Sex Offense Research Information Center: Recidivism

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Sex Offense Research Information Center: Recidivism

It is a widespread misconception that sex offenders commit additional sex crimes at alarmingly high rates. This myth has had tremendous impact on court decisions and policy making.

The use of dubious statistics in major cases like Smith v. Doe and McKune v. Lile has created a dangerous precedent with lasting effects. In their article, “Frightening and High”: The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crime Statistics, Ira Mark Ellman and Tara Ellman describe the source of these exaggerated claims.

The phrase “frightening and high”—describing the recidivism rate for sex offenders—was used in both cases and has been used in almost 100 judicial opinions since. Proliferation of this phrase as justification for further punitive policies aimed at sex offenders demonstrates the influence these cases have had in propagating the myth of high recidivism rates.

The “statistic” quoted to justify claims of “frightening and high” recidivism rates has been traced back to a 1986 article from Psychology Today—a mass market publication, not a peer reviewed journal. Ellman and Ellman describe the “statistic” and its source:

That article has this sentence: “Most untreated sex offenders released from prison go on to commit more offenses– indeed, as many as 80% do.” But the sentence is a bare assertion: the article contains no supporting reference for it. Nor does its author appear to have the scientific credentials that would qualify him to testify at trial as an expert on recidivism. He is a counselor, not a scholar of sex crimes or re-offense rates, and the cited article is not about recidivism statistics. It’s about a counseling program for sex offenders he then ran in an Oregon prison. His unsupported assertion about the recidivism rate for untreated sex offenders was offered to contrast with his equally unsupported assertion about the lower recidivism rate for those who complete his program.

While the courts have utilized faulty information to justify the existence of punitive policies, it can be difficult to produce recidivism studies that consider every factor possible. Due to the umbrella nature of the sex offender registry in many states, it can be difficult to separate high risk offenders from their low risk counterparts—it seems obvious they would reoffend at different rates. Also, a successful study must differentiate between re-arrest (for a parole/probation violation, a non-sex crime, or ultimately not charged), re-offense (committing a new sex crime), and re-conviction (getting convicted for a new crime, sexual or non-sexual). The period since release from prison is important as well as many studies have shown sex offenders who have been offense-free for 15 years or more are less likely to commit new crimes.

In 2003 the U. S. Department of Justice released a study on sex offender recidivism: Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994. The study tracked 9,691 sex offenders released from prison in 1994 for a period of 3 years. Several factors were considered and the data are broken down into several categories, but the most basic statistics state that 5.3% of the sex offenders in the study were arrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of their release from prison and 3.5% were convicted for a new sex crime within 3 years. (A far cry from a “frightening and high” rate of 80%.)

In 2012, the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management put out a study: Recidivism Among Sex Offenders in Connecticut. It tracked 14,398 men released from prison in Connecticut for five years. Those tracked were divided into several groups based on offense and incarceration history. 746 of the men had served a prison sentence for a sex-related offense before being released in 2005. Over the next 5 years, 3.6% were arrested and charged for a new sex crime, 2.7% were convicted for a new sex offense, and 1.7% were returned to prison to serve a sentence for a new sex crime. (Certainly not even close to 80%.)

In 2005, P. Karl Hanson and Kelly E. Morton-Bourgon published a meta-analysis of sex offender recidivism studies: The Characteristics of Persistent Sexual Offenders: A Meta-Analysis of Recidivism Studies. This meta-analysis covers 82 recidivism studies that tracked 29,450 sex offenders. Per their findings, 13.7% sex offenders were arrested for a new sex offense and 36.2% recidivated with another type of offense. They conclude that sex offenders with antisocial inclinations are more likely to recidivate, just like any other type of convicted felon

The reality is, sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates of any category of felon. Perpetuation of the high recidivism rate myth by the media is irresponsible and its utilization by those in power to pass punitive policies is reprehensible.

Emily Horowitz

Who Are Woman Sex Offenders and Why Are They Treated Like Men?

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Who Are Woman Sex Offenders and Why Are They Treated Like Men?

by Sonia Van den Broek May 21st, 2015

For the first quarter of my life, I didn’t think much about sex offenders. Call it thoughtlessness or a naïve little bubble; it was probably both. This thoughtlessness might not be unique. But I began thinking about sex offenders when, at age 25, I was charged with a sex crime.

