On December 20, 2021, the Barberton City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting persons registered Tier III for a conviction of a sexual offense from living within 1,000 feet of “any city owned parks, and the Towpath” (a public walking/ biking/nature trail). The ordinance was the result of a resident complaining that a man was walking through one of the city’s 17 parks. Councilman Jaber, the sponsor of the ordinance, bragged that, after the ordinance, offenders could only live in 25% of the city.
There are 74 persons listed on the sexual offense registry in Barberton, Ohio. Of those 74, only three are affected by the ordinance. OHRSOL sent the following response to the newspaper. As of February 14th, no one from the newspaper has responded.
I am writing regarding your recent article on residency restrictions in the City of Barberton. https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/news/2021/12/24/barberton-takes-aim-sexual-predators-limiting-where-they-can-live/8995173002/
As an advocate for cost-effective, evidence-based sexual offense registration laws, I applaud the Council’s desire to protect public safety. Unfortunately, the new ordinance does the exact opposite. This is a perfect example of a “feel-good” law which has been proven to mislead the public into believing it will make them safe. In fact, evidence shows it will make society less safe.
Laws which limit where individuals with a sexual offense can live ostracize the individual and his family, and create unintended consequences which have actually been found to increase risk of harm to society. If the Barberton City Council had done their homework, they would have found that such ordinances have been banned in other states, and have been discouraged by the U.S. Department of Justice, which states:
“…(T)he evidence is fairly clear that residence restrictions are not effective. In fact, the research suggests that residence restrictions may actually increase offender risk by undermining offender stability and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work, and family support. There is nothing to suggest this policy should be used at this time.”
Groups which have studied sexual offense registration have found that laws which are overly restrictive actually increase the risk to public safety. Numerous groups which study effective criminal justice policies recommend abolishing residency restrictions. These groups include the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission and the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee (OCJRC), a group of politicians, law enforcement, and prominent judicial figures. Most recently, the American Society for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and the American Law Institute (ALI), writers of the Model Penal Code, joined these recommendations.
This ordinance imposes punishment, in lieu of prevention. Studies find that post-conviction controls only perpetuate the myth of stranger danger, leading to a false sense of security and the illusion of control. There is no evidence to prove they actually work to prevent sexual harm.
Even if such practices were encouraged, there is no evidence they are warranted in this case. No harm has occurred as a result of the individual living near Lake Anna. My research shows that, as of 2018, the majority of individuals registered in Barberton for a sexual offense are over the age of 40, are considered “low risk,” and have not committed a new offense in 16 years. Studies show that most re-offenses, if any, occur within the first three years after release, and that the risk decreases dramatically with age and time spent offense-free. Statistically speaking, the residents of Barberton are significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone NOT on the registry, usually someone they know and trust.
Until we face this fact, we will continue to punish those who have already done their time, without evidence it will make society safer. We need to pass laws which provide resources for education, prevention, and treatment, rather than punishment. Proponents of restorative justice/ transformative justice point out that the young lady in question may have benefited more from a victim-centered approach to criminal justice. Restorative justice, designed to provide healing, instead of punishment, allows the victim to obtain closure that the punitive approach to sentencing does not.
All the laws in the world will not prevent sexual harm from occurring. Instead, we need to teach awareness, and allow children to speak out when they are being abused. Only then will we achieve the justice the children of Barberton deserve.
In the words of Patty Wetterling, advocate for missing and exploited children and founder of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center:
“Funds spent on SORN would be better spent on public education, on prevention of violence and sexual assault, and on rehabilitation and re-entry for registered citizens.”
Please give this email the attention it deserves by either contacting me, or at the very least, by printing this as an opinion editorial. Thank you for your time.
- Shattuck, T.J., (2017). Pushing the Limits: Reining in Ohio’s Residency Restrictions for Sex Offenders. Cleveland State Law Review, 65(591). https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/clevstlrev/vol65/iss4/10/.
- Lobanov-Rostovsky, C., (2015, July). Adult Sex Offender Management. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Assessing, Registering and Tracking, Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative Research Brief at p. 3. https://smart.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh231/files/media/document/adultsexoffendermanagement.pdf.
- Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Offender Registration, (2016, April). Report and Recommendations. Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, at p.1. https://supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/Sentencing/resources/sentencingRecs/AdHocCommSexOffenderReg.pdf.
- ALI, ATSA and OCJRC available upon request.
- Prescott, J.J. (2012). Do Sex Offender Registries Make Us Less Safe? Michigan Law, University of Michigan 35(2) at pp. 48-55 https://repository.law.umich.edu/articles/83/.
- Hanson, R.K. (2012, November 7). Declaration in United States District Court for the Northern District of California https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/024_hanson_decl_11.7.12.pdf.
- Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, (2006). Sex Offender Classification and Treatment in Ohio Prisons, at pp. 16-18. ( https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/media/publications/sex%20offender%20classification%20and%20treatment%20in%20ohio%20prisons-%20ciic.pdf..
- Human Rights Watch (2007, September 11). No Easy Answers – Sex Offense Laws in the US, third section. https://www.hrw.org/report/2007/09/11/no-easy-answers/sex-offender-laws-us.
- Hanson, R.K., Harris, A.J.R. et al. (2018). Reductions in Risk Based on Time Offense-Free in the Community: Once a Sexual Offender, Not Always a Sexual Offender. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 24(1) at p. 55. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/law-law0000135.pdf.
- Reina Gattuso, “Why Should Feminists Be Against the Sex Offender Registry?” (December, 2018 Feministing.com) http://feministing.com/2018/12/21/why-should-feminists-be-against-the-sex-offender-registry/
- Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, (2017, May 27). We Spend Too Much Money Watching Sex Offenders.
Texas Voices for Reason and Justice. http://texasvoices.org/jacob-wetterling-resource-center-we-spend-too-much-money-watching-sex-offenders/