Ohio's sex offender residency restriction law: does it protect the health and safety of the state's children or falsely make people believe so?

Author:Troia, Margaret
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION II. THE ORIGINS AND PARAMETERS OF SEX OFFENDER RESIDENCY LAWS A. Residency Restrictions B. Serious Consequences for Victims, Media Hype, and Public Fear Influence Legislatures to Enact Laws to Deal with Sex Offenders C. Legislative Responses III. WHY SEX OFFENDER LAWS DO NOT WORK A. Sex Offender Laws Place Unjustified Burdens on Offenders and Their Families B. Studies Show that Sex Offender Residency Laws Do Not Have a Positive Impact on Community Safety or Recidivism Rates C. Sex Offender Residency Laws Draw Criticism from Judges, Prosecutors, and Law Enforcement Officials D. Sex Offender Residency Laws Inaccurately Target the "Stranger Danger Myth". E. Residency laws Are Based on the Public's Inaccurate Views and Fears F. Residency Laws Generate Legal Challenges G. Conclusion IV. OHIO' S SEX OFFENDER LAW A. The Law in Ohio B. Ohio's Residence Law, One Size Fits All 1. The Offenses and Offenders Covered by Ohio's Residency Law 2. Factors that Predict Whether an Individual Offender Will Offend Again 3. Ohio's Residency Law Does Not Use Limited Resources Efficiently C. No Protection for Offenders Who Owned Residences Prior to the Law's Enactment or Own Homes Within 1000 Feet of a New School D. Conclusion V. RECOMMENDATIONS VI. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    "We express a desire for rehabilitation of the individual, while simultaneously we do everything to prevent it.... We tell him to return to the norm of behavior, yet we brand him as virtually unemployable; he is required to live with his normal activities severely restricted and we react with sickened wonder and disgust when he returns to a life of crime. (1)"

    In recent years, society has become enraged by a small number of horrible crimes committed against children by convicted sex offenders. (2) Victims' advocacy groups and the media have perpetuated a negative image and fear of sex offenders through news reports and fictionalized entertainment. (3) Residency restriction laws that limit where sex offenders may reside are just one method used to deal with the growing problem of sexual violence committed against children. Many state legislatures have passed these laws in an attempt to satisfy "a public demand to be stricter on sex offenders. " (4)

    In response to fear and public outcry, well-intentioned legislators in eighteen states have enacted residency restrictions prohibiting sex offenders from residing within a certain distance from schools, bus-stops, child-care facilities, and in some instances, places where children are "likely to congregate." (5) Most citizens do not seem to be overly concerned with protecting the rights of sex offenders and feel that these laws are necessary to protect children. As one resident taking the "not in my backyard approach" stated, "I don't really care where they live. At this point I don't care if they live out of civilization." (6) Others also believe that sex offenders surrender their rights when they commit their first attack. (7) The fact of the matter is that residency laws often force all registered sex offenders to pay the price for a few high-profile cases (8) and the public's fear and beliefs regarding sex offenders is often misguided and not well-founded. (9)

    Sex offender residency laws may actually increase recidivism rates while placing unjustified burdens on sex offenders and their family members. (10) Furthermore, because these laws target stranger perpetrators, they do not prevent the majority of sex crimes committed by acquaintances or family members of the victim. (11) This results in parents being lulled into a false sense of security that their children are protected from these laws, when in fact they are not. (12) Yet supporters of these laws maintain that prohibiting known child sex offenders from living near schools or similar facilities bears a reasonable relationship to protecting children since the amount of incidental contact and opportunity to commit crimes is reduced. (13) However, no research shows any link between where sex offenders live and recidivism rates. (14) Still, courts have unanimously upheld sex offender residency restriction against a variety of constitutional attacks. (15) Despite criticisms and concerns, states continue to enforce and defend laws restricting where sex offenders may live even though these laws do not protect children effectively.

    Ohio is one state that restricts where sex offenders may live by prohibiting registered sex offenders from residing within 1000 feet of any school premises. (16) Ohio's law applies to all registered sex offenders regardless of the crime's severity, whether or not the victim was a minor, or if the offender presents a future risk of danger. (17) The statute applies even if the offender is not on parole or probation and often applies for the sex offender's entire life. (18)

    Ohio's residency law applies blanket residency restrictions on all registered sex offenders without considering the circumstances surrounding the crime or whether that individual offender presents a future risk to the community. For example, "Jim" was convicted of sexual abuse for having consensual sex with his fifteen-year-old girlfriend when he was twenty years old. (19) "Bob" was convicted on misdemeanor charges for exposing himself at a party where a thirteen-year-old gift was present. (20) "John" was convicted for having sex with a fourteen-year-old girl who claimed to be eighteen when he was twenty-one years old. (21) "Frank" was convicted of a misdemeanor for having improper pictures from the internet. (22) "Joe" was a convicted sex offender that mutilated a six-year old boy, raped him, and left him to die following his release from prison after telling inmates of these plans. (23) Most people would agree that these offenders do not pose equal risks of harm to the community by living near schools. However, each of the individuals described above are treated equally under Ohio's sex offender residency law.

    This Note argues that the Ohio legislature should amend its sex offender residency law in two key ways: 1) it should replace blanket residency requirements with a tailored law that only restricts an offender's residence if an individual assessment shows that he or she poses a risk to children by residing near schools, and 2) it should include broader, more effective grandfather clauses to exempt certain offenders from the law's provisions. These changes will ensure that limited government resources are spent on dangerous offenders that actually pose a risk to children by living near a school while reducing the number of sex offenders unduly burdened by the law. If the state only has to monitor the residences of offenders that actually create a danger by living near schools, the health, safety, and welfare of Ohio's children will be better protected.

    Part II of this Note discusses the different types of sex offender residency restriction laws enacted by states across the country. This section also explains the negative consequences that sex crimes have on victims, media coverage, and how the public's fear of sex offenders influenced legislators to enact various laws. Part III shows that sex offender residency laws do not protect children and are not supported by research. Rather, they place unjustified burdens on sex offenders and their families, increase recidivism rates, draw criticism from those one would expect to support the laws, incorrectly target stranger sex offenders, and are driven by inaccurate public fear. These shortcomings of sex offender residency laws cause sex offenders to challenge the legality of the restrictions. Part IV describes the State of Ohio's approach to residency restrictions and flaws in Ohio's statute. Part V sets out recommendations for Ohio legislators to follow in solving the problems caused by the sex offender residency restriction law to better protect the health, safety, and welfare of its children.

  2. THE ORIGINS AND PARAMETERS OF SEX OFFENDER RESIDENCY LAWS

    Eighteen states restrict where sex offenders may reside in some way. (24) These laws vary by distance, facilities included, offenders covered by the law, and the length of time offenders are so restricted. The serious effects that sex crimes have on victims, media hype, and public fear have influenced legislatures to enact many types of laws in addition to residency restrictions to deal with sex offenders.

    1. Residency Restrictions

      The distance that states put between where an offender may reside and schools varies from 500 feet (25) to 2000 feet. (26) Eight states add to the list of facilities sex offenders may not reside near in addition to schools. (27) Instead of only prohibiting offenders from residing near schools, these states chose to include places such as daycare or child-care facilities, parks, playgrounds, bus-stops, preschools, youth centers, public swimming pools, video arcade facilities, and places where children are "likely to congregate." (28) Additionally, two states require sex offenders to reside a certain distance away from their victim's residence. (29) The housing options available to sex offenders decline even more drastically when states include more facilities that offenders may not reside near. In some states, entire towns are virtually off limits to sex offenders because there are no homes built, only undeveloped lots, in areas where sex offenders are permitted to reside. (30)

      The categories of offenders subject to residency restriction laws also vary from state to state. Ten states subject all registered sex offenders to the law regardless of the victim's age or the offender' s level of dangerousness. (31) These blanket residency restrictions do not take into account the individual offender or the specific circumstances of each case. Six states only regulate offenders' residences if their crime was committed against a minor. (32) Lastly, two states only restrict offenders if the sentencing court determines that the...

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