Town Proposes Banning Sex Offenders From Public Places

A town in Maine is proposing to ban all sex offenders from congregating in public places.

The town is poised to become the state’s first municipality to enact an ordinance banning convicted sex offenders from loitering at parks, schools and other places children gather.

Attorneys from the Maine Municipal Association generally approved the proposed ordinance that town officials hope to have enacted by October, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said Monday.

“They see no reason why we cannot do it,” Conlogue said.

The Town Council and Conlogue have been awaiting a review from MMA, an organization of state municipalities that helps cities and towns address common issues and problems, since early June.

While I’m certainly sympathetic to the aims of this legislation, which is to keep child molesters away from children, I have a number of problems with this particular law–at least, as I understand it from the article. First of all, it imposes an ex post facto punishment on convicts. When current offenders were convicted, being forbidden from enjoying public places wasn’t a part of their sentence. Now, this isn’t a Constitutional question–courts would almost certainly uphold this ordinance–but there’s an element of fairness in sentencing policy that I have a problem with.

But that’s a minor quibble. My major problem with this ordinance is the use of the term “sex offender”–which could mean anything. If the law is restricted to child molesters, I have to say that I don’t have much of a problem, given the high recidivism rate among convicted child molesters. However, as a broad legal term, “sex offender” could mean anything from child molester to a guy who got convicted of statutory rape at 18 for sleeping with his 16 year old girlfriend to the college girl who got drunk and convicted of “indecent exposure” for taking her top off. While I’m not going to lose any sleep over rapists being forbidden to visit parks, that seems like a gross injustice for relatively minor sins that get slapped with the “sex offender” label.

My final problem with it is really more on the practical lines: how is this going to be enforced? Barring another law forcing all sex offenders to wear a scarlet “S” on their shirts, how are the police, as a practical matter, going to keep “sex offenders” away from parks? This seems like another one of those laws made for the purposes of sounding tough, but not actually accomplishing anything. It’s a waste of resources to have laws on the books that can’t be enforced–and such laws in turn just breed disrespect for the legal system.

So, as a policy this doesn’t sound bad. I don’t have too many problems with a tightly written law targeted at child molesters to prevent recidivism. But this ordinance doesn’t seem to fall in that category. As such, it’s really nothing more than a worthless, feel-good piece of paper.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Rodney Dill says:

    Looks like the Minnesota Vikings will have to go the no-huddle offense so they don’t ‘congregate.’

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    This, as with many other laws, will also bump into the law of unintended consequences. A good amount of popular legislation ends up creating situations or problems that the proponents (and even opponents) never envisioned.

    It also violates the tradition of paying ones debt to society and then rejoining as an equal. Not necessarily law but a concept we have held for many years.

  3. Hummm, this is a hard one. As a mother of a child who was abused by a sex offender my first reaction was, “its about time those perverts are banned from being around kids”.

    But, the reality of it all. Some are healed of this perversion, others will continue to victimize. Castration? Always a tempting option.

    Wow, it’s a tough call and as you mentioned there is a huge difference between a 20 something guy getting it on with his teen-aged girlfriend and a 40 year old man or woman abusiving an 8 year old child. Somethings are just not that simple.

  4. dom says:

    I’ll also point out that, depending on the jurisdiction, public urination can be considered a sexually based crime (indecent exposure, etc.) I know a college guy who was arrested for that when he discreetly “used the bushes” during a tailgate.

  5. John Burgess says:

    Looks like another, “Elections just around the corner, need to look tough” piece of legislation.

    The overbroad use of the term “sex offender” is the major problem. And adding on extra punishment is another.

    I suspect what most people would like would be to exile all true sex offenders to some remote island and then forget about them. I recommend blowing the bridges and tunnels spanning the East and Hudson Rivers and dropping them in Manhatten.

    But keep the SAMs out of their hands.

  6. DC Loser says:

    John, what about the Harlem River? You mean the Bronx is okay?

  7. John Burgess says:

    I was under the impression that both of those were about to burst into flames, a la the Cayuhoga. If I’m wrong, then cut them, too!