The support to amend, replace or remove the city of Green Bay’s sex offender ordinance is growing as recent reports have shown that it may not be working as intended.
- My question is, what was the intention?
At the June 25 Protection & Welfare Committee meeting, several officials spoke out against the ordinance, including the Brown County District Attorney’s office and state Rep. Karl Van Roy, R-Howard. They worry that the law is too restrictive and suitable housing isn’t always available because of it, resulting in sex offenders failing to register where they live and extending their stay in prison at taxpayer expense.
The Green Bay City Council is scheduled to debate the issue at its July 17 meeting and we hope that they find a better alternative to the current ordinance, namely one that leads to greater compliance of sex offenders registering where they live.
In 2007, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school, playground or other place where children gather. Supporters of the ordinance said that by having no restrictions, released sex offenders would move to the city. The Green Bay ordinance then prompted suburban municipalities to draw up similar ordinances. What resulted was a patchwork of laws that made it difficult for the Department of Corrections to place sex offenders who are returning to society.
A Jan. 25, 2012, report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette illustrated some of those concerns. The story reported that convicted sex offenders were returning from prison to the city of Green Bay and bypassing the city’s Sex Offender Residence Board, which approves where they can live. At the time, the state Department of Corrections defended its action, saying it was better to know where the registered sex offenders were living than to have them be homeless.
About a year ago, the Press-Gazette reported that some offenders had been held in prison after their sentences had ended because of a lack of suitable house. At the time, the Green Bay police chief estimated as many as 30 offenders were living in the city without reporting their residence to the police, as required by state law.
It’s hard to argue against proponents of the ordinance. Victims of sexual abuse serve a lifetime sentence of their own private hell and no parent wants a registered sex offender to live next door. But if an ordinance is so restrictive that it drives sex offenders “underground” and they don’t report where they’re living, then maybe it’s time to re-examine the ordinance.
- Not all sexual abuse victims serve a lifetime sentence! Many chose to be a survivor and not dwell on the past they cannot change.
City attorneys have recommended replacing the ordinance with one that calls for 150-foot barrier around schools, parks and other places where children gather. It would give officials more leeway in placing sex offenders in the city while protecting sensitive locations. While 150 feet might not be restrictive enough, the recommendation has prompted debate. The Protection & Welfare Committee agreed with recommendation, in a way. It approved keeping the current ordinance and adding the 150-foot barrier on top of it.
We have long maintained that sex offender residency should be governed by a state standard so we don’t end up with each municipality authoring a slightly different ordinance. A collage of ordinances is confusing and ones that are too restrictive drive released offenders underground, like we’ve seen in Green Bay.
Assembly Bill 759 (PDF) would have done that — restricting violent sex offenders from living within 100 to 250 feet of areas where children congregate — and would have given everyone in Wisconsin the same protections under the law, no matter which municipality they lived in.
But since that bill died in 2010 and none seems forthcoming, we would recommend that the city of Green Bay find a compromise. Somewhere between the 2,000-foot and 150-foot barriers there is a middle ground. We urge alderman and local law enforcement officials to work together to find that.