Tuesday, November 14, 2006

False safety: Proposed Marlboro sex offender law misguided

he Marlboro City Council wisely has postponed adopting a city ordinance that would place broad restrictions on the movements and residency of registered sex offenders.

The proposed ordinance, which the council first OK’d then agreed to reconsider on Nov. 20, would bar registered offenders from entering or loitering within 500 feet of and from living within 2,500 feet of any school, school bus stop, day care center, park, playground or public recreational facility used regularly by children.

As we have said before regarding similar laws recently passed in Fitchburg and West Boylston, the proposal is well-intended but only offers the illusion of safety.

Whether such laws have any positive effect is questionable. The vast majority of people who sexually assault youngsters are not shadowy strangers but rather relatives or family acquaintances well-known to the child. It is certainly highly questionable whether a sexual predator intent on assaulting a child will be at all deterred by a buffer zone.

As in Fitchburg, the proposal before the Marlboro council would put virtually the entire city off-limits to registered sexual offenders who have served their sentences and returned to the community. That raises serious constitutional questions.

In Massachusetts there are alternatives to drastic local legislation. The state’s sex offender registry is an excellent resource for parents, school officials and neighbors, and the Legislature is considering tougher sentencing guidelines to keep individuals likely to re-offend behind bars.

Such measures are not fail-safe, of course. But they are apt to be more effective than arbitrary, hard-to-enforce and possibly unconstitutional buffer zones.


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3:34 PM  

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