Home Sweet Home* [Offer Not Valid For Sex Offenders]
It is becoming common for released sex offenders to find themselves left out on the streets instead of living with their support systems in their hometown communities. In Florida, some sex offenders have to live under a bridge because there is nowhere for the sex offender to live that is not subject to a local residency restriction. Residency restrictions evolved overtime from the introduction of the Adam Walsh Act and the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which mandated states adopt a tiered system for labeling sex offenders which subjected them to various degrees of registration requirements. A residency restriction is a limitation on where a sex offender can live after they have been released from incarceration. Residency restrictions can be imposed by the state, local municipalities, and by private housing complexes through the use of restrictive covenants. Residency restrictions are commonly used to keep sex offenders from living near schools, community centers, day care centers, youth facilities, churches, recreational facilities, and even parks. The purpose of these residency restrictions is to protect vulnerable populations from released sex offenders because the belief is that sex offender’s pose an incredibly risk and have higher rates of recidivism than other released criminals. Unfortunately, there has been no data that supports the argument that sex offenders are more likely to reoffend.
States are starting to see the issue with allowing multiple residency restrictions against sex offenders and forcing sex offenders into homelessness. Most recently, Michigan handed down a decision that the residency restrictions were a violation of Constitutional rights and was grossly affecting the offenders subjected to them. Practitioners should be aware of the collateral consequences associated with sex offender residency restrictions. Local and private residency restrictions have stronger grounds for invalidation because they are an additional punishment placed on a sex offender after they have been released and subjected to their registration requirements. Practitioners could pursue an argument that local ordinances and private restrictions are Ex Post Facto violations because they impose this additional burden and because there has been no data that supports the interest in creating these restrictions. For an Ex Post Facto violation to stand, the Practitioner must show that either the residency restrictions were intended to be punitive, or the effect of the residency restrictions creates punitive outcomes.
Practitioners should also notify clients who will be released and are going to be subjected to residency restrictions what the requirements are of the communities they will be released back into. Sex offenders are often released back into their hometown communities so they have access to their support settings and resources for rehabilitation. Unfortunately, if these services or individuals are located within a restricted zone, it may be challenging if not impossible for the sex offender to gain access to them. Practitioners should assist with providing their client access to resources or organizations that can help with finding housing and other needs that are not subject to the residency restrictions. Additionally, practitioners should consider whether a sex offender could be “grandfathered-in” to their home if they had purchased their home prior to their conviction and incarceration. Some communities will make exceptions for those offenders who are able to show they had ties to the community before the restrictions were in place. Practitioners should warn clients about the repercussions with failure to find suitable housing, which may include a fine and incarceration in some communities.
While the tide is beginning to turn against sex offender residency restrictions, there are some states who continue to increase the restrictions placed on sex offenders. It is important that practitioners and leaders who understand the significance in creating a safe environment for their communities, and in giving a sex offender the opportunity to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society, take a stand against increased restrictions that impose outrageous burdens and forced homelessness. If we truly want to create systemic change and provide for the opportunity to create a life for oneself post-incarceration, we must provide access to the people and resources that will assist in this endeavor.
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