Sex offender homelessness is not an excuse

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In my post last night about Danbury’s desire to expel all sex offenders from its shelter, a helpful readers points to this NYT article about a homeless sex offender in Georgia who could be facing life in prison for failing to register.

The offender, Larry W. Moore Jr. of Augusta, was convicted in North Carolina in 1994 of indecent liberty with a child, a felony. This week he was convicted for the second time of violating a requirement that he register. Under the new law, a second violation carries an automatic life sentence.

“We have suggested that it is cruel and unusual punishment as it relates to the facts of this case,” said Sam B. Sibley Jr., the state public defender in Augusta, whose office represents Mr. Moore and is planning an appeal on his behalf.

This increased penalty is in conjunction with some tough residency restrictions: 1,000 feet of not only schools and day care centers but also churches, swimming pools and school bus stops.

There is only one shelter in Georgia that accepts male sex offenders. One. Sex offenders that cannot find housing have to resort to all sorts of living accommodations.

In Florida, the state authorized five offenders to live under a bridge in Miami after they were unable to find suitable housing that they could afford. In Iowa, a victims’ group found that offenders tried to comply with the registry law by offering addresses like “rest area mile marker 149” or “RV in old Kmart parking lot.”

I had a client once who was charged with failure to register. He was living under a bridge. I half-joked at the time that he should send in the registration form with “Under Charter Oak Bridge” as his address. Guess some people are actually doing it.

Then you get quotes like this:

Homelessness is not an acceptable excuse. “One of the requirements when you become a sex offender is you have to have an address,” said Sgt. Ray Hardin of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta.

Sergeant Hardin said enforcement of the law required a dedicated investigator, a global positioning system and, each time an offender moves, hours of paperwork. At least 15 sex offenders have been arrested because of homelessness since the law took effect in July 2006, according to documents gathered through pretrial proceedings in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Perhaps the police department can set up tents in their parking lots, where sex offenders can stay. This way, there’s zero cost of monitoring and these folks (some of them are human, too) have a roof over their heads.

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16 thoughts on “Sex offender homelessness is not an excuse

  1. Ilah

    Perhaps the police department can set up tents in their parking lots,

    In Sufflok County (New York again), homelss registrants are assigned to trailers, and those trailers are moved around every month. There’s been uproars over where the trailers are parked (usually near industrial areas), whether or not the location is disclosed soon enough, whether the trailers are moved often enough, and whether every community is properly “sharing the burden.” Guards monitor the trailers, and every registrant (even those no longer on probation/parole) are subject to curfew regulation. The Department of Social Services used to place the individuals in hotels as transitional housing, but that–of course!–caused an uproar.

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  2. Ilah

    Ah, but if the boat drifted into international waters, to which registry office would the registrant report the change of address? Or perhaps residency restrictions, like gambling laws, can be skirted through Riverboat Residency. :-)

    Honestly, I can’t see how residency restrictions can be sustained much longer, particularly if the Ohio and Kentucky courts rule for the state. It would then become normal and constitutionally valid to evict one from his or her own home because of a past conviction, no matter when the conviction occurred. Enterprising folk with handy cash could pick up some cheap properties in the wake of evictions. And we would need a lot of ships.

    I do not think most folks understand that such court rulings do not remove certain rights from sex offenders. In most cases, the courts find there isn’t a right to be violated, or the violation is so small as to be inconsequential. (A bit like “harmless error,” I suppose.)

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  3. Pingback: You Won’t Be Homeless for Much Longer! « Authenticated

  4. Sean O'Brien

    You know, Gideon, while I 100% agree with you that a lot of this sex offender registry stuff is problematic, your approach is offputting. Guess what, if you had kids, would you want sex offenders living in a shelter on your block? You probably wouldn’t. Many people act on their feelings and contact their local representatives. Hence the politicians’ response. Now maybe you expect people to be more enlightened, but usually people aren’t all that fired up to have sex offenders near them–and rightfully so. Perhaps if you’d be a little less insulting to people’s justified fears . . . .

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  5. Gideon Post author

    Sean,

    It goes without saying that safety of children is important; I’m not going to preface each post I make on the issue of sex offender registration and residency restrictions with a reminder of that.

    Also, the point of my posts is to highlight the overreaction to the hysteria running amok.

    Sorry if my style is not pleasing to you.

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  6. Sean O'Brien

    It’s not whether it’s pleasing to me or not. And I am not accusing you of not caring about kids, but your dismissal of people’s desire not to live around sex offenders as hysteria is counterproductive. Moreover, your snark is very unconvincing, except in the echo chamber. That’s all I am trying to point out.

    I think a lot of the sex offender stuff is overkill too. I think we waste finite resources over this stuff, and that has costs as well.

    Remember, I was the helpful reader.

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  7. Leah Simon

    Sean O’Brien, please remember just because you are labeled a sex offender does mean you committed a crime against a child. Everyone lumps this designation into one category, and you can urinate in public or consensual sex with your underage girlfriend and you are a sex offender for life. The kind of people you are talking about are the minority.

