Sex offender ordinance hasn’t worked as planned, putting public at greater risk

Last summer, Artell Jones,  got a notice from the Milwaukee Police Department: He had to move out of his north side rental home. Jones, a registered sex offender, hadn’t done anything to violate the terms of his sentence, which stemmed from groping a 13-year-old girl he met online when he was 19. In fact, Jones had stayed out of trouble since his conviction in 2002. The notice alerted Jones that a new Milwaukee ordinance had gone into effect, severely restricting where sex offenders can live. Jones’ home was too close to a school. Full Article and vdeo


‘Residency restrictions’ are laws that limit where individuals on the sex offense registry can live.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin enacted such a law; two years later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jacob Carpenter filed a long, devastating story (below) accentuated with graphics that lays out how the law, on its own terms, is failing as well as the human toll.  Unable to find permanent housing, the number of homeless registrants has soared—registrants can legally live only in a very tiny percentage of the city’s housing units.  A lead sponsor of the legislation was warned by local police this would happen but he refused to believe them.  There’s a quote in the story that’s a keeper, explaining the urge to banish and why that impulse must be resisted:  “Somebody might feel safer today because this one person doesn’t live on their block. But as a community, we are not safer, and this is not sustainable,” said Holly Patzer, executive director of Wisconsin Community Services, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on criminal justice and public safety.

Englewood, Colorado has had residency restrictions for years but enforcement was delayed by lawsuits.  Recently police threatened a crackdown-- leave within thirty days or face arrest; an estimated fifty registrants living peaceably would be pushed out of their homes.  They’re fighting back with a fresh legal challenge to the law, a hearing in federal court is set for Aug. 30th.  The Denver Post editorial board has chimed in with a very helpful editorial (below) slamming Englewood’s restrictions as too severe even as it endorsed such laws in concept.

A line in a 2015 decision by Massachusetts’ top court regarding residency restrictions continues to resonate, let’s hope this view prevails more widely in the future:  “Except for the incarceration of persons under the criminal law and the civil commitment of mentally ill or dangerous persons, the days are long since past when whole communities of persons, such Native Americans and Japanese-Americans may be lawfully banished from our midst.”  - Bill Dobbs

Related Story - Denver Post | Aug. 23, 2016

Editorial:  Englewood’s sex-offender law is too restrictive  - By Denver Post Editorial Board

When Colorado releases sex offenders from prison, they need to be able to reintegrate into the community – often of course with appropriate supervision. But their chances of doing so are greatly curtailed if they can’t even locate a proper place to call home near a network of support.

In the interest of public safety, cities should be able to impose reasonable restrictions on where registered sex offenders may live, especially those deemed sexually violent predators. But when regulations rule out 99 percent of a jurisdiction for sex offenders, as they do in Englewood, they become the equivalent of an outright ban.