News Release from Women Against the Registry (WAR)
Florida Action Committee WAR
Florida Is At It Again-Putting Children At Risk
A large, national coalition of C.U.R.E, CURE-SORT, F.A.C, USA Fair and W.A.R members have joined together to ask Florida legislators, “Why are the many children and families of former offenders being placed in danger from missed opportunities of effective legislation?” “Are the children of citizens on the sex offender registry less valuable to law makers?”
As of December 20, 2013 there were 62,318 people listed on the Florida state sex offender registry and the number is growing every day. Legislators have neglected to accept that these registered citizens have families and children who too, are affected by these restrictive laws and thus are victims of vigilante crimes, harassment, community ostracism and detrimental restrictions placed on them.
The mounting empirical evidence outlined in current research studies conducted by some of our nation’s finest scholars contradicts the use of residency restrictions and pocket parks as a public safety tool. In fact, “research has shown when former sex offenders have stable housing, employment, and social/familial support (as are any former offender) they are less likely to commit new offenses. Residency requirements drastically reduce this stability” (Statement from the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute Website).
Residency restrictions are frequently imposed as conditions of probation and parole and as a facet of registration laws in Florida. They raise constitutional issues in addition to the practical problems created by minimizing access to therapeutic treatment and public services which are essential for successful re-entry from incarceration. “The proliferation of these types of restrictions is making it more difficult for corrections to fulfill their mandate of helping offenders make a successful reentry into society,” said Charles Olney, a research associate for the Center for Sex Offender Management , an affiliate of the U.S. Justice Department.
Olney and other experts also question how effective the laws are at protecting children, because strangers are responsible for only about 6.7 percent of sexual attacks on minors. Although incidents of strangers kidnapping and sexually assaulting a child often make headlines, the Justice Department estimates just over 1% of the 60,000 to 70,000 reports of sexual assault filed each year involved an abduction by a stranger.
“People are very, very fearful of strangers being near their children, and most of these laws are based on a knee-jerk reaction to that fear,” Olney said.
“Family members of registered sex offenders (RSOs) are the often-overlooked victims of collateral damage. Increasingly restrictive policies expose RSOs and their families to public scrutiny and place severe limits on RSOs’ employment, housing, and academic opportunities. These policies were designed to protect the public from sexually dangerous individuals, but the collateral consequences of the laws to others were presumably unanticipated.” (Levenson, J. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2009). Collateral damage: Family members of registered sex offenders. American Journal of Criminal Justice)
The Coalition speaking for the families of registered citizens agree that preventative measures are a priority and legislative reform is essential to include protecting all of America’s citizens and their children. It is also paramount to public safety to recognize not all former offenders pose equal risk to the community so not all former offenders should be subjected to the same restrictions. We are calling on law makers to eliminate restrictions such as residency bans and pocket parks which have proven to be unconstitutional in many jurisdictions. Furthermore they place further burdens on law enforcement agencies that are charged with protecting all our citizens. All children and families need to be considered when enacting laws. Reform should be based on the empirical evidence.