I had had sexual contact with my 17-year-old neighbor. I’m not proud of this and, if given the chance, would absolutely reverse that decision. But I slept with him once and joined the burgeoning ranks of women charged with sex offenses.

I think of these ranks both as a demographic and a way of life. These are two ways to approach this one idea, and I think they’re important to understanding the women who are caught up in these crimes.

First of all, the demographic. While women sex offenders are a low portion of the population, they do exist and in higher numbers than before 1994 (when the Jacob Wetterling Improvements Act was established). There is a trend toward sexual contact with teenage males. Often, the women are motivated by a desire for companionship or have a sense that their current adult-age relationships are unfulfilling.

In other instances, the women are prison guards or case managers who have had sex with inmates. In the state of Colorado, any incarcerated person is legally incapable of consenting to sex, so that any sexual contact he or she does have is considered a crime. Once in a while, a woman will have sexual contact with an intellectually disabled person, sometimes without realizing that this person’s consent is not actually legal.

Women very rarely have sexual contact with children younger than 13. I’ve known only two women in this category and both were motivated by other factors: anger, a history of abuse in their own childhoods, resentment, and a feeling of being trapped. Most female sex offenders aren’t motivated by power and control, which, among male offenders, is the leading motivation for sexual contact with someone before the age of puberty. Actually, regardless of the victim’s age, power and control are a much more compelling motivator for men than for women.

Of course, I don’t condone this behavior in the least. I’m not saying that women who sleep with 17-year-olds should be given a free pass or skip blithely past the consequences. But I do believe we need to rethink the way that we treat and rehabilitate these women. We need to focus less on the scintillating sexual details and more on the emotions and needs that motivated them..

Here lies perhaps the greatest injustice: in the sex offender system, women are treated exactly like men. Treatment providers aren’t given special instruction in dealing with women. The treatment programs are written for men, using statistics about male offenders and past treatment models of men. Imagine! Although women’s motivations and victims are diabolically different, they receive the same treatment model as men who rape women, prey on young children, and commit serial crimes.

At the moment, the justice system hides behind the fact that there isn’t enough research into female offenders. This is partly true: women offend at a much lower rate than men, and so studying their motivations takes a little more work. But as the sex offender laws expand to include more and more actions, there are an increasing number of women caught in sex crimes.

A lack of evidence should never be the reason for poor rehabilitation. It should be the impetus, in fact, for working harder to understand why some women commit sex crimes and how to prevent it in the future. When I asked a treatment provider for data about the effects on teenage males of sex crimes committed by women, she had one study. It was a tiny example, too: 13 males from the Midwest. Only that. In a nation that routinely penalizes women for sexual contact with teenage males, only one study existed that documented this phenomenon. By contrast, decades of research and hundreds of studies have informed the treatment material and methods for men who commit sex crimes.

Research about recidivism rates is also based primarily on male populations and varies drastically. Estimates about recidivism rates for sex offenders range from 2.5% for another sex crime to to 43% for any crime at all. But since the law doesn’t differentiate among sex offenders, these studies are nearly useless. A woman who has sex with a teenager is in the same category with a developmentally disabled person who is an exhibitionist, and those two are in the same category with a man who raped and murdered a child. The lumping-together of sex offenses creates confusion even while it feeds public hysteria.

Secondly, joining the ranks of sex offenders can also become a way of life. It affects which grocery aisle a woman walks down, whether she talks to the cashier who might be 17, whether she takes the long way around instead of driving past a liquor store, how many hours she spends preparing for a polygraph. It cuts her off from her family because she is not allowed to go places where children are. This means no family dinners, no big Christmases with extended family, no graduation ceremonies, no school plays or soccer games.
This isolation sinks deep into the bones. It makes a person unsure of herself. How do “normal” people act in this situation? What if someone finds out I committed a sex crime? Am I talking and behaving the way women my age do?
In this way, the punishment for sex crimes is partly physical, restricting a person’s movements in the community, and partly psychological, making her afraid to engage with other people.
All of this psychological pressure – the extensive restrictions, the polygraphs, the fear of losing hard-won privileges – takes an enormous toll on a person. She begins to fear public places and unfamiliar situations. She begins to look for a quick exit and excuses in case something “not allowed” would happen. She must either follow every rule perfectly (which rips away all self-esteem) or she must self-justify the choices she makes (which engrains criminal thinking, even if it wasn’t there before).
Treating sex offenders, especially women offenders, has become drastically un-therapeutic. “Treatment” revolves around complex rules, low self-esteem, and the constant fear of punishment. It does nothing to address the complex emotional choices that led people to their crimes. Rather, the justice system beats down already hurting women.

