Residency laws send sex offenders off the grid
In several states, laws that restrict where convicted sex offenders can live after their release from prison continue to be criticized for contributing to other problems. Critics say the laws are forcing offenders “off the grid” where they cannot be tracked, and that city and county residency ordinances conflict with state laws, leading to confusion and ineffective enforcement.
In Florida, makeshift communities of homeless sex offenders, who say they are unable to find housing because of local residency restriction laws, have been living under bridges in the Miami-Dade County area for the past two years or more. State Sen. Dave Aronberg has proposed legislation that would replace local government ordinances with a statewide law. “Homeless sex offenders — many of whom are not required to wear ankle monitoring bracelets — present a clear and present danger to our communities,” Aronberg says in a statement.
Aronberg’s legislation would prevent sex offenders and predators from living 1,500 feet from places children frequent, and create 24-hour child safety zones that would prevent offenders from loitering around parks, playgrounds and other places where children congregate during the day. The bill still is pending in legislative committee.
In New Jersey, a 2009 decision by that state’s Supreme Court effectively rendered all local government sex offender residency laws moot, says Michael Buncher, deputy public defender with the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender. “[The court] found that residency restriction laws were preempted by the state’s management of sex offenders after they were released [under the state’s version of] Megan’s Law, [which establishes sexual predator registries in most states,]” Buncher says.
Like most cities in New Jersey that had sex offender residency laws, Franklin Township repealed its ordinance shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, says Administrator Michael DiGiorgio. “We’ve asked our legislators to come back and take a hard look at this and make a law at the state level that would protect our children,” he says.
DiGiorgio, who was the township’s chief of police when the residency restrictions were in place, agrees that sex offenders should be allowed to live in their community, just not close to places frequented by children. “There’s something out there that could enhance Megan’s Law that would be beneficial for the community,” he says. “That’s the bottom line. It’s what’s beneficial for the community in terms of protecting the children.”