Monday, October 15, 2007

California Study on Residency Restrictions

The Impact of Residency Restrictions on Sex Offenders and Correctional Management Practices: A Literature Review. (PDF)

NOTE: This study has a misleading definition of "sex offender" and quotes Penal Code section 288 (a) (b), which is child molestation. The Penal Code section 290 requirement to register is far broader than only child molestation. The California public should also note there can be a tremendous difference in a crime depending on the parentheses in the code (288 (a) compared to 288a, for example.)

Key cites:

  • Each year there are 60,000 to 70,000 arrests on charges of child sexual assault, according to the U.S. Justice Department, of which only about 115 are abductions by strangers. In addition, there are 15,000 to 20,000 arrests on charges of forcible rape. Most rape victims know their assailants: seven in ten female rape or sexual assault victims state the offender was an intimate, other relative, a friend or an acquaintance.
  • On average, recidivism rates for all types of sex offenders are lower than for other offenders. In California, for example, the parole revocation rate (within a two-year period after release) for all first time parolees convicted of non-sex offenses was 55 percent between 1996 and 2005, while the parole revocation rate for all categories of first time parolee sex offenders was 45 percent. Rapists are likely to recidivate at a higher rate (18.9 percent) than are child molesters (12.7 percent), according to a meta-analysis of 79 studies. Given the serious nature of sex offenses, and their life-long impact on victims, even a low re-offending rate may be too high.
  • One concern is that local residency restrictions may force sex offenders to move from one community to the next, in a competitive spiral of tougher “not in my backyard” ordinances. Unfortunately there is little research regarding the effectiveness of restricting the housing locations available to sex offenders, but the few studies available find they have no impact on re-offense rates.
  • Washington State, which enacted a sex offender notification law in 1990, is the only state to have researched the efficacy of its notification law. The state found no reduction in sex crimes against children. However, the evaluation found a benefit in the increased level of community education about sex crimes, the various types of sex offenders, and the degree of risk they pose.
  • Advocates believe that residency restrictions diminish the likelihood that sex offenders will come in contact with children whom they might victimize. However, there is little research-based evidence that residency restrictions actually reduce recidivistic sexual violence. Some research suggests that residency restrictions may lead to serious unintended collateral consequences for offenders, such as limiting their opportunities for employment, treatment services, pro-social support systems, and most importantly, housing.
  • Some states have expressed doubts about the laws’ effectiveness. Minnesota and Colorado considered passing residency restriction laws, but decided against it after commissioning studies. Colorado researchers found that molesters who re-offended while under supervision did not live closer than non-recidivists to schools or child-care centers. They also found that placing restrictions on the location of supervised sex offender’s residences did not deter the sex offender from re-offending and was not effective in controlling sexual offending recidivism. Most importantly, the research found that sex offenders who had a positive support system in their lives had significantly lower recidivism rates and fewer rule violations than offenders who had negative or no support.
  • According to a Minnesota Department of Corrections report, residency restrictions create a shortage of housing options for sex offenders and force them to move to rural areas where they are likely to become increasingly isolated with few employment opportunities, a lack of social support, and limited availability of social services and mental health treatment. Such restrictions can lead to homelessness and transience, which interfere with effective tracking, monitoring, and close probationary supervision.
  • The most serious of sex offenders (13 level-III offenders) who were released in Minnesota between 1997 and 1999, and were re-arrested for committing new sex offenses, did not reside at the time of their arrests within 2,500 feet of schools or parks. The study did not provide re-arrest information for the less serious sex offenders.
  • In Florida, a 2004 survey of sex offenders found that half of the respondents reported that residency restrictions had forced them to move from a residence in which they were living, and 25 percent were unable to return to their residence after their conviction (see Table 3 below). Nearly half reported that residence restrictions prevented them from living with supportive family members. The surveyed sex offenders did not perceive residency restrictions as helpful in risk management, and in fact reported that such restrictions inadvertently increased their psychosocial stress, which can lead to recidivism. At that time, housing restrictions in Florida were enforced by special conditions of sex offender probation with a restriction zone of 1,000 feet. It is likely that hardships related to housing increase with larger exclusionary zones.
  • A 2001 risk-assessment study by Virginia’s Criminal Sentencing Commission found employment to be a major factor affecting whether paroled sex offenders relapse and re-offend. The study of 579 paroled sex offenders over a five year-period found that an
    offender’s record of employment for the previous two years was correlated with the likelihood of recidivism. Sex offenders who had been unemployed or not regularly employed (i.e., employed with a full-time job at least 75 percent of the time) were found to recidivate at higher rates than sex offenders who experienced stable employment.
  • Research in Colorado suggests that sex offenders with positive, informed support (stable housing and social support) have significantly lower criminal and technical violations than sex offenders who had negative or no support (such as friend, family, or roomate who negatively influence the offender or refuse to cooperate with the authorities).
  • In general, people do not want to live near a sex offender. A study conducted in May 2006 by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood, values of homes within a tenth of a mile drop an average of four percent.
This is an excellent study with a comprehensive summary of the laws in the varied states with a discussion of potential constitutional conflicts.

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