People who have been convicted of sex offenses need to live somewhere...it's important that we
are thoughtful about the rules that we make...
DENVER -It all began in 1999 when five men dutifully went to the Lakewood Police Department to register as sex offenders.s
Each gave the same address, which grabbed the attention of city officials, who quickly took action to close the house. Soon the City Council passed an ordinance permitting only one sex offender to live in a house in a residential area.
Lakewood's approach spread like wildfire, with 16 other metro- area cities promptly passing similar regulations.
But governments that passed laws over the past few years to keep sex offenders from living in group homes in their jurisdictions may have done so at the cost of public safety.
A number of studies, including one released last month by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, conclude that restricting where offenders may live does not prevent repeat sex crimes.
Instead, the restrictions encourage sex offenders to "disappear," blending into communities where they live in the privacy essential to committing new sex crimes, the studies say.
"Frankly, sex offenders like being told they can't be around other sex offenders," said Greig Veeder, executive director of Teaching Humane Existence, a sex offender treatment program. "It ruins their privacy. They can't commit their crimes unless they have privacy."
Colorado has more than 10,500 registered sex offenders. More than 3,000 live in the metro area. As of last week, Denver had 1,337 registered sex offenders.
Sex offenders generally have a high rate of recidivism - 18.9 percent for rapists and 12.7 percent for child molesters over a period of five years, the Colorado study reported.
"But recidivism only reflects crimes that are reported," said Kim English, research director for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, an arm of the state Department of Public Safety.
"We know that most victims of sex crimes never report the crime," English said. "What we do know is that known sex offenders are more likely than other criminals to commit another sex crime."
'Snakes in a basket'
What keeps that from happening is having sex offenders living in a structured environment with close supervision by professionals and observation by their peers, English said.
"Residency restrictions prevent us from having sex offenders living together," Veeder said, "but 25 years of my experience and significant research all support that the more you can make them live together, the easier it is to control them.
The Colorado research, based on a 2004 survey of sex offenders, found that high-risk sex offenders living in shared living arrangements had significantly fewer probation and criminal violations than those living in other living arrangements.
Violations also were more quickly reported because of the heightened peer and professional oversight. Quick reporting is essential for speedy action to protect potential victims, the study noted.
"Offenders hold each other accountable for their actions and responsibilities and notify the appropriate authorities when a roommate commits certain behavior, such as returning home late or having contact with children," the 2004 Colorado report said.
The study found that sex offenders living with their families re-offend or violate probation at twice the rate of high-risk sex offenders living with other offenders.
Residency restrictions often force sex offenders to "go underground," registering their residence at a shelter or motel where they stay only temporarily.
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