To the Editor:
I was disappointed, but unfortunately not surprised, to read the Times’ June 18 editorial supporting a sex offender residency restriction bill in the New Jersey Legislature.
The public relies on the media to report accurately, particularly on such an important subject. Yet, when it comes to sex offender issues, even editorial boards seem more motivated by emotion than facts.
Numerous studies on residency restrictions, including a 2012 study by Jill Levenson, Ph.D., of Lynn University in Florida, have found that sexual recidivists do not live closer to schools or parks than non-recidivists. The few registrants who did sexually re-offend were likely to drive to a different neighborhood.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections released a 2007 study that followed all 3,166 sex offenders released between 1990 and 2002. Of the 224 offenders (about 7 percent) convicted of a new sex offense, it states “not one of the 224 sex offenses would likely have been deterred by a residency restrictions law.”
Sex offender recidivism is consistently in the single digits, with 96 percent of all sex crimes perpetrated by someone not on the registry, according to a 2008 University of Albany study. None of the 96 percent would be subject to residency laws. Nor would these laws protect the 95 percent of child victims abused by family members or acquaintances.
Blanket bans severely restrict the amount of legal housing for registrants, driving them away from centrally located treatment services, employment, and community resources. Homeless offenders are more difficult for law enforcement to track, and taxpayers foot the bill for their housing and food. Family members and children of the offender are uprooted and forced to move with the offender or live apart. These negative dynamics lead to higher chances of re-offending, not lower ones.
If New Jersey wants to prevent sexual abuse, lawmakers and media alike must begin embracing evidence-based policies, not anecdotal feel-good laws with harmful consequences.
USA FAIR Inc.