Looking Myself Up on the Registry – guest post from Sonia Van den Broek

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Looking Myself Up on the Registry – guest post from Sonia Van den Broek

by Karen Suhaka – BillTrack50 August 15, 2015

This is a guest post from Sonia Van den Broek, sharing a personal take on sex offender registries, a topic we have covered a couple of times.

< strong>Looking Myself Up on the Registry

Yesterday, for the first time, I pulled up my state’s sex offender registry. The number of purple four-sided shapes is astounding. The shapes are like squares with their sides sucked in, and all tipped onto a corner, rather like an exclamation point or tiny explosion. I had thought they were red; that must just be in the movies.

Yet this was no idle browsing or searching for a nearby neighbor. I was looking for myself. Six years, three months, and two days after I was arrested, I felt strong enough to search for myself.

Of course, this is no typical Google search, curious what past employment sites list your name or how many Facebook results you can find. This is the willingness to find a version of yourself on the worst place on the Internet: the unforgiving, voyeuristic Sex Offender Registry.

The registry itself is impassive. It treats predatory criminals with the same bland face that it does the lesser offenses. That is one of its deep downfalls. While some states attempt to create distinctions among offenders, listing risk levels and court summaries of the crimes, there is not much difference in the eye of the reader. One sex offender equals another sex offender.

Once, I had a conversation with another woman in my sex offense treatment group about the difficulty of presenting yourself during the photo taking. It’s a tricky time. For one thing, the cop never tells you when he’s going to take the picture. (I’ve lived in several counties within the same state and this holds true for all of them.) So you stand for a while, unsure when the picture is taken and how many he has.

A bigger concern is how happy to look. For every other picture in the world, you want to look happy! Engaged! Participating! But on a sex offender registry, that looks inappropriate. It looks like you were happy to commit your crime, happy to get caught, and happy to appear on the registry. To the person looking at the photos online, a single smile can convey all these things – even when none of them are true.

However, if you look stern or don’t smile, you look predatory. Unashamed for committing the crime. Careless of the pain you’ve caused and ready to inflict it again. It’s likely that none of these things are true either. And while this face is easier to portray, it also feeds the worst stereotypes about sex offenders.

For women, an additional set of stereotypes and negative images are present. Too much makeup and you’re a whore; too little makeup and you’re a careless woman who preys on children because that’s all she can get. Men offenders have their own set of stereotypes to fight, of course. But the ones applied to women are particularly vindictive and judgmental.

For several years, I practiced “my look” in the mirror before driving to the police station. I decided that the best look is a slight smile coupled with kind eyes. (Try making that face under pressure!) The expression is open but not blatant, kind but not beckoning, unashamed. It seems best. It says “I’m not gloating about what I did and I’m not a monster.” Thus, the worst extremes are avoided.

There is also the possibility that your victim is looking at this photo. It is not a comforting thought. Statistically likely, this person knew you before the crime, had pictures of you in family Christmases or with family friends or at school. This person could easily look you up on the registry to keep tabs on you, know what neighborhood you live in, even see where you work. There may be anonymity for the victim (as is the case with nearly every minor victim), but there is none for the person convicted of the offense. And even though I finally summoned enough courage to look at my face on the sex offender registry, I still feel a large measure of shame. My face shouldn’t be there. This registry shouldn’t exist. But that, as you can guess, is the topic of another blog post altogether.

Is the Sex Offender Registry Effective? Guest post from Sonia Van den Broek

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Is the Sex Offender Registry Effective? Guest post from Sonia Van den Broek

by Karen Suhaka – BillTrack50 October 16, 2015

This is a follow up post from Sonia Van den Broek. See her original post Looking Myself up on the Registry here.

In the previous blog post, I alluded to the value of the sex offender registry. The best way to understand this value, I believe, is by answering the question “Is the registry effective?” Anything that requires direct police involvement, legal monitoring, and thus taxpayer money deserves to be scrutinized by this question. I propose to you that, far from being effective, the sex offender registry is actually ineffective and harmful – to the community most of all.

