Research on sex offender laws and their effects on people and society

Q & A about Sex Offender Laws
by Marshall Burns, Ph.D. 

Click on a question number to be taken to the answer.

Life of a registered sex offender
     25. Can sex offenders live okay if they just stay out of trouble?
     26. Do sex offenders face job discrimination?
     27. Is it hard for a sex offender to find a place to live, even if he or she has money?
     28. Are sex offenders prohibited from being in certain public places?
     29. Are sex offenders limited in travel?
     30. Do sex offenders have to wear global positioning devices that trace their movements?
     31. Have electronic chips been implanted in sex offenders’ bodies to permanently keep track of them?

 

Life of a registered sex offender

25. Can sex offenders live okay if they just stay out of trouble?

An anonymous website maintains an ominous list of hundreds of suicides, murders, and other inauspicious deaths of sex offenders or those falsely presumed to be such. See The Consequences, of sex laws, sex crimes and accusations!: Suicides, Deaths, Murders, and Revenge by “eAdvocate”. Click on the link in each death listed to be taken to a news report about it in the mainstream press.

Here are some examples of vigilante attacks over the years, half of which resulted in the death of one or more sex offenders trying to stay out of trouble, or else the death of innocent bystanders or the vigilante attacker. In cases marked with an asterisk (*), the vigilantes attacked an innocent person by mistake.


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Note posted on January 10, 2008.

26. Do sex offenders face job discrimination?

For a well-documented discussion of sex offender employment discrimination and restrictions, see Employment in No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US by Sarah Tofte with research by Corinne Carey, Human Rights Watch, September 12, 2007.
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Note posted on January 24, 2008.

27. Is it hard for a sex offender to find a place to live, even if he or she has money?

It can be very hard. Many new laws have been coming into play that make it illegal for registered sex offenders to live almost anywhere.

  Sex offender residency restrictions in San Francisco after Prop 83
Sex offender residency restrictions in San Francisco1

It used to be that pressure for a sex offender to leave the neighborhood came, often in violent form, from frightened or vigilante neighbors (see Q&A # 25). But vigilantism is often no longer necessary to push neighbors out, as state and local governments all across the United States and elsewhere have begun to promulgate laws to officially forbid residency of sex offenders.

The US National Conference of State Legislatures has published an analysis of States With Sex Offender Residency Restriction Laws. As of June 2006, it lists 21 states with such laws. Some of the states limit their restrictions to their most dangerous sex offenders, but most apply them to anyone on the sex offender registry.

As with presence restrictions (Q&A # 28), many residency restrictions are put in place by municipalities in lieu of or in addition to applicable state laws.

Some articles in the national press evaluating these restrictions and their impact include:

For a legal analysis of such laws, see Banishment By a Thousand Laws: Residency Restrictions on Sex Offenders by Corey Rayburn Yung, Law Review, Washington University, 2007.

In addition to legal restrictions, the marketplace has also responded to the public’s fear of sex offenders with the creation of new housing subdivisions that will not sell to sex offenders. See Texas developers plan sex offender-free neighborhood in Lubbock, Associated Press, June 6, 2005 and New Subdivisions Ban Sex Offenders From Moving In — Texas Developer To Begin Second Neighborhood — WRTV-TV (Indianapolis, Indiana), June 13, 2006.

For a detailed analysis of the efficacy of residency and other restrictions in one state, see Next Comes Burning at the Stake: Is Ohio getting too tough on sex offenders?, City Beat (Cincinnati, Ohio), August 15, 2007.

For brief descriptions of six lawsuits filed by sex offenders against residency restrictions, see Lawsuit List: Offenders sue over strict residence laws, GateHouse News Service, August 20, 2007.
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1. Calif. Follows Trend with Sex-Offender Crackdown, Morning Edition, National Public Radio (U.S.A.), November 2, 2006 (Audio report)
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Note posted on August 24, 2007, updated September 20, 2007, September 26, 2007, September 29, 2007, January 10, 2008, January 15, 2008.

28. Are sex offenders prohibited from being in certain public places?

(These restrictions are often called “travel restrictions” because they limit where a person can go. However, that term is more suitable for restrictions on regional travel, as discussed in Q&A # 29. The term “presence restrictions” is used here for restrictions on where a person can be.)

Presence restrictions are becoming commonplace across the United States and elsewhere in the world. Two examples:

  • The State of Oklahoma has established a “zone of safety” around schools, playgrounds, and parks. Anyone on the sex offender registry is prohibited from being anywhere within 300 feet of such a “zone of safety.”
  • The City of Indianapolis bans sex offenders from coming within 1,000 feet of parks, swimming pools, playgrounds and other sites when children are present. (More information)

The US National Conference of State Legislatures has published two analyses of state laws that impose presence and other restrictions: State Enactments Imposing Restrictions on Sex Offenders, February 2006, and Enactments Concerning Sex Offenders Near Schools and Child-Care, September 19, 2006. Note that these analyses include only laws at the state level. Many presence restrictions are now being established by municipalities, like the one by Indianapolis cited above.

