In some jurisdictions, a person who is required to register as a sex offender may be restricted from living within a certain distance of schools, child care centers and other facilities where children are likely to gather. This restriction could apply to all registrants or just for higher-level offenders or those who are on parole or probation.
How do I measure the distance?
Sex offenders are required to live a certain distance away from schools and child care facilities. These restrictions vary by state and community. In many areas, the distance is measured as the crow flies, or by driving on roads. Some localities also use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to measure the distance between two points.
A sex offender who lives within 1,000 feet of a school or child care facility can face criminal charges and a fine. The distance requirement is based on a straight line from the outer property line of the offender’s home to the nearest boundary lines of the school or child care facility. In some cases, a person who is a registered sex offender or sexually violent predator must live even further than 1,000 feet from a school.
Local officials have set up websites that allow citizens to check if a sex offender or sexually violent predator lives near a particular address. Citizens can access the websites by putting in their zip code, or they can type in the name of a specific offender.
The websites include a map that shows the offender’s location and a listing of essential registration information. In addition, the sites list pictures and information about the offender. These websites are very useful for people who want to monitor the movements of sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
What if I live in a neighborhood with a lot of sex offenders?
In many states the public can access a national database of sex offenders called OffenderWatch. The site allows individuals to search for offenders by name and address, and it will provide a map showing all offenders within a quarter mile (or up to five miles) of a specified address. Additionally, individuals can sign up for community notifications to receive email alerts whenever a registered offender moves within a certain distance of their home.
If a sex offender lives in your neighborhood, the best thing to do is to ask about their risk level and how they will be supervised in the community. If they are on probation supervision or have parole conditions, they may be restricted to live away from schools, parks, and other places where children gather.
A sex offender’s obligation to register and notify neighbors varies from state to state. However, some of the requirements are based on state law or local ordinances, while others are based on the individual offender’s status and terms of their probation or parole agreement.
For example, in New York State, laws prohibit sex offenders on probation or who have children from living within 1,000 feet of schools and other child care facilities. In Suffolk County, New York, the limit was recently increased to a quarter mile. The same rules apply to sex offenders who are homeless or transient.
What if I live in a neighborhood with a lot of children?
In the mid-1990s, many states enacted community notification laws that required law enforcement to notify people in their communities about sexual predators living nearby. This information, coupled with media stereotypes about child molesters, can shake a person’s sense of security in the most unexpected ways.
While sex offenders are not going to come knocking on your door to warn you, they must register with county prosecutors once a year about where they live and work. These officials classify them into one of three tiers based on the level of risk they pose to the community. The higher the tier, the more likely the offender will commit a new crime against children.
Most states also impose restrictions on where offenders can live, such as by prohibiting them from living within a certain distance of places that kids congregate. For example, Florida state law requires sex offenders to live at least 1,000 feet away from schools and parks. However, Miami-Dade county imposes even harsher restrictions, forbidding them from living within 2,500 feet of these locations.
In addition to these state-wide rules, some municipalities and counties also have their own residency restrictions as part of a registered sex offender’s parole conditions. According to the California Research Bureau, over 400 towns and cities have these local ordinances. Often these restrictive ordinances have more stringent residency requirements than their respective state’s restrictions.
What if I live in a neighborhood with no children?
It’s natural to be concerned if you find out a registered sex offender lives nearby. Media stereotypes about people who abuse children can shake your sense of security, but don’t let that fear overcome you. There are real ways to keep your kids safe, and many of them have nothing to do with looking up offenders’ names online.
The most effective way to protect your family is to learn all you can about sex offenders, and how to spot them. Thankfully, there are a number of resources available to help you do this.
Many states have laws that limit where sex offenders can live. They typically prohibit sex offenders from living, or at least working or loitering, within a certain distance of places where children congregate. Restrictions vary by state, but the most common include distance markers of 1,000 or 2,000 feet. Some state supreme courts have ruled blanket restrictions unconstitutional, but judges can restrict individuals on a case-by-case basis.
Sex offenders who are being reintegrated into society generally want to lead healthy, productive lives. Having a supportive community can make them more successful in their endeavors, and can help reduce their risk of re-perpetrating. That’s why it’s important to avoid sex offender discrimination, especially in the form of harassing or ostracizing them from your community.