To begin, the sex offender registry feeds into the public hysteria surrounding this category of crimes. It calls offenders out into the public eye and strips away basic privacy. It exposes their families and friends to public indignation and undue wrath. The registry, by its very nature, calls the reader to judge a person by her label rather than the severity of the offense, her rehabilitation, and a host of other personal factors. The registry is intended to keep communities safe from sexual predators. Many cities draw a circle, varying from 1,000-2,500 feet, around each park, school, public pool, and other places where children congregate. The offender is not allowed to live within the radius of these places; the registry is supposed to be the method by which police officers enforce this rule.

But notice the quiet confusion of terms: “sexual predator” suddenly becomes “sex offender.” In other words, committing a sex crime earns a person a spot on the registry –regardless of her likelihood of being predatory. Although the two terms are not equal, the registry treats them so. I agree: when someone is a predator, it makes sense to severely limit his movements and living options. (Men are statistically much more likely to be predators than women are, so I use the male pronoun.) However, the majority of sex offenders are not also predators. The registry should make this distinction but does not.

The registry requirement is also simple to flout: some sex offenders either fail to register with the police or register under one address while living at another. Sex offenders face tremendous hurdles in finding housing, especially when renting, and finding a place to stay even without the 1,000-foot rule can be daunting. For many offenders, particularly the more dangerous ones who want to duck police monitoring, breaking this rule is easier than following it.

Many other offenders find themselves homeless. The Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony in Miami, Florida, is perhaps the most publicized account of offenders forced into homelessness because the housing restrictions were so broad. But forcing a person to be homeless causes many, many more problems than it solves. Homelessness often leads to joblessness; it wears down the person’s self-esteem and desire to succeed on probation; it often aggravates, rather than reduces, that person’s mental health issues. Drawing huge circles in order to exclude someone also sends a clear message about the system of justice. No one cares of these offenders succeed in treatment, if they become responsible citizens, or if they turn their lives around. Nothing matters except the punitive nature of exclusion.

The Self-Identity of a Sex Offender

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The Self-Identity of a Sex Offender

by SONIA VAN DEN BROECK, July 27, 2012

Attitude, far from being “everything”, is simply an offshoot of the self-identity. People are constantly changing their self-identities, either to project the desired image or to gain personal growth. How do you perceive yourself? How much do you accept what other people want of you? Do their perceptions of you match what you want to portray?

The men and women on sex offender probation have no choice about their identities. They are sex offenders, solely and clearly. Questions about perception and portrayal are nice but hardly applicable. Other people are the sum of their experiences but sex offenders are the sum of their crimes.

This identity is enormously difficult to overcome; most people simply can’t. Most people face minimum sentences of ten years on probation, maximum of life sentences. Even if not in prison, they are always sex offenders to their communities. It is much easier to accept this as your identity than to fight the people who emphasize every week, every day, that you are only a sex offender. (To be clear, I speak here about a group of women who had consensual sexual contact with male teenagers and are on probation. They are considered low-risk because a team of psychologists and polygraphers determined they are not likely to re-offend. All the mothers in this group are legally allowed contact with their underage children.)

Status as a sex offender takes precedence in every single situation, even one where someone’s life is in danger. In my group therapy, we had a discussion about what to do if a child ran out in the street in front of our cars. The treatment provider and probation officer – the latter of whom was sitting in on group – decided it was best to call the police and tell them the situation. They quibbled over whether we could knock on a neighbor’s door to have them grab the child, but under no circumstances were we to touch the child or guide him to the sidewalk.

I was appalled

“In the time it would take me to dial 911, much less explain the situation to the operator, the kid could be hit by the next car. He could be several streets over or hit by any number of cars before the police even got there.

“What would I do then – drive past and pretend I didn’t see? That would be callous, the kind of monstrosity expected from sex offenders just because they are sex offenders. It would be to let a child remain in a high-risk situation rather than getting him to safety.

We women in group talked about how calling the police rather than intervening would fly in the face of our natural, even maternal, instincts. That didn’t matter though – our proximity to the child was a greater threat than anything he would encounter in the street. Even if our intention was to save his life, our offender status cancelled out any good intentions or deeds.

This is only one example of how low-risk women were made to feel and told to act like high-risk offenders. The depth of this imposed identity extended to every part of our lives, especially in public.

