Friday, September 15, 2006

Sex Offender Ban Criticized

Having chosen the Planning Board over the City Council on Sept. 7, Plaintalker missed an impassioned plea by city resident Joan Van Pelt for the council to reconsider legislation that would effectively ban registered sex offenders from moving into the city.

The ordinance prohibits registered sex offenders from residing or loitering within 2,500 feet of any park, playground, school, recreation area, day care facility or school bus stop in Plainfield. With 88 such locations listed on a map of the six-square-mile city, the zones cover it entirely.

The ordinance was introduced last month by Councilmen Rashid Burney and Don Davis and Councilwoman Linda Carter. It was withdrawn to remove language including Tier 1 offenders, who pose the least risk. It was introduced again on first reading Sept. 7 and will be up for second reading and final passage on Sept. 20.

This week, Plaintalker listened to the tape of the council meeting to catch up.

Van Pelt said the ordinance not constitutional in any other towns and has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. She asked whether Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson had given thought to the cost of defending challenges to it.

Van Pelt said when such a law was passed in Iowa, one-third of the registered sex offenders “disappeared off the face of Iowa” by assuming other identities.

Currently, she said, in Plainfield, authorities “know who they are and know where they are.”

If the new law passes, she predicted, authorities will not know them and the result could be “a myriad of litigation over a long period of time.”

Van Pelt questioned the inclusion of Tier 1 offenders, giving the example of young adult male who has sex with an underage girl, a kind of liaison she described as “youthful indiscretions.” Tiers 2 and 3 are considered more at risk of committing more sex offenses. Burney pointed out the ordinance had been revised to exclude Tier 1 offenders.

In another argument, Van Pelt said the proposed ban was based on “a feeling that all sex offenders are abducting people off the street and doing terrible things to them.”

“The majority do not fall into that category,” she said.

She urged the council to make a study of who are considered sex offenders and their rate of recidivism “before you do something that would damage Plainfield’s reputation as a welcoming, understanding community that is not going to bar people for un-rational reasons.”

She noted the ban would do nothing to prevent people coming neighboring towns to “snatch children from the streets of Plainfield.”

Burney disagreed with many of her points, saying 40 towns in New Jersey have similar legislation and it has been upheld as a constitutional extension of Megan’s Law. Nationwide, he said, 14 states have enacted such laws.

“I’m tired of Plainfield being a dumping ground,” he said.

Burney said the new law makes sense “for the children of Plainfield” and will not cause registered sex offenders who already live in the city to move out.

The public will have a chance to speak for or against the ordinance before second reading and final passage. The Sept. 20 meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home