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Sex offender policies may be doing more harm than good

There’s a general idea that the punishment should fit the crime. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. For certain crimes, such as sex offenses, the punishment may last a lifetime.

A recent article published by Quartz points out that rigid and lifetime punishments of sex offenders may be doing more harm than good. Many states restrict where they can live and work, and they publish detailed profiles on sex offender web sites. These policies are generally aimed at protecting children and those who are vulnerable in our community. Unfortunately, they may be having the opposite effect.

Residence restrictions

Wisconsin is one of many states that won’t allow convicted sex offenders to live near schools, parks, day cares, recreational centers and playgrounds, among other places. Milwaukee is particularly focused on these criminals and put a 2,000-foot rule in place in 2014. However, the get-tough approach had an unforeseen result.

After Milwaukee passed its ordinance, homelessness among these offenders shot up from 15 to nearly 230. While few sympathize with this group, keeping tabs on them became a problem for law enforcement. One of the key aspects of prevention of such violent crimes is providing the police with information and tools to monitor known offenders. Compounding the problem, nine independent studies found a link between homelessness and higher repeat offender rates. Ironically, the very policies that are in place to protect society make sex offenders more likely to reoffend and make it harder for law enforcement to keep track of them.  

The State of Wisconsin is discovering that its tough-on-crime policies may be putting the public at risk, in addition to unduly punishing sex offenders who have served their sentence. There may be no easy answers to this problem, but reform efforts are badly needed.

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