Banning ex-offenders from living near playgrounds may be backfiring. When she turned him down, he allegedly started sexually assaulting her.
As she screamed, he dragged her away, pushed her over a three-foot retaining wall, and then raped and tried to strangle her, according to charges filed by the Los Angeles district attorney and local reports. The woman survived, and Zinzun is facing life in prison for rape, kidnapping, and other charges.
Cases like this might seem to argue for even tougher controls on ex-offenders convicted of sex crimes. But new research indicates that the existing sex-offense regime in the US actually may be making repeat sex crimes more likely. Since the mids, legislators have devised increasingly byzantine rules for those who have been punished. That ever-tightening leash has produced unintended outcomes with an almost mechanical predictability. Many cities have devised new no-go zones that keep them from living near places like school, parks, and daycares and have seen their homelessness rates spike as a result.
California passed a law in Nov. Less than five years later, the number of them who were homeless had risen from 88 to almost 2, The number of homeless registrants promptly soared from 15 to in less than two years, according to an analysis in Oct. Now, new research suggests making it harder for offenders to find a place to live might increase reoffending.
In a study released in July , researchers from the California and Canadian justice departments looked at more than 1, California sex offenders on probation or parole. The California Sex Offender Management Board , created by the state legislature and made up of law enforcement officials and other experts, issued a stark warning in a report: But US registries, which are state run, are far and away the most extensive in terms of the number of people registered, length of registration, and degree of public access.
No country outside the US appears to restrict where registrants can live. In a paper in the Journal of Law and Economics, researchers from the University of Michigan and Columbia University looked at sex crime data from 15 US states over about 10 years. They found that the average-sized public sex offender registry increased the number of sex offenses by about 1. That might seem small, but extrapolated to the US population it meant about 4, additional sex crimes during that period, says co-author J.
Policies like alerting people to the presence of sex offenders or restricting where they live would intuitively seem to decrease risk. The resulting crime-generating effects may be playing out in Wisconsin. In May , in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, which has its own residency ban, a sex offender with no place to go after prison got himself re-arrested on the same day he was released by purposely standing next to a school.
Alissa Ackerman, a University of Washington criminologist, has authored numerous studies on sexual victimization and sex-crime policies over the last decade. Because sex-offender registration makes finding a job and housing more difficult, offenders feel angrier and more stressed, she says. The public may not care how registrants feel but they should—her work indicates that these negative emotions drive up recidivism rates, she says.
As the evidence of perverse effects piles up, judges are taking notice. In the last month, federal courts in the Fourth and Seventh Circuits have struck down state or local residency or presence restrictions. Four months ago, Sixth Circuit judges overturned a residency and presence ban in Michigan. Some legislators are paying attention too. In Texas in Aug. And in New Hampshire in , the state House voted to eliminate residency restrictions.
When citizens get triggered, adrenaline swamps deliberation. Still, when citizens get triggered, adrenaline swamps deliberation. Take Minnesota, where in , two unrelated news events collided to produce a hurricane of outrage. In response, at least forty Minnesota towns have passed residence bans on registrants. Statements by law enforcement officials have had some effect in previous debates. In New Hampshire, the state police convinced House members that by increasing homelessness, residence restrictions made it harder for them to track offenders.
In years past, criminal justice officials in Kansas and prosecutors in Iowa have made similar arguments. That case for crime prevention could halt momentum toward harsher policies in some situations.