In 2 Trailers, the Neighbors Nobody Wants

Do buffer zones around schools really protect kids?

By Chris Dornin, founder, CCJR 

A diverse group of New Hampshire stakeholders on sex offenders issues met in December, 2012, and quickly agreed the state needs to block towns from imposing residency restrictions on convicted sex offenders. The forum participants included defense attorneys, advocates for offenders, a clinical therapist and law enforcement officials. 

A bill to do that very thing, HB 442,  has a public hearing at 1 p.m. Feb. 7, 2013, before the House Criminal Justice Committee in room 204 of the Legislative Office Building.  In making up their minds, committee members would do well to consider a powerful article on the problem, published this week in the NY Times. 

It took a hard look at the unintended impact of these controversial ordinances on public safety.  They arguably herd a class of offenders into ghettoes and make them more dangerous, if they can find shelter at all.


From the NY Times,  by MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ Published: February 4, 2013 61 Comments

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Two trailers in this wealthy beach town stand as testament to an increasingly intractable problem for localities across the country: where to let sex offenders live after prison.

The cramped trailers house convicted rapists, sexual predators and child abusers, about 40 sex offenders in all. They are stuck here in large part because Suffolk County, like many jurisdictions, has in recent years passed laws that bar convicted sex offenders from living near schools, day care centers and other places with children.

The restrictions are so sweeping that it can be difficult for the offenders to find housing, leaving many homeless, officials said.

Suffolk County, on Long Island, installed the trailers, after the authorities discovered that sex offenders had crowded into cheap motel rooms, sometimes down the hall from families with children. Around the country, similar clusters of offenders have been found in campgrounds, under highway overpasses and other isolated spots.

The solution here was supposed to be temporary. That was nearly six years ago.

Today, the number of men living in the trailers in Southampton has doubled. And no one — from local officials to victims’ rights advocates to sexual abuse experts — seems satisfied with the situation. Even staunch supporters of the rules are now questioning them.

“When you propose a law restricting sex offenders to 1,000 feet from any bus stop, that’s just not going to work,” said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, who lives on Long Island. “You have to be reasonable.”

Others said they were concerned that sex offenders would not be able to rehabilitate themselves if they lived together in close quarters with large numbers of other offenders.

By law, convicted sex offenders in Suffolk County must have a permanent registered address there while on parole or probation. If they do not, they can be arrested again.

After they finish parole or probation, they can move away — though they would be subject to the sex offender registration rules wherever they reside.

The men are not forced to live in the trailers, but typically end up in them because they have nowhere else to stay and fear being arrested if they are homeless.

Suffolk officials have tried to keep the trailers away from population centers. But one is in Southampton within walking distance of a retirement community, and residents there said they were worried about harm to property values and threats to visiting grandchildren.

The other trailer is in the parking lot of a prison. A bus service financed by the county transports the men between the trailers and pickup points, including train stations, in Suffolk.

County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, had vowed to remove the trailers by Jan. 1, but missed the deadline.

Mr. Bellone has said he would work with the Suffolk police, which unveiled a plan last week for dealing with the county’s more than 1,000 convicted sex offenders that officials called “the toughest monitoring, verification and enforcement program in the nation.”

Under the plan, which must be approved by the County Legislature, the trailers would be removed and the sex offenders placed in homeless shelters around the county.

But similar proposals in recent years have foundered, and residents said they were wary of more promises.

“We’ve had these trailers for a long time, and it’s time for the trailers to go,” said Stephanie Canali, a resident of the retirement community who was one of about 65 people to attend a town-hall-style meeting last month on the issue.

In New York State, laws prohibit sex offenders on parole or whose victims were younger than 18 from residing within 1,000 feet of schools or other child care facilities. In 2006, Suffolk passed a law extending the distance for all sex offenders to a quarter mile. Southampton later stretched that to up to a mile. New York City has no residency restrictions beyond those required by the state.

New York State’s law, like those of many states, was prompted by the 1994 killing of Megan Kanka, 7, in New Jersey by a neighbor who was a convicted sex offender.

The so-called Megan’s Laws that were passed require sex offenders to register with local authorities and made way for residency restrictions.