I read this article today about local Minnesota communities passing restrictive city/town ordinances to prohibit Level 3 sex offenders from living within so many feet of various locations like schools, parks, etc. It's typically a knee-jerk reaction to a notification that a Level 3 offender will be moving into the community. And it's a problem.
First let's talk about the status of the law in Minnesota. Unlike many other states, Minnesota does not have a state law that restricts where someone convicted of a sex offense can live. There is a requirement to register the address(es) that the person lives at, the car they drive, the school they attend, etc. And if they are admitted to a hospital or something like that, they are required to notify the staff of their status as a registered offender. But they can live anywhere. There's nothing in state law that prohibits them from living next to a school or a park or whatever.
That's a good thing, despite what the general public thinks. We'll touch more on that in a minute, after we review more info about sex offense laws in Minnesota.
There are different levels given to certain people convicted of a sex offense, but those levels only are given to people who are sent to prison on the offense. So if a person is convicted of a sex crime & is given probation, they don't get assigned a level. There are 3 levels that the Department of Corrections gives to people before they are released. I don't know how the determination is made regarding what level someone is, but it is meant to label them based on how likely it is that they will reoffend in the future. Level 1 is least likely, Level 3 is most likely. I don't know how accurate those labels are, but it is the system the DOC uses.
When a Level 3 offender is going to be released back to the community, the community gets a notification about that person. They are given the name, age, and general location of where they'll be living & a general description of the crime they were convicted of. It's also possible to search for Level 3 offenders in a particular neighborhood on the BCA website.
Generally, Level 3 offenders have committed violent or multiple sex offenses or offenses against children. Not always, but in general. So when a Level 3 offender is released into a community after serving their sentence, the community usually flips out. They aren't exactly welcoming the person with open arms. Sometimes the person is targeted & attacked, other times they are vilified & harassed, sometimes people avoid them, etc.
But, communities, towns, & cities have started to create local ordinances that do what state law has refused to do--restricting where these people can live. The laws are meant to essentially prevent those offenders from moving into the locality. They are prohibiting a person from living within X feet of a park, school, daycare, etc. In the article, it also notes that the ordinance in Dayton also prevents them from living near an apple orchard or pumpkin patch or a bowling alley, among other places.
More and more ordinances like this are cropping up in Minnesota & it's a bad idea. In an effort to protect the public by passing these ordinances, the community makes it less safe.
First of all, Minnesota has a crazy amount of parks. Even the most podunk town is likely to have at least one within a stone's throw from it. So if the state law had geographical restrictions, these people would end up with no place to go.
Adding in other locations like daycares, school, pumpkin patches, etc. means that there are even fewer places available for these folks to live. Oftentimes, the ordinance effectively bans the person from living anywhere within the community.
Do these restrictions help? Well, according to this:
"The Minnesota Department of Corrections examined the 'sexual reoffense patterns of 224 recidivists released between 1990 and 2002 who were reincarcerated for a sex crime prior to 2006' and concluded that not one of the new offenses would have been prevented if residency restrictions had been in place."
Moreover, it goes on to say that:
"Study findings suggest that those with histories of any kind of criminal offense reintegrate more successfully when they are offered social support and opportunities to reintegrate into society through housing and employment."
And according to this article:
"Without exception, the longer offenders remain offence-free in the community the less likely they are to sexually recidivate."
And in this one:
"Empirical findings indicate that stable employment diminishes the risk for reoffending in sex offenders. A study conducted by Kruttschnitt, Uggen, and Shelton (2000) indicated that sex
offenders who were steadily employed were 37% less likely to reoffend."
"The best evidence linking housing stability and recidivism is found in a study of 81 child molesters(Willis & Grace, 2008): the authors identified housing as a significant predictor of sexual recidivism, even after controlling for other factors."
"With regards to social support, studies having evaluated the effectiveness of Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) indicate that social support is associated with decreased recidivism in sexual offenders."
So, empirical research shows that people convicted of sex offenses are less likely to reoffend if they have housing, employment, & the social supports provided by a community. But instead of taking the research & implementing it, locales have barred these folks from finding the very things they need to lower their risk.
They can't get a stable place to live bc of housing restrictions, causing some to have live under bridges. They can't employment bc they don't have a residence or a phone for employers to call them for an interview or the employer won't hire someone convicted of a sex crime. The ordinances prevent them from attending church or going to a bowling alley or otherwise join community groups since they can't be in or around those areas. Essentially the ordinances strip away every possible risk-lowering factor available, under the guise of making the public safer.
The Level 3 offenders that are released to the community are under strict supervision. Oftentimes it includes GPS monitoring, curfew restrictions, movement & travel restrictions, etc. They are heavily monitored during the time immediately following their release into a community. The studies show that the highest chance of recidivism is the first few years after release from prison & the longer the person is out in the community without new offenses, the more the likelihood of a new offense goes down. So, getting these folks steady & stable after their release, getting them employment, a residence, and involved in their community all works to make the community safer & the risk lower.
So the ordinances are poor solutions to prevent future offenses from those convicted of sex crimes. They create an environment where these folks are at an increased risk of returning to criminal behavior.
The Minnesota legislature was intelligent enough to not create these types of restrictions in state law. Local ordinances should not be allowed to counteract that decision.