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  8. Ilah

    “And I am not accusing you of not caring about kids, but your dismissal of people’s desire not to live around sex offenders as hysteria is counterproductive. Moreover, your snark is very unconvincing, except in the echo chamber. That’s all I am trying to point out.”

    Sean, I do understand what you’re saying. However, it’s hard not to dismiss the lengths people are willing to take to see such laws implemented and upheld as hysteria. More than once I’ve told folks that such restrictions are opposed by VICTIM advocacy groups, and that DOC and treatment specialists show uprooting offenders INCREASE the risk of recidivism–and the response has been “I don’t care!” One even went so far as to imply victim advocacy groups opposing them must be “pro-pedophile.”

    When shown data that indicates folks living next door to the few offenders who re-offend are at LESS risk than those living more than a mile away (Minnesota found recidivists traveled from their residence to avoid identification), people still say “I don’t care!”

    When shown courts have upheld res-res not by “taking away” an offender’s rights, but by finding there is NO right to be violated in the first place (the Iowa decision), people still say, “I don’t care!”

    When it is shown an offender has lived offense-free in the same home for a decade or more, and now has children who must either lose a parent or lose their home, people still say, “I don’t care!”

    That’s hysteria.

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  9. Sean O'Brien

    It’s not hysteria–it’s the nature of being a parent. When you’re a parent you worry. That’s just the way it works. If there are sex offenders nearby, then you’ll worry about them, and you’ll do anything to not have them live near you.

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  10. Ilah

    “It’s not hysteria–it’s the nature of being a parent.”

    Again, I understand what you’re saying, but believe that’s a superficial presumption about what it is to be a parent. More children are killed each year horseback riding than are killed by sex offenders (previously convicted and not). But I’m sure if a movement started to prevent all children from riding horses, and to remove all horse-related activities from place where children may gather, you’d call that, at the very least, an overreation. Ditto for childhood sports, bike riding, and being a passenger in a parent’s car.

    A parent’s responsibility is to take personal action to reduce the risk of harm coming to their children–no doubt about it. But if we took the same approach to nearly any other childhood danger, it would be deemed ridiculous. We don’t ban horseback riding; we teach children safe riding techniques and outfit them with protective gear to minimize risk. We don’t ban children from riding in cars; we use seatbelts and safety seats to minimize risk.

    “If there are sex offenders nearby, then you’ll worry about them, and you’ll do anything to not have them live near you.”

    But that’s the insidious underbelly of res-res. Parents may feel safer that they no longer know of a sex offender in the neighborhood, and behave as if the risk to their children has been minimized. In fact, just the opposite has happened. That “safe” neighborhood, where all the parents feel just fine about letting their children roam, has become easy ground for the sex offender who has yet to be caught. (Convictions of first-time offenders account for about 90% of all sex crime convictions, btw.)

    As for “do anything” to not have a sex offender live nearby, that’s not entirely true. Parents who fear the sex offender seem uniformly unwilling to move, even while spending a year or more to make the offender move away.

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  11. Sean O'Brien

    Well, I’ll tell you this. I am a parent, and it’s not a superficial assumption. You worry. It’s that simple. You just love them so much–more than life itself.

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  12. Ilah

    Well, I’m a parent as well. Of course I worry. But “worry” is not synonymous with “headless chicken.” Nor does “worry” encompass the scope and depth of parental responsibility. That’s what I was referring to as superficial: a seemingly pervasive belief that worry and fear are the strongest indicators of Good Parents.

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  13. Ilah

    P.S. I don’t mean the above to sound snipy, though on re-reading it, I can “hear” that tone. As far as I’m concerned, we’re having a amicable debate.

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  14. Sean O'Brien

    I didnt take it that way. The point is, of course, that worry is a necessary fact of life for parents, good and bad. And if there’s a sex offender nearby, you will worry. Nature of the beast.

    In any event, I think that states really need to take a look at sex offender registries and what we’re doing. Resources are finite, which means that they should not be squandered on a “one size fits all approach”. That said, remember, a sicko like Lawrence Singleton was paroled . . . .

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  15. Ilah

    True about Singleton, though that had far more to do with the sentencing options available at the time than with a parole board decision. And his first brutal crime was committed BEFORE he was incarcerated, not after he was released.

    All I’m saying is that when we allow worry to be the end-all, it becomes hysteria–and when hysteria is deemed normal, there is no longer the will to exchange the useless for the useful. Politicians in numerous states have gone on the record stating the laws are ineffective, or counterproductive, or other politico-code for “stupid,” yet they state there is no “political will” to make a change for fear of the next election cycle.

    That’s why the laws continue to escalate, and every escalation has its corresponding justifications that keep fear at a low boil. Lower courts have already determined the legislature need not be correct in its assumptions underlying intent; legislators merely need to prove they believe they’re right.

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