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|Banishment By Attrition: The Truth About Residency Restrictions
Derek W. Logue
July 28, 2012, Updated August 28, 2015
“The Ordinance appears to attempt to ensure public safety, in certain parts of Allegheny County, by isolating all Megan’
s Law registrants in localized penal colonies of sorts, without any consideration of the General Assembly’s policies of
rehabilitation and reintegration.” -- Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice CJ Castille, Fross et al. v. County of Allegheny,
No. 17 WAP 2010 
In recent years, restrictions against where registered sex offenders may live have become commonplace. These
restrictions were created on the premise that proximity to areas where children congregate would tempt those convicted
of sexual offenses into re-offending. These laws have been very popular with the public, and in recent years have grown
so restrictive, they effectively banished registrants altogether, hence the title of this article, Banishment by Attrition.
However, despite their popularity, residency restrictions have not shown to be effective, may actually increase recidivism
or failure to register cases, and at best only gives a false sense of security. Within the past couple of years, a growing
number of courts and locations that once favored these laws are looking to reform or abolish residency restrictions
SPREAD OF RESIDENCY RESTRICTIONS
The first state law restricting where sex offenders can live was passed in Florida in 1995. This law only applied to
registrants on probation who had abused minor victims, this law created 1,000-foot buffer zones around schools, parks,
playgrounds, day care centers, and other places where children congregate. By 2004, 15 states had enacted similar
legislation . As of 2011, at least 30 states have residency laws prohibiting sex offenders from living within a specified
distance of schools, day cares, parks, wherever children congregate, ranging from 500 to 2500 feet; in addition, about
400 municipalities have similar ordinances .
Of the 30 states with residency restrictions:
In addition, some state ordinances have effectively banished sex offenders from entire cities, where population density
makes it almost impossible to find legal residences that meet the standards of the residency laws .
DO RESIDENCY LAWS WORK?
"They don't work." -- Kansas Corrections Secretary Roger Werholz 
Residency restrictions do not work, and they actually make things more dangerous rather than make them safer. That
was the conclusion of the state of Kansas after researching the impact of residency restriction laws. To early and
important studies have in circulation for years, one from Colorado, and the other from Minnesota, which it already shown
residency restrictions to be an effective and possibly counterproductive.
In 2003, the Minnesota Department of Corrections conducted a study on residency restrictions; using case studies of
recidivism, they found no correlation between proximity to schools and recidivism. They added, “Enhanced safety due to
proximity restrictions may be a comfort factor or the general public, but it does not have any basis in fact .” A follow-up
study in 2007 also failed to find any correlation between geography and recidivism. Of the 224 offenders who met set
criteria that included a previous offense to the offender’s residence and had a minor victim, not one offense would've
been deterred by a proximity law. Recidivism was correlated to “social or relationship” proximity rather than residential
proximity; 49% of the recidivists committed their offense more than a mile from their homes. The possible deterrent
effect was therefore “slim” due to the rarity of the offenses it was trying to protect .
In 2004, the Colorado Department of Public Safety's Sex Offender Management Board also released a study failing to
find any correlation between proximity to schools and recidivism. In addition, the study found recidivists were no more
likely to live close to schools by choice than those who did not reoffend. The study found that so-called “shared living
arrangements” benefited those on the registry and made them less likely to reoffend .
Residency restrictions were based upon the premise that those who sexually offend against children would be more
likely to live close to where children congregate, like schools were day cares. However, the 2008 New Jersey study
found that those on the public registry with child victims actually lived further from schools than the average population
and even other sex offenders . Thus, he more likely scenario is that individuals on the registry are more likely to live
in low income urban areas as a result of higher limits, and as a consequence, are more likely to be forced to live near
schools and other areas where children may congregate.
IMPACT OF RESIDENCY LAWS IN FINDING HOUSING
In 2007, a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer on residency restrictions found that a local ordinance increasing the number
of restricted zones from the statewide restriction against schools and day care centers and adding YMCAs, Boys and
Girls Clubs, public pools, and city run recreation centers increased the number of unavailable housing units from 44% to
60% . While theoretically, 40% of Cincinnati's apartment units are available to those on the registry, the reality is few
people are willing to rent to one on the registry. A 2006 study by Once Fallen found out of 131 apartments found in the
newspaper renting for $400 or less, only three of them (1.5%) were willing to rent to a registered person with the
property known to meet the state requirements of 1000 feet from a school or day care center .
