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Sex offender: Law on residency unfair

4-25-2007 Pennsylvania:

Thomas Heller said he got out of prison for molesting his stepdaughter five years ago, but still feels encaged by laws like Hazleton City Council will consider tonight.

"You're still being punished for a crime that you already spent time for. You can't get a job. You can't live in this place; you can't live in that place," Heller, of West Hazleton, said.

Megan’s law adopted on the state and federal level require sex offenders to register their addresses, which are posted on Web sites.

Tonight, city council will consider an ordinance that restricts sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, childcare facility, park, community center or common open space.

Council President Joseph Yannuzzi modeled the ordinance after an Alabama law. Similar laws have been introduced elsewhere around the nation and proposed, but not ratified, locally in White Haven and Wilkes-Barre.

Hazleton’s proposed ordinance says sexually violent predators have reduced expectation of privacy and residency requirements. Making information about the offenders protects children, the ordinance says.

Heller said the law lumps sex offenders with sexually violent predators.

"What they’re failing to see is that not everybody is a predator," Heller said Tuesday. "Making a mistake once, people should be able to get a second chance, and we can't get a second chance at all."

In 2002 when Heller pleaded guilty on the advice of his lawyer, he was sentenced to six months in prison, but never expected the conviction to dog him like it has, he said. He has to register under Megan’s law provisions for 10 years, whereas offenders whom judges determine are sexually violent predators must register for life.

"You have to watch around the house. You don't know who is going to knock on the door," Heller said in January when talking about legal changes that require information about sex offenders to be posted on the state's Megan Law Website.
On May 29, the state law requires the Web site to start listing the make, model and other information about vehicles driven by sex offenders.

Even though that information isn't online yet, Heller said his van already has been pelted with eggs, and an anonymous caller threatened to burn the van.

"You don't know what's going to happen, and that's scary," he said.
A psychologist who treats sexual offenders in Pottsville said the general goals for treatment are for patients to take responsibility for their behavior and establish a plan to live without committing offenses again.

"We advocate with every one of them they would have to learn to manage their life for their entire lifetime," Joseph Sheris of Psychological Associates of Schuylkill County said. "Does that mean it's incurable? But like everyone else they have to learn how to manage their life in a way that that don't take advantage of anyone again."

Sheris also referred to two studies released this month by the Department of Corrections in Minnesota, a state that doesn't limit where sex offenders may live.

The studies tracked 3,166 sex offenders incarcerated between 1990 and 2002.

In that span, 224 were reconvicted of sex crimes, but none of them would have been deterred by residency restrictions such as Hazleton proposes, one study found.

More than half of sex offenders met victims through another adult such as a man who gets to know children of the mother he dates, the study, "Residential Proximity and Sex Offense Recidivism in Minnesota," said.

Parents of Megan Kanka, after whom the law is named, said they would have watched their 7-year-old more closely if they had known the predator, who was convicted of raping and killing her, lived in their neighborhood.

In the Minnesota study, 28 of the repeat offenders initiated contact within one mile of where they live, but none of those contacts occurred in a school, park or other prohibited area. Most of the offenders meet children farther from home because they are known in their neighborhoods, the study said.

Eighty-five percent of offenses occur in a residence, according to the study.

The second study, "Sex Offender Recidivism in Minnesota," looked at factors that predict whether a sex criminal will commit another sex crime.

Those factors included: engaging in persistent criminal activity since childhood, victimizing strangers and showing a sexual interest in children, especially boys.

The study found that treatment and longer periods of probation or parole decreased the risk that an offender would commit another sex crime.

Minnesota increased the intensity of treatment and the length of probation for sex criminals.

The study noticed the impact. Sex criminals released from prison in 1990 had a 17 percent rate of committing another sex crime. In 2002, however, only 3 percent of those released committed another sex crime. ..more.. by KENT JACKSON

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