Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Saratoga Supervisors Pass Worthless Sex Offender Legislation.

Note: This article of mine appeared in The Sunday Gazette on May 14.

Now that the Supervisors of Saratoga County have passed a law restricting sex offenders from living or working within 1000 feet of where children congregate, are they going to pass a law restricting paroled bank robbers from living or working within 1000 feet of a bank? Would such a law stop someone from robbing a bank? Will the law that Saratoga County just passed really keep sex offenders from harming children?

Before some neo-con writes a knee-jerk letter to the editor calling me a bleeding-heart liberal for writing this opinion piece, let me state what should not have to be stated, “I have no sympathy for sex offenders.” Indeed, sex offenders who kill should get the death penalty, and I believe that some repeat offenders who haven’t killed should still get the death penalty. I also believe in longer sentences for sex offenders.

Furthermore, a registered, level three, violent, sex offender lives just down the road from me. If Montgomery County where I live, were to pass the same legislation as Saratoga County, this guy would not have to move as there are no schools, playgrounds, etc. within 1000 feet of his house. I still have one child living at home and there are a number of children who live on our road, but this legislation would not protect them.

In spite of my disclaimer, I believe we are in the middle of a hysteria concerning sex offenders, which has not only resulted in many innocent people, like Jack Carroll of Troy, being incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, but we have lawmakers passing inane legislation that does not adequately address the problem and that results in the waste of scarce but valuable resources. Lawmakers are grandstanding for the electorate. Sexual predators are an easy target. As I heard a guy say on the radio the other day, “There is no pro sex offender lobby.“ It’s not that politicians shouldn’t pass laws about sex offenders, but they should pass laws that really work.

How is Saratoga County’s new legislation going to stop predators from preying on our children? Two of the most notorious cases of sex offenders committing crimes that I can remember involved men traveling here from out of state. In 1993 Lewis Lent drove 124 miles from Massachusetts to Frankfort, New York to abduct and murder 12 year old Sarah Anne Wood as she rode down a country road on her bicycle. John Regan of Waterbury, Connecticut was in Saratoga temporarily, working at a relative’s construction site, when he attempted to kidnap a Saratoga High School student. Saratoga’s new law will do nothing to prevent such incidents from happening again.

When I look at a map of Saratoga County, it looks to me like this law discriminates against rural people. There is hardly a village, town or city in Saratoga County where a sex offender will be able to live because almost all of them have schools, churches, swimming pools and other places where kids congregate. That means most of the offenders will end up living on country roads. Who is more at risk of assault by a sex offender: a kid attending school with hundreds of other kids or a little girl riding her bike alone down a country road?

When a sex offender registers in Saratoga County, is the county going to give him or her a color coded map, showing him or her where they can live? Are the 1000 feet as a crow flies or when you come to an obstacle, do you measure around it? Exactly how distance should be measured from schools has already been an issue in the state courts with the Drug Free School Zone laws, which are similar to Saratoga’s new law in that they result in penalties for people who deal drugs within so many feet of a school. (By the way, The Daily Gazette recently carried an article which said that the Drug Free School Zone laws are not working. I expect a similar article in a few years on Saratoga County’s new Sex Offender Free School Zone law.)

Saratoga’s new law will be expensive to enforce. The $250 fine for a first time offense will not even begin to cover the cost of investigating and prosecuting a first time offender. It seems to me that money could be better spent elsewhere. For example, many experts believe that there is a strong connection between child pornography and sex offenses against children. We need legislation that would give stiffer sentences to the makers and purveyors of child pornography, thus possibly preventing children from being molested. We need to spend more money on halting the child pornography trade.

We need to spend more money on researching why these monsters do what they do, so we can prevent potential offenders from even committing their first offense. Simply passing legislation that will move registered sex offenders from one location to another within a county might make a few people few safer. It won’t make the thinking person feel any safer because this legislation does nothing to prevent their children from being preyed upon.

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