Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2010, $25,000)
Residence restrictions are one of the most recent, and most controversial, public policies seeking to protect community members from registered sex offenders. Residence restriction policies prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within a given distance of certain places where children might gather (e.g., schools, daycares, parks and playgrounds). In doing so, the expectation is that convicted sex offenders will have a harder time finding and approaching young children whom they can sexually assault, thus driving sexual recidivism rates down. These policies, first passed in 1995 at the state level and in 2005 at the local level, have become extremely popular throughout the United States, but without proof that they are effective.
To date, the research on these policies has been extremely limited, and has focused on the unintended consequences for sex offenders caused by the reduction in housing options. For instance, only a single study has examined the characteristics of jurisdictions most likely to pass state level residence restrictions, and no research of this type has examined local level restrictions. Perhaps more importantly, it has not been confirmed whether residence restrictions effectively reduce sex crimes, if they impact the geographic clustering of sex offender residences, or if this clustering, in turn, is associated with recidivistic sex crime rates. There are all important considerations for determining whether residence restriction policies are successfully protecting community members. The lack of research could potentially be helping to promote the passage of policies that are actually harming community members.
This study addresses this lack of research by examining four issues: 1) the passage, 2) the overall efficacy of residence restrictions in New York State, 3) whether these policies impact the spatial clustering of sex offenders in upstate New York neighborhoods, and 4) whether this clustering is associated with recidivistic sex crimes at the county level. The goal of the present study is to add to the empirical literature regarding sex offender post conviction policies and reentry issues, to provide best practices for studying these policies, and ultimately to increase public safety and evidence-based decisions.
A theoretical framework outlines the expected relationships between county characteristics, residence restrictions, sex offender clustering, and sex crime rates. And, using county and neighborhood level data from the state of New York, multivariate OLS regression, logistic regression, Poisson regression, and fixed effects panel models examine the passage and efficacy of sex offender residence restrictions, and the relationships between these policies, sex offender clustering, and sex crime rates.
Specifically, the answers to four research questions are sought: 1) which county level characteristics are associated with passing city residence restrictions policies; 2) have residence restrictions reduced county level sex crime rates; 3) controlling for the demographic and social indicators, are residence restrictions associated with the increased clustering of sex offenders in neighbors; and 4) controlling for other demographic and social indicators, is the clustering of sex offenders, in turn, associated with county level recidivistic sex crime rates?