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Sex Offender Residency Restrictions: How Mapping Can Inform Policy

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2008
2 pages
Given the popularity of laws that prohibit registered sex offenders from living in or near neighborhood areas frequented by children ("exclusion zones") and the potential for such laws to make it difficult for sex offenders to find suitable housing, this paper explains how a geographic-information-systems (GIS) analysis can reveal the sex offender housing problems that may arise in a given community if an exclusion-zone law were to be enacted.
By analyzing GIS mapping data, policymakers can identify the exclusion zones and the areas available for sex-offender housing in their communities. They can also determine whether registered sex offenders are currently living in compliant housing. Such analysis can show whether a proposed law is feasible to enforce, and jurisdictions with a residency law already in place can use GIS data in order to assess whether the specified exclusion zones result in a lack of housing options for sex offenders. In the three areas across the country subjected to such GIS mapping in the current study, researchers found that although the localities differed in geography and population, their exclusion-zone laws resulted in limited access to suitable housing for sex offenders. This should be of concern to communities contemplating such laws as well as communities that already have such laws. If unable to find legal housing, sex offenders may report false addresses, become homeless, or go underground. Others may be forced to live in rural areas with less access to employment and mental health services. Even in rural areas where schools and day-care centers are more geographically dispersed, most unrestricted land is forest or farmland. The three areas subjected to GIS mapping were three jurisdictions in northern New Jersey; San Diego, CA; and Hamilton County, OH.

Date Published: July 1, 2008