The Courant had this article over the weekend, chronicling the efforts across the state to deal with sex offenders after release.
The debate in Stafford was feisty and political.First Selectman Allen Bacchiochi, a Republican, had proposed an ordinance that would ban convicted sex offenders from public parks and recreation areas.
At the selectmen’s May 10 meeting, Democratic Selectman Gordon Frassinelli questioned the utility and deterrent value of the ban, likening the initial written warning and $100 fine on the second offense to an unshoveled sidewalk violation.
Bacchiochi snapped back, “Do you want to protect the children or do you want to protect the person who has already been a sex offender? I want to protect the children of this town.”
“I think that’s pretty universal,” Frassinelli replied in a quiet voice.
Stafford is the latest to wade into the debate, with the selectmen passing the ordinance, copied from one in Danbury, last month. Afterward, Bacchiochi immediately pulled it back for legal and enforcement review before sending it to a town meeting vote.
A state-wide bill to restrict sex offenders from living within 1000 feet of schools and child-care centers passed the House but didn’t come up for vote in the Senate. Connecticut has been slow to enter the fray, which has seen a rush of bills nationwide. This has actually been a good thing. As the debate has gathered steam, more data has become available and Connecticut has been able to see the effects of passing such laws.
If it saves even one child, it will be worth it, proponents say.But new research and treatment experts say it has a slim chance of doing even that.
“I know of no case where it’s saved a child from being molested,” said psychologist Dennis Gibeau, program director for the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior in Middletown. “The idea that we’re instituting laws that restrict where sex offenders can live, where they can frequent, doesn’t really address the issue of protecting children.”
Bridgeport is amending a proposal that would restrict sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools and child-care centers and prohibit them from parks unless accompanying their own children. Its sponsor, Councilman Keith Rodgerson, projects it will come before the common council again in July.
Rodgerson says there is more council and city support for the move since his research showed the unequal density of sex offenders in Bridgeport compared with Fairfield County towns and the state at large. Bridgeport has almost 16 offenders per square mile, while Danbury and the state as a whole have less than one.
“You walk out of your front door and you’re going to bump into one,” Rodgerson said.
Other cities in the State are dealing with the problem in the context of CT’s small size. New London considered a residency restriction ban, but it wasn’t pursued. The Mayor said it would have been hard to enforce.
No parent, politician or pundit could find fault with the intent of keeping children safe from sexual abuse. Of more than 600,000 registered sex offenders in the nation, Connecticut has almost 4,500.But can the recent laws, some of which virtually leave the convicted offender nowhere to go, work?
First of all, in 80 to 90 percent of sex offenses, the predator knows the victim, experts say. The stranger in the park case is rare.
Second, many of the ordinances, including the Danbury one, do not differentiate between child molesters and other offenders. The crimes of the 10 registered offenders in Stafford range from first-degree sexual assault to public indecency.
Third, the jury is still out on whether registering offenders or restricting their activities reduces the number of sex crimes.
“The general idea of limiting sex offenders in mixing with children certainly makes good common sense,” Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. Blumenthal supported the public safety legislation and has suggested more aggressive steps, such as electronic monitoring of serious offenders.
But a study released in April by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, tracing 224 repeat sex offenders, concluded that not one would have been deterred by a residency restriction law. Social proximity was the key factor, it found, with half of the offenders establishing contact with victims through friends or acquaintances. Only 35 percent of the offenders made direct contact with victims, and none of the juvenile cases involved contact near a school, park or other prohibited area.
At least the media is now taking note of the DOJ study that debunks the myth that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism.
At the forefront of the debate is the presumption, once a child molester, always a child molester.A premise in the Danbury and Stafford ordinance states, “the recidivism rate for released sex offenders is alarmingly high, especially for those who commit their crimes on children.”
But a 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics study followed 9,691 released sex offenders, 4,295 of them child molesters, in 15 states from 1994 to 1997. In that span, only 5.3 percent of the total group repeated sex crimes, and 3.3 percent of the child molesters were arrested for another sex crime against a child.
“The conventional wisdom is that they all go out and reoffend. I don’t think you’re going to find the data to support that,” said Charles Olney, research associate at the Center for Sex Offender Management in Maryland, a project for the U.S. Justice Department. “That 100 percent recidivism rate – I’ve only heard it in speeches.”
Dan Casagrande, the Danbury corporation counsel who helped draft the sex offender ordinance, pointed to an Indianapolis ordinance that was struck down in federal court as too restrictive. “It kept anyone on the registry from entering the city of Indianapolis. You can’t even be on the interstate,” he said.
Police in Georgia and Iowa have said the laws have seriously undermined efforts to keep track of offenders. “We’re going to see sex offenders who are unable to live in communities and they’re going to go further underground where they can’t be monitored,” Renee Redman, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut, said.
It will be interesting to see how cities (and the state) react to growing data on residency restrictions and whether they attempt to shape bills in a meaningful way.
Here is my post on what acceptable registry and residency restriction laws would look like.