After I began probation, I felt horribly conspicuous. My crime must surely be written on my face, mimicked in my walk, splattered in the tones of my voice, soaped on the windows of my car. It was like the scarlet letter: I’ve committed an offense against society and surely every person knows. Even more than that, surely every person will shun me.

I stopped using my last name, especially at work. I wanted to change my name but that’s not allowed when you’re a sex offender. I suspect it’s for this very reason. Shame, sadness, a desire to move on, to put that time behind us – they are the very reasons we must keep our names and feel the burden when we go out.

The treatment provider once said in group therapy, “You need to always feel terrible. It’s what makes you responsible.”

No. Understanding of the horror of my actions, their far-reaching effects, and my culpability are what make me responsible. Not becoming complacent about these facts is what keeps me responsible.

An overwhelming sense of guilt or perpetual self-loathing will not make me responsible; they will make me jaded. A person cannot maintain a high level of externally-imposed guilt for long. At some point, she will feel less guilty. She will feel that somehow she must be worth something, even the tiniest fraction. And so the expectations of the system inherently conflict with how she perceives herself.

Surely, a person who is made to feel bad about herself will eventually believe it. That’s part of the power of the system. But no one can swallow this identity as whole-heartedly or as fully as the system would like. Even a glimmer of self-worth contradicts the unspoken maxim: you are a sex offender. You are the scum of society.
The goal of a properly oriented treatment program should be to examine culpability while not denigrating the person herself. Without culpability, without recognition of wrongdoing, no offender will be able to move into constructive therapy. Taking responsibility should be the first step, but not at the expense of self-worth. A person’s self-identity should not be overwritten by societal status, regardless of her crime. If sex offender treatment programs do not radically change the way they view their clients, they will continue hurting women offenders and their communities rather than healing them.

Sonia Van den Broek was born in Seattle and raised in a loving family, the eldest of five children. She attended a private college in Virginia and has traveled throughout Europe since high school. Her favorite trip was an expedition to Italy with her younger sister. Additionally, she is halfway through a four-year deferred judgment on a sex offense charge. Classical literature, animals, and gardening are her current passions. She is living and working in the Rocky Mountain region with her loving husband, and plans to continue traveling the world soon.

Collateral Damage in America’s War on Sex Crimes: Why Reporters Should Stop Using “Predator”

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Collateral Damage in America’s War On Sex Crimes: Why Reporters Should Stop Using “Predator”

This blog covers the experiences of family members of people whose names, photos, and home addresses appear on state sex offender registries.

In 2008, researchers surveyed nearly 600 immediate family members who live with registrants. The resulting article, in a 2009 issue of the American Journal of Criminal Justice, reported that 86 percent didn’t believe that their family member was a risk to reoffend. They had good reason–only 11 percent of them had a family member who was classed as a high-risk offender.

Even so, nearly all of the family members surveyed reported that the registry tore apart their lives in some way. Fifty-nine percent said that they’d experienced ridicule, 44 percent that they’d been threatened or harassed by neighbors because of their family member’s status, 27 percent that their property had been damaged, and 7 percent that they’d been physically assaulted or injured. Almost 80 percent experienced depression, and 13 percent had suicidal tendencies.

To understand these family members’ experiences, you have to travel back in time to the early nineties.

On July 29 1994, Megan Kanka, a blond 7-year-old from the Hamilton Township suburb in New Jersey, was lured into the house of an ex-prisoner named Jesse Timmendequas who lived across the street. Timmendequas then raped and murdered her, dumping her body in a nearby park. Before their daughter’s killing, Megan’s parents had no idea of Timmendequas’ history–six years in prison for aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault on another child.
The Kankas lobbied the New Jersey legislature for changes. They got 425,000 names on a petition for a new law to require law enforcement to release information about convicted sex offenders to the public. Within a month of Megan’s murder, the New Jersey Assembly, without holding any committee hearings, passed a package of bills collectively known as Megan’s Law.
It mandated police to notify communities when a released sex offender was planning to move into their neighborhood and to put information about high-risk offenders on the Internet. Two months later, the New Jersey legislature unanimously voted in favor and Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed it into law.
New Jersey’s law soon went national. In May 1996, Megan’s Law passed Congress and was signed by President Clinton.
The law mandated that states create public websites–known as sex offender registries–where they post the names, addresses, and photos of sex offenders who have served their time. The 2006 Adam Walsh Act went further and linked those state websites into a single, national website. Many states and towns around the country have passed additional rules. Some, for example, prohibit sex offenders from living near places where large numbers of children congregate, like parks, daycare centers, and schools.

