Saturday, December 30, 2006

Editorial: Sex Offenders in Exile

Of all the places that sexual predators could end up after prison, the worst is out of sight, away from the scrutiny and treatment that could prevent them from committing new crimes. But communities around the country are taking that risk, with zoning laws that banish pedophiles to the literal edges of society.

There is a powerful and wholly understandable impulse behind laws that forbid sex offenders to live within certain distances of schools, day care centers and other places that children gather. Scores of states and municipalities have created such buffer zones, then continued adding layer upon layer to the enforcement blanket.

This has placed a heavy burden on law enforcement agencies, which already must struggle to meet exacting federal and state requirements for registering and monitoring the ever-growing population of released sex offenders, many of whom must be tracked for life. Lawmakers have shown no hesitation in piling on the administrative load, but frequently are less quick to pay for additional people to do the work.

As the areas off limits to sex offenders expand to encompass entire towns and cities, if not states, the places where they can live and work are shrinking fast. The unintended consequence is that offenders have been dispersed to rural nowhere zones, where they are much harder to track. In confined regions like Long Island, they have become concentrated in a handful of low-rent, few-questions-asked areas — an unintended and unfair imposition on their wary neighbors.

Many offenders respond by going underground. In Iowa, the number of registered sex offenders who went missing soared after the state passed a law forbidding offenders to live within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center. The county prosecutors’ association has urged that the law be repealed, for the simple reasons that it drives offenders out of sight, requires “the huge draining of scant law enforcement resources” and doesn’t provide the protection intended.

The prosecutors are right that any sense of security that such laws provide is vague at best and probably false. Just as it would feel foolish to forbid muggers to live near A.T.M.’s, it is hard to imagine how a 1,000-foot buffer zone around a bus stop, say, would keep a determined pedophile at bay. If children feel secure enough to drop their wariness of strangers, that would be a dangerous outcome. And of course, no buffer against a faceless predator will be any help to the overwhelming majority of child victims — those secretly abused by stepfathers, uncles and other people they know.

The problem with residency restrictions is that they fulfill an emotional need but not a rational one. It’s in everyone’s interest for registered sex offenders to lead stable lives, near the watchful eyes of family and law enforcement and regular psychiatric treatment. Exile by zoning threatens to create just the opposite phenomenon — a subpopulation of unhinged nomads off their meds with no fixed address and no one keeping tabs on them. This may satisfy many a town’s thirst for retributive justice, but as a sensible law enforcement policy designed to make children safer, it smacks of thoughtlessness and failure.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dubious ideas behind sex offender crackdown

The Washington Post

The following editorial appeared in Saturday's Washington Post:

Increasingly, candidates for state attorney general nationwide have been campaigning on promises to crack down on online sexual predators, and understandably so. Youth and children are particularly vulnerable in Internet chat rooms and social networking sites, where the cloak of anonymity and a naive presumption that cyberspace is populated by kindred spirits can lead to damaging encounters and sexual exploitation. That is the impetus behind a proposal by Virginia's attorney general, Republican Robert McDonnell, to require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, instant-messaging handles and other online identities so they can be blocked from preying on youth online. McDonnell's proposal is anchored in a legitimate concern; unfortunately, it rests upon some dubious assumptions both about sex offenders and the likelihood of effective enforcement.

The Virginia proposal tracks a federal bill dealing with the same theme offered this month by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The idea, which other states may adopt, is to provide social networking sites the means necessary to screen known sex offenders. Already, has announced it would use Virginia's e-mail registry to stop convicted sex offenders from using the venue.

About a fifth of's users are under 18. But apart from anecdotal accounts, there is no evidence -- no studies, no statistics, nothing but inference -- to show that many of the loathsome predators who have victimized children and young people online are convicted sex offenders. Moreover, if a convicted child molester or rapist were intent on preying on unsuspecting innocents online, it would be easy to evade the proposed law by creating a new e-mail identity. Once a sexual predator decides that he is willing to risk prosecution and imprisonment for his crime, he is unlikely to balk over failing to register an e-mail address.

