Exile From Main Street

by TChris

A few centuries ago, banishment was a popular alternative to death as a punishment imposed by English judges. Colonial America received its share of banished horse thieves and other offenders, as did Australia.

Modern American judges typically lack the power of banishment in their arsenal of punishments, but legislative bodies have taken to telling sex offenders "you can't live here" with the hope of making them some other jurisdiction's problem. The resulting dilemma: where can they live? And how can society expect to achieve rehabilitation if banishment, rather than treatment and supervision, is perceived as the cure?

In Hillsborough County, Fla., local officials voted unanimously in June to ban convicted sex offenders from public hurricane shelters. In Ohio, prosecutors have begun moving to evict sex offenders who live too close to a school. And in towns and counties across the country, including Binghamton, N.Y., and Brick, N.J., local officials have passed laws in recent months that effectively banish anyone convicted of a sex crime against a minor.

Banishment laws are a short-sighted non-solution to the potential risk posed by sex offenders who have already been punished for their crimes.

"When you push offenders out of the more populated areas, they can lose access to jobs and treatment, and it makes them harder to track," said Jill S. Levenson, a researcher on sexual violence at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., who published a study of sex offender zoning laws this year.

Some jurisdictions have resisted the knee-jerk approval of banishment laws after realizing that they aren�t effective:

Minnesota and Colorado considered passing versions of the law, and decided against it after commissioning studies. Minnesota's study, published by the State Department of Corrections in 2003, showed no relationship between offenders' proximity to schools and their risk of committing new crimes. It concluded that new restrictions would make it harder to track offenders and would "not enhance community safety."

"Get out of town" laws (as distinguished from more narrowly-drawn "stay away from schools" laws) may also be subject to legal challenges.

[T]hey often bar sex offenders from working or even being in the restricted areas - a modern-day sentence of exile. They are therefore vulnerable to the argument that they violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, said Robert A. Perry, the legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a supporting brief for the plaintiff in a suit filed against the new law in Binghamton.

Yet "tough on crime" politicians continue to propose banishment, particularly at the local level, as a way to shuttle the "undesirables" out of their community and into someone else's town.

Making exiles out of ex-offenders is bad policy. It�s a trend that needs to stop.

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    Re: Exile From Main Street (none / 0) (#1)
    by ras on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:38 PM EST
    The real sex offender - aot, say the 18yr old boyfriend of a 15yr old girl - is pretty much beyond a cure; or at least, the rehab success rate is seen as being so poor that no one wants to take a chance. That's the nub of the prob, isn't it? So you either gotta lock 'em up for life so they don't destroy multiple more young lives, or find a dumping ground home where they can't harm anyone. Such places are getting harder to find, tho, aren't they? Perhaps they could bunk with the family of a sponsor, someone who truly believes they should be integrated into society and is willing to back it up, just to confirm that they've been cured first.

    Re: Exile From Main Street (none / 0) (#2)
    by jimcee on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:38 PM EST
    Banishment is an unworkable idea because it just kicks the problem down the road to the next town. I am not qualified to judge whether treatment is effective but stricter sentencing, serious monitoring upon release and mandantory pychiactric care, coerced if necessary. I'm sure the NYCLU would call that cruel and unusual punishment. Either way, get caught once on a child sex charge you get jail time and counciling. After that if you are convicted a second time you would be incarcerated for life with no parole. Regardless of the NYTimes' soft spot for lifers, for life really should mean for life.

    Re: Exile From Main Street (none / 0) (#4)
    by Johnny on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:40 PM EST
    narius, there is a very good chance that someone is your family will end up a sex offender. As long as you are willing to foot the bill for mandatory LWOP, go right ahead and petition your state reps to start enacting LWOP laws for sex offenders. As long as we are waxing hypothetical... I say we treat people who lie about sex crimes as a sex criminal. You know, the states attorney who coerces a little girl into saying "Jimmy from the block touched my pee-pee." Lock her up, and lock the attorney up. LWOP. That kind of stuff can ruin a life, you lose no matter what when you have been accused of that. Oh, can't lock a minor up? We have 9700 people serving LWOP right now that were a minor when they did their crime. Another hypothetical.... Seriously now... At what age are people able to give informed consent on their sexuality? What constitutes rape? Another thing... should we lock people up for looking at pictures? For thinking about things? I have looked at pictures of murder, I have had murderous thoughts (anyone who says they have not is either ready for saint-hood or a liar. My money is on the latter)... However, I am not guilty of murder. Why then is looking at kiddie porn a crime? Isn't the crime committed by those who create and distribute it? (hypothetical points by the way, no need to go all bushbastic on me... Don't need no shock and awe over here)

    Re: Exile From Main Street (none / 0) (#5)
    by Johnny on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:42 PM EST
    Wrong wingers beware... Thought crime is alive and well in todays wrong-wing dogma... You are either with them or against them...