Friday, January 19, 2007

a modest proposal . . .

. . . from the devil's advocate.

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A news story highlighted in this week's Columbus Dispatch provides a glimpse at the new approaches to public safety that are being considered within the state of Ohio.

The city council of Upper Arlington, a separate city and suburb of the capital, is considering this week to enact tough restrictions on the ability of convicted sexual offenders to be employed within the city limits. According to the story, Councilman Timothy S. Rankin called for "an outright ban on offenders living or working" within the city.

According to the Police Chief Brian Quinn, there are three Upper Arlington residents (out of 34,000 residents) who are designated sex offenders registered in Franklin County. The proposal, which received no criticism from the entire city council body, could become law in about two months.

Councilman Wade Steen pointed to a large wooded area on a city map during the meeting showing where, "predators are more likely to lurk." Current legislation forbids sex offenders from living 1,000 feet from a school, effectively making two-thirds of Upper Arlington off-limits for habitation.

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so here are three things to ponder . . .

1 - Do these laws, prohibiting where sex offenders can live and work, effectively stop future crime?

It suffices to say there are pedophiles throughtout the country with access to both the internet and an automobile. So what is to stop any individual in the country from going here to find maps for Upper Arlington to see where children go bathing in the summer months, or here to find a list of all the libraries in town?

The laws might prevent future tragedies, and they might not. I'm not sure of the answer. But do these policies provide solutions, or just displace the problem?

2 - What if these laws become trendy in suburbs all across the nation?

Perhaps then entire sections of the country could then be "protected" from the peverted nature of these individuals. We could funnel all of our society's problem-makers into our inner cities, or better yet, in one location somewhere outside of the country. David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center asks then: are these laws unconstitutional because they can be considered banishment or punitive?

3 - And finally, if we as a society accept these types of laws, can we extend the employment and living restrictions on other criminals who are now out of prison?

Maybe the cities of Cleveland, Youngstown, and Akron should enact a law which prevents any individual convicted of robbery or the illegal possession of a weapon from living in the city. Or Canton, Lorain, and Warren can all support legislation which will prevent any individual found guilty of selling drugs from working within the city.

Or perhaps Northeast Ohio would become a more idyllic place if we can banish any person, convicted of any crime, from our region.

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something to chew on during the weekend.

I by no means have any of the answers, but it will be interesting to see how the progression of laws such as these affect the future development of cities within the state of Ohio.

For if we can't attempt to solve our society's problems, at least we can displace our problems to future generations and other jurisdictions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sex Offenders in Exile

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Published: December 30, 2006

Of all the places that sexual predators could end up after prison, the worst is out of sight, away from the scrutiny and treatment that could prevent them from committing new crimes. But communities around the country are taking that risk, with zoning laws that banish pedophiles to the literal edges of society.

There is a powerful and wholly understandable impulse behind laws that forbid sex offenders to live within certain distances of schools, day care centers and other places that children gather. Scores of states and municipalities have created such buffer zones, then continued adding layer upon layer to the enforcement blanket.

This has placed a heavy burden on law enforcement agencies, which already must struggle to meet exacting federal and state requirements for registering and monitoring the ever-growing population of released sex offenders, many of whom must be tracked for life. Lawmakers have shown no hesitation in piling on the administrative load, but frequently are less quick to pay for additional people to do the work.

As the areas off limits to sex offenders expand to encompass entire towns and cities, if not states, the places where they can live and work are shrinking fast. The unintended consequence is that offenders have been dispersed to rural nowhere zones, where they are much harder to track. In confined regions like Long Island, they have become concentrated in a handful of low-rent, few-questions-asked areas — an unintended and unfair imposition on their wary neighbors.

Many offenders respond by going underground. In Iowa, the number of registered sex offenders who went missing soared after the state passed a law forbidding offenders to live within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center. The county prosecutors’ association has urged that the law be repealed, for the simple reasons that it drives offenders out of sight, requires “the huge draining of scant law enforcement resources” and doesn’t provide the protection intended.

The prosecutors are right that any sense of security that such laws provide is vague at best and probably false. Just as it would feel foolish to forbid muggers to live near A.T.M.’s, it is hard to imagine how a 1,000-foot buffer zone around a bus stop, say, would keep a determined pedophile at bay. If children feel secure enough to drop their wariness of strangers, that would be a dangerous outcome. And of course, no buffer against a faceless predator will be any help to the overwhelming majority of child victims — those secretly abused by stepfathers, uncles and other people they know.

The problem with residency restrictions is that they fulfill an emotional need but not a rational one. It’s in everyone’s interest for registered sex offenders to lead stable lives, near the watchful eyes of family and law enforcement and regular psychiatric treatment. Exile by zoning threatens to create just the opposite phenomenon — a subpopulation of unhinged nomads off their meds with no fixed address and no one keeping tabs on them. This may satisfy many a town’s thirst for retributive justice, but as a sensible law enforcement policy designed to make children safer, it smacks of thoughtlessness and failure.