I recently proposed legislation that would establish pedophile free zones in Randolph. Under the law that I proposed, convicted sex offenders would be prohibited from living within 1000 feet of a school, daycare center, playground, and other areas in town frequented by children.
At least a dozen other states have enacted similar laws and in recent months, numerous other towns right here in New Jersey in New Jersey have created boundaries barring offenders. In Randolph however, all 4 republican council members opposed my proposed law. Their objections seem to fall into 2 basic categories. First, they contend that my proposed law is unconstitutional, meaning that it violates the constitutional rights of convicted sex offenders. Because of this, they feel that Randolph Township would be vulnerable to a costly lawsuit from a sex offender. The 2nd objection seems to be that my proposed law is a “feel good” law, a law that “sounds tough” but really provides no real protection and is based on emotion rather than sound policy.
These objections are without merit. My proposed law makes sense, it is constitutional, it will not be overturned, and let me tell you why.
First; there is no doubt that we have a problem. Sex offender recidivism is a problem that needs to be discussed and addressed. Every time we read another horror story in the newspaper, about a convicted, released, or even registered sex offender committing another violent act, we feel more and more frustrated and helpless about bringing about any real change. People increasingly feel that their hands are tied, that courts are too lenient, that offenders do not serve their complete sentences, and that more concern is given to the criminal than the victim. These are valid concerns.
Experts agree that the most violent pathological sexual predators are basically untreatable. They have a compulsion that is almost impossible to cure. When we put violent sex offenders back into the community, we put children at risk, Megan’s law notwithstanding. Given the high rate of recidivism by sex offenders, it is just common sense that limiting the frequency of contact between sex offenders and areas where children are likely to congregate will reduce the risk of a re-offense.
As to the argument that such a law is unconstitutional, that is just plain wrong. Currently, these laws have not yet been tested in New Jersey. But other states that have considered these laws have determined that they are constitutional. In fact, the Iowa Supreme Court just ruled recently that such a law, a law which by the way is MORE restrictive than what I am proposing, WAS constitutional.
The court held that the legislature had a right to regulate the residency of sex offenders in order to protect the health and safety of the citizens. They also held that sex offenders do not have a constitutional right “to live where you want.” Lastly, they found that the law did not violate the substantive due process, or the procedural due process of the offenders, nor did it constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
My proposed law has another valid purpose. If there is enough public reaction, and if enough towns start to propose and pass laws such as I have suggested, perhaps we can send a message to state and federal authorities that more serious action has to be taken to keep these people behind bars.
Like all laws, we have to strike a balance. In this case, it is a balance between the convicted criminal’s interest in getting a new start, and the interest of others in the community who want to be protected.
In Randolph, laws prohibit sexually oriented business from operating within 1000 feet of a school, playground or school bus stop. It’s just bizarre that the Republicans would take the position that we can prevent an adult book store or a go-go bar from setting up shop near a school, but we cannot prevent a child rapist from moving in.
The ordinance that I have proposed is not a cure all. It is another tool in the fight to protect our children. Reasonable people can differ on the language that should be included in the law. But it is important as a community that we have that discussion and debate. At the local government level, we must put policy ahead of partisan politics, and have intellectually honest discussion instead of s blindly voting “along party lines.”
Increased monitoring of individuals convicted of sexually assaulting children is a good thing. My law will reduce the likelihood of reoffense by limiting the offender’s temptation and reducing the opportunity to commit a new crime. And if it helps to prevent even one incident that could have been avoided, then I think that is a good thing.