Proposed legislation could make it easier for former sex offenders in Illinois to find a home and remove the threat of being forced to move if a childcare facility locates near them.
The bill sponsored by state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, would reduce the proximity from 500 feet to 250 feet former sex offenders may locate from protected areas. Protected zones include daycares, schools, parks and playgrounds.
The proposal would change a requirement that forces people living in residences sanctioned under registry guidelines to move if a daycare or other protected entity moves within 1,000 feet of the home.
House Bill 3913 also seeks to eliminate weekly registration requirements, instead relying on annual and quarterly check-ins. Registrants would still be required to alert police of any change circumstances, including address and employment.
McLean County currently has 257 individuals on the state’s sex offender registry. The majority of the registrants reside in Bloomington; five are listed a homeless on the Illinois State Police online public registry.
Supporters of the bill sponsored by Lilly include Lynne Johnson, a member of the state’s Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Registration Task Force. Johnson, who represented the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation on the task force, views the distance rules as ineffective in reducing sexual violence.
“What these restrictions are good at is destroying peoples’ lives,” said Johnson.
When the numbers of homeless people convicted of sex offenses multiples, the problem becomes more complicated, said Johnson.
“When you drive people into desperation, they do desperate things,” said Johnson.
The inability to meet housing and registration requirements often leads to adversarial contact with police and a return to jail or prison.
Acting Bloomington Police Chief Greg Scott said a reduction in the distance requirements from schools concerns him.
“I assume this would increase the probability of children walking past the offender’s home every morning and afternoon on school days. Additionally, the offender would be more likely to have line of sight to the school and any activities going on there,” Scott said in an email.
The recidivism rate for those convicted of a sex crime often surfaces in the debate over rules that impact more than 800,000 registrants in the United States.
In its 2017 report, the state task force noted that that the recidivism rate “ranges from 5 percent after 3 years to 24 percent after 15 years and varies significantly among offenders.” The data updates previous recidivism information from a 1986 Psychology Today article that erroneously put the rate at 80 percent. Courts and legislators have regularly cited the faulty data in their unfavorable sex offender rulings.
The task force outlined 14 recommendations, including a move to more accurately assess the risk an ex-offender poses to the community and focus registration requirements on high-risk former offenders.
Restrictions on residency and proximity to protected areas should be tailored to “to different tiers, with the highest risk tiers having appropriate restrictions,” said the report. The narrowly focused rules should improve public safety, the report concluded.
To date, none of the recommendations, including the creation of an independent Sex Offender Management Board with research capabilities, have been implemented.
The tortoise-like movement towards any relaxation of registry rules reflects the pressure elected officials feel from their constituents when it comes to ex-offenders locating in residential areas, according to Johnson.
“They are trying to show how they are keeping the ‘monsters’ away from our community,” said Johnson.
Lawmakers who may be open to supporting rules changes are fearful, said Johnson. Come election time, such support “is used as a weapon” in re-election bids.
The acting police chief considers strict rules part of “a robust system” that protects past and future victims.
Vicki Henry, president of Women Against Registry, a St. Louis-based group that advocates for those convicted of sex offenses, noted that the distance rules vary from state to state. In Missouri, for example, the law requires offenders be 1,000 feet from protected areas.
“There’s no magic number for this,” said Henry, a supporter of the proposed change in Illinois law.
In Chicago, where more than 500 ex-offenders are listed as homeless on the state registry, the advocacy group Chicago 400 is joining forces with other social service and justice reform groups to promote changes in registration rules.
“This is the homeless population we’ve made homeless,” said Chicago 400 coordinator Laurie Jo Reynolds.
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