Georgia relaxes sex offender law

`According to this article, the state of Georgia has eased its residency and work restrictions on sex offenders. Offenders who committed their crime prior to June 4, 2003 will now be allowed to live and work wherever they want to. Prior to this, all registered sex offenders weren’t allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a lot of places, including schools, churches and swimming pools. The 2003 date was chosen because that’s when the law was changed.

Proponents of these restrictions on released sex offenders claim they are not punitive, and the courts seem to have supported them on this. But they seem very punitive to me. You get out of prison and you have a very difficult time finding a place to live because of these restrictions — I read that in Florida they had a bunch of registered sex offenders living under a bridge, not because they didn’t have enough money to buy or rent a proper home but because there was simply nowhere else in the county where they could legally live. And if you do get yourself set up in some residence, even one you own, if they erect a church or whatever within the proscribed distance you’ll have to move. How is this not punitive?

I am highly skeptical as to whether these residency restrictions prevent sex offenses AT ALL. I can kind of understand people who commit serious sex crimes (note the key word “serious,” these days it doesn’t take much to get you on the sex offender list) having to register with the police, or having their names in a public database for people to look up (since a person’s criminal record is generally public anyway), or being prohibited from working with children. It bothers me from a civil liberties standpoint but I can live with it. But I don’t really see how the residency thing helps. It seems like it would, if anything, make people more likely to offend by adding considerable stress to their lives, particularly if they are forced into homelessness.

I don’t think the “tiers” help much either — like, Tier 1 for minor offenses, Tier 3 for really serious ones. Tiers don’t matter to the public at large. Even if you’re only on Tier 1 for urinating in public or statutory rape, all the public is going to hear is “registered sex offender.”

I suppose this stance is not going to make me too popular, as most of the people interested in missing persons are strict law-and-order, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key types. I’m not going to pretend I have much or any sympathy for actual rapists and child molesters and such. But I think a lot of these laws have gone too far with their good intentions.