Every state has enacted a law requiring convicted sex offenders to register their whereabouts with authorities and in many cases prohibiting them from taking certain jobs (as coaches for youth teams, for instance) or from living close to schools. McDonnell argues that it is only logical to add cyber-addresses to the information that offenders must furnish to the authorities. Perhaps. But there is little reason to think that move will go very far beyond symbolism.

More unintended effects of e-mail registration

There are going to be even more problems with registering sex offender e-mail addresses than already mentioned.

One is that this list of addresses is likely to be considered rather valuable by certain (kinds of) spammers, in particular the purveyors of pornography. After all, this list is highly self-qualified.

Given that a centralized list is constructed, as is proposed by federal and state legislation, it will be a target to be acquuired. And one doubts that the agency that maintains the e-mail address verifier (whether the address is known to be used by a registered sex offender) using this list will consider it as anything requiring lots of security.

But even then, even if the list itself is highly secured and the server that verifies e-mail addresses works as intended, the information in that list is still vulnerable. All a spammer has to do is to run his huge list of e-mail addresses (and whose e-mail address doesn't soon wind up on spammers' lists?) past the verifier and BINGO! he has a qualified list of sex offenders' e-mail addresses.

Soon after registered sex offenders will start receiving sex-oriented come-ons targeted specifically to them.

One possible result is a return to behaviors likely to result in re-offending -- creating even more victims in the process.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Forget collecting e-mail addresses -- THIS is what to do!

Some are now clamoring to collect the e-mail addresses of registered sex offenders as a way to make MySpace safe. The stupidity of this has been noted by many:

- The registered sex offender looking for a new victim isn't going to worry about the comparative minor penalty for a unregistered e-mail address

- New e-mail addresses are really, really easy to get

- Unregistered e-mail addresses are really, really hard to detect

- A lot if not most of the registered sex offenders are likely not to (fully) comply (because it's onerous, it's stupid and really abusable), thereby putting them into habitual violation of the law; which will be corrosive in the long run and likely increase the number of victims

- About half the sex offense convictions every year are first-time, which means that even with full compliance, the number of threats is at best halved

So I was happy to see that a group has figured out the correct solution, and they did it some time ago!

Last month, the Web site posted news of the conviction of Sean Young, a Wisconsin man sentenced to 10 years in state prison for soliciting sex online from a 14-year-old girl. According to a transcript of an online chat posted on the site, at one point Mr. Young had asked the girl, identified only as Billie, what she was wearing. When she answered “sweats,” Mr. Young typed back that if she were his daughter, “i’d make u wear sexy clthes.”

Billie turned out to be an adult volunteer for Perverted Justice, an anti-pedophile group, and when Mr. Young drove to a house where he expected to meet the teenager for sex, he was arrested by sheriff’s deputies.

The conviction was logged as the 104th that Perverted Justice says it has been responsible for since 2003, a tally that as of yesterday had reached 113. What started as one man’s quest to rid his regional Yahoo chat room of lewd adults has grown into a nationwide force of cyberspace vigilantes, financed by a network television program hungry for ratings.

“It’s a kind of blog that has turned into a crime-fighting resource,” said Robert McCrie, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

Perverted Justice is best known for putting its online volunteers at the disposal of the television newsmagazine “Dateline NBC,” which has broadcast 11 highly rated programs in which would-be pedophiles are lured to “sting houses,” only to be surprised by a camera crew and, usually, the police.

Despite that publicity, the inner workings of Perverted Justice and its reclusive founder remain largely a mystery, even as the group has emerged as one of the most effective unofficial law enforcement groups in the country, a kind of Neighborhood Watch of the Net....

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

To make these places safer (note the 'r' -- they'll never be completely safe), put police and volunteers out to catch those, registered or not, who are going after children. You'll get a much better bang for the buck than "tissue-paper armor" protections like registering e-mail addresses.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sex Offender Mania:

It's always dangerous to proclaim, "This is the dumbest thing you'll read today" ... especially where politicians are involved, and double-especially where John McCain is involved.

