This past Saturday, the ACLU of Florida held a forum on the efficacy of sex offender residency restrictions. The event, moderated by CBS 4 Reporter Jim DeFede, sought to answer the question of whether the residency restrictions imposed on sex offenders are based on evidence or politics and, more importantly, whether they are actually making our communities safer.
The panel for this forum was comprised of Jeanne Baker; an ACLU cooperating attorney who has worked on cases challenging residency restrictions, Gail Colletta; President of the Florida Action Committee, Dawn Thompson; assistant executive director Kristi House child advocacy center and Marc Sarnoff; Miami City Commissioner.
Surprisingly, although the panel included a children’s advocate and one of the commissioners who was responsible for architecting measures to zone sex offenders out of communities, the panelists all agreed that the restrictions were based on politics, ran contrary to empirical evidence and studies consistently show they are ineffective and that they are not making our community safer.
The most shocking facts to emerge from the forum were that of the 2,017 sex offenders in Miami-Dade County. 82 are incarcerated and 42 are deceased, leaving 1,893 in the community. Of those; 342 (18%) are registered as “Transient” (homeless) and 224 (12%) are listed as “Absconded” (have gone underground to avoid registration/residency requirements). An unintended consequence of residency restrictions is that almost one-third of registrants are harder to track.
Those who have absconded are likely in the community; police just don’t know where they are and certainly cannot check up on them. Those who are transient lack housing stability and are removed from family support; both are triggers for re-offense.
Not only have the residency restrictions created an intolerable and inhumane lifetime punishment imposed on registrants, but they are endangering the citizens of Miami-Dade.