The Orlando City Council is considering a more restrictive sexual offender residency law. Currently, the limits applied to sexual offenders is 1000 feet from schools, playgrounds, childcare centers, and parks.  Some residents are concerned about sex offender clusters.  An Orlando Sentinel article interviewed residents of a community where 53 sex offenders lived within a quarter mile of one resident.

Channel 9 News ran a recent story stating that city officials are considering pushing this limit to 1500 feet.  This ordinance would only apply to those whose victims were under the age of 16.  An Orlando spokesperson stated that there are currently 475 sex offenders within the city limits

Seminole, Lake, and Hillsborough Florida added a 300-foot safety zone where registered offenders cannot live or congregate. Lake County also adopted further restrictions to break up clusters of sex offenders by making it illegal for offenders to live 500 feet from one another.  Some residents want Orlando to adopt a similar ordinance.

The Orlando City Council votes on more restricted ordinances in two weeks. They should consider several things while voting about such legislation.  First, the Council should review research to learn what practices with sex offenders have proven effective.

Several studies indicate that stricter laws create homelessness in the sex offender population.  Homelessness leads to instability and recidivism. The purpose of the Florida Sex Offender Registry is to assist residents in knowing where sex offenders are living.  Passing stricter ordinances could increase transient addresses of this population making it much harder for law enforcement to track offenders.

No tolerance enforcement of existing Florida loitering and prowling statutes to keep areas protected from sexual offenders will better protect the community. The statute already establishes a 300-foot perimeter which all offenders must maintain around places where children congregate..

According to researchers, sex offender clusters have grown throughout Florida and the United States due to residency restriction laws, which limit housing availability, causing instability and transience.  Geographical mapping techniques indicated that residency restrictions diminished available housing opportunities for the sexual offender population.  In an analysis of the entire state of Florida, a study found that the 1,000-feet rule has led to homelessness and displacement in the offender population in many jurisdictions.

For instance, in Broward County, Florida researchers found that the 2,500-feet rule led to 39% of 109 sex offenders reporting homelessness and 22% of sex offenders were forced to move more than twice to find housing.  Reasons for moving often include property owners denying offenders a place to rent or renewal of their lease, once they learned that the renter was a sex offender.

Sex offenders are often not allowed to live near supportive relatives and services, and find it difficult to adjust.  Residing close to services could provide them a more successful reentry into society.  Therefore, consequences to society could mean that offenders who are not receiving support services could potentially recidivate.

Further studies indicated that the recidivism rate for a new sex offense after incarceration was relatively low, 13% after examining the sex offender registration and notification (SORN) legislation pre and post era.  Sex offender recidivism differs depending on the type of offender and risk factors.   The rate of recidivism for sex offenders is considered low in comparison with other types of offenders.

Researchers concluded that the SORN legislation caused several collateral consequences, such as offenders not being able to live with friends, offenders living in group facilities and theorized that  “residential relocation appear to differentially impact sex offenders”

The important question to consider is how the Orlando City Council will balance the fears of citizens and their safety without creating an issue of homeless sex offenders which makes it difficult for law enforcement to monitor them. What will actually empower citizens is to be aware of the offenders in their community, what types of offenders are registered, and what crimes were committed.  Once armed with that information, residents can take appropriate cautionary or protective based on facts vs. fear.

Dr. Denise Womer is a retired Florida LEO, residing in the Orlando area.  She is Professor of Criminal Justice at Kaplan University.

Learn more here:

Channel 9 News WFTV (2013). Orlando wants to distance sex offenders even farther from schools. Retrieved from http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/orlando-wants-distance-sex-offenders-even-further-/nXdWR/

Florida Department of Law Enforcement (2013). Florida sexual offenders and predators. Retrieved from http://offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/homepage.do

Levenson, J. (2008). Collateral consequences of sex offender residence restrictions. Criminal Justice Studies, 21(2), 153-166. doi: 10.1080/14786010802159822

Levenson, J., & Cotter, L. (2005). The impact of sex offender residence restrictions: 1,000 feet from danger or one step from absurd? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49(2), 168-178. doi: 10.1177/0306624X04271304

Levenson, J., & Hern, A. (2007). Sex offender residence restrictions: unintended consequences and community reentry. Justice Research and Policy, 9(1), 59-74. doi: 10.3818/JRP.9.1.2007.59

Levenson, J. (2008). Collateral consequences of sex offender residence restrictions. Criminal Justice Studies, 21(2), 153-166. doi: 10.1080/14786010802159822

Meloy, M. L, Miller, S. L., & Curtis, K. M. (2008). Making sense out of nonsense: the deconstruction of State-level sex offender residence restriction. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 33(1), 209-222. doi: 10.1007/s12103-008-9042-2

Mercado, C., Alvarez, S., & Levenson, J. (2008). The impact of specialized sex offender legislation on community reentry. Sexual abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 20(2), 188-205. doi: 10.1177/1079063208317540

Tewksbury, R., Jennings, W. G., & Zgoba, K. (2012). Sex offenders: recidivism and collateral consequences. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/238060.pdf

Schleub, M. (2013, May). Orlando moves to tighten rule on where sex offenders can live. Retrieved from http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-orlando-sex-offenders-20130506,0,5844267.story

Schlueb, M. (2013, August). Sex offender Orlando: Residents push for strict sex offender housing rules in Orlando- Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved from http://www.registrationx.net/Blog/?p=623#comment-2272