Having said that, this is the dumbest thing you'll read today:
New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer and Arizona Republican John McCain, in a press release, said they planned to introduce a bill at the beginning of the 110th Congress in January that would require registered sex offenders to submit their active email addresses to law enforcement.

The legislation would enable social networking sites like MySpace to cross-check new members against a database of registered sex offenders and ensure that predators are unable to sign up for the service.

Under the proposed legislation, any sex offender who submits a fraudulent email could face prison.
And what, pray tell, is a "fraudulent" email? I have three perfectly functioning email accounts just for this blog. Which one would be the "legitimate" email account and which ones would be "fraudulent"?

Let's go back to basics: Two of the fundamental purposes of criminal law are deterrence and rehabilitation. Is a "fiendish" and "recidivist" sexual predator going to be deterred by this law? Of course not. And as for recidivism, wouldn't it make sense to give the truly compulsive sexual predator a zero-risk outlet for their compulsion? Isn't it better for a serial rapist to be obsessed with a porno magazine than an actual victim? Isn't surfing MySpace less dangerous than surfing a classroom or playground? The problem, at its core, is not perverts who surf MySpace, but perverts who use MySpace to hunt for real-time victims. The two groups are not the same. Why criminalize "use of MySpace" instead of "abuse of MySpace"?

Under the planned legislation, registered sex offenders would be required to log an e-mail address with their probation or parole officers," according to McCain's press release. "Any offender caught using an unregistered email address would be in violation of probation or parole terms and face a return to prison."
Just one problem: what if the offender isn't on parole or probation? As 27B Stroke 6 points out, the people least likely to be on probation or parole will actually be the worst offenders -- the ones who were denied probation or parole and had to serve out their entire sentence.

And what about the First Amendment? -- Any law that forbids an otherwise law-abiding person to access the Internet (a form of speech) faces a significant hurdle. If MySpace (private property) wants to kick off child molesters, then that's their business and more power to them. But the government should not brandish its public sledge hammer for what really requires a private scalpel.

We should also remember that "sex offender" and "child molester" are not synonymous. Furthermore, different states define the term "sex offender" differently, meaning that similarly situated people in different states will be treated differently under this federal law. Which is itself a potential constitutional problem.

For now, that is. It appears inevitable that we will have a federal sex offender registry in one form or another at some point. There are just too many eager federal politicians for it not to happen. On the other hand, it also appears inevitable that some of the more torch-and-pitchfork provisions of some registries and red-lining programs are headed for due process challenges in court.

Stay tuned...

The MySpace sex-offender purge

What did he expect?

MySpace announced today it will begin searching its 100 million-plus user list for people listed in a national database of sex offenders. [...]

That leaves just one real disappointment in this announcement: How MySpace plans to use the data. With all that information at its disposal, and a "24-hour-a-day dedicated staff" using it, MySpace could seriously enhance its policing. Instead, the company is taking a sophisticated database and wielding it as a blunt instrument, simply banning everyone on the list from registering or keeping a MySpace account, regardless of who they are or what they did.

Frankly, I'm not sure I'm fond of the idea of a company "policing" but that's neither here nor there. Once Kevin did his screen-scrape the writing was on the wall. A panicked public sure as hell won't countenance nuance, even if he is right as rain:

This is bad because, obviously, banning sex offenders won't keep them off MySpace: it'll just give them a reason to lie about their name or location, even if they aren't up to no good. (My survey found hundreds of past offenders, many with old or minor convictions, whose profiles reflected a seemingly normal life.) Now sex offenders who want to stay on MySpace will all be using false information from the start.

MySpace is essentially refusing an opportunity to detect and imprison active repeat offenders, by moving the entire superset of ex-offenders into the shadows. Does the convicted pedophile have lots of teenagers on his friendslist? MySpace won't know, because he'll be under same veil of anonymity as the flashers and peeping toms.

