Some Curbs on Sex Offenders Called Ineffective, Inhumane

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

As convicted sex offenders go, they seem to pose little danger.

One is 100 years old. Another can barely walk and is in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. Another is dying of heart disease in a nursing home.

Yet under a new Georgia law, thousands of registered sex offenders, even the old and feeble, could be pushed from their homes and hospices.

"He doesn't really know anything about it," said Ruby Anderson, 77, whose husband was convicted of having sex with a minor in 1997 and, at 81, no longer recognizes members of his family because of Alzheimer's disease. "The trouble is, I just don't know where we can go."

As states around the country have sought in recent years to control the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders, Georgia's law stands out as one of the toughest, a testament to the daunting public fears regarding children's safety.

The roughly 10,000 sex offenders living in Georgia have been forbidden to live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, church or school bus stop. Taken together, the prohibitions place nearly all the homes in some counties off-limits -- amounting, in a practical sense, to banishment.

"My intent personally is to make it so onerous on those that are convicted of these offenses . . . they will want to move to another state," Georgia House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R), who sponsored the bill, told reporters.

Since the law's enactment in July, however, a federal judge, human rights advocates and even some of the sheriff's departments that are supposed to enforce the measure have suggested that the zeal for safety may have gone too far.

The residency law applies not only to sexual predators but to all people registered for sexual crimes, including men and women convicted of having underage consensual sex while in high school.

Advocates for the sex offenders say the law is unfair to people who have served their sentences and been deemed rehabilitated. Many police officers, prosecutors and children's advocates also question whether such measures are effective. Most predators are mobile, after all, and by upending their lives, the law may make them more likely to commit other offenses, critics say.

"We should be concerned when we pass laws for political purposes that are irrational," said Sarah Geraghty, a staff lawyer for the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Atlanta-based group that filed court actions against the law's provisions. "This law will essentially render thousands of ex-offenders homeless, and that's just going to make them harder to monitor."

Besides the practical complications, she said, "forcing a terminally ill man to leave his hospice . . . shocks the conscience."

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