Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
Sex offenders have become social lepers. As such, they may soon need their own island colony. There won't be many other places left for them to live, assuming new restrictions being enacted in numerous states and cities can be enforced.
The Des Moines city council yesterday approved an ordinance that builds on a new Iowa law banning convicted pedophiles from living within 2,000 feet of schools and child care centers. The city wants to keep them away from parks, swimming pools, libraries and recreational trails as well.
"The ordinance essentially eliminated places for people to live in Des Moines if they have been convicted of a sex offense with a minor," the Des Moines Register reported today.
That's fine for Des Moines, but as the story points out, it also means that hundreds of sex offenders are likely to decamp to the suburbs. They may have to move even farther, since many other Iowa localities are already working on their own versions of the ban.
They won't do well moving to Michigan, where Governor Jennifer Granholm recently signed a ban against sex offenders coming within 1,000 feet of a school. "Parents deserve peace of mind knowing that their children are safe, especially when they are away from home," she said.
It's a potent argument -- stronger than any case than can be made from the sex offenders' side. Yet they have to live somewhere. And this modern day equivalent of riding the bad guys out of town on a rail runs against current criminological thought, which holds that recidivism declines when offenders are better integrated back into the community. That was Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's argument, anyway, when he restored voting rights for ex-felons (last item).
"By socially ostracizing these people and making it next to impossible for them to find a job or have educational opportunities or otherwise forge necessary social ties, what do we expect is going to happen to them?" psychiatrist Bruce Winick recently said in a Time magazine article questioning the effectiveness of such bans.
Here is the real question: Will states try to solve other problems by banning convicted burglars, arsonists, murderers and other felons as well? Does anyone think that would work?
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.