Zoning laws that prevent sex offenders from living within close proximity to schools and other places where children congregate have proliferated over the past 10 years.
In many communities, few dwellings are compliant with these laws, causing sex offenders to become homeless. First, a brief history of residence restriction laws will be provided and then the research around their impact and effectiveness will be summar- ized, followed by empirically supported recommendations for reform.
Legislating individuals into homelessness is not sound social policy, nor is it humane. These laws do not conform to what is known about patterns of sexual per- petration and victimization, and thus do little to prevent recidivistic sexual violence.
In fact, these policies may undermine the very factors shown by research to be associated with positive reentry and reduced recidivism. The grand challenge of social justice requires social workers to advocate on behalf of those who are marginalized in our communities including criminal offen- ders.
Research-based policy reform can result in improved public safety outcomes and social justice in our communities. Keywords Social work, sex offender, homelessness, grand challenge, residence restrictions, policy Hidden challenges: Underneath the bridge, however, in , were as many as homeless individ- uals living in exile.
Ironically, some of these men owned homes of their own. Others had families who were willing to take them in. Many had jobs and could pay rent. What began with good intentions quickly escalated into a crisis that continues today. Among these grand challenges for social work- ers is the goal of ending homelessness through collaborative research, resources, community organization, and advocacy across micro, mezzo, and macro levels Henwood et al.
First enacted in Miami Beach in June by mimicking zoning codes that prohibit sexually oriented businesses e. These laws may sound like common sense: Several examples highlight the extent of this problem. It is often argued that low recidivism rates obscure the high number of sex crimes that go undetected, and of course it is true that many are not reported. SORR laws have been passed in many jurisdictions with little regard for research or risk assessment. In fact, youngsters are most likely to be molested by a trusted person who is acquainted with them and their families Bureau of Justice Statistics, ; Colombino et al.
But the best laws are those grounded in research evidence. Several common themes have been noted Meloy et al. They expressed skepti- cism about the value of rehabilitation programs and often spoke of rape and murder simultaneously, implying that these were the types of crimes they hoped to prevent by enacting legislation.
Fueled by myths of stranger danger, assumptions of alarmingly high recidivism rates, and revulsion for perpetrators of sexual crimes, SORR laws seem immune to evidence. The Columbus Dispatch, in October Lane, , quoted Delaware County Prosecutor David Yost describing his support for residence restrictions as just an obvious thing to do They cultivate opportunities for sexual molestation by grooming children and their families, and they use positions of trust, familiarity, or authority to do so Duwe et al.
The grand challenge of research-informed sex offender man- agement policies Sexual abuse of children is egregious, and protecting children from harm is a vital objective. Recent court decisions declaring residence restrictions unconstitutional in California, Massachusetts, and New York seem to indicate a changing tide in the support for these laws.
Their forewarnings turned out to be correct. In July , the U. The report concluded that no evidence exists to support the use of these policies at this time. Residential restrictions are a failed social experiment. There is no evidence that they protect children or prevent recidivism, and in fact they create many more problems than they solve. Instead, SORR laws disrupt stability, create barriers to steady employment, and banish individuals far from their most helpful social support systems.
When people believe they have nothing to lose, they act accordingly. Such laws would better target the goals of preventing predatory pedophilic individuals from preying on vulnerable children in public places. Over the past century, the social work profession has advanced in its grassroots mission to serve poor, vulnerable, and oppressed populations, and developed into a scientist-practitioner model for empir- ically supported practice and policy. American crime prevention policies over the past 30 years have relied heavily on incarceration, and the United States now leads the world in imprisonment rates.
The grand challenge of social justice relies on the integration of collaborative leadership, science, and public dialog to enable innovative and transformative solutions Uehara et al. SORRs that result in homelessness are a bad idea for several reasons.
They utilize resources shelters, soup kitchens, etc. SORR laws contradict the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which proclaimed housing as a fundamental right that all persons should be able to access.
Social workers are trained to consider macro and policy issues as well as micro and clinical issues. As such, social workers should advocate for evidence-based clinical programs and public policies. If social workers believe in social justice, we cannot pick and choose who it applies to. As a society, we need to be honest about our intentions: Self-reported crimes of nonincarcerated paraphiliacs.
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