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When people with intellectual disabilities commit sex crimes

When Adam N. was arrested for exposing himself to a neighbor, it was hard to understand it as a sex crime. Adam is 32 but functions at the level of a 10-year-old. His mother says that the neighbor was actually abusing Adam and coerced him to expose himself. Adam pled guilty, however, and was sentenced to two years of probation and 10 years on the sex offender registry.

Since Adam functions at such a low level, however, he has a hard time understanding and complying with the restrictions of his sentence. He was required to move to a new residence because his home was too near the alleged victim's. That meant the entire family had to move because Adam can't live on his own. Finding a home that complied with the sex offender restrictions cost the family $150,000.

Adam was also ordered to have a curfew and spend all evening and night at home. That means his parents have to remain home, as well.

"The dream is gone," his mother told The Marshall Project. "We're living in our own little prison."

Sex offenders face ever-harsher restrictions

States across the nation are almost constantly increasing the costs and consequences of sex offenses. It's all meant to be in the interest of public safety. There may be required sex offender treatment. There can be mandatory polygraph tests, even though polygraphs are not reliable. It's onerous to travel because you have to register in each state you visit. There are even fees to be on the registry.

Yet when the sex offender has an intellectual disability, it's the parents who pay the costs and share the consequences.

Penny, whose intellectually disabled son is also on the sex offender registry, estimates that she has spent nearly $137,000 on sex offender registry compliance. Much of that was on a compliant home, but she paid $23,000 for court-ordered sex offender treatment, $4,000 for polygraph tests and $100 per year for registry fees. And because her son can't care for himself, she has to comply with all the same restrictions he does.

"If a daycare opens up within 500 feet of us, we have to move because my son can't live alone," she explains. "It's very much like I am on the registry."

Other parents have been hit with high tax bills for taking money out of their retirement savings before age 62. Others report experiencing such stress that they've lost jobs and income.

Many intellectually disabled defendants simply lack the capacity to understand that what they did was wrong. Do we really want families to be so burdened when their children break the law?

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