July 20, 2010

Under duress, Georgia scales back sex offender law

Long-time blog subscribers may recall the case of Janet Allison, who became a homeless, jobless leper because she allowed her pregnant daughter's boyfriend to move into the family home. The state of Georgia has now scaled back that residency restriction law in an effort to prevent the courts from overturning it altogether.

Georgia had lost a series of legal challenges brought by human rights activists over the nation’s most draconian sex offender law. Attorney Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which has been on the forefront of efforts to stem the tide of "fear-based" laws, gave a keynote speech about the law's inhumanity at the annual meeting of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers back in 2008.

About 13,000 -- or 70 percent -- of the men and women on Georgia’s sex offender registry will now be able to "live and work wherever they want," according to a report by Greg Bluestein of the Associated Press in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Residency restrictions will still apply to about 5,000 sex offenders who committed their offenses after 2003, but they will vary in scope. Among the changes, elderly and disabled offenders may also be exempted from residency requirements.

Iowa has also scaled back some of its restrictions under pressure from courageous prosecutors in that Midwestern state. As I blogged about back in 2007, Iowa prosecutors lobbied for repeal of residency restrictions because of their negative unintended consequences of encouraging sex offenders to disappear, making them more dangerous. "Most legislators know in their hearts that the law is no good and a waste of time, but they’re afraid of the politics of it," a spokesman for the Iowa prosecutors' association said at the time.

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