Our View: Oklahoma's new counterproductive law fails to protect community by putting hundreds of sex offenders out on the streets.
Local sex offenders are homeless and out on the streets July 1 as a result of SB 852, a bill authored by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.
Hands Up Ministries, an Oklahoma City ministry that housed 200 sex offenders on its 6-acre mobile home community and provided counseling services, was specifically targeted in the bill, which made it unlawful for two or more registered sex offenders to live together. Supporters of the bill maintain the bill isn’t “an attempt to evict anyone,” but to “clarify the intended purpose of the sex order statute,” Oklahoma City Police Capt. Patrick Stewart said.
Instead, the bill did evict people — at least 61 men and women had been living in tents since July 1 at Hands Up. Instead of allowing the offenders to stay in one place, the bill scattered many of them throughout the community, where they're homeless and more likely to commit crimes of survival in search of shelter and food.
The intent of the law was to lower recidivism rates — relapses into criminal sexual behavior — and protect community members. However, it does the opposite.
The bill is outrageous and unfair. It specifically targets Hands Up by creating housing restrictions and outlawing “manufactured homes, mobile homes, trailers, and recreational vehicles” in section four of the bill. It allows only “multi-unit structures” that provide independent facilities for living, sleeping, cooking, eating and sanitation as acceptable dwellings.
The bill demonizes all registered sex offenders and makes it more difficult for sex offenders to find homes. According to Oklahoma law, sex offenders already cannot live within 2,000 feet of schools, day care centers or parks. Not allowing them to live together eliminates many of the few housing possibilities that previously existed.
Allowing the sex offenders to live together in the mobile home park would ensure the 200 individuals were accountable at an address with adequate means of living. Residents paid a $100 weekly fee to founder David Nichols that helped fund spiritual support, help finding work and transportation to treatment centers. Concerned citizens had piece of mind knowing the 200 sex offenders were housed at Hands Up instead of dispersed throughout the city or state, under radar and maybe even unregistered.
Many sex offenders have been forced to move to more rural areas because they had a hard time finding a place to live under residency restrictions. Up to 85 percent of the Tulsa and Oklahoma counties are off-limits, according to residency restrictions.
Tighter restrictions don’t make Oklahoma any safer. These restrictions just cause sex offenders to live in cities illegally and unregistered because they don’t have a choice. In Norman specifically, there are very few places sex offenders can live.
Let’s remember that not all sex offenders are child abusers. Of the people at Hands Up, some have performed severe acts like child molestation, though others have less-aggravated charges attached to their name, like exposing themself by urinating in public, according to published reports.
Part of a sex offender’s debt to society is registration. According to Oklahoma’s sex offender registry website, “habitual, aggravated and level three sex offenders are required to register for their lifetime,” while level one offenders and level two offenders are required to register for 15 years and 25 years, respectively.
Since the classification “sex offender” makes it difficult for individuals to get jobs or socialize with society, it further complicates residency. Without a job or a friend to room with, how can any individual — sex offender or otherwise — afford a rent payment on his or her own?
Many cannot realistically turn to halfway houses as an alternate form of residency. According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, only four of the 10 community contract facilities in Oklahoma accept sex offenders. Section C of the bill states that a halfway house cannot contract with the Department of Corrections to house sex offenders if it is located “within a single-family zoned residential neighborhood or is not properly zoned as multi-unit structure.”
Because of all this, many former residents of Hands Up haven’t any other place to go.
SB 852 intends to punish sex offenders who could reoffend based on the sheer possibility that they might — not that they have or even that they will. The bill should not punish people who haven’t committed another crime.
A 2008 study conducted by sex crime researchers for the Scientific American magazine found that while the general public believes 75 percent of sex offenders will reoffend, researchers only found that 14 percent of those studied did over a period averaging five to six years.
While the study noted that recidivism rates increased over time, with offenders 24-percent more likely to repeat offences after a period of 15 years, it also noted that the offenses repeated weren’t always a sex crime. Many of the sex offenders studied were likely to engage in a variety of sex and nonsexual crimes.
A future bill should not deal with individuals in a general way because each case is different. We wouldn’t want a surgeon operating on each patient the same way or the Department of Human Services dealing with children the same way. Why would we rely on law enforcement to approach each offender the same way? As stewards to society, these individuals all have responsibilities that require nuanced approaches.
If lawmakers really want to protect society, they should recognize there isn’t a “type” of criminal and the categorization of a criminal shouldn’t be the primary directive — treatment for the offender and proactive measures to deter crime should be the focus.
Express your outrage to the lawmakers who authored the bill and let them know that their backward laws aren’t protecting sex offenders or the community.