Sex offender: “life is no bargain living as a sex offender”
According to the Special Analysis Unit of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the State of Texas leads the nation with number of current registered sex offenders. As of May 31, there were 78,869 sex offenders registered with the Texas Department of Public Safety. It is indicative of the State’s tough approach in dealing with sex offenders and its merciless criminal statutes, aggressive investigations and relentless prosecutions, particularly in those sex cases involving children. This is especially so in Harris County, Texas. As of June 2nd, there were 5,859 registered sex offenders living in the city of Houston alone.
As if these figures were not disturbing enough, along comes Laredo City Councilman Mike Garza who introduced a new ordinance last month that would require the county’s nearly 200 registered sex offenders to put signs up in the yards of their place of residence notifying the public that they live there. According to Councilman Garza, the yard signs would provide greater protection to the families living next door or in the immediate vicinity of the sex offender’s residence.
Garza informed local media that he did not come up with this idea all by himself. He had some help from the State of Florida which currently has 62,659 registered sex offenders. He read a news account about Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith’s decision to require registered sex offenders in his county to provide additional public notification of their community presence with a sign in their yard. The bright red sign leads with a “Public Notice” followed by the warning that “a sexual predator … lives at this location.”
Texas law permits “yard sign” notification under limited circumstances. Article 62.056(d) provides: “On receipt of notice under this chapter is required to register or verify registration with a local law enforcement authority and has been assigned a numeric risk level of three, the local law enforcement authority may provide notice to the public in any manner determined appropriate by the local law enforcement authority, including publishing notice in a newspaper or other periodical or circular in circulation in the area where the person intends to reside, holding a neighborhood meeting, post notices in the area where the person intends to reside, distributing printing notices to area residents, or establishing a specialized local website. The local law enforcement authority may include in the notice only information that is public information under this chapter.”
Under Article 62.007(c)(3) a numeric risk level three is a “person who poses a serious danger to the community and will continue to engage in criminal sexual conduct.”
From online media reports, Councilman Garza’s proposed ordinance would seem to encircle all registered sex offenders in the “yard sign” notification requirement, regardless of their risk level defined by state law. While the Garza proposal will most likely receive widespread popular community support, this does not mean such an ordinance will be viewed as favorably by the courts. A Kansas appeals court several years overturned a sentencing judge’s “yard sign” notification order against a sex offender, saying it contributed nothing to the offender’s rehabilitation.
We agree with the appeals court. The social stigma and ostracism associated with sex offender yard signs make individual rehabilitation virtually impossible. And equally significant is the continuous risk of harm it subjects to the offender to, and the danger it poses to anyone else sharing the residence with the offender.
Our constitution protects the public’s right to know but it also rejects society’s right to pillory. The public has more than adequate resources available to learn not only which but where registered sex offenders reside in their neighborhoods. “Yard signs” are part of a ever extending inclination by many in this country to extend eternal punishment and deny the oppotunity for individual rehabilitation for one’s crimes against society.
We suspect that Councilman Garza’s proposed ordinance has more to do with his own political aspirations than it does with public protection. Otherwise he wouldn’t be a Texas “law-and-order” politician.