A similar study released to the Broward County, Florida task force in 2009 found that even after removing bus stops
from the 2500 foot restricted zones, not one property in the county could be found for a registrant to legally live. Even
increasing the statewide standard of 1000 feet to 1200 feet decreased available housing by 40%. Even then, the study
overestimated available housing by not including bus stops. The task force referred to a study conducted in Orange
County which found 99.6% of all housing was within 2500 feet of a bus stop, and 90% of potential housing units were
within 1000 feet of bus stops .
IMPACT OF RESIDENCY LAWS ON THOSE FORCED TO REGISTER
It should go without saying trying to find adequate housing for a registered citizen is like the proverbial game of finding
the needle in the haystack; thus, these laws are bound to have a negative impact on those forced to register as sex
A study conducted by Levenson and Cotter examined the impact of residency laws in 2005, and found the following:
The stress and negative impact extends beyond the registrant and into the lives of the loved ones of the registrant as
well, including children, wives, and immediate family members. A second Levenson study found employment problems
for RSOs resulted in financial hardships for the rest of the family. Housing problems were less common, with less than
one quarter reporting that they had to move due to sex offender notification. Almost half, however, reported being
threatened or harassed by neighbors, 27% had their property damaged, and 7% said they were physically assaulted by
someone. As the residential buffer zone increased, family members were more likely to experience adverse
Ultimately, the laws create an environment that may increase a return to a life of crime. The laws have had many
adverse consequences, such as vigilantism, loss of employment, residence, and relationships, difficulty in obtaining
suitable housing, and incentives to violate existing registration laws . As we shall see in our case study of Iowa,
residency laws had a number of adverse consequences.
The difficulty of finding adequate housing leads to increases in homelessness among registrants. A few extreme cases
involving homelessness have shed light on this unconsidered consequence. In 2009, Thomas Pauli, Michigan registrant,
died of hypothermia after being denied shelter because shelters were too close to schools ; Pauli’s death eventually
led to a lawsuit forcing Michigan to allow emergency shelter to homeless registrants during inclement weather . In
Georgia, a registrant was facing life in prison for being unable to register due to homelessness. The sheriff’s office
maintains being homeless was “not an acceptable excuse” for failing to register an address . In Alabama, a policy of
immediately charging those unable to establish a residence upon release from prison due to indigence with a failure to
register charge was finally overturned by a state appellate court in 2010, after an untold number of individuals were sent
back to prison for being homeless .
So-called “sex offender clusters”, areas with higher numbers of registrants, have been created as those registrants who
choose to obey the law live in that small percentage of land where they can still legally reside. This has caused some
cities to consider anti-clustering laws, laws limiting the number of registrants living at one address.
CASE STUDY: IOWA
In 2005, Iowa passed what was at the time the most restrictive residency law in the country. Those forced to register as
sex offenders could not reside within 2000 feet of any place children congregate. The impact of the law was immediate.
Rural motels and trailer parks were filled with registrants as they flock to the few places left in the state where they could
legally reside. One hotel with 24 rooms had 26 registered citizens at the address. Other registrants were left homeless
and sleeping out of the back of their cars and trucks. Authorities reported three times as many registrants missing in the
year after the residency law began than the year before (from 140 to 400). The city of Dubuque reported 90% of the city
was off-limits. Another sheriff claimed that he used to know where 90% of the registrants in his county resided, but after
the residency law took effect, he barely knows where half reside . By 2007, about 700 of the states 6000 registrants
moved out of state or fled the country, while there was an increase of arrests of registrants for giving false addresses
The 2007 Iowa monitoring report found that the number of sex crime convictions actually increased in the two years
following the enactment of the 2000 foot residency restriction. In the year prior to the enactment of the law ending
August 2005, there were 913 sex crime charges filed, with 433 ending in conviction. In the year following enactment of
the law, between September 2005 and August 2006, there were 928 sex abuse charges filed, and 445 were convicted.
Between September 2006 and August 2007, there were 1095 charges filed, and 490 convictions. The residency
restriction laws had no positive impact on reducing sex crimes in the state. The number of failure to register convictions
increased from 258 the year before the residency restriction was enacted to 442 the year after, in addition to 137
convictions for violating residency restriction laws. .
As early as 2007, Iowa, Georgia, and Oklahoma were among the states looking to reform or repeal residency
restrictions. In addition, the state of Kansas passed a moratorium preventing individual municipalities from creating their
own residency restriction laws . The move to repeal residency restriction laws even included the Iowa County
Attorneys Association, an organization of county prosecutors, which released a statement in 2006 in favor of repealing
the state’s restrictions . The law was not fully repealed (for political reasons), but in 2009, the law was scaled back
from applying to all sex offenders with a crime against a minor to applying to only those with “the most serious sex crimes
against children.” The number of those living under the residency restrictions was reduced from 4300 to 1200 forced to
comply with residency laws. Of those 1200 still living under residency laws, however, the homelessness and stress that
increases the likelihood of recidivism remain .
