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Residence Restrictions for Released Sex Offenders

February 2008:

CRS Report for Congress

Monitoring the movement of sex offenders in communities continues to be of interest to Congress, state legislatures, and local governments. In response to some citizens’ concerns, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-248), which, among other provisions, provides for mandatory registration of sex offenders who are released from prison, closer scrutiny of them, and community notification of their whereabouts. Through the community notification process, the public has more knowledge of where sex offenders reside. At least 23 states and hundreds of local governments have passed laws to prohibit sex offenders, who must register as such, from living within a specified distance of a particular area. Often, restricted areas include parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, swimming pools, schools, bus stops, libraries, convenience stores, and other facilities that serve large numbers of persons under 18 years of age.

With passage of the Adam Walsh Act, Congress sought to ensure through the registration process that released sex offenders are monitored properly so that they are no longer a threat to the public. Opponents of state and local residence restriction laws argue that they greatly affect the ability of sex offenders to obtain housing, employment, education, and health services. The inability of many released sex offenders to obtain work and other services contributes to their becoming homeless. Consequently, without an address for offenders, it becomes very difficult for law enforcement to track them. On the other hand, proponents of the laws state that their primary concern is protection of children from predators, not the inconvenience of some sex offenders. Possible oversight issues related to residence restrictions include their impact on public safety and how registration provisions of the Walsh Act are actually implemented to determine if they conform to congressional intent.

Findings of studies commissioned by Colorado and Minnesota influenced their approach to residence restriction laws. Colorado chose not to enact a residence restriction law. The Colorado study addressed safety issues raised by living arrangements of sex offenders in the community. It found that for sex offenders under the supervision of criminal justice, residence restriction laws may not deter the offender from sexual reoffending and should not be considered as a method to control sexual offending recidivism. It also found that sex offenders with good support systems had lower recidivism rates than those with poor or no support system. In addressing residence restriction for sex offenders, Minnesota enacted a law, but does not impose specific distance restrictions on where a sex offender can live. It requires the agency responsible for supervising a high risk offender to consider the proximity of the offender’s residence to other high risk offenders, as well as to schools. The Minnesota study examined the effect of using housing restrictions to reduce sexual recidivism. This study found that when offenders seek a victim through direct contact, the offenders were more likely to leave their neighborhood to commit an offense; and that residential proximity is not a major factor in reducing sexual recidivism, but that social or relationship proximity is.

This report analyzes the issue of residence restriction laws for released sex offenders. It will be updated to reflect any congressional legislative activity. ..Source.. by Garrine P. Laney, Analyst in Social Policy, Domestic Social Policy Division

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