Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Studies show sex offender residency limits fail

Studies show that laws prohibiting sexual predators from living near schools and other places where children congregate do not prevent offenders from committing new crimes and may be counterproductive, a legislative policy analyst told a House panel Tuesday.

Marti Harkness, who specializes in criminal justice issues in the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, said better options would be to bar offenders from smaller zones near places where children gather and keeping tabs on them with electronic monitoring.

Florida prohibits certain sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, parks and other places that attract children, but some local governments have expanded the ban to as much as 2,500 feet, most notably in South Florida.

Those limits made it so difficult for sexual predators to find affordable housing in Miami-Dade County that some offenders have been living under a bridge in view of tourists and others using the span, creating a backlash against the restrictions.

Harkness cited studies on repeat sex offenders in Minnesota, Colorado and Florida, which turned up no connection between where they lived and where they committed new crimes. The Minnesota study also showed no children were victimized near schools or other restricted places but 79 percent of the offenders knew their victims.

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