Monday, May 11, 2009

Finally, Common Sense from the Media

Philadelphia Enquirer : Editorial - Sex-offender laws.

State legislators should halt plans to tamper with a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that prevents towns from creating "pedophile-free" zones.

The state Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court's decision nullifying sex-offender residency laws in Cherry Hill and Galloway Township, Atlantic County.

About 120 municipalities throughout New Jersey have adopted ordinances restricting where sex offenders can live. In Cherry Hill, the local law banned convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, churches, parks, or other places where children might congregate. That meant nearly the entire township was off-limits.

The court ruled that such restrictions interfere with the statewide Megan's Law of 1994, which requires that paroled sex offenders register with authorities. The registry cannot be used to deny housing to offenders, which is what the local ordinances did.

A patchwork of local residency bans only serves to drive paroled offenders underground. The public is more likely to be protected if parole officers know where the offenders are living and monitor them regularly.
Besides, a ban on living in a township can't stop an offender from driving through that town.

The instances in which strangers abuse children are horrible, and they get intensive media coverage. But those cases are not the norm. About 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by a person known to the child, usually a family member.

Legislators in Trenton are pushing bills that would get around the court ruling and again give municipalities the ability to ban paroled sex offenders. It's not an effective way to attack this difficult problem. A better option is to make sure enough parole officers and treatment programs are working with offenders and keeping track of them.