Warwick, RI — As the RIACLU’s bid for a restraining order suspending the state’s new prohibition of Level III sex offenders housed within 1,000 feet of schools is heard in US District Court this afternoon, one Warwick sponsor of the restriction stands behind the restriction.
“I still support the law,” said Sen. William Walaska (D-Dist. 30), who co-sponsored it with Sen. Michael McCaffrey (D-Dist.29) and Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31). The law passed in the House 71-2 and in the Senate 37-0.
Walaska said the stricter residency change to the original 300-foot restriction was written by Lynch and McCaffrey after Warwick residents complained of sex offenders living nearby schools. Walaska said the stricter law is needed because sex offenders are too prone to the temptation to re-offend while living near schools.
“The temptation is great for them,” Walaska said.
The request for the restraining order is part of the RIACLU’s class action suit filed Thursday challenging the law. The suit argues that the residency prohibition placed on all Level III sex offenders is unconstitutionally vague, violates due process, retroactively punishes those who have already completed their sentences, and interferes with “liberty and privacy interests while bearing no rational relationship to a legitimate purpose.”
U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. will consider the ACLU’s request in US District Court in Providence at 3 p.m. The hearing is scheduled days ahead of the Nov. 2 date upon which dozens of Providence residents, who are sex offenders, have been ordered to move. The ACLU has asked that the restraining order stop the enforcement of the law while the complaint is pursued.
One of the ACLU’s argument against the restriction is that sex offenders’ victims are most often acquaintances or family members, not strangers met on the street.
RIACLU Executive Director Steven Brown noted sex offenders’ proximity to schools has little to do with their choice of victims. According to Smart.gov, 73 percent of rapists know their victims.
“But again, how do you get to know a child?” Walaska asked. He said children are very open to adults and friendship, and living near a school makes it easier for a sex offender to make acquaintances with children.
Walaska said he recognizes more should be done to help relocate sex offenders displaced by the law.
According to the suit, the new residency restriction also unfairly un-homes sex offenders, makes it more difficult for police to monitor them, and gives more than 150 sex offenders no other option but to live at the Harrington Hall homeless shelter on Howard Avenue in Cranston. The shelter is the only place legally available to them under the law.
Jean M. Johnson, executive director of House of Hope CDC, which runs Harrington Hall, said the shelter has been home to sex offenders before. “They are really the most well-behaved and least problematic people at the shelter,” Johnson said.
But, she said, the shelter is already over capacity. “Creating a situation that forces more people into homelessness without providing any alternative for shelter and services is intolerable,” Johnson said.
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