Last September, the probation officers of nine homeless men in Georgia ordered them to, in the words of the AP wire service, "live in the woods behind a suburban Atlanta office park." When the state government discovered this, Georgia promptly ordered them out.
Why? No homeless shelter in Georgia could legally hold them, and the group had nowhere else to go. Those nine men were classified under Georgia law as "sex offenders," and as such face strict restrictions for the rest of their lives on where they can travel, work, go to the bathroom, and, yes, where they can be homeless.
The Georgia example may be unusual, but it certainly isn't unique. In 2007, Miami solved its homeless sex offender problem by housing five of them under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Not in a shed or a shelter or a van down by the river. Just under the bridge.
The post-incarceration punishment of "sex offenders" is ridiculous, unconstitutional, and won't prevent the individuals in question from committing a crime again. Worse yet, they are not the fault of overzealous law enforcement agencies in Georgia or Florida just trying to do right by saving kids from rapists. No, the fault lies with politicians.
To be clear: Sexual abuse and violence is despicable, especially toward children. Concerns about what happens to those who commit these crimes after they get out of jail are understandable. However, "sex offenders" are not just these people.
The pretentious quotes are necessary, as the definition of the term changes state to state, and is determined simply by ending up in a vast database for one reason or another (and sometimes by mistake).
In California, an old man who got caught being gay when it was illegal is considered a "sex offender." In most states, an 18-year-old who has consensual sex with a 17-year-old is a "sex offender" for life.
An 18-year-old boy in Iowa was asked by a 14-year-old female friend to, ahem, "sext" her. The two were not involved sexually. In fact, the prosecution agreed that the whole thing was a joke. Oh well. Jorge Canal is now a sex offender. To the bridge/woods with him!
To be a "sex offender" is to suffer extra-judicial persecution for the rest of your natural life, at the whim of politicians. Laws are passed every year restricting the freedom of those labeled "sex offenders," with the maniacal specificity only government can create.
The 2009 edition of Virginia's "Sex Offender Statutes and Proximity Statutes" (yes, they change annually), explains that "sex offenders" are "forever prohibited" from being within 100 feet of elementary, middle and high schools, daycares, or any "playground, athletic field or facility, or gymnasium."
OK. Wait, "sex offenders" aren't allowed within 100 feet of a gym, let alone inside one? Oh, well. As we all know those people are perverts. Like Jorge Canal. Virginia law also prohibits Jorge from living within 500 feet of a public park "regularly used for school activities." You know, like most parks. But that's the price to pay for being a "sex offender," right?
And Jorge might have shit luck, but these laws are doing good work by keeping children safe from dangerous predators.
Except they don't. "Residency restrictions for sex offenders popular, but ineffective," read a 2008 headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying "studies conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections and Colorado Department of Public Safety have not shown any correlation between sex offender recidivism and living near schools or parks."
The problem is the real dangerous people, sexual predators and their ilk, don't need to live within 500 feet of a public park to do evil. They can always drive or walk. Want to restrict where a "sex offender" can travel?
That's what prison is for. Want to keep "sex offenders" away from children? Then keep them in prison. Don't pass a local ordinance telling Jorge Canal he has to live 500 feet away from anywhere children may gather.
In fact, residency restrictions serve only one purpose: getting politicians elected. No person running for office has ever run on a platform of making life easier for "sex offenders," and no one ever will. So the laws will continue to be passed. And nine homeless men in Georgia will continue to shuffle in and out of the woods behind an office park, for perpetuity. Until somebody in power reads the Eighth Amendment.