Press Release: ReFORM-AL strongly opposes Wallace’s segregationist HB 85 proposal
Press Release: State Representatives Wallace, Jones, and Beckman have sponsored a bill (HB 85) that, if passed, will restrict those forced to register as “sex offenders” to live 500 feet apart from each other and no more than one to a residence or apartment building. While this idea sounds good on paper, the results have disastrous consequences that could put families at high risk of harm.
The state of Alabama currently has a 2000 foot living and work restriction in place; as a consequence, the vast majority of registered citizens, intent on obeying the law after serving out their sentences, are forced to live in very small pockets where they are legally allowed to live and work people will rent to them. The so-called “sex offender clusters” were created by residency restriction laws. For this reason, a growing number of states, like Iowa, and municipalities across the United States have scaled back residency restrictions. Studies in Minnesota and Colorado have shown residency restrictions not only failed to protect citizens, they may actually encourage recidivism. Unlike other states, Alabama's state legislators have decided to exacerbate the problem by creating further limitations on where those forced to register can live.
If HB 85 passes, thousands of Alabama's registered citizens will be forced out of their homes, and that instability has been proven to increase the likelihood of re-offense. When Iowa created their residency restrictions in 2005, they saw a 350% increase in homelessness, and increase the failure to register cases, and even a slight increase in sex crimes in that state in the year following an increase of residency restrictions. In short, while increasing residency restrictions sound good on paper, it actually encourages crime.
Those who sponsor this bill claim that when sex offenders are concentrated in a particular area, this somehow poses a higher risk. Studies have found the opposite; the 2003 Colorado Department of Corrections study on residency restrictions found that residency restrictions had absolutely no impact on recidivism, but a positive living environment, such as a halfway house or with a supportive family, increases an offender’s likelihood of living a productive, successful life once their sentences have been served.
Recidivism among those convicted of sex crimes are already far lower than comparable crimes; the US Department of Justice found after three years, only 3.5% were reconvicted of a new sex crime. Longer-term studies have found recidivism rates are lower than comparable offenses. Interestingly, in an e-mail from Sen. Wallace, sex offenders were compared to “crack addicts”, implying that merely forcing them to live a certain distance away from their “addictions” is a viable solution. In our society, drug offenses had been increasingly subject to a number of punitive laws over the years, and only now have we seen the negative impact that many well-intentioned drug laws have created; in many cases, drug laws had created an environment that encouraged further drug abuse. We recognize in our society that drug offenders are now amenable to treatment, and there are no shortages of halfway houses, treatment options, and support groups for drug offenders. We are also aware that drug offenders are not limited by geography, nor are all drug offenders the same.
Sex offenders are not a homogenous group. Not everyone on the registry will reoffend in spite of the laws, not because of them. Sex offenses are not a matter of geography, but of relationships; what person sleeps at night has no impact on what a person does during the day. While there are a small number of sex offenders who are “fixated” and resistant to treatment, the majority of sex offenders are indeed amenable to treatment, and many have also shown remorse for the things they have done and have no desire to harm anyone.
ReFORM-AL strongly opposes HB 85. We believe this bill will cause far more harm than good for our society. While it may be popular to harm those convicted of sexual offenses in every way possible, our focus should be on doing things that work, rather than things that simply feel good. This law will ultimately backfire; if passed, expect to see an increase of homeless registrants, registrants who simply failed to register, and a possible increase of sex offenses. We are not even addressing the fact that the vast majority of sex crimes are committed by people with no prior record (about 95% of sex crime arrests). Thus, we are devoting a large amount of resources focusing on roughly 5% of the potential threat at best; only about 5% of that 5% will likely re-offend.
Instead, ReFORM-AL would like to offer a solution based upon solid research and experience. Residency restrictions have been proven to be counterproductive; therefore, instead of passing more restriction laws, the state of Alabama should look at repealing them altogether in favor of using the meager resources wasted on this bad piece of legislation on proven methods of education, treatment, and rehabilitation. There are a number of successful resources proven to greatly reduce the already low recidivism rates for those convicted of sex crimes, such as restorative justice programs, circles of support and accountability, and organizations like Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and Stop It Now!
The state of Alabama is only one of seven states that do not support treatment programs of any kind. The sponsors of this bill deny any effective treatment program exists, despite the evidence given by 43 other states and a number of nations around the world that treatment programs that stress accountability, empathy, and responsibility are very effective. This bill, despite the included language that claims an “exception” for halfway houses, will have no exceptions in practice. In an interview with WTVY 4 Dothan, state Representative Mike Jones stated he was going to propose what we now call HB 85 in order to prevent a halfway house from forming. Yet State Representative Wallace claims there will be an exception to the law. Based on Jones’s words, we can reasonably conclude no halfway house will ever be approved as the exception.
Instead of promoting the treatment, rehabilitation, and education programs proven to reduce recidivism, they are choosing to gamble with the lives of your children bypassing feel-good legislation proven time and time again to exacerbate the problem of great concern and our society. Revenge driven laws have proven to make things worse; tough on crime does not mean smart on crime.
The bottom line is if you truly care about children, you will also oppose HB 85. Our efforts to reduce sexual offending in this country should begin with evidence-based education and awareness programs that stress sexual accountability, responsibility, and open communication, coupled with services that provide proper treatment for those who have sexually offended so they at are at least given the opportunity to atone for their past crimes and become a productive member of society. Doing this is not “sympathy for sex offenders”, but in investment in ending the perpetuation of all manners of violence in our great nation.
Derek W. Logue
ReFORM-AL (Registered Former Offender Restoration Movement)