She’ll Care When You Care

Here is another thoughtful post courtesy of Notes from the Handbasket:

She tells us, “I’ll care when you care.”

Kate Mest, at Living as a Spouse of an Inmate, talks about current controversies about civil rights — how to protect citizens from Ebola without violating their right to travel freely, and how to prevent gun deaths without infringing on our Second Amendment right to carry guns.

Do I care that the federal government is stripping away civil rights when it may be prohibiting travelers from entering or leaving our country? … 

Should I care that the government wants to limit the number of firearms we can carry or possess, or put restrictions on the type of gun and ammunition that can be used? …

Well, to all you out there screaming right now about the government in your lives, I tell you that I will care about what the government is doing with your civil rights when you wake up and care that right now, today, in this country, our government can legally tell people where they can and cannot live. They can tell people they have to move, or that they can not buy or rent a home in certain places. Never mind the freedom to travel between countries in your free time or to own a small armory in your home, lets talk about the basic right to a place to call home.

When the general population starts to care that the government can regulate where those labeled sex offenders can live, then I will start to care about all those other rights that everyone is so outraged over. The basic right to have a home trumps the freedom to travel in my leisure time or stockpile weapons. [We are t]rying to sell our home because the government says my husband cannot live there because he could look out our windows and see the park.

That is what residency restrictions are all about for registered sex offenders: being told where they cannot live. For a family who wants to live under one roof with a registered citizen, this can mean selling their house and moving to a new neighborhood. Not because they want to sell the house or because the new neighborhood has better schools or is closer to Grandma and Target — but because residency restrictions force them.

In some areas where real estate is very expensive, it makes more sense for the registrant to be homeless and leave the family to live in the home that they own than to commit certain financial folly by selling the house. 
Other families are stuck paying for two residences — one where the family can live and one for the registrant — and sometimes on a single income because the registrant has trouble finding employment.

Residency restrictions are not effective and often make things worse, according to the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers:

There is no research to support that adult sex offenders’ proximity to schools or parks leads to recidivism. Researchers from the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that not one of 224 recidivistic adult sex offenses would have been prevented by a residential restriction law. In Florida, researchers found that the distance adult sex offenders lived from schools and daycares was not associated with recidivism; recidivists did not live closer to schools and daycares than nonrecidivists (Zandbergen, Hart, & Levenson, 2010). The bottom line is that adult sex offenders do not molest children because they live near schools. Typically they abuse when they are able to establish relationships with children and their families and misuse positions of familiarity, trust, and authority. According to the Justice Department, 93% of sexually abused children are molested by family members, close friends or acquaintances. Children are most likely to be assaulted by people they know, not strangers lurking in schoolyards. Thus, residence restrictions do little to prevent the most common situations in which children are likely to be harmed. 

No wonder Kate Mest is angry. She is being pushed into selling their home in order to keep the family together…and all due to laws that don’t accomplish their purpose. Residency restrictions make no one safer.

Research shows that sex offender residence restrictions increase transience, homelessness, and instability. These laws interfere with effective tracking, monitoring, and close probationary supervision, undermining the very purpose of registries. Research also shows that housing instability increases both absconding and criminal recidivism. Residence restrictions are simply not a feasible strategy for preventing child sexual abuse. In fact, across the nation law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and victim advocacy groups have issued public position statements opposing residence restrictions. Laws that foster instability for offenders are not likely to be in the best interest of public safety. [My emphasis.]

Residency restrictions are violations of our constitutional rights. Yes. Those convicted of sex offenses have the right to live where they choose, just as those convicted of assault with a deadly weapon or those convicted of manslaughter can live where they choose. They have the right to live with their families and families have the right to welcome sex offenders back home.

No wonder she’s angry. She’ll care when you do.