Task force: Sex offender restrictions pointless










By Ben Wolford, Sun

5:52 p.m. EDT, March 22, 2013


— Harsh local restrictions on where sex offenders can live
should be lifted, the Palm
Beach County public defender said.

And prosecutors and law enforcement agreed.

Their consensus is a turn in the way safety officials think
about regulating the movements of the most restricted class of ex-convicts.
Dozens of sex offenders are homeless in Palm
Beach County, sleeping outside on benches or under foliage, because living
nowhere is easier than living somewhere.

Meanwhile, more than 100 sex offenders populate a remote cluster
of duplexes, surrounded by sugar cane, two miles outside Pahokee. Known as
Miracle Village, it is perhaps the most welcoming community for sex offenders
in South Florida.

"Any laws about
public safety should be grounded in evidence-based policies, not by hysteria
and misinformation," said Gail Colletta, president of the Florida Action Committee,
which lobbies for restrictions that are based on the risk posed by each

Colletta is also a
member of a task force expected to recommend new residency restrictions to the
county government. The Sex Offender Re-Entry Task Force, which includes
lawyers, deputies, parole officers and elected officials, met Friday and heard
from residents of Miracle Village.

"We took one of the worst parts of Pahokee and turned it
into one of the safest parts of Pahokee," said Pat Powers, director of
Matthew 25 Ministries, the Christian group that oversees Miracle Village.

Of the 909 registered sex offenders in Palm
Beach County, 62 of them are homeless.

They report to their probation officers daily, and deputies with
the Palm Beach County
Sheriff's Office say they are easier to watch.

"They have to tell us where they're going to be at,"
said Rosalyn Baker, of the Department of Corrections. "The corner of this,
the corner of that."

The state law on sex offender residency says they cannot live
within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or playground. Palm
Beach County further restricts them, pushing the zone to 2,500 feet. Some
cities and villages flesh out the remaining patchwork of ordinances.

But residency means dwelling; it's where the offender sleeps
between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Some of them, Baker said, could live near a school
all day then leave at night.

Ultimately, the task force seems to agree, none of this is
relevant. The residency restrictions offer merely a "semblance of
protection," they argue.

"These residency restrictions have not been shown to be
effective in reducing recidivism," Public Defender Carey Haughwout said.

The rate of recidivism among sex offenders nationally, studies
show, is between 5 percent and 10 percent over a decade. One study in Minnesota
determined that residency restrictions would not have prevented any of the 224
sex offenses researchers examined.

Although county law enforcement officials agree residency
restrictions should be repealed, they insisted on the dangerousness of sex
offenders. Five percent recidivism is still 5 percent, they said.

"We're talking about kids who have been raped and
killed," Sheriff's Office Detective Kevin Umphrey said.

Where is their "Second Chance"?

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