We know there are some ex-sex offenders who attempt to recidivate from accounts opened under their real names. If you believe they will now stay off MySpace, then the company's policy is good for safety. But if you think they'll simply start spelling their name a little different or lying about their ZIP code, then MySpace has lost the chance to take them off the streets.

MySpace is taking the easy way out. It may be good PR to be able to say that you don't allow past sex offenders of any stripe on your website, but the company should keep its eye on the ball: the goal isn't to keep a former flasher from blogging about his cat, it's to keep current pedophiles from pursuing children. MySpace could tell the difference, if it wanted to. A smart policing effort would use the sex offender database as one of many data points in keeping the site safe. Sometimes zero-tolerance is really tolerance.

LATER: The Times reports on the development, "If registered sex offenders sign up but do not give their real names, physical attributes, locations or post their real picture, they could elude detection. Similarly, there is a chance that people who are not sex offenders might be flagged by the system."

Isolating sex offenders won’t work

“Sex offender” is a powerful term. We hear what they do, and many of us immediately respond with hatred toward them. We all want to make our society safe. We want our homes, schools and parks to be safe places for our children and ourselves.

So, we ban those who have committed sexual offenses from the parks, restrict where they live and limit the jobs they are able to do. All of this is being done under the illusion that we are doing what is necessary to protect ourselves from the predatory strangers.

Sounds right? Sounds just? But there is a problem with this thinking. Most sex offenders, especially child molesters, know their victims. They already have access to us and to our children in our homes, schools and parks because they are our parents, stepparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.

Often it is those who are the trusted adults who groom the children to participate in abusive sexual behavior through acts of subtle seduction.

The real danger does not normally exist out on the street corners or playgrounds but inside our homes.

The individuals who commit these acts are attempting to address their needs for association, power and intimacy in inappropriate and sexualized ways. There are many reasons for this type of behavior. A key component in this process is that of isolation. Some of it is self-imposed; some promoted through restricted family life and some is the result of false beliefs about men’s rights in their own home.

To mandate the offender to a ghetto community that restricts an individual’s ability to find suitable housing, and where an individual is prevented from getting or maintaining employment after they have been incarcerated serves to exacerbate the isolation. This continued isolation makes it more likely that we are re-creating the conditions that led to the sexual offending behavior.

Solving the problem of sexual offending to make our homes, schools and parks safe involves a closer look internally to the values and beliefs we are promoting to our children and our families.

These values and beliefs ought to promote high self-esteem, an awareness of one’s surroundings and the ability to make healthy choices with regards to established boundaries. By empowering each one of us we will be able to provide an effective solution to the potential victimization of our children.

Thoughtful legislation, based on sound research, is needed to provide real safety rather then creating the illusion of safety brought on through legislated isolation.

Ronald J. Furniss is director of the Sex Offender Program at Family & Children’s Services. Stephen A. Jarrell is the executive director. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

MySpace: To make you feel safer we'll increase your risk

Another brain-dead idea -- but a nice marketing gimmick for MySpace:

MySpace tool to help block sex offenders

NEW YORK -- The popular online hangout MySpace said Tuesday it will develop technologies to help block convicted sex offenders, the site's latest attempt to address complaints about sexual predators and other dangers to teens.

MySpace is partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build and deploy within 30 days a database that will contain the names and physical descriptions of convicted sex offenders in the United States. An automated system will search for matches between the database and MySpace user profiles. Employees will then delete any profiles that match.

Parents, school administrators and law-enforcement authorities have grown increasingly worried that teens are at risk on MySpace and other social-networking sites, which provide tools for messaging, sharing photos and creating personal pages.

About 12 percent of all MySpace's visitors in October were under 18, according to comScore Media Metrix. The tracking company counts Americans who visit the site at least once in a given month, so the proportion of teens may actually be higher based on time spent.

The aim of such sites is for users to expand their circles of friends - and critics say those circles sometimes come to include sexual predators. Wired News said a recent investigation turned up hundreds of profiles for convicted sex offenders.