CASE STUDY: MIAMI, FLORIDA
There is no bigger example of the negative impact of sex offender residency restrictions than the Julia Tuttle Causeway
(JTC) sex offender camp in Miami, where registrants were forced to live under a bridge in Miami, Florida.
After most South Florida cities passed 2500 foot residency restrictions (exceeding the statewide 1000 foot restriction),
the first residents of what was known as the JTC sex offender colony moved under the Julia Tuttle Causeway overpass
in Miami around the beginning of 2007, after some were forced out of an empty lot near downtown Miami after it was
discovered the lot bordered a center for sexually abused children . Between 2007 and 2010, the number of
registrants forced to live under the bridge swelled to as many as 140. At one time, the city had declared a nearby
deserted island 1200 feet away a “public park” to try to force the state to disband the camp .The Florida ACLU
fought the ordinance but a judge ruled the city was allowed to set its own ordinances, thus the 2500-foot restriction was
At the heart of the push for 2500 foot residency restrictions was powerful and corrupt South Florida lobbyist Ron Book.
After discovering his female nanny had physically and sexually abused his daughter, Lauren Book, Ron (with help of his
daughter’s story) championed increased residency laws for about 60 cities and counties in Florida . The link
between Ron Book and the JTC colony was so direct that those who lived there came to call it “Bookville” . Adding to
the difficulties of those registrants in need of adequate housing, Ron Book is also the head of Miami-Dade County’s
Homeless Trust. Book refused to provide any services to those under the camp  until “unintended consequences”
and public pressure caused the Books to re-evaluate their stance on the 2500-foot law.
Unlike Iowa, legislators in Florida have never considered repealing residency restrictions. In fact, one considered
“solution” involved creating a statewide standard of 1500 feet, increasing statewide residency laws by 500 feet .
Embarrassed by the international embarrassment and loss of tourism the the camp had caused for Miami , the city
chose instead to sweep the incident under the rug. In early 2010, the city dismantled the Bookville camp under the Julia
Tuttle Causeway and relocated the registrants to temporary housing .
Ron Book found himself cleaning up the same mess he created with his championing of residency restrictions. Not long
after some registrants were relocated into one hotel, the hotel broke the agreement and evicted the registrants .
Book was heckled at a town hall meeting in the Shorecrest community by locals dissatisfied with former JTC registrants
moving into the community . However, when the temporary leases ran out, Book blamed the impending
homelessness on the registrants’ inability to find employment .
The registrants had been scattered throughout the few locations still legal for registrants to live, including the
Shorecrest community. In response to the growing camp in an empty lot, the Shorecrest community literally created a
makeshift park out of 2 rusty old toys and a metal carport and dubbed it “Little River Pocket Park.” City Commissioner
Marc Sarnoff even admitted the park was created to stop more registrants from entering Shorecrest .
In 2011, a survey of information from the state registry found of Miami-Dade County’s 1960 registrants, 236 had
absconded, and 191 were homeless .
LEGAL ISSUES WITH RESIDENCY RESTRICTIONS
Residency restrictions have faced many legal challenges since they were first implemented. However, the highest court
decision on residency restrictions was Doe v. Miller (2005) , in which a three-judge panel upheld Iowa’s 2000-foot
residency restriction. In Doe v. Miller, the courts ruled “the Constitution of the United States does not prevent the State
of Iowa from regulating the residency of sex offenders in this manner in order to protect the health and safety of the
citizens of Iowa”… “A majority of the panel further concludes that the statute does not amount to unconstitutional ex post
facto punishment of persons who committed offenses prior to July 1, 2002, because the appellees have not established
by the ‘clearest proof,’ as required by Supreme Court precedent, that the punitive effect of the statute overrides the
General Assembly's legitimate intent to enact a nonpunitive, civil regulatory measure that protects health and safety.”
