By Kevin Henderson, Alex Scimecca, and Yinzi Zeng
Jerry Wilcox walks defeated into his father’s house after another unsuccessful day of looking for a job. The temporary work he finds here and there hasn’t been enough to get him on his feet. He’s been living in Columbia with his father and is struggling to find a steady job.
He was charged with dealing in child pornography in Delaware in 2002, and that hurts him every day in his job search.
“Finding work is definitely a difficult thing,” said Wilcox. “If you’re a person trying to start a new life trying to do things, they slam the door in your face every time.”
He would probably be homeless without his father, he said, which would make finding a job even harder.
“Eventually, you are like, ‘Man, prison wasn’t that bad.’ Some days I think I got a lot better when I was inside,” he said.
Wilcox, like many people in the Boone County sexual offender registry, has a hard time finding housing. Missouri has residency restrictions that do not allow registered sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of school and daycare property lines. This limits the areas that offenders can rent or lease homes. The laws that dictate where the property lines start are frequently changing and it causes problems, according to Detective Tom O’Sullivan of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’ve had incidents where we have sex offenders doing everything they’re supposed to be doing,” O’Sullivan said. “… But then a new law will pass and under the new law, they’ll have to move from where they are.”
The state has changed the restrictions several times and it doesn’t grandfather offenders into the new laws, he said. This has caused many offenders living in areas previously not in restricted zones to move out a few months into a year lease.
“You know you have to treat people fairly,” O’Sullivan said.
They have a negligible effect on the amount of registered offenders that reoffend, according to an evaluation of sex offender residency restrictions in Missouri, The restrictions don’t necessarily make people safer, says a researcher in the evaluation, University of Missouri – St. Louis criminology professor Beth Huebner.
“The thought is that if you keep sex offenders away from schools and away from children that they are less likely to offend,” Huebner said. “There’s no evidence to suggest that. Most sex offenders offend against people in their small circles. But people feel safer if they don’t have sex offenders hanging around.”
The restrictions, which are meant to keep children safe, affect the entire offender registry. Only 7 to 10 percent of sexual offenders can be diagnosed as having pedophilia. The rest must still abide by the laws or risk more jail time, according to Huebner.
“It definitely has a huge impact on their ability to find a stable home,” Huebner said
University of Massachusetts at Lowell criminology professor Jason Rydberg worked with Huebner in the evaluation and agrees that the restrictions are ineffective.
“It turns out in many communities where there is a residency restriction policy, there are excitable proportions of sex offenders that are living in violation of the policy,” Rydberg said.
The restrictions go hand-in-hand with Missouri’s open offender registry that doesn’t categorize offenders by the severity of their charge.
“It really seems like sex offender policy is passed and created in a way that is not really designed to improve public safety,” said Rydberg. “It’s designed to make people feel better about themselves.”
O’Sullivan says that out of the 271 offenders in the registry, the overwhelming majority follow the laws.
Wilcox, while acknowledging his own guilt, says that there are people in the registry who want to improve their lives without bothering people.
“Don’t get me wrong, some people absolutely deserve what they deserve,” Wilcox said. “But there’s a lot of people who, I think, deserve a second chance.”
Emily Rackers is supervising editor. Judd Slivka is faculty editor.
----------Posted on January 5, 2016 by admin in Student Work, Uncategoried