/ or zip code to the Vision 20/20 site, and then the locations of sex offenders in the immediate vicinity are displayed over a map. Clicking on each sex offender leads to a profile which includes the name, address, and crimes of the sex offender, as well as a mug shot.” I just went to Vision 20/20’s POM Locate Sex Offender page, and was amazed by the speed and thoroughness of the service. It is interesting to see where that SOs are clustered in our County.

According to Vision 20/20, “You can also register with POM Offender Locator to receive an alert the moment any new offender moves into your neighborhood. It’s a Free service!” Sort of makes you wish that our laws motivated every sex offender to continuously and accurately report his or her actual residence.

update: Aug. 27, 2007: In an editorial called “Drawing Lines,” the Syracuse Post Standard (Aug. 26, 2007) raises important issues that a community should address before imposing sex offender residency restrictions. It focuses on the impact of the Cicero, NY’s SORR on one offender who would be forced to move from a home he has owned since 1991. The editorial begins:

“The case of the 49-year-old registered sex offender, who may be forced
to move from the home he has owned for 16 years in the town of Cicero,
illustrates the complexity and sometimes shortsightedness of laws
designed to act as buffers between dangerous sex offenders and a
vulnerable public.

“The Cicero statute, passed last year, prohibits Level 2 and 3 sex
offenders from living within one mile of a school or day-care center
entrance or 1,500 feet of a playground or park entrance. The Cicero man
it is now being applied to (he was not identified in court papers) was=
convicted of first-degree sexual abuse in 1991 and given five years
probation. He has undergone counseling, attended an alcoholic treatment
program and has not been in trouble since his conviction. He is suing
the town for the right to remain in his home. He should have that
opportunity.”

After discussing issues and research, the editorial concludes:

“Communities considering sex offender residency restrictions must ask the
question: Do such laws truly make their communities safer? Or are there
more effective ways – electronic monitoring systems or safety zones, for
example – of keeping a watchful eye on the offenders most likely to
strike again?”

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