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Laws restrict where 2,400 can live; courts and neighborhoods struggle with consequences
It seems like a common-sense precaution to protect children: Prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school.
- How is this considered "common-sense?" It's totally without any common-sense!
But that simple premise - which has been law in Ohio since 2003 and Kentucky since 2006 - is quickly degenerating into a legislative free-for-all, fraught with unintended consequences, controversy and constitutional questions.
The Ohio and Kentucky supreme courts are poised this fall to decide if the laws are unconstitutional because they subject offenders to further punishment after they've served their sentences.
Meanwhile, evidence suggests that residency restrictions may be counterproductive, forcing sex offenders underground and lulling parents into a false sense of security. Hamilton County sheriff's deputies, for example, have arrest warrants out for 49 sex offenders who should have registered their addresses - but who have dropped out of sight.
Seven of them simply stopped registering after the city of Cincinnati told them they couldn't live within 1,000 feet of a school.
And there's this: As more areas become off-limits, sex offenders are being concentrated into neighborhoods with few schools and inexpensive housing - neighborhoods like Westwood and Florence, an Enquirer analysis of sex offender registration data shows.
Even if they're not a threat, a concentration of sex offenders is bad news for property values. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that a sex offender moving into a neighborhood can reduce a home's value by $5,500.
"Just knowing they're there has added this extra stress," says Amber Shock, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter in White Oak.
Shock found out via the Internet that two sex offenders are living in a nearby house at Blue Rock and Cheviot roads - which the neighborhood children walk past on their way to a soft-serve ice cream stand.
"People think this isn't a big deal, but it is a big deal. Registered sex offenders will do it again, and maybe next time they'll kill someone," she says. Shock says she realizes that most sex offenses are committed by someone known to the family - "We all watch Oprah" - and that sex offenders have to live somewhere.
"Whether they live next to a park or a school or whatever, they're going to be with us. They've done their time and they're out," she says. "But when you become a mom, things totally change.
"You look at the world so different. Maybe they should all go to a mental hospital."
OFF-LIMITS AREAS EXPAND
Restrictions on where sex offenders can live have been proliferating nationally since the 1990s.
Ohio and Kentucky require all sex offenders - as determined by a judge at a sentencing hearing - to register their address with the sheriff of the county in which they will live, as often as every 30 days. Registrations, with photographs, are available on Web sites maintained by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and Kentucky State Police.
In Ohio, sheriffs must then notify neighbors when the most serious classes of sex offenders - sex predators and some repeat offenders - move in next door. Kentucky has no such requirement. Both states also say where sex offenders can live, typically barring them from within 1,000 feet of any school and some day-care centers. Kentucky has added playgrounds to the list.
The Cincinnati City Council approved further restrictions this year. Now, sex offenders also are prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of any recreation center, or any boys or girls club.
The effect: At least 60 percent of Cincinnati's housing units are off-limits to sex offenders, according to a study by the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.
Cincinnati is by far the most aggressive jurisdiction in enforcing residency restrictions, filing 167 of the 198 lawsuits aimed at evicting offenders in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court since 2006.
The law can be frustrating to enforce.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
OH - Sex offender limits: Too far?
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