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A recent article about residency restrictions in Pennsylvania has me peeved. It’s dawned on me that it’s not just that one particular article either, it’s all the articles we read about residency restrictions that say sex offenders are “more likely to reoffend” when they end up homeless due residency restrictions.
No, the truth of the matter is that registrants are more likely to “die” because of residency restrictions than they are to reoffend.
Registrants that are exhiled from communities become homeless. Without an actual mailing address it’s hard for many of them to secure any kind of job. You end up living under a bridge next to a causeway or in a tent in an empty lot behind a dumpster somewhere. Without a job you have no money or healthcare benefits. Without money you can’t afford basic necessities, like food or warm clothes. You may end up homeless, starving and sick.
You may even die.
Why in the hell do the authors of these articles think that a registrant’s first instinct when they are homeless, jobless, cold, dehydrated, hungry and sick would be to go out and re-offend?
A homeless registrant’s first thought when they open their eyes in the morning certainly isn’t “what offense can I commit today”.
No, the first thing they do is check to make sure the few meager possessions they do have, plastic tubs, tarps, a few cooking items,clothes, weren’t stolen from them during the night. They make sure their home, whether it be a tent, a box or a make-shift sleeping bag, is secure. When we talk “homeless” we’re not talking “homeless” for a few days, a week or a month. There are registrants who have been living like this for years. They have no other place to go. Their bed is an old lawn chair, their sole heat source may be nothing more than a camp-size propane heater. They fight an everyday losing battle with the elements of nature, rain, snow, heat, mosquitos, flies, dirt. They’re battling just to survive, they’re not looking to reoffend.
Chances are pretty good homeless registrants don’t have a job and it’s not because they don’t want to work. If you’re homeless, unless you’re living in your car, you probably don’t own a car. If you find a job willing to hire you, you still need transportation to get there. Let’s face it, the underpass or the empty lot on the outskirts of the city is probably not on the bus route to many jobs. And that’s providing you have money to take the bus. Transportation for someone who’s homeless means you either walk long distances or if you’re lucky you have a bicycle and you ride to wherever you need to go and in any kind of weather.
Registrants are required to register. That means they need to be able to get to local law enforcement agencies whether every month or every year. No one provides them transportation, homelessness and having no transportation is not an acceptable excuse for not fulfilling your registry requirement.
Registering as a homeless person has it’s own unique problems. Your address is transient. It can change at a moments notice depending on whether someone complains to the police because they don’t want you there or whether you’re harrassed by someone and forced to move. What address do you register, the corner of “No Man’s Land and Not in My Neighborhood?” And everytime you move, everytime you are forced to move, you must change your address with the registry. If you live in a hostile county or town, you are making a lot of trips to change your address.
Existence for some registrants is simply trying to make it on a day to day basis. Yet, when I read some of these articles on residency restrictions, you would think that the authors view homeless registrants as merely criminals who spend their day planning for the next offense. Believe me, from what I can see, they don’t have time. They are busy trying to survive. They need to locate places to take care of their personal hygiene needs, they need to find food, there are jobs to look for. They don’t get to turn on the bathroom light, open the refrigerator door, pop toast into the toaster and take the train to work, their lives are way more complicated than that.
Homeless registrants are like the rest of us in that they need and deserve healthcare. They are let out of prison with no healthcare benefits and usually a decline in what their previous health status was. They have little chance to obtain a job let alone one that offers healthcare benefits. Some suffer from pre-incarceration mental illness, others exhibit post-incarceration PTSD. The stress of years in prison, isolation from family and friends and now homelessness and a lifetime on the registry makes many paranoid, depressed, suicidal or hyper-vigilant. And who can blame them? It’s hard to distinguish friend from foe when you’re homeless, often those meaning to do you harm come dressed as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. You don’t know who, what or where is “safe” anymore. And your access to free or affordable healthcare or mental healthcare is diminishing even as I write this article. Homeless registrants who so desperately need medical services, who were promised assistance to reintegrate back into society have not only been forgotten, they’ve been thrown to the wolves, forced to eke out an existence on the fringes of society.
Lawmakers call that “residency restrictions”. Not a punishment they say, just a means of keeping the rest of us safe.
Registry restrictions haven’t proven to make anyone safer, in fact, they have caused registrants and their families to become less safe and victims of vigilante type crimes. Residency restrictions make a registrant’s life hell. It makes their family’s life hell. It alienates people who for the most part just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. Residency restrictions tear families apart and make registrants pariahs in their own communities. They impede opportunities for registrants to reintegrate into their communities and to fully rehabilitate themselves.
Our government wastes so much money on the registration of people who don’t need to be tracked. First-time, non-violent, non-contact registrants, public urinators, underage sexually active teens, skinny dippers, all have the potential to have their lives destroyed by our backwards, out of date laws, all have the potential to become a homeless registrant. The re-entry support, the reintegration after prison that our lawmakers promised, that they deemed neccessary for rehabilitation, certainly isn’t there for registrants. Lawmakers haven’t keep their promises. Registrants have become the disenfranchised, the ostracized, the forgotten, the homeless.
Yes, there are registrants out there that will reoffend no matter where they live. There are also people out there that aren’t registrants that will commit crimes.
But there are more registrants that will never reoffend, good people who despite having been made homeless, jobless, hungry and sick by ridiculous residency restrictions, will keep fighting to survive no matter how many restrictions are put upon them.
But, some will die.