The anonymity of the Internet has allowed predators to easily hide or misrepresent themselves.” ABC News, August 2017
“Concerns about sexual predators have led communities in 30 U.S. states to adopt laws limiting where registered sex offenders can live.” Reuters, November 2015

“Convicted Sexual Predator Allowed to Stay in Hotel During Cancer Treatments” WFTV 9, May 2017

In May, the AP Stylebook changed its guidelines for how reporters should refer to people with substance abuse problems. “Avoid words like alcoholic, addict, user and abuser unless they are in quotations or names of organizations,” says the 2017 version.

For those with addictions, that change won’t just shift how they’re portrayed but how they’re treated. A piece by Zachary Siegel in Slate last month noted that even veteran clinicians were more likely to recommend punitive measures for people described as “substance abusers” and rehab-oriented treatments for those referred to as “people with substance abuse disorders.” Even when people’s conditions are the result of personal choices, reporters avoid charged labels—that’s why those with diabetes aren’t described as “sugar abusers,” Siegel says.

So it’s time for editors to stop letting reporters use “predator” in describing those who’ve committed sexual offenses.

“Sexual predator” isn’t a clinical term that means anything to criminologists or sex-crime researchers. Instead, it’s a media construction created after horrific cases of rape and murder in Washington State in the early nineties, as criminologist Jacqueline Helfgott points out in her 2008 book Criminal Behavior: Theories, Typologies and Criminal Justice. Helfgott notes that the term doesn’t describe a “homogeneous group of offenders who are predictably dangerous with an identifiable (and treatable) mental illness.”

Instead, “predator” is a stick of dynamite used by partisans in crusades for ever-more ruthless penalties for people whose sexual offenses run the gamut. In reporting a story a few years ago, I talked to one source who was arguing for an even tougher crackdown on where offenders are allowed to live. “It’s common

Julia Tuttle Causeway Sex Offender Colony

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Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony


The Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony (also called “Bookville” by former residents) was an encampment of banished, registered sex offenders who were living beneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway—a highway in Miami, Florida, USA—from 2006 to April 2010. The colony was created by a lobbyist named Ron Book, who wrote ordinances in several different Miami-Dade County cities to restrict convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet (760 m) of schools, parks, bus stops, or homeless shelters. Since Book was also head of the Miami Homeless Trust, he was also in charge of finding housing for the released sexual offenders. Under these ordinances, the only areas where sex offenders could legally reside within Miami-Dade County were the Miami Airport and the Florida Everglades. Miami-Dade laws are significantly stricter than State of Florida laws on residency restrictions for sex offenders. Florida State Law required that no sex offender could live within 2,000 ft from “where children gather”. Under that requirement, housing was possible; however, because of Book’s lobbying, the Dade County Commission increased that number to 2,500 ft, thereby banishing hundreds of local citizens who then began gathering under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.[1]

Colony setup – Before the colony was established, the State of Florida provided sex offenders a list of locations where they could live that did not violate the boundaries set by the City of Miami, but the closest was in Broward County.[2] Although the Florida Department of Corrections initially denied that they were forcing the offenders to live under the bridge, the Miami New Times reported that internal communications in the Department of Corrections proved this was false, that released offenders were told to live in the colony or face more jail time,[2] and sex offenders who were released were issued driver licenses by the State of Florida listing their addresses as the Julia Tuttle Causeway.[3]
As many as 140 people lived in the colony in July 2009.[4] They were required to be in the camp overnight from 6 pm to 7 am, when a representative from the Department of Corrections arrived to check that they were there.[5] Most of the structures in the encampment, described by The Miami Herald as a “shantytown”, were tents, improvised wood, or cardboard structures.[4] Some had plumbing and cooking capacities, and residents of the colony shared generators for electricity, only used to recharge cell phones and the tracking devices they were required to wear.[3]

