Editorial: Casting out sex offenders overlooks safety, rehabilitation

By Pitt News Staff

It’s not really surprising that parents of young children are often uncomfortable with the… It’s not really surprising that parents of young children are often uncomfortable with the thought of living in the same neighborhood as a sex offender. After one is labeled as a sex offender, it’s difficult to overcome the stigma.

Allegheny County Council passed an ordinance in October 2007 that banned convicted sex offenders registered with state police under Megan’s Law from living within 2,500 feet of a childcare facility, recreational facility, community center, public park or school, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Megan’s Law necessitates that sex offenders register their addresses with local police departments. Typically, certain judges and professionals have the responsibility of deciding where sex offenders may live.

Recently, however, U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster ruled that the ordinance undermined state law. The ordinance was challenged last year by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six offenders because it interferes with Megan’s Law.

Because of the geographical confines under the ordinance, sex offenders would be forced to live exclusively in outlying suburban areas. They would be markedly distanced from family support networks and job opportunities, Lancaster believes.

Dissatisfied with Lancaster’s ruling, Allegheny County plans on appealing the district judge’s decree.

The logic is easy to see at first. Convicted sex offenders should be kept as far away from areas where children occupy so as to prevent any potentially dangerous mingling.

But even if sex offenders reside in the outer areas of the county, there’s nothing to stop them from traveling inward. In fact, if they live in such remote areas, they’ll have no choice but to travel to busier, more populated areas when they’re in need of certain goods and services.

An offender on the verge of repeating his crime might have more opportunities should he live near an area where possible victims are prevalent. So perhaps living farther away might reduce potential threats, but the degree of its effectiveness remains open to contention. Compared to the issues this ordinance will cause for recovering offenders fully intent on rejoining the community, its aim is unequally balanced.

Lancaster demonstrated good reasoning when he mentioned that offenders would be far from support networks and employment opportunities. Sex offenders looking to reintegrate into the community would have a much more difficult time if they live far away. Keeping them essentially isolated from central areas doesn’t sound like a very effective method of recuperation.

‘ The ordinance also attempts only to combat one possible front of unwanted interaction. Where offenders can live is kept in check, but there are no limits on where they can work or socialize. While it would be unrealistic and unfair to curb every place offenders can go, banning their place of residence seems arbitrary. ‘