Such restrictions do more than keep a person away from children. They can also subtly ostracize him or her from society. See Child sex offenders can't enter schools to vote, Daily Herald (Chicago, Illinois), August 30, 2007.
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Note posted on August 24, 2007, updated August 26, 2007, September 20, 2007, January 10, 2008.

29. Are sex offenders limited in travel?

(This note comments on restrictions against travel from one region to another. The term “travel restrictions” is also often used to refer to prohibitions on sex offenders being in certain public places. For that issue, see Q&A # 28.)

In the United States, travel restrictions are currently imposed as part of the parole or probation process. For example:

On November 28, 2000, the [Rhode Island] Department [of Corrections] … banned all out-of-state travel by sex offender probationers subject to five exceptions: [emergency, therapy, employment, medical, or religious services] … The Policy tacitly bars both casual, same-day travel and more extended travel for vacation.

From Pelland v. Rhode Island, Decision and Order, US District Court for Rhode Island

For those sex offenders who are paroled, the [Parole] Board can impose a number of specialized conditions, including community-based sex offender treatment requirements, employment and travel restrictions, prohibitions involving sexually explicit materials, polygraph examination requirements, and allowances for parole officers to conduct computer searches, to name a few.

From Snapshot: Sex Offender Reentry in Texas, p 14 in Managing the Challenges of Sex Offender Reentry, U.S. Department of Justice, February 2007

In addition to the conditions of parole, the parole officer may place added restrictions on sex offenders, [which] may include, but are not limited to: Possession of a driver’s license and cell phone, computer and web access, travel restrictions, access to areas near or where children may be present, employment, housing and banking restrictions, and access to specific aftercare programs.

From Sex Offender Information, Colorado Department of Corrections

In April 2008, a bill was introduced in the US Congress calling for notification to other countries when a US sex offender intends to travel to another country and for prohibition of sex offenders entering the US from elsewhere.1 The bill was referred to various committees and as of August 2008 there had been no further action on the proposal.

In Britain, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced formal procedures for monitoring or barring foreign travel by any sex offender. §86, Notification requirements: travel outside the United Kingdom, allows the government to require certain sex offenders to provide notice of any travel plans and actual travel outside the United Kingdom. §114 to 122, Foreign travel orders, allows the government to prohibit a particular sex offender from traveling to particular countries outside the UK or from leaving the UK at all.

A group in Canada is lobbying for similar restrictions:

Canadian courts should be able to impose “foreign travel orders” upon anyone for whom there are reasonable grounds to fear that they will sexually abuse a child overseas.

From How Canada Allows its Convicted Sex Offenders to Freely Travel Abroad, Beyond Borders

Notice that the Canadian group does not limit its proposal to convicted sex offenders, but includes “reasonable” suspicion as grounds for the proposed restrictions.
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1. International Megan's Law of 2008 by Christopher H. Smith, with 14 cosponsors, US Congress, April 8, 2008 (Date introduced.) (H.R. 110-5722)
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Note posted on January 10, 2008, updated September 7, 2008.

30. Do sex offenders have to wear global positioning devices that trace their movements?

Many are. See More States Move to Use GPS Tracking of Sex Offenders, Fox News, May 31, 2006.

The US National Conference of State Legislatures has published an analysis of statutory provisions regarding GPS tracking of sex offenders. It lists 26 such laws in twenty states as of June 2006.

Several companies have stepped up to answer the demand for such monitoring services, including iSecureTrac, RemoteMDx, and Pro Tech Monitoring.

The chief financial officer of a major manufacturer of electronic monitoring devices said in 2006:

It seems like you can’t do a Google search or pick up a newspaper or turn on a national newscast without hearing about GPS monitoring, especially in the area of sex offender monitoring. So the market has really started to take off. We see around 100% growth in the number of GPS units for 2006, and we see that growth rate being extended into 2007.
          If you take a look at the legislation that has been sweeping the United States, say, take sex offender monitoring, for example, just 15 months ago, there was not a single state of the United States that had legislation requiring the GPS monitoring of sex offenders. Today, 41 states have either introduced or passed legislation for the GPS monitoring of sex offenders. Within the next 12 months, virtually all 50 states will have passed such legislation. The market is just exploding.

From David Vana - iSecureTrac Corporation (ISEC): CEO Interview (SL), Wall Street Transcript, September 4, 2006


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Note posted on January 10, 2008.

31. Have electronic chips been implanted in sex offenders’ bodies to permanently keep track of them?

Not yet, but that may be coming. A proposal to implant tracking chips in sex offenders made its way to the floor of the Wisconsin legislature in 2006. The lawmakers rejected the chips, but approved alternative satellite-tracking technology. (See Tracking Bill Passes Senate: Legislative Roundup (), Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin), April 26, 2006.)
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Note posted on January 10, 2008, updated January 28, 2009.

 
This page posted on January 28, 2009.
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