Nov 28, 2010

School Closures Create Opportunities for Sex Offenders to Move In?

A real estate professional recently told me a sad tale of her childhood neighborhood, where financial difficulties led to the closure of the elementary and other schools -- which, in turn, led to an influx of sex offenders buying homes there.

Is that possible? Megan's Law, a federal law administered state by state, does indeed allow states to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of a school or day care center. For example, 2,000 feet is the required radius in California and Oklahoma, and 1,000 feet in Arizona, New Jersey, and New York.

Allegations have been made that such laws lead to homelessness among sex offenders, given the difficulty of finding a place to live that fits the criteria. (It's hard enough to find a place to live to begin with!) So, the disturbing truth of the matter is that it's not hard to imagine someone with a sex-offense conviction being relieved to hear of a local school closure, and starting to house-hunt there.

Before starting to panic, however, let's remember that not all sex offenses involved harm to others (though some states' laws apply the school restrictions only to the most high-risk offenders) and that we have no idea whether other released or undiscovered convicts -- murderers, burglars, or con artists -- are living right next door. (Hmm, that was comforting, wasn't it?) But there's nothing new about the fact that we all learn to live with the possibility of crime in our society, usually by keeping our eyes open and teaching our children how to respond to unwelcome advances. Also, the person to whom I spoke hadn't heard any reports of increased crime in the neighborhood that had supposedly become Sex Offender Central.

But there's one truth that can't be gotten around: If a neighborhood acquires the reputation of being an enclave of registered sex offenders, its property values will go down. And that's just one of the many good reasons to fight to keep local schools open.