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Bridge to Medievalism
Sex Offenders on Florida’s Brain(lessness)

Where the Florida sun doesn't shine

The story was going around the nation with enough indignation in its wake that it just might have brought some attention to the rank insanity that Florida is becoming, but Don Imus had to open his mean old mouth and send every other story, for the required forty-eight hour cycle of scandal, surprise, contrition and forgetting, out the window. I’m referring to the Florida Department of Correction officially sending five individuals to live under a bridge in Miami. They’re sex offenders. They’ve served their time. But this being Florida, serving time means nothing: for sex offenders, the punishment never ends. State law forbids offenders and predators from living within 1,000 feet of anywhere “children gather.” That means schools, bus stops, parks, beaches, day care centers, churches (Catholics priests notwithstanding obviously) and other such places. In several Florida cities and counties, Miami-Dade among them, the craze has extended the limit to 2,500 feet. That means entire swaths of cities, if not the entirety of cities, are off limits to offenders. And not just child rapists, but any sex offender, which in Florida is a very loose definition that includes the 17-year-old junior who may have had sex with a 14-year-old freshman, the 20-year-old imbecile who got drunk during spring break and had the bright idea of peeing in public enough that a passing car with children witnessed the act, leading the even more imbecilic adult in the car to press charges. Sex offender for life. Florida isn’t alone with residency restrictions. Twenty-two states have them, and the list is growing. But Florida’s rules are among the most draconian.

So it is with these five individuals. One of them even has a GPS device locked on a limb, compliments of the Florida Department of Corrections (an Orwellian institution if there ever was one, much embellished along those lines during the Jeb Bush years), he’s required to keep it on at all times, but he can’t even power it up under the bridge for lack of electricity. News of their whereabouts of course will help any other kind of self-righteous pervert to their address, with baseball bats and a beating in mind, although the homeless don’t need the state’s help to be assaulted these days: it’s a sport all its own.

How is any of this helping keep predators away from children? Obviously, it isn’t. It makes matters worse. It sends predators and offenders underground, cutting them off from their communities, their families, distancing them from potential places of work, essentially preventing them from doing precisely the sort of things that would help reintegrate them—and keep them from reoffending. From a Times story in 2006, about Iowa’s Florida-like restrictions:

While some of the Iowa's largest cities, like Des Moines, have become virtually off limits for those convicted of sex crimes involving children, the new rules have pushed many to live in groups away from their families, in places like the Ced-Rel, or the Red Carpet Inn in nearby Bouton, where nine offenders rent rooms. Michele Costigan, whose driveway is right across Highway 30 from the Ced-Rel in this rural stretch just outside Cedar Rapids, said she had stopped leaving any of her four children at home alone, had told them to dial 911 if anyone they did not recognize pulled into the family driveway, and was considering moving. "If the point of his law was to make us safer, we are not," Ms. Costigan said. Even more worrisome to law enforcement officials in Iowa, the restrictions appear to be leading some offenders to slip out of sight. Of the more than 6,000 people on Iowa's registry of sex offenders, 400 are now listed bas "whereabouts unconfirmed" or living in "non-structure locations" (like tents, parking lots or rest areas). Last summer, the number was 140.

But what politician is going to stand up for the rights of sex offenders, even if it’s to stop defining every little public act with the slightest hint of titillation as a sexual offense? Those men under the bridge are today’s lepers, a reflection of prejudice and judgmental indulgence, specialties of any self-righteous age.


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