In October 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped at gunpoint and never seen again. When the boy’s mother, Patty Wetterling, learned that her home state of Minnesota did not have a database of possible suspects—notably convicted sex offenders—she set out to make a change. Wetterling’s efforts led to the passage of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes
Venturing far into the swamp lands of southern Florida, alligators lazily crawl through murky irrigation waterways and sugar cane lines the marshy fields. Further down the muddy road, old plantation flats border the homestead grounds.
Prior to the 60s the dwellings were used to house seasonal Caribbean sugar cane workers. Eventually, modern machinery replaced human laborers and the plantations deteriorated.
Today, plantation workers harvesting sugar cane are a memory of the past. The area is now known as Miracle Village, tucked-in miles away from the closest town, Pahokee.
The name Miracle Village is a reminder of a tranquil country retreat, but in 2009 the Christian non-profit organization — Mathew 25 Ministries — transformed the abandoned, rat-infested plantation into housing for sex offenders released from prison.
Last head count, according to Pat Powers, executive director of Miracle Village, the grounds housed 155 sex offenders.
It’s an even trade. The residents maintain the lawns and houses in return for the opportunity to live in a supportive community, minus ceaseless shame for being a registered sex offender.
The scary things of Halloween such as, ghosts, goblins and razor blade ridden apples are now in the past. In today’s world parents and children have a new set of haunting concerns.
Last Thursday evening as the sun was setting children emerged into neighborhoods questing for ‘tricks or treats.” Homes were inventively decorated with carved jack-o-lanterns and orange lights strung randomly around windowsills. Children dressed in costumes ran down sidewalks, anticipating what treats awaited them at the next house.
But wait….what is this? The house is dark, not a light on in the house. It almost looks haunted. There is a sign in the yard and it is not part of the Halloween décor. The sign reads, “No candy or treats at this residence.” This appears to be the scariest house on the street.
The Los Angeles Times reports that under a southern California ordinance created by Girard Mayor James Melfi, called the Girard Law, sex offenders were barred from putting up Halloween displays and outside lighting. Offenders listed on the Megan’s Law website were required to post a sign in front of their house that gives children the message there will be no candy handed out here.
A small group of Simi Valley registered sex-offenders protested the law because the policy is discriminatory and infringing on their personal rights to participate in a customary holiday. According to Attorney and president of the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group, Janice Bellucci, who represented the five sex offenders in the suit, the law reeks of discrimination and is reminiscent of when Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars. The city was sued for encroaching on offenders’ freedom of speech and ordered to remove the signs.
The past several weeks I have been researching the sex offender laws applicable for sex offenders living in Rhode Island and in South Carolina. While not surprising, the laws are anything but rational and they are certainly not empirically based. This goes across the board, not merely in Rhode Island or South Carolina but at both the state and federal levels.
The Adam Walsh Act of 2006 requires sex offenders to be classified in one of three tiers of supervision. Tier 1 sex offenders have lighter restrictions placed upon them (e.g., report to their sheriff’s department every year, most likely be on the public sex offender registry, and comply with any state or local residency requirements), while Tier 3 sex offenders have extraordinarily onerous restrictions (e.g., report to their sheriff’s department every 90 days, possibly be placed on GPS monitoring, have regular in-home and at work spot inspections, etc.).
On its face it looks as if sex offenders are monitored — and have restrictions — according to their risk of reoffense.*1 After all, there are distinct qualifications for each tier assignment.*2 But what is the difference between a Tier 1, Tier 2, and a Tier 3 sex offender? The answer to this, not surprisingly, is not much. There are some differences in offense conduct or frequency, but not many. To put this in context, there are very few Tier 1 sex offenders compared to the number of Tier 2 sex offenders. And there are fewer Tier 3 sex offenders than Tier 2 sex offenders. But most sex offenders are merely grouped together in the second tier category.
If we accept that most sex offenders will be placed in Tier 2, with those particular restrictions and registration protocols, then we are also accepting that the one-size-fits-most view be employed. This results in a dilution of effective sex offender community monitoring. Essentially, those with a higher risk and those with a lower risk, who are clumped into Tier 2 sex offender registration and monitoring requirements, will receive the same level of community monitoring, outpatient treatment, and communal notification. This seems like a foolhardy public policy decision, from both a public safety and fiscal perspective.