Friday, July 28, 2006

"Do you want them spread out or do you want them all in one place?"

From Bangor, Maine: Restricting Sex Offenders


It's a natural reaction to not want sex offenders living in your neighborhood. However, consideration of laws restricting where offenders can live should be based on rational debate grounded in facts, not on emotions or imagined conversations between sex criminals. An examination of whether new statewide policies are needed would save towns from developing their own piecemeal rules.

Residents in Hampden are concerned that three sex offenders live at the Bangor Rescue Mission, which is located on the Meadow Road in Hampden. Rep. Debra Plowman has filed legislation to ban sex offenders from living together in the same dwelling or in the same multi-unit building. She worries that by living together, offenders can discuss their past crimes, making them more likely to commit new ones.

It is more likely that the men, if they even talk to one another, discuss everyday topics such as work, money concerns and sports. Also because sex offenders often feel shame at their crimes, they're not likely to talk about them, according to psychologists.

Studies have found that offenders with a system of support and jobs were less likely to commit future crimes. The three men in Hampden have jobs and are supervised by the Rev. John Bennett, who lives in the house.

Sex offenders aren't more likely than other criminals to re-offend. According to a Department of Justice study of sex offenders released from prison in 1994, 5.3 percent were rearrested for another sex crime within three years, while 68 percent of non-sex offenders were rearrested for another felony or serious misdemeanor during the same time.

Another Justice study found that 93 percent of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser and that most crimes happened in the home of the child, a relative, a neighbor or a friend.

Therefore, housing restrictions, which 18 states have, usually restricting offenders from living near schools, lead to a false sense of security. Worse, they tend to drive offenders into sparsely populated areas, where there is less supervision, access to treatment and fewer jobs. Offenders subject to probation can have restrictions on their living arrangements imposed by judges in Maine.

Restrictions also make it difficult for state and local officials to find housing for sex offenders. In California, one offender remained in jail for more than a year after his sentence expired because of restrictions and community outcry. In other parts of the state, offenders were living in cots in a parole office and the state was paying more than $300 a night to house offenders in motels.

Bangor police detective John Small, who maintains and updates the city's sex offender registry, succinctly framed the issue: "Do you want them spread out or do you want them all in one place?"

That is a question state lawmakers should answer.

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