In short, the 8th Circuit had followed the argument from Smith v. Doe (2003) and Kansas v. Hendricks (1997), two
previous laws also finding sex offender laws are “non-punitive" in nature. In light of the research and experiences of a
number of jurisdictions that have passed residency laws over the years, the courts would be hard-pressed to make the
Some of the earliest court decisions came from the Iowa. In the Southern District of Iowa’s ruling of Doe v. Miller , the
same case eventually overturned by the 8th Circuit, the US District Court had ruled the law violated Ex Post Facto, the
14th Amendment’s procedural and substantive Due Process, and the 5th Amendment’s safeguard against self-
incrimination. Even in overturning the decision, the dissenting opinion by 8th US Circuit judge Melloy determined the
laws violate Ex Post Facto, is punitive as historical banishment, serves traditional aims of punishment, imposes an
affirmative disability or restraint, and is excessive in meeting its goals. A 2006 Iowa case also ruled “Residency
restrictions are a severe restriction of the defendant’s liberty rights…defendant’s rights to substantive due process has
been violated”  Unfortunately, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling . Of interesting note is
Iowa’s Supreme Court denies the right to shelter as a fundamental right.
In both of the higher court rulings on the Iowa cases, however, they did not necessarily state the right to protect the
public from sex offenders trumped individual rights; the higher courts ruled that the registrants have failed to prove
otherwise. Indeed, most of our understanding on the impact of the registration laws has been discovered only after the
laws have been implemented.
While some of the early victories in Lynn, Massachusetts  and Oklahoma  were based more on technicalities
than Constitutional issues, later court decisions have ruled on the constitutionality of the residency laws.
Ohio was one of the first states to rule residency laws were indeed punitive schemes. In Mikaloff v. Walsh (2007) ,
the Northern District Court of Ohio ruled that Ohio’s residency restrictions violate Ex Post Fact laws, also noting the laws
are punitive and excessive to their stated purpose. The second strike to Ohio’s residency restrictions came in Hyle v.
Porter (2008) ; the Ohio Supreme Court determined because R.C. 2950.031 was not expressly made retrospective,
it does not apply to an offender who bought his home and committed his offense before the effective date of the statute.
The Hyle ruling was validated by the latter case of State ex rel. White v. Billings (2008) . While residency laws still
exist in Ohio, the courts have determined the laws cannot be retroactively applied to any registrant convicted before July
31, 2003, regardless if the registrant rents or owns a home .
In Mann v. Georgia Dept. of Corrections (2007) , Georgia's Supreme Court strikes down state law as over-broad,
considered the law punishment, and recognized the law essentially exiles sex offenders from Georgia. What makes this
particular decision interesting (and difficult to understand) is the argument based upon the “takings clause” of the Fifth
Amendment; the typical arguments on the takings clause generally involve the practice of “Eminent Domain,” the
governmental taking of private property for developmental purposes. The Court determined “functionally equivalent to
the classic taking in which government directly ousts the owner from his domain… Looking to the magnitude and
character of the burden OCGA § 42-1- 15 imposes on the property rights of registered sex offenders and how that
burden is distributed among property owners…we conclude that, under the circumstances present here, justice requires
that the burden of safeguarding minors from encounters with registered sexual offenders must be "spread among
taxpayers through the payment of compensation."… We therefore find that OCGA § 42-1-15 (a) is unconstitutional
because it permits the regulatory taking of appellant's property without just and adequate compensation.” Since the
ruling, Georgia has revised the state residency restrictions, with the level of residency restrictions determined by the
date of conviction .
In Kentucky, the state Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Baker (2009)  ruled “even though the General Assembly
did not intend the statute to be punitive, the residency restrictions are so punitive in effect as to negate any intention to
deem them civil. Therefore, the retroactive application of KRS 17.545 is an ex post facto punishment, which violates
Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, and Section 19(1) of the Kentucky Constitution.”
In Indiana v. Pollard (2009) , the court looked at seven “Mendoza-Martinez” factors weighed against each other in
determining a law’s intent:
“Of the seven factors identified by Mendoza-Martinez as relevant to the inquiry of whether a statute has a punitive
effect, only two factors – finding of scienter and advancing a non-punitive interest – point in favor of treating the effects
of the Act as non-punitive. The remaining factors, particularly the factor of excessiveness, point in the other direction…
as applied to Pollard, the statute violates the prohibition on ex post facto laws contained in the Indiana Constitution
because it imposes burdens that have the effect of adding punishment beyond that which could have been imposed
when his crime was committed.”
New Jersey’s state court in GH v Township of Galloway (2009)  ruled they “hold that Cherry Hill Township's and
Galloway Township's ordinances, establishing residency restrictions that formed buffer zones for convicted sex
offenders living within their communities, are precluded by the present, stark language of Megan's Law. It is that
language which controls.” In other words, local ordinances were pre-empted by the state’s Megan’s Law, which had no
residency law provisions, which upheld the lower court decision of preemption. The lower court had not considered the
constitutional issues raised by the trial courts because of their ruling on the preemption clause .
