By NICOLE MARSHALL
On a list of more than 330 registered sex offenders in Tulsa, nearly 40 percent are listed as unemployed, disabled or retired, records show.
Authorities say that it can be difficult for sex offenders to find a job. And with residency restrictions that make a majority of the city off limits, such instability can increase the risk of re-offending for some offenders.
"It is difficult to find employment just because of the misconceptions that every sex offender is a child molester or that every sex offender is a rapist and that is not the case," Tulsa Police Sgt. John Adams said.
"If they don't find employment and don't find housing there is not a lot else for them to do besides just hang out. If they can't find a job, they can't pay for counseling."
Law officers and legislators alike would like to see a study on Oklahoma's laws governing sex offenders to ensure that they are working as intended.
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, has requested an interim study on the issue at the request of law officers and members of the Oklahoma Coalition for Sex Offender Management.
Randy Lopp, a licensed professional counselor who is a member of the group, said the study was requested in the interest of public safety in Oklahoma.
He said that most people agree that there are definitely some sex offenders who require the strictest monitoring regarding where they live and work. However, not all of the offenders required to register fall into that category.
The law states that sex offenders cannot "work with or provide services to children or to work on school premises, or for any person or business who offers or provides services to children or contracts for work to be performed on school premises." It also prevents sex offenders from working on ice cream trucks.
Tulsa's list of sex offenders shows that many get jobs in the food industry. Lopp said that many of them also do landscaping, mowing and day labor.
"It is difficult for folks to find a job. We encourage people to keep trying and tell them that looking for a job is a full-time job. They are also often underemployed. Employers are just fearful of hiring any offenders, not only sex offenders," Lopp said.
"Obviously, the whole problem with the sex offender issue is trying to find a place to stay and a place to work is very hard. There is research out there that shows this creates a lifestyle instability," Lopp said. "That makes it difficult to maintain any kind of standard of living. If they can't be near family or support it increases the risks re-offending, rather than decreasing the risks."
Study urged on effects of federal law
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, has requested a study on the effects of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and its impact on Oklahoma's public safety.
Passed in 2006, the Act organizes sex offenders into three tiers, creates a national sex offender registry and instructs each state and territory to apply the same criteria for posting offender data on the Internet. That data includes the offender's name, address, date of birth, place of employment and photograph.
The request for an interim study was made to address these concerns, a letter from McDaniel shows:
- The act requires that states have a tier system placing registered sex offenders in tiers. High-risk offenders must register for life, moderate-risk offenders for 25 years and low-risk offenders for 15 years. The act requires that the tiers be based on the offense of record, rather than risk of re-offense.
- The act requires the registry to include the offender's place of employment. This could have an impact on the offender's ability to find stable employment. A lack of stable employment may increase the offender's risk to the community.
- The act requires states include children as young as 14 on registries, often for the rest of their lives.
- Failure to comply with the act would prevent Oklahoma from obtaining Byrne Justice Assistant Grant funding. However, The Justice Policy Institute finds that the first-year cost of implementing the act outweighs the cost of losing the grant.
- The interim study may also address other issues such as residency restrictions, which has some unintended consequences.