Sexual Offender Registration: Does it make rehabilitation impossible?

Everyone knows, at least in general terms, about the sexual offender registration laws. The offenders’ pictures are in the paper. There are websites and apps that have all the information: pictures, offense, address, etc. This is the reality of the world that these people live in.

I understand, and don’t disagree with the basic premise of the requirements. Protect the public, especially children, from sexual predators. No one is in favor of putting children at risk. These laws are designed with that as a goal.

It doesn’t stop with mere registration. While on supervision, whether it be through parole following a prison term, or community supervision (probation), certain sex offenders are not permitted to live in delineated “child safety zones”. These include areas near public swimming pools, schools, day care centers, and playgrounds. Many municipalities have enacted ordinances that prohibit those subject to sexual offender registration from living in the same areas even after they have been released from probation or parole.

In the vast majority of sexual offense cases the offender will at some point return to society. Whether by discharge of their sentence or by receiving deferred adjudication probation. Presumably, the goal is to have these individuals become rehabilitated so that they will be productive, law abiding citizens. They will be in the free world so it would be in everyone’s best interests to reintegrate them to the extent possible.

Sex offender registration, and particularly residency restrictions can undermine efforts to reintegrate. Many individuals are prohibited from living where they otherwise would, usually with supportive family. These individuals are then forced to acquire other, less stable, living arrangements, such as extended stay hotels. This can cause the individual to be in an environment that is less conducive to rehabilitation.

As a result, residency restrictions have come under fire. Recently, Marion, Texas abandoned an ordinance that would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1000 feet of a child safety zone. The Marion ordinance included bus stops in the definition of child safety zone. This effectively blanketed the city and made Marion off limits to sexual offender registrants. When facing legal challenge, the city repealed the law. Courts in multiple states have struck down such restrictions.

Everyone is in favor of protecting the public, and especially children. There is a glaring lack of evidence that residency restrictions contribute to that goal.