Although we’re not from New York City, we can agree that there is probably too much public lewdness and unwanted touching going on in the city’s subways. Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to clean up public transit: banning “repeat and high-risk sexual offenders” from buses, trains and subways for three years.
Cuomo has described banning sex offenders on the subway “common sense.” But is it?
Not really. The idea behind sex offender registries and bans is that, if we could just identify the small number of people responsible for these crimes, we could avoid them or banish them, thus cutting down on those very crimes.
But NYPD data found that the majority of those arrested for subway sex offenses in 2016 and 2017 had no prior record of sex crime arrests, much less convictions. New York also found that 95% of cleared sex offenses in that state were committed by first-time offenders. Moreover, according to the Appeal, the majority of those convicted of sexual crimes don’t reoffend.
Since the vast majority of offenders are first-time offenders, they aren’t already on a registry. Cuomo’s transit ban is unlikely to prevent many sex offenses.
Instead, it would likely make it harder for people to hold jobs or go to school, or to seek medical or psychological help. New York City residents are highly dependent on public transit, and banning people from it would force them to use more expensive transportation or go without. This could make it harder for prior offenders to reintegrate into society.
And, the Legal Aid Society and others say, the ban would probably target already-marginalized people such as the homeless and those who have mental illnesses. The poor and minorities would also be more vulnerable to the ban because they may have had to plead guilty to a prior crime they weren’t actually guilty of. This is common when people are assigned unaffordable bail.
Legal Aid points out that the NYPD’s fare evasion enforcement has been shown to disproportionately target people of color and the poor.
Like other forms of banishment, the public transit ban would likely create serious hardship for people with sex crime convictions without actually making the public any safer.
There is very little evidence that sex offender bans are effective. In fact, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that a Michigan sex offender ban actually increased the chance of recidivism by preventing people from reintegrating into society successfully.
If we know that sex offender bans are ineffective, possibly counter-productive and even harmful, how can we call Cuomo’s proposed transit ban “common sense”?