Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TX - City to vote on sex offender park ban

Public park
Original Article

Take the poll at the bottom of the link above.

12/04/2013

By Cory Smith

Police chief to decide which offenders are exempt

SAN ANTONIO - The San Antonio City Council will vote Thursday on an ordinance that bans adult registered sex offenders from entering into city parks.

Registrants would not be allowed to loiter within 300 feet of a park or live within 1,000 feet of a park unless they already do.

The ban will not apply to juvenile offenders.

Common sense is that you're always aware of your surroundings, but at the same time, if we know there’s a potentially dangerous individual in the park and we can remove that person, that improves safety,” said District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules. “I'm sure police are going to know the worst-case offenders by sight and at that point they'll be able to remove them.”

The portion of the River Walk between Lexington Avenue and Alamo Street will be included in the ban, but only at the river level, not the street level.

Critics of the ban argue that it will have unintended consequences.

We know from research and statistics that these type of restrictions don’t work,” said Mary Sue Mulnar, executive director of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice.

Mulnar’s organization advocates for the promotion of common-sense and research-based laws involving registered sex offenders.

We are receiving calls from registrants. They’re inquiring about waiting at bus stops for their busses. They're asking about taking their children to the park. They’re asking about working near a park. It’s already created a lot of confusion,” she said.

Exemptions from the ordinance will be offered on a case-by-case basis.

Registered offenders must write a letter explaining why the policy will cause unnecessary hardship and ask for an exemption.

The policy’s current draft says the chief of the San Antonio Police Department will determine who receives an exemption.

A public hearing is not mandatory and the decision is final.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a situation where the police chief also acted as judge and jury,” Mulnar said. “I don't see how anything can be determined by a letter. So it could come down to who is the better letter writer.”

The law will not go into effect until the first quarter of 2014 and Soules said that should give the city enough time to iron out the details surrounding the exemption process.

We’re going through the process over the next 90 days to look at, specifically, if there's a more detailed way to look at (exemptions),” he said.

Soules said the time between the vote and when the law goes into effect will also allow the city to determine the proper park signage and work on a public education campaign to inform offenders of the new law.

Soules said more than 100 municipalities in Texas have similar laws, but San Antonio would by far be the largest to do so.

Mulnar believes much more research is needed before a vote, but she said city council members haves been unresponsive to the information her organization has sent to them.

They have a responsibility to fully inform every registrant,” she said.

The city will vote on the issue during their regularly scheduled A-Session meeting on Thursday at 9 a.m. inside City Hall.

See Also:


If you are a family member of a registered "sex offender", here is a chance to speak out

Speak up, speak out!
The following was posted on Facebook and shared here.

Dear family member of a sex offender,

I’m a journalist who is working on a larger project,

I’m working on a book proposal whose working title is Families in the Cross-Hairs: Collateral Damage from America’s 20-Year War on Sex Offenders. It’s designed to tell the stories of sex offenders’ loved ones (wives, sons, daughters, parents)—the discrimination, abuse, and worse that many have suffered as a result of living with someone on the sex offender registry (documented in Levenson and Tewksbury’s study of this issue in 2009, which I’m sure you’re aware of). It also will share stories about how family members have become active in the fight to reform sex offender laws (through organizations like USAFAIR, RSOL, and WAR) and the small victories they’ve achieved to date.

I’m contacting you because I’m putting together the lead chapter for the book and am looking for family members willing to share their stories about what it’s like to live in a home with someone who’s on the registry. I well know the risks that these folks live with--so while it would be great to speak with people who are willing to use their real names, I understand and can include the stories of people who cannot do so.

Below this email, I’ve included sample questions of the type that I’d be seeking answers to in talking with people, though obviously my follow up questions would change depending on the specifics of each family’s circumstances.

And again about me: I'm a magazine reporter who has written stories on sex offender laws for The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/life-list), Good (http://www.good.is/post/a-new-way-to-treat-sex-offenders/), and The Crime Report (http://www.thecrimereport.org/archive/standoff-over-sex-offenders/). More of my writing on criminal justice topics appears at http://www.stevenyoder.net/journalism/criminal-justice/.

I was hoping that RSOL might be able to post an announcement asking prospective families to contact me in whatever way is comfortable for them. If so, just let me know how you’d like to proceed—I’m happy to write this up in the form of an announcement if that’s helpful.

Sample Questions:
  • What has it been like for you to live with someone who is listed on the sex offender registry?
  • Have you or other immediate family members experienced any of the following as a result of your loved one’s being on the registry?
  • Financial hardships?
  • Changes in your housing, or difficulties obtaining housing?
  • Teasing, ridicule, social isolation, or exclusion?
  • Property damage?
  • Harassment, verbal abuse, or assault?
  • How have your experiences affected your views of current sex offender laws?
  • Has that led you to be involved in efforts to change those laws, if at all?

Thanks so much.

Steven Yoder [steven@stevenyoder.net]