Suit targets WL ban on sex offenders in public places

http://www.journalinquirer.com/connecticut_and_region/suit-targets-wl-ban-on-sex-offenders-in-public-places/article_35268b7a-38ea-11e8-a80a-e3b77213783e.html
  • By Anthony Branciforte (abranciforte@journalinquirer.com)

WINDSOR LOCKS — An anonymous resident and an advocacy group that represents accused and convicted sex offenders have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down the town’s 10-year-old policy barring people on Connecticut’s sex offender registry from a number of public places.

The organization, Connecticut for One Standard of Justice, says the town’s “child safety zones” — which include the local parks, public schools, library, Town Hall gymnasium, and Senior Center — violate both the First and 14th amendments.

The policy does carve out an exception that allows those on the registry to vote at polling places in restricted buildings, though they are required to immediately leave the premises after their vote is cast.

The lawsuit asks that the policy be overturned.

The plaintiffs are represented by Audrey Felson of Stamford-based criminal defense and personal injury firm Koffsky & Felsen LLC, as well as Paul Dubbeling, a North Carolina-based lawyer and former prosecutor for the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corp.

“The plaintiffs are subjected to substantial discrimination, prejudice, and irrational fears because of false concerns of an ‘alarmingly high’ recidivism rate among a discrete category of citizens,” Felson said in a statement, referencing language in the town’s policy pertaining to the likelihood that someone on the registry will re-offend.

The organization takes issue with that claim, citing two studies from the state’s Office of Policy Management examining recidivism rates in the five- and 10-year periods after a person’s first sexual offense.

Those studies found those rates to be 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively.

“By ostracizing these citizens, by shutting them out of public life, we do nothing to make our towns safer,” Dubbeling said.

Neither study specifically examined those who have been convicted of child-based offenses, nor does the town’s policy, despite language specifically addressing sex crimes against children, narrowly apply to those offenders.

According to the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking — a federal office established under the Department of Justice in 2006 and also known as SMART— recidivism numbers after five or even 10 years do not necessarily paint a full picture.

“Observed sexual recidivism rates of sex offenders range from about 5 percent after 3 years to about 24 percent after 15 years,” SMART’s web site states. “Relatively low rates of recidivism — particularly sexual recidivism — are reported in studies using follow-up periods shorter than five years.”

SMART also cites information indicating that official records understate actual recidivism rates.

Connecticut for One Standard of Justice, however, says Windsor Locks should focus on preventing first-time offenses rather than on those who have been convicted.

“We are working to build a campaign to help prevent sexual violence and harassment by educating citizens and policy-makers how future offenses are overwhelmingly likely to be committed by people who have never been arrested for offending before,” said Cindy Prizio, the group’s executive director.

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