Forty-six states now maintain registries containing more than 550,000 convicted sex offenders, each with its own rules on what information the public may obtain, as well as when and what can be done with it.

"How do you analyze those different databases and analyze them against our, right now, 135 million user profiles?" said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer. "We came to the conclusion (that) there was absolutely no real way to do this in a real-time, scalable fashion."

Instead, Sentinel will build a search tool for MySpace using data from aggregators such as LexisNexis Inc.'s Seisint unit, said John Cardillo, the Miami-based company's chief executive. The database, to be updated monthly, will include details such as names, age, hair color, height, scars and tattoos.

The News Corp. site, however, won't be using Sentinel's technology to verify the ages and identities of users to ensure they're not adults posing as teens - a change urged by many lawmakers and law-enforcement officials.

Cardillo said his service would be ineffective for such a purpose given the site's large teen population. Children don't have public records the same way adults do, he said, so the technology can't rule out whether an adult is posing as a teen online.

"What we'd rather do at this point is solve problems we know we can solve," Cardillo said.

Image-recognition software and other techniques are being considered to identify sex offenders who do not use their real names. In the meantime, Cardillo said, the database technology won't catch everyone but "will be highly effective." He declined to elaborate or provide any quantifiable targets.

Nigam said MySpace would consider making the database, to be called Sentinel Safe, available to rivals.

Parry Aftab, executive director of, credited MySpace for trying but said a database was no panacea.

"People who are registered sexual offenders will just not be themselves now (and) the people who they really need to protect kids from in most cases are not (convicted) sexual offenders," she said. "They are people who haven't been caught yet. It's a great PR (public relations) move but frankly I don't think it's going to make anyone safer."

In a statement, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal dismissed the database as ineffective without age and identify verification.

But Nigam said he sees the database as part of a larger strategy that includes education and partnerships with law enforcement. He also said governments ought to require sex offenders to register e-mails they use to help sites like his screen profiles.

"We have to do everything we can in every different angle," he said.

In June, MySpace adopted new restrictions on how adults may contact the site's younger users and request to view their full profiles, which contain hobbies, schools and additional personal details. That, too, was criticized as ineffective because adults may simply register as teens to skirt the restrictions.

Aftab warned parents not to reduce oversight of their kids.

"They see this, they may misunderstand and think it will keep sex offenders off the site," she said. "The fact that it sounds more effective than it really is, that's a big problem."

Credit to Aftab, he's figured this out; it's as dumb as the zones idea.

First, all this does is keep those registered sex offenders who have no intention of re-offending off MySpace. (I know, there are those who don't believe there are such, but the federal statistics show that only about half those released will return to prison, and not always for another sex offense.) Any other measure you make (other than barricading them in Internet-free ghettoes) is going to fail, just as the "you can't enter a school/park/whatever" laws.

Register e-mail addresses? How are you going to enforce that? It's so easy to get a new e-mail address, I've abandoned, lost or forgotten more than I can remember. (Oops -- I'm overdue for my monthly check-in on, um... Hotmail... but which address was it? Drat!)

Okay, I've got it! Let's make it a federal penalty with "life without" for a sex offender to 'possess' (whatever that means, have access to?) an unregistered e-mail address. Let's skip over the enforcement issue and attempt to enter the mind of a registered sex offender who's decided to find a victim (whatever he calls it) on MySpace. So. He goes to the library, internet cafe, or whatever and signs up for a new free Yahoo / Hotmail / Gmail /whatever e-mail account by which he can get to MySpace. Understand, he's already decided to commit a crime that in many locations will get him life anyway, if caught -- how's the unregistered e-mail going to stop him? (And is it a crime if he signs up in Mexico or Canada?)

Okay. That doesn't work. Unless we register e-mail addresses like we do guns. Everybody registers, proves their identity (um... can't use drivers' licenses for ID...). That might work. Unless he signs up in Mexico or Canada...

Looks like it's pretty difficult to keep registered sex offenders out.