Pennsylvania’s decision in Fross et al. v. County of Allegheny (2010)  made a similar preemptive clause ruling to the
ruling in New Jersey. In striking Allegheny County’s 2500 foot ordinance, the courts stated “the ordinance appears to
attempt to ensure public safety, in certain parts of Allegheny County, by isolating all Megan's Law registrants in localized
penal colonies of sorts, without any consideration of the General Assembly's policies of rehabilitation and
reintegration… The County’s legislative effort in this instance undermines the General Assembly’s policies of
rehabilitation, reintegration, and diversion from prison of appropriate offenders, and significantly interferes with the
operation of the Sentencing and Parole Codes. For these reasons, we agree with the federal district court that the
County’s Ordinance stands as an obstacle to accomplishing the full purposes objectives of the General Assembly and
is, therefore, preempted.”
In People v. Mosley (2008) , the California Appellate Court concluded, “based on our analysis of the salient
Mendoza-Martinez factors, Jessica’s Law’s residency restriction has an overwhelming punitive effect. It effectuates
traditional banishment under a different name, interferes with the right to use and enjoy real property near schools and
parks, and subjects housing choices to government approval like parole or probation. It affirmatively restrains the right
to choose a home and limits the right to live with one’s family. It deters recidivism and comes close to imposing
retribution on offenders... The severe punitive effect of Jessica’s Law’s residency requirement clearly outweighs the
proclaimed lack of regulatory, non-punitive intent... Because the residency restriction is punitive, its imposition by the
court increases the penalty for a nonsexual offense beyond the prescribed statutory maximum based upon the jury
verdict alone.” Because the Residency Restriction Imposes a Penalty Beyond the Prescribed Statutory Maximum, It
Triggers the Right to a Jury Trial.
In Doe v. City of Lynn (2015) , the state's High Court ruled that blanket restrictions on where sex offenders can live
violate the "Massachusetts Home Rule Amendment," which allows the Legislature to have the “first and final word” on the
enforcement of residency and other restriction laws (a similar line of reasoning as the NJ court ruling). But because
these restrictions effectively banish sex offenders from entire communities, the Court noted the similarities between
residency restrictions and historical banishment, adding, “Except for the incarceration of persons under the criminal law
and the civil commitment of mentally ill or dangerous persons, the days are long since past when whole communities of
persons, such as Native Americans and Japanese-Americans may be lawfully banished from our midst.”
Residency Laws are popular but ineffective laws. They have never been proven to be an effective crime control
measure; instead, studies and actual experiences with residency restrictions have suggested these laws increase
instability and create incentives to commit new crimes. Failure to register charges, homelessness, and even overall sex
crime rates have increased in accordance with these laws. The more restrictive the law, the less available housing
becomes available, compelling those registrants trying to live by the letter of the law to reside in the few unrestricted
areas left in the area, forming clusters.
Iowa and South Florida had both passed tough residency laws with disastrous consequences. Iowa found an increase of
homeless and absconding offenders, an increase of sex crime arrests and convictions, and clustering of registrants; in
2009, they scaled back residency laws for most registrants, but of the few that still must abide by the law, the same
problems are still in effect. In Miami-Dade County, the homeless offenders have been shuffled around various locations
across the county, from parking lots to under a bridge. Unlike Iowa, Florida legislators and courts continue to justify their
laws and even seek to increase statewide restrictions as a “solution” to South Florida’s difficulties with the residency
While the 2005 Doe v. Miller case upheld residency restrictions based on the civil/ regulatory argument of Smith v. Doe
case of 2003, subsequent courts have disagreed with the findings of the 8th Circuit Courts. Courts applying the
“Mendoza-Martinez” factors have determined residency restrictions are so onerous they cross the threshold into punitive
regardless of intent. The restrictions are essentially a modern day banishment, meet the traditional aims of punishment/
retribution, and are excessive in their stated purpose. In regards to property owners, the act of forcing a registrant out of
his or her home is similar to Eminent Domain or similar laws, and thus violates the Fifth Amendment protection against
taking without just compensation. Other states have ruled that the traditional goals of rehabilitation and corrections, and
even the alleged “civil” goals of Megan’s law overrule or preempt the goals of residency restrictions.
For now, Residency Laws are still on the books in many locations, though a growing number of locations are reluctantly
repealing their laws. In light of the large amount of previously unconsidered consequences created by these laws, I think
abolishment of all residency laws is a wise choice.
|NOTE: This article is a revised version of my original Residency Restrictions Fact Page. The fact guide in
outline format is still available and will also be updated to reflect the updates on this article
|California RSOL has compiled a 50 state guide on registry and residency restriction laws. Click the link below: