Residency Restrictions: In Short Concerning the Sex Offender

Residency Restrictions: In Short Concerning the Sex Offender

This paper intends to present an enhanced understanding of sex offender residency restrictions. This paper will explore the history of the restrictions as well as what led to legislation in this area. In this document, an examination of various state statutes will provide reference to what these laws do and provide to the constituents based on the specific restriction. The variation between a few states specific residency requirements will undergo precise examination in order to provide comprehension of the thought of the legislator. Exploration of the reasoning behind the differing points of view with relation to residency requirements should provide a better understanding of the complete perspective. In specific, this document will examine Missouri’s position on some particular standpoints with relation to sex offender residency. Further consideration of sex offender residency requirements in the areas approached in this document should allow for concise developments based on the necessity of the requirements as well as the necessity to rehabilitate and provide sustainable refuge.

Abundant legislative actions being debated and enacted in several states and localities focus on defining boundaries and limitations to the area where people convicted of sex offenses are allowed to live, work and recreate. Despite recent activity this type of restriction remains relatively new in the context of historical judicial injunction in relation to sex offenders. This right restriction involves diverse legal opinions and positions with regard to the offenders themselves as well as opponents and proponents of the restriction. In order to develop a clearer understanding of what is involved with regard to sex offender, residency restrictions it is necessary to consider the facts, opinions, legal positions and historical context of the restrictions.

Only recently has sex offender policy emerged as a pressing (and controversial) criminal justice issue. (Hughes & Burchfield, 2008) Concerned about the threat of sexual offenses against women and children, policymakers during the late 1980s initiated what has developed into a long-term search for a way to identify, locate, and effectively control sex offenders living in the community. (Hughes & Burchfield, 2008) Residency restrictions forbid convicted sex offenders from living within a certain distance, typically between 500 to 2,500 feet, of specific places where children gather. (Hughes & Burchfield, 2008) Theses building restrictions on sex offender residency intend to develop buffer zones between where sex offenders and the children of our society live and breathe in order to provide a safe growing environment for children. What the legislatures fail to consider are the effects that these laws will have on society in general with the result of sex offenders having very little if any place to live some scholars consider this unconsidered effect conducive to recidivism.

The way in which sex offender, residency restrictions and registrations have developed throughout the nation has created a combination of different restrictions to which different states apply to their statute. This variation has caused a number of difficulties with regard to offenders reentering society after their sentence. For instance, in Georgia, sex offenders cannot live or work within 1,000 feet of a church, school, day-care center, skating rink, park, swimming pool or any other place where children gather and the failure to register such an address can land an offender in prison for thirty additional years. The boundaries in New Jersey intensify in severity based on “risk” for instance “high-risk” offenders cannot reside within 3,000 feet of any school, park, campground, church, theater, bowling alley, or convenience store. (For medium and low-risk offenders, the distances are 2,500 and 1,000 feet respectively.) (Gaines & Miller, 2010) Finally, in Missouri certain sexual offenders may not reside within 1,000 feet of any public or private school up to the 12th grade or childcare facility, which is in existence at the time of the offender establishing his or her residency. (MSHP, 2011) The multifaceted restrictions that have developed make it difficult for those who are released after serving their sentence to find any type of place to call home many of them find themselves without legal refuge and end up homeless.

You are probably wondering (due to the cascading issues from residency restrictions) how and why legislators considered such restrictions necessary to provide safe areas for the congregation of children free from offenders. One of the most influential early motivations the abduction of Jacob Wetterling and the aftermath (Jacob has never been found): In 1989, Jacob Wetterling, age 11, was riding his bike with friends when a masked man grabbed him and told his two friends to run toward the woods nearby. By the time the two friends turned around, Jacob and the man were gone. Following Jacob's abduction, his mother, Patty, was appointed to a Governor's Task Force and became a strong voice for missing children. As a result of her efforts, Congress passed the first federal law in 1994 dealing with sex offender registration, known as the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act. This law required states to put into operation a Crimes Against Children and Sex Offender Registry. (MSHP, 2011)
This of course established the aforementioned collective beginning of residency restrictions. This act was modified and adapted soon after to improve the protection of children based on the 1996 assault and murder of Megan Kanka: Megan Kanka, age 7, was raped and murdered by a twice-convicted pedophile who was residing in her neighborhood. While this law gives states discretion as to the criteria of information available, it requires them to enact a community notification system. Megan's Law allows states to make private and personal information available to the public. (MSHP)

Obviously, Megan’s parents would have been able to protect her better if they had the knowledge that three convicted sex offenders were residing across the street from their family home. Several issues have been highlighted over the years due to the oversights of the original sex offender regulations, which have led to modifications of the law as considered necessary to the legislature at the time of the issue.

Upon consideration of the requirements of sex offender registration and residency and the events leading to the legislation of such it is easy to forget about the underlying issue of what to do with offenders as they are released from custody to return to the community. With each restriction, we protect the children of society to a more superior degree, with that in mind if we are going to rehabilitate offenders we must provide some plausible solution for their refuge. Of course, it is simple to see the side of protecting children from sex offenders and on the other side; it is obvious to see that this causes an evident rehabilitation problem with regard to this type of offender. It is my opinion as the author of this document that the restrictions are quite appropriate and necessary, however it is also of my belief that we need to compile a universal system at the federal level to mandate a policy for every state. A universal statute would make the system much easier to understand and navigate from the offenders’ perspective as well as making the restrictions quite clear for everyone else. This type of federal strategy would make it easier to rehabilitate the sex offender while providing parents and caregivers much clearer data as to where sex offenders are and should be with regard to federal statute.

In conclusion, of this document I would like to reassert some essential points that hold specific certainty to the understanding of the situation with regard to sex offender residency restriction. First, historical context is one of the most important factors involved in the development of sex offender residency. If cases of such audacious situations involving children did not exist historically then the restrictions would have never been developed in response. Second, it is of obvious necessity to restrict residency of this type of offender in some manner in order to alleviate the possibility of such occurrence. Third, it is almost as important to alleviate this situation as it is to rehabilitate this type of offender and allow relief to the system otherwise we might as well put these offenders to death without other option. Fourth, the situation as it is necessitates some attention with regard to sex offender residency as it is clear based on the information in this document that nothing is obvious and clear from any perspective with regard to the response to this type of offender. This document only brushes a diminutive quantity of the essentials regarding sex offender residency and any conclusion based on research would necessitate a more in-depth research development with regard to the key factors involved.

Gaines, L. K., & Miller, R. L. (2010). Chapter 13 Behind Bars:The Life of an Inmate. In Criminal justice in action: the core (p. 361). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Hughes, L. A., & Burchfield, K. B. (2008, September 26). Sex Offender Residence Restrictions in Chicago: an Environmental Injustice? Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. doi: 0.1080/07418820802119976

MSHP. (2011). Sex Offender Registry Fact Sheet. MSHP MISSOURI SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY. Retrieved February 20, 2011, from