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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The truth behind the recent sex offender ruling

A recent Appellate Division decision striking down sex offender ordinances in two New Jersey towns will likely result in a crescendo of voices clamouring against the ruling. They will no doubt throw their support behind towns that make it nearly impossible for sex offenders to live anywhere within their borders.

But the reasons behind the decision bear closer examination than what has made its way into public comment periods, letters to the editor, and newspaper articles.

The two towns in question - Galloway Township and Cherry Hill Township - enacted ordinances that prevented registered sex offenders from living within a 2500 foot radius of certain structures, like schools, churches, and others.

In the case of Cherry Hill Township, over 90 percent of the area of the municipality was off-limits, while 40 percent of Galloway Township was precluded from providing a residence to any kind of convicted sex offenders.

What is important here - and what has not been reported in many accounts of the decision - is that the court did not rule to throw out the laws because they too strongly impacted sex offenders. One of the major reasons why the laws got tossed, possibly setting the stage for other laws to possibly be invalidated, was that they actually interfered with the complicated and in-depth system New Jersey legislators have designed to deal with sex offenders.

After completing their prison term, sex offenders are subject to numerous rules, depending on the severity of the crime or crimes they committed and other important factors, according to the group of laws collectively known as Megan's Law.

One of those packets of complex rules requires that a very hands-on parole officer approve living arrangements, employment arrangements, and other portions of the offender's life, as the state works towards rehabilitating the offender and creating the best set of conditions to prevent repeat occurrences, like in the case of Megan Kanka.

It is important to note that one thing that has been deemed very important to keeping convicted offenders on the straight-and-narrow is that they have a tightly knit group of people supporting them, and that their place of employment, place of residence, and the location of key supporters all exist in close proximity.

But the laws in Galloway and Cherry Hill prevented that from occurring, and thus interfered with the important and complicated system of support and safety that the state, in creating Megan's Law, thought was the best way to keep such horrific circumstances like those that took Megan Kanka's from happening again.

So when protesters and right-wing commentators call out the Appellate Division ruling without mentioning how the court ruled that these exclusionary ordinances actually interfered with rehabilitation and monitoring of sex offenders, try and remember what much of this court decision was really all about: the proper treatment and monitoring of sex offenders living in New Jersey's towns and cities.

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