But let's say you make it work somehow. What about the unregistered sex offenders, the ones who haven't been caught & convicted yet, the ones who make up about half the convictions every year? They're completely free to come and go. And the dirty secret MySpace doesn't want you to know is that they're on MySpace too. And probably even more of them than the convicted ones, because the unknown ones haven't endured any punishment. But they're there, and the moment you believe your child is any bit safer on MySpace due to these restrictions... the closer your child is to becoming a victim!

Lots of folks, from marketeers to politicians, are trying to make hay for themselves out of sex-offender hysteria. With the possible sole exception of the original registration law (it apparently has a small correlation to a reduction in the sex-crime rate), everything else is snake oil that will only bite those who buy into it.

Your child's safety, like your checkbook, is your responsibility. Give it to someone else and you will pay the price.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Residency laws for sex offenders under microscope: all laws do is prevent offenders from rebuilding lives

Let's say the obvious,even if it's only at the end of the article:

Restrictions aim to prevent repeat crimes, but critics say all laws do is prevent offenders from rebuilding lives.

Newsday Staff Writer

December 2, 2006, 10:59 PM EST

One after another, the laws keep coming.

Across Long Island, communities concerned about the access sex offenders have to children have passed ever-tighter legislation restricting where convicted child molesters, rapists and other sex offenders can live. Nationally, 21 states and hundreds of municipalities have similar laws on the books.

But experts in sex-offender treatment and recidivism say there is little proof such measures keep communities safer or prevent sex offenders from striking again. In Iowa, for example, the number of registered sex offenders unaccounted for more than doubled after a strict residency law went into effect. And studies of supervised sex offenders in two other states indicated that where offenders lived had no impact on new sexual offenses they committed.

"There really isn't any empirical evidence to say they are a viable strategy for keeping communities safe," said Jill Levenson, a human services professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., and a board member of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

More harm than good

Levenson and other experts say making it harder for sex offenders to find housing can lead to stress and instability, which can increase the likelihood they will re-offend.

Law enforcement officials caution that housing restrictions can result in clustering of sex offenders in certain areas. Long Island already has more than a dozen such clusters. The laws also can create more homeless or chronically transient sex offenders, making it harder to track them.

"We're trying to separate them from vulnerable people," said Joseph J. Abramo, the supervising probation officer for Suffolk County's sex offender unit. "But it does create stressors on them, and I hope it doesn't cause them to go underground or act out."

The Long Island laws are part of a national trend that began a few years ago and snowballed in the wake of high-profile crimes, such as the killing last year of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a sex offender in Florida, who lived nearby.

Earlier this year, Suffolk County passed a law forbidding sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of schools and playgrounds.

Soon after, Nassau set the limit at 1,000 feet from schools and 500 feet from public parks. In November, the Village of East Rockaway added places of worship, libraries and community centers to the zone.

And Long Beach is considering an even more stringent resolution later this month that includes school bus stops and the beach in the 1,000-foot marker -- essentially banishing sex offenders from city limits.

Lawmakers behind such bills say they are common-sense edicts that place limits on sex offenders who aren't supervised once off of probation or parole. While restrictions alone won't solve the problem, Suffolk bill's author, Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), said, "If we're serious about this as a society, wanting to protect our kids, we need to put our money where our mouth is."

Differences between them

But some question the assumptions that shape residency restrictions, which they call a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem.

"Not all offenders are the same, and not all offenders pose the same risk," said Charles Onley, of the Center for Sex Offender Management in Maryland.

The laws in Nassau and Suffolk apply to all registered sex offenders, whether they have abused minors or adults. And regulations, such as the residency laws, aimed at preventing strangers from preying on children do not address the vast majority of sex offenses, which statistics show are committed by those knowing their victims.

"A lot of these offenders are people who have access to your children or to you," said Onley, adding that overall, between 70 to 80 percent of sexual offenders, including repeat offenders, know their victims.