Conflicts over responsibility – As the number of residents grew, the City of Miami and the State of Florida disagreed over who was ultimately responsible for the sex offenders. Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, worried about how tourists perceived the colony, prompted an attorney from the Florida Department of Corrections to write a letter to the City of Miami absolving the Department of responsibility. The City of Miami responded by filing a lawsuit against the state, citing public health and safety concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had also filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami for imposing the 2,500-foot rule for sex offenders when the State of Florida’s law restricts them to 1,000 feet (300 m) from where children congregate. The ACLU said that the 1,000-ft rule would allow many of the offenders to return home.[3] Ironically, the camp was under further scrutiny for being within the forbidden area; a city park on an island in Biscayne Bay caused questions about the Julia Tuttle Causeway colony’s itself being in violation of the sex offender laws.[3]
Local clergyman Vincent Spann likened the camp to a Biblical leper colony and offered to house the sex offenders in a manner similar to that which he employed to treat those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. He predicted it would cost more than a million dollars a year.[6] In September 2009, a judge responding to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU ruled that the City of Miami was allowed to set its own ordinances. The ACLU promised to appeal the decision. As of 2009 Miami was facing other lawsuits about moving the sex offenders.[7] In February 2010 Miami-Dade County passed a new ordinance that still prevented sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools but only forbade them from living within 1,000 feet of places such as parks and daycares. The county also made this ordinance effective throughout the whole county and declared any stricter ordinances passed by other Miami-Dade cities to be superseded and repealed. With this new county ordinance, various pockets of the county were now legal for sex offenders to live in, and most, but not all, of the sex offenders ceased to be homeless. Previously, the sex offenders had been banned in most parts of the county from living within 2,500 feet of schools, daycare centers, parks, and in some places even school bus stops. To this day,[when?] however, the problem continues.
Throughout the camp’s existence, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, an organization tasked by the county to help end street homelessness in Miami-Dade County, had been working to find permanent housing for all of the sex offenders living under the bridge. The trust is chaired by Ron Book, the lobbyist who helped write and pass into law the 2,500-foot restriction, prompted by the abuse of his daughter at the hands of a hired caretaker. On April 15, 2010, the Trust moved the last of the sex offenders living under the bridge into other housing. However, further protest from nearby communities ensued. Several former residents of the encampment were evicted from a Miami hotel in late April 2010.[8][9]
In November 2011, the Miami Herald reported on the fate of the former Julia Tuttle Causeway colony, which former residents nicknamed “Bookville”. Analysts studying the colony unanimously agreed on two relevant issues: the inability to find a stable home for offenders increased the risk that they would re-offend, and the close proximity of offenders to schools or parks did not increase the possibility that past offenders would re-offend. Despite these findings, Book solicited for and applied federal stimulus money to buy short-term stays for offenders, eventually costing US$1,000 a month which, as noted by the Herald, would have been unnecessary without the more stringent law that Book championed. This is incorrect according to David Raymond, former executive director of the Homeless Trust: federal Stimulus funds were never utilized for this population in Miami-Dade County; the funds used were from the local Homeless Food & Beverage Tax. Rent subsidies, along with job placement services and case management, were provided for up to six months.
Residents of Miami’s Shorecrest neighborhood protested about the 13 sex offenders who had relocated there. Book placed another 43 offenders in a trailer park also housing many children. Book forewarned that the stimulus funds for housing the sex offenders would run out. The Herald reported that out of 1,960 sex offenders who had registered to live in Miami-Dade, 256 stopped reporting their locations to authorities.[10]
Throughout 2013 and 2014, evidence began to reach the news media that there was still a problem of homelessness amongst Miami-Dade sex offenders, despite the county’s relaxation of the residency restrictions. Almost all of the Julia Tuttle Causeway residents found homes immediately after the camp was cleared, but many were once again homeless.[11] A hotel that once housed many of the Causeway’s former residents ended up evicting all sex offenders from the hotel after one was arrested for re-offending.[citation needed] Ron Book later found housing for many sex offenders in a trailer park. However, Book himself evicted the sex offenders from the trailer park after deciding that a nearby youth shelter was legally considered a school.[12] Miami City Commissioner Mark Sarnoff has criticized the problem of homeless sex offenders in the county. However, Sarnoff himself has built miniature “pocket parks” in order to prevent sex offenders from being able to move into the Little River area of Miami, which Sarnoff represents.[citation needed] Now, many of the homeless sex offenders are sleeping on railroad tracks (although most have homes during the day since the Miami-Dade residency restriction only applies from 10 pm to 6 am.) In October 2014, the ACLU announced plans to again sue the county over the residency restrictions. A similar lawsuit by the ACLU against Miami-Dade County failed in the 2009 case Exile v. Miami-Dade County, when it was ruled that Florida law does not prevent localities from enacting stricter sex offender residency restrictions. (This is contrary to a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that invalidated local sex offender ordinances on those grounds.)


