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Sex offenders become homeless as communities tighten restrictions

Life after a criminal conviction can be challenging in many ways. Even after your sentence is served, you may find yourself barred from certain jobs or discriminated against by employers. You may also find it hard to fit into a new community if the public is aware of your previous conviction.

But for individuals convicted of sex crimes, the consequences may follow them for the rest of their lives. Many are required to register as sex offenders; a designation that makes it nearly impossible to return to a normal life. And because of stringent residency restrictions, many convicted sex offenders in Wisconsin and around the country have trouble even finding a place to live.

A recent article in the New York Times discusses how individual neighborhoods in big cities are taking advantage of residency restrictions in order to drive out any convicted sex offenders who live there. In Los Angeles, for instance, some neighborhoods are building "pocket parks," which are tiny pieces of land spruced up just enough to be designated a park. Like many other states, California doesn't allow sex offenders to live within a certain distance from public parks; regardless of whether they lived there before a park was put in.

But this not-in-my-backyard attitude is creating some serious problems, both for offenders and for the community at large. In many large cities, convicted offenders cannot find anywhere to live, and many become homeless. This, in turn, makes them more likely to reoffend.

A member of the California Sex Offender Management Board explains that "Putting in parks doesn't just break up clusters - it makes it impossible for sex offenders to find housing in the whole city. It's counterproductive to public safety, because when you have nothing to lose, you are much more likely to commit a crime than when you are rebuilding your life."

Because of the nature of sex offenses, few people have sympathy for the problems sex offenders face. However, continuing to treat sex offenders as social pariahs after they have served their time ultimately makes it more difficult for them to reintegrate and rehabilitate. In the end, that becomes a problem for everyone.

Source: New York Times, "Neighborhoods Seek to Banish Sex Offenders by Building Parks," Ian Lovett, Mar. 9, 2013

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