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Will a Sex Offender Email Alert Really Keep New Yorkers Safe?

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This week, I got an email from the embattled New York Governor, David Paterson. It read in part,

I would like to inform you of an important new initiative I signed and enacted into law that will enable you to automatically receive an alert when a moderate or high-risk sex offender moves into an area of interest to you or your family, NY-ALERT. Through this new service, you can be notified by e-mail, text message, fax or telephone when a sex offender moves into or out of your community, or even when an offender relocates within a certain radius (from a quarter mile to 25 miles) of your home.

Really? That's going to keep my kids safe? I kind of doubt it. But I'm not surprised that my state has decided to go this route.

Despite Department of Justice reports which have found that sexual violence in the United States is decreasing, an increasing number of states have adopted zero tolerance laws for sex-based offenses. Many of these include making sex offender names and addresses publicly available. As a result of these laws, sex offenders across the country not only face increasing jail time, but they have also been facing more and more restrictions on their day-to-day life. For example, many have been reduced to living in motels alongside highways as tougher and tougher restrictions bar them from residing anywhere near children.

Though many sex offenders are indeed sexual predators, others are adults consensually buying or selling sex. Some are also teens who were convicted on statutory rape charges, or even for "sexting".

Yet even in cases where truly hardened criminals have committed unspeakable crimes, such restrictions don't seem to have the intended effect. A 2009 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice and Rutgers University, found that the ever increasing legislation requiring sex offender registration, residency restrictions, and mandatory minimums had not made a difference in deterring future sex crimes against children.

Apparently, Paterson, like many in his profession, didn't get this memo. So for New Yorkers, it is now easier than ever to find out our neighbor's really dirty laundry. Wouldn't it be nice if actually preventing sex crimes in the first place was also that easy?

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