Citations – Jump up ^ Miami sex offenders form outcast colony, UPI (May 3, 2009). Retrieved on July 21, 2009.

2. ^ Jump up to: a b Thompson, Isaiah (February 6, 2008). Homeless Sex Offenders Face Eviction, Miami New Times. Retrieved on July 21, 2009.
3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Allen, Greg (July 21, 2009) Bridge Still Home For Miami Sex Offenders, National Public Radio. Retrieved on July 21, 2009.
4. ^ Jump up to: a b Knipe, Julie (July 10, 2009). Sex offenders sue over Julia Tuttle bridge colony, The Miami Herald. Retrieved on July 21, 2009.
5. Jump up ^ Zarella, John (2007). Florida housing sex offenders under bridge”, Retrieved on July 21, 2009.
6. Jump up ^ Garcia-Roberts, Gus (April 14, 2009). Pastor Spann’s Master Plan, Miami New Times. Retrieved on July 21, 2009.
7. Jump up ^ Strict Miami-Dade sex-offender law to remain in place The Miami Herald (September 18, 2009). Retrieved on September 18, 2009.
8. Jump up ^ Valdemoro, Tania (April 25, 2010). “Shorecrest residents unhappy about relocation of sex offenders – Sex offenders? Not in my backyard, Miami residents tell their mayor and other city officials”, The Miami Herald, Shorecrest.
9. Jump up ^ Lebovick, Jennifer; Beasley, Adam (April 20, 2010). “Hotel evicts sex offenders”, The Miami Herald, p. 3B.
10. Jump up ^ Jonas, Valerie and Bradley, Walter (November 5, 2011). “The end of ‘Bookville’ homeless camp under the Tuttle?” Miami Herald. Retrieved on November 5, 2011.
11. Jump up ^
12. Jump up ^, retrieved July 13, 2016.
13. Jump up ^ German Documentary, “Reportage” Arte GEIE 2010
14. Jump up ^ ARTE GEIE 2010
15. Jump up ^

PD Editorial: Sex offenders who are homeless are the greater risk

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PD Editorial: Sex offenders who are homeless are the greater risk


The California Supreme Court made the right call in 2015 when it struck down the most onerous provisions of Proposition 83, known as Jessica’s Law, which prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school — essentially banning them from finding housing in most cities and suburbs.

In so doing, the measure also kept them away from drug and alcohol treatment facilities, counseling, family and support groups as well as limited their ability to connect with parole officers. A study conducted not long after the measure was approved in 2006 found that more than 70 percent of registered sex offenders in San Diego County were already violating the provisions of the law and had to move. Many did and are still moving. Studies have found that since then, the number of homeless sex offenders in California have more than tripled.

The hope was that after the state Supreme Court lifted the restrictions, the numbers of homeless sex offenders would decline. But that has not been the case. A study found that as of last month, there were 6,329 homeless sex offenders on the California Justice Department’s sex offender registry. That is only about 100 fewer than there were in early 2015.

Homeless registered sex offenders are a far greater risk than those who have been able to transition back into community life, find stable homes and jobs near family connections. This was shown in a study last year by the California Justice Department that found that transient offenders were several times more likely to commit new sex crimes. Homeless sex offenders who are still on parole account for one-third of all new sex arrests although, for the time being, they only account for roughly 6 percent of registered California sex offenders.

But trying to reduce the number of homeless registered sex offenders won’t be easy, and it likely will require greater reforms to the state’s severe — and sometimes lifelong — restrictions on sex offenders.

Proposition 83 requires registered sex offenders who have been convicted of a felony sex offense to be monitored by GPS devices while on parole and for the remainder of their lives. Studies show such harsh restrictions make it very difficult for such offenders to adjust to life outside of prison.

Let’s keep in mind that Proposition 83 was named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford who was the victim of a convicted sex offender who had failed to report his whereabouts. When offenders lack permanent housing and stability, they are harder for law enforcement officers to track and more prone to violate the terms of their release.

Let’s also remember that while Jessica’s Law limited where registered sex offenders can live, it doesn’t restrict where they can spend their time during the day. Overall, California would be far better off knowing where sex offenders are than knowing they are out there somewhere — with no place to call home.