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According to a report from the New York Department of Correctional Services, between 1985 and 2001 a total of 11,898 sex offenders were released from New York State prisons. Only 253 of these (2.1%) were returned to prison for new sex crimes within three years of their release. These figures will be shocking to many in the public and even to many lawmakers who have bought into the mythology of the high rate of sex offender recidivism.
Make no mistake, “bought in” is the appropriate description. Civil confinement of sex offenders in New York State is estimated to cost $81 million in its first year. In the debate in the New York State Assembly, Peter Rivera referred to estimated costs in out years of $650 million per year. Other states have found that initial estimates have been lower than actual costs. Their experience has been that almost no offender is ever released. The populations and the cost keep skyrocketing. The initial estimate is that New York will confine 100 offenders in the first year. At that rate, New York will civilly commit 1600 individuals over the next 16 years whom it deems unable to control their actions. Compare that figure to the 253 who were unable to control their actions over the aforementioned 16 year period.
The high cost of sex offender mythology only begins there. Economists Leigh Linden and Jonah Rockoff found in a North Carolina study that when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood, the value of houses within a one-tenth mile area around the sex offender's home fall by 4 percent on average. They estimated that the presence of sex offenders has shrunk property values in Mecklenburg County, NC by about $58 million. One should keep those figures in mind, when one reads news of the recent court decision which will result in 4400 sex offenders being restored to the New York sex offender registry. None of these had previously been listed in the online registry. Due to a recent change in the law, the Level 2 (moderate risk) offenders now will be listed. These individuals had all been told that if they lived safely in the community for 10 years they would be dropped from the registry. They complied. New York State changed the law. Their neighbors will pay the cost in the loss of their property values. No one will be any safer.
Some communities have already figured out the affect of sex offenders on housing values. They have enacted sex offender residency laws which shut out former offenders. Of course, many become homeless. Taxpayers have to pick up the tab. Suffolk County, NY now houses homeless offenders in trailers which they move around the county and place in undisclosed locations at the cost of $85 per night per offender. The experience in other states is that such residency laws result in more offenders failing to register because they cannot find housing. Of course, this results in more politicians calling for GPS tracking of offenders which in turn costs more taxpayer dollars.
There are more potential costs on the horizon. Senators Schumer and McCain have submitted a bill which would require that registered sex offenders register their e-mail addresses and online screen names. Former offenders who do not do so may be sentenced to prison for up to ten years. This will not be effective in preventing crime. Anyone who knows anything about the Internet knows that e-mail addresses are easily created with fake information. It most likely will result in some otherwise law abiding former offender being imprisoned for forgetting to submit some long unused screen name or e-mail address. Taxpayers will pay the cost. No one will be safer. Of course, Senators Schumer and McCain are responding to the fear of Internet predators elicited by such reports as those on MSNBC Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” series. They need to pay more attention to the show. Out of the over 200 perpetrators caught in the sting, only 4 were registered sex offenders—a clear demonstration that sex offender mythology is just that, mythology.
The statistics in the Dateline show are reflective of statistics reported by the U.S. Department of Justice. The vast majority of new sex crimes are committed by someone other than registered sex offenders. The Department of Justice reports that 93% of sex crimes against children are within the family or committed by adults whom the children know well. The face of danger is more likely to be in a family snapshot than on a sex offender registry.
We often decry politicians for just throwing money at problems. As regards the problem of sex offenses, they are throwing our money, but they are largely missing the problem.