An FBI study found more than 92 percent of girls 17 and under and 95 percent of boys in the same age group reporting a sexual assault identified a family member or acquaintance as the culprit. "It's date rape, a priest, your uncle or granddaddy, the schoolteacher," Onley said. "It's not the guy hiding behind the bush."

While residency laws make less sense with respect to sexual abuse by non-strangers, Cooper said, they still would apply to cases where children are menaced by strangers.

Questioning the impact

Researchers are not so sure.

A 2004 report on sex-offender housing by Colorado's public safety department said distance markers from schools and parks may not deter recidivism."

A report the year earlier by Minnesota's department of corrections tracked 329 of the state's most serious sex offenders, knows as Level 3's. It found that the location of the homes of those offenders relative to places where children congregate had no bearing on their subsequent sex crimes.

Thirteen of the 329 re-offended. Two of the 13 did so after driving from their homes to parks several miles away.

"Enhanced safety due to proximity restrictions may be a comfort factor for the general public, but it does not have any basis in fact," the report said.

That danger is not lost on local law enforcement officials faced with enforcing new residency restrictions. "While it's true they can't live there, there is nothing to say they can't be sitting in the park with a bunch of balloons and animals when the kids come," said Nassau County probation director John Carway.That was echoed by Florida sex offenders Levenson surveyed in a 2005 study on their attitudes towards that state's 1,000-foot proximity law. Most surveyed said the rule wouldn't impact their risk of re-offense.

Other sex offenders surveyed noted that despite such rules, there were still children in their neighborhoods. "What is the point if the houses on your same block are full of kids?" one respondent asked.

Local lawmakers who back residency limits often say high recidivism rates among sex offenders justify blanket restrictions. According to an oft-cited 1994 federal Bureau of Justice Statistics study, male sex offenders were four times as likely as non-sex offenders to commit a sex crime in the three years after their release from state prison. "Most sex offenders do not re-offend," said Karl Hanson, a senior research officer with Public Safety Canada who studied sex offenders for two decades.

On average, he said, sex offenders have a 10 percent to 15 percent recidivism rate five years after their release; that rate rises to about 20 percent after 10 years.

Those who support residential restrictions for sex offenders say the laws might not be perfect, but they're an improvement over the lack of supervision in New York for offenders no longer on parole or probation. "It's really a reaction to the lack of funding being allocated to monitor and supervise sex offenders for life," said Laura Ahearn, of the Stony Brook-based advocacy group Parents for Megan's Law.

But questions remain about the unintended consequences such laws can inflict.

"What we're seeing on a national basis is that, the more restrictive the residency requirements become, the more frequently sex offenders fail to comply and become 'whereabouts unknown' and drop off the radar screen," said Richard Hamill, head of the New York State Alliance of Sex Offender Service Providers.

In Iowa, the number of registered offenders with no known address more than doubled since a state law banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or child care facility went into effect last year.

Suffolk and Nassau probation officials say it's too soon to tell if the new rules will cause people here to go underground. But they are concerned that shrinking areas of available housing will cluster sex offenders in neighborhoods that don't violate distance restrictions, such as one cluster in the Gordon Heights/Coram area -- if they can find a place at all.

"As more and more restrictions are put on people, where are the people going to live?" Abramo said. "It doesn't make problems go away by displacing them." As of October, there were 1,283 registered Level Two and Three sex offenders on Long Island.

Iowa's law -- one of the most stringent in the country -- has undermined rehabilitation of sex offenders by making it nearly impossible for them to find housing, jobs or sustain a family life, according to a statement this year from the Iowa County Attorneys Association. The prosecutors' group said Iowa's residency restriction compromised the safety of children.

It is not clear what will happen on Long Island, where distances are smaller and restrictions newly imposed. But those who treat sex offenders say the instability such rules can cause -- from constant evictions to the inability to live with family members whose homes lie within buffer zones -- can pose another threat to public safety.

"This is a population that doesn't deal well with stress," Hamill said. "When we create policies that cause them to lose their housing and lose their jobs, many don't respond well. And for some, committing sex offenses is a way of managing that stress."