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“Pocket Parks” Push Sex Offenders Out of Town

“Pocket Parks” Push Sex Offenders Out of Town

by Matt Clarke

The latest strategy of residents and politicians attempting to drive registered sex offenders (RSOs) out of residential neighborhoods is to create tiny “pocket parks” in residential neighborhoods. One place where this strategy is being employed is the Harbor Gateway section of Los Angeles, California.

California state law prohibits RSOs from residing within 2,000 feet of a school or public park. This restriction has already driven RSOs out of most of Los Angeles. One exception was Harbor Gateway. Because it was possible for RSOs to live there, parole officers placed many sex offender parolees in Harbor Gateway. This led to 30 paroled sex offenders being housed in the same Harbor Gateway apartment building.

Harbor Gateway parents who were picking up their children at the bus stop began seeing men with GPS ankle monitors on the streets. They told their kids to avoid these men and then they reacted by building a pocket park of less than 1,000 square feet at the corner of a busy intersection. Although it is unlikely that children will use the poorly situated park's jungle gym, it may nonetheless serve its purpose, to break up the cluster of sex offenders.

"Regardless of whether it's the largest park or the smallest, we're putting in the park to send a message that we don't want a high concentration of sex offenders in this community," said Joe Buscanino, the city council member representing Harbor Gateway.

The pocket park strategy is being used by residents and politicians to build a sense of neighborhood security, but may actually be increasing risk. Studies have shown that sex offenders without stable housing become harder to track and more likely to re-offend. Thus, just as with the Miami residency restrictions that forced many sex offenders to create a homeless camp under the Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge, previously reported on in PLN [See: PLN, Mar. 2011, p. 13], this is a case of a short-term solution causing greater long-term problems.

Yet residency restrictions remain popular, rendering most residential areas off-limits to sex offenders in the states boasting such restrictions.

"Putting in parks doesn't just break up clusters—it makes it impossible for sex offenders to find housing in the whole city," according to Janet Neeley of the California Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB). "It is counterproductive to public safety, because when you have nothing to lose; you are much more likely to commit a crime than when you are rebuilding your life."

SOMB statistics show that the number of homeless California sex offenders tripled since 2006, the year the residency restrictions were enacted. Currently, one-third of paroled California sex offenders are homeless.

Ironically, sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates of all former prisoners. According to a 2008 SOMB study, only 3.5% of paroled sex offenders committed a new sex crime within three years of release. Yet the perception of sex offenders as unable to control their impulses, amplified by misinformation in the media and from politicians, drives the public debate.

After requiring anonymity out of fear of retaliation, the landlord of the apartment complex with the cluster of sex offenders said that housing them in his apartments made the community safer because the apartments have special controls for monitoring the residents. The doors are locked using electronic keypads that allow parole officers to track parolees’ movements. Residents are subject to strict curfews and alcohol, drugs and pornography are prohibited. Rule violators could be returned to prison. Homeless sex offenders have no such controls on them.

Source: New York Times