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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Residency restrictions for sex offenders popular, but ineffective

Despite research that shows sex offender residency requirements actually hamper the rehabilitation of offenders, jurisdictions across the country continue to pass them, including Allegheny County last year.

Experts say the laws, which prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, day care centers and parks, also don't work to help cut down on recidivism.

These types of residency restrictions have been passed in at least 30 states and thousands of municipalities nationwide. Even as prosecutors, criminal justice researchers and child advocates say they don't work, parents and legislators continue to push for the tough laws.

County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, who was the primary author of the local bill passed in October 2007, said he wrote the law that parents wanted.

Mr. Gastgeb said he originally intended for the restrictions to apply only to offenders whose victims were children. But after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the county this month, Mr. Gastgeb learned that the law actually applies to all registered sex offenders, no matter their victims' ages.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of six sex offenders who said they could not find anywhere to live because of the restrictions.

At the time the suit was filed, Mr. Gastgeb said he would amend the law so that it applied only to sex offenders whose victims are children.

But days later, he changed his mind.

"I do think it's legally sound, and I do think we'll prevail in court," Mr. Gastgeb said. "So a certain section of the county is off-limits. That's the way it is. [Mark Godsey]

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