Sex Offenders to Descend upon Miami
I read with great interest yesterday about a group that is organising a demonstration in Miami to protest the deplorable conditions in which a number of registered sex offenders in that unfortunate state are being forced to live. As I wrote back in March, several men are being force to live under Miami’s Julia Tuttle Causeway because they are unable to find adequate housing anywhere else. Local laws do not allow them to live within twenty-five hundred feet (more than one kilometre) of any place where children congregate. Furthermore, local homeless shelters have turned the men away due to their sex offender status. The most egregious thing here is that not only are these people living under a bridge but they have been ordered to do so by local authorities, who visit the area under the bridge each night to verify compliance. Now, SO-Clear, a sex offenders’ advocacy group based in Clackamas, Oregon, is planning to decamp to Miami to spearhead a protest to draw attention to the situation that these people have found themselves in. Notably, SO-Clear has attracted the support of the Hope 4 Tomorrow Foundation, a charity dedicated to “improving the lives of children” throughout the country. The fact that this protest will not be peopled solely by sex offenders, but also by child protection advocates, makes it an excellent opportunity for anybody to show up in support without fear of being stigmatised or classified. I encourage anybody who has the time and means to show up in Miami next month to do so.
After the last time I wrote about this situation in this blog, I received a number of emails from folks wondering why I am defending these people and why it matters to me how the state treats sex offenders. After all, some of them pointed out, I discourage illegal activity and all of these people were convicted of breaking the law. My reasons for supporting this cause are two-fold. Firstly, the law makes no distinction whatsoever between sexual contacts that were loving and consensual and those that were violent or forced. Therefore, there are people being prosecuted who had loving relationships with people and were thrown into prison only because society decided that their relationship was illegal. Secondly, it is appalling to me that any person who has served his or her sentence is upon release faced with such a hostile environment that it is virtually impossible to recreate any semblance of a normal life. They are often unable to find housing or employment. It would seem that such social ostracism would certainly not be an effective deterrent from criminal behaviour. What has a person who is unable to secure the basic means of life — financial security and shelter — got to lose? What is to keep such people from going and committing new crimes out of sheer frustration? One of the folks living under the bridge in Miami even asked a judge to send him back to prison, where he could count upon such amenities as regular meals, a roof over his head and running water. His request was refused and he was ordered back under the bridge. Of course, all he needs to do is to refuse to stay at the bridge at night to violate the terms of his release in order to get locked up again. Or he might choose to steal a car or hold up a convenience store to achieve the same result. Is this what society wants? A group of people so desperate that they might turn to crime just to get back into the relative security of prison?
Stringent residency laws for sex offenders is having two other unintended effects. Firstly, it is driving some sex offenders underground. After trying multiple times to register with local law enforcement only to be told that their desired residence is in a restricted zone, some folks are just opting to go underground and avoid reporting their residence entirely. Of course, this is a crime in itself, so police departments are then required to locate these people and then introduce a new process to punish them for their failure to report. Apparently, however, some police departments are finding themselves spread thin, with not enough officers to follow up on non-reporting sex offenders as well as conducting other police work. With more and more people being classified as sex offenders — in Oklahoma, even urinating in public can land you on the sex offenders registry — it is only a matter of time before a critical mass of these folks decides to ‘opt out’ of the reporting system. When this happens, there will be no way for law enforcement to follow up. There will simply be too many non-reporters. Police departments will find themselves overwhelmed with such cases and many will be disinclined to expend resources to find the nineteen-year old who had sex with his sixteen-year old girlfriend or the forty-year old who got caught relieving himself in an alley. Of course, some other folks — those convicted of sadistic or violent sex attacks — will also fall off the radar, defeating the original purpose of such legislation.
How long will it be before the Evil Empire realises that its overemhasis on punitive, restrictive measures often is more damaging than beneficial? Hopefully, people will wake up to the realisation that there are other more effective ways to deal with the issues that society perceives as threats to its wellbeing. Until then, I hope that many people unfairly punished a second time after being released from prison will beat a vigourous path the the nation’s many courts. Many of these restrictions and punishments are unconstitutional and need to be overturned.