Yonkers Moves to Limit Where Sex Offenders Live
Yonkers Moves to Limit Where Sex Offenders Live
By: Michael Gannon
Date: November 8, 2005
Source: Gannon, Michael. "Yonkers Moves to Limit Where Sex Offenders Live." Journal News, November 8, 2005.
About the Author: Michael Gannon is a reporter for the Journal News, a daily newspaper based in White Plains, New York, that has served Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties since 1829, with an emphasis on local and regional news coverage.
Since the explosion of media and public concern about child sexual abuse and sexual predators in the mid–1980s, public pressure for harsher sentences and tighter regulation of sex offenders has increased. The 1993 murder of twelve-year-old Polly Klaas by paroled convict Richard Allen Davis led to the passage of California's "three strikes" law, which mandates a life sentence upon a third felony conviction.
The following year, seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by Jesse K. Timmendequas, a convicted child molester who had moved into her suburban neighborhood after serving seven years at a sex offender facility. Within a month of her murder, New Jersey had introduced legislation known as "Megan's Law" that required sex offenders to register their address and contact information with the police for ten years after their release from prison and mandated a life sentence for a second sexual offense. Megan's Law also allowed authorities to publicize the names and addresses of sex offenders. In 1996 Megan's Law was signed into federal legislation, requiring that released sex offenders be registered in a national database and allowing authorities to notify communities whenever a released sex offender moved to a new residence.
Criminologists and criminal justice policy experts debate the effectiveness of community notification legislation, however, arguing that the stress of notoriety and unwelcoming communities often drives released sex offenders underground and results in failure to comply with registration requirements. The public, media, and politicians, however, continue to argue for more stringent regulation of sex offenders and to limit their freedom in hopes that they will choose to live elsewhere.
Yonkers Moves to Limit Where Sex Offenders Live
YONKERS—The City Council last night unanimously gave its preliminary blessing to a law that would restrict where moderate- and high-risk sex offenders can live, a concept that has met resistance from civil libertarians in other New York cities and towns.
Council President Richard Martinelli and Majority Leader Liam McLaughlin, both Republicans running for reelection today, sponsored the measure, which would bar Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of day-care centers or schools. The state considers Level 2 and 3 offenders to be of moderate and high risk to reoffend.
The council voted 7–0 to refer the legislation, which would amend the city's zoning code, to the Planning Board for review.
"What this legislation will do is help protect our children by not allowing these Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from moving near our schools," McLaughlin said.
Former Assemblyman Michael Spano, who was sexually molested as a child, urged the council to approve the law. He said that when he was in the state Legislature he advocated for tougher restrictions on sex offenders, because of their high rate of recidivism. "They will commit this crime over and over and over again. There is no cure," he said.
The upstate city of Binghamton last month rescinded a similar law it passed in May, after the state passed a law restricting Level 3 sex offenders from visiting school grounds. The city also was being sued by a group of unnamed sex offenders aided by the New York Civil Liberties Union, who argued the law effectively prohibited them from living anywhere in Binghamton.
Linda Berns, executive director of the Lower Hudson Valley chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the organization would review the Yonkers proposal. She said a local ordinance cannot go further than a state statute.
"It might be in trouble if it's going further than a state law," Berns said.
City lawyers tinkered with the Yonkers proposal since Martinelli and McLaughlin introduced it last month. They removed a provision that would have prevented sex offenders from even traveling within a quarter-mile of not only day-care centers and schools, but school bus stops and parks. That precept was viewed as too restrictive, Corporation Counsel Frank Rubino said.
The law gives the city the power to levy fines of up to $10,000 and to imprison violators for up to one year.
At least 24 known Level 3 sex offenders live in Yonkers, according to the Sex Offender Registry on the state Department of Criminal Justice Services Web site (http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/nsor). Currently, there are no restrictions on where sex offenders may live, but they must register with local authorities under Megan's Law.
In each of the past six years, the Republican-controlled state Senate has approved civil confinement legislation, which would allow violent sexual predators to be confined in mental hospitals after their release from prison. Civil libertarians, however, have fought the legislation, and the Democrat-led Assembly has not voted on it.
McLaughlin blamed the state's inaction as part of the reason for the Yonkers proposal.
The debate in Albany over civil confinement heated up in June after a White Plains woman, Concetta Russo-Carriero, was stabbed to death in a parking garage next to the Galleria mall. A homeless sex offender who had served more than 20 years in prison for raping three women has been charged in the slaying.
The suspect, Philip Grant, had been kicked out of Westchester County's airport shelter earlier this year, but he would sleep at the drop-in shelter next door and was bused back to downtown White Plains each day.
When restrictions are imposed on sex offenders, protection of the community and the safety of children are most often the primary motivators. However, residents and politicians alike often fail to consider the implications of such policies and the potential problems that they may create. While experts recognize the role of registry systems as a useful managerial and investigative tool, community notification is often problematic. Such revelations have been known to spark vigilantism among residents, and sex offenders have been threatened, hounded out of communities, and even physically harmed.
Ironically, there is some evidence that the stress, stigma, and isolation that accompany community notification may trigger a relapse that might not have occurred otherwise. Registration and notification do facilitate the enforcement of more detailed management strategies, such as residence restrictions, but there is no evidence to suggest they reduce recidivism or increase community safety. Despite this, residents and politicians continue to advocate for increasingly restrictive legislation. Megan's Law survived a constitutional challenge that it violated privacy rights in 2002 when the Supreme Court upheld Connecticut's use of an internet registry system.
As of 2005, fourteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee) have enacted legislation that prohibits sex offenders from residing near schools, day care centers, and parks. Several other states, including New York, have local bylaws in place and are considering state legislation. The least restrictive policy is Illinois's 500-foot rule, but most states require a 1,000- or 2,000-foot radius.
Like community notification, housing restrictions increase the former offender's isolation, separate him from available community support, and create financial and emotional stress that may well increase the risk of reoffense. Due to the distribution of schools and parks, restricted zones often overlap, making it extremely difficult or even impossible for offenders to find housing. Offenders also claim that residence restrictions would have no impact on their risk of reoffense, pointing out that sexual predators often commit offenses away from their place of residence to avoid being recognized.
Residence restrictions are unlikely to protect communities and children from sexual victimization— a determined offender will not be deterred by such restrictions. This approach to sex offender management is based on an emotional and intuitive desire to protect children, but fails to take into account relevant research and understanding about the sex offenders' motivations and risk factors. Blanket prohibitions such as residence restriction laws provide community residents with a false sense of security but do not effectively protect children and communities. In fact, the emphasis on sexual predators and "stranger danger" may detract from the much larger problem of familial abuse, since the vast majority of children who are sexually abused are victimized by a parent, family member, or someone in a position of trust. The successful management of sex offenders must be based on individual assessment of offense patterns and risk factors and combined with appropriate treatment, support, monitoring and rehabilitation.
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