California lawmakers and voters are preparing to debate stricter rules for sex offenders, including a November ballot initiative that would impose more residency restrictions. The San Francisco Chronicle says that academic research, experts, and some officials in states with similar restrictions say the limits do little to reduce crime and may cause more problems than they solve. “I defy anyone to try and convince me, scientifically or logically, that these requirements have any effect at all,” said Corwin Ritchie of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which represents prosecutors throughout Iowa. “It makes great sense politically, but it has no effect whatsoever on public safety.”
Iowa enacted a law in 2002 that prohibits most sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center. Ritchie and other Iowa officials say the law has led to an increase in the number of sex offenders who have stopped registering with local authorities and gone missing. “There is research on this, and where someone lives has no relation to the commission of a crime,” said Niki Delson, a social worker who has worked for 30 years with sex offenders and their victims and is chairwoman of the education committee of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending. A review of sex crimes by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 93 percent of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser and that most crimes occurred in the child’s home or in the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative. Delson calls residency requirements a “smoke screen that does little to help children” and said lawmakers should instead fund programs that provide information about sexual abuse to parents and children and to focus restrictive requirements on parolees with the highest risk of reoffending.