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Setting Up Sex Offenders for Failure

How the intersection of law and city planning exposes sex offenders to longer prison sentences

Published to the AGORA: Issue 18, 2023-24
The Urban Planning and Design Journal at the University of Michigan



Our nation’s laws for sex offenders, although designed to protect the public, often have the opposite effect: increasing the chance sex offenders will be re-arrested and re-convicted for new crimes. The core of the problem is not that public safety rules, like Megan’s Law, are too weak. The problem is that these laws are written too strongly and too powerfully that they have the reverse effect: increasing the chances that sex offenders will commit new crimes. There are many problems with sex offender laws: too weak in areas they should be stronger; too strong in areas where they should be more flexible. But today I will examine just one aspect of the sex offender registry (the home address requirement) and how it affects one place (New York City). This analysis of New York City points to concrete and better ways to protect public safety than the current system: ways that reforming Megan’s Law will increase public safety.



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Thank you to dissertation advisers Dan O’Flaherty for his research on homelessness and Mary Gallagher for her advice on case law. This essay was originally written for Heather Ann Thompson’s fall 2023 PhD seminar on The American Carceral State. Most of all, thank you to editor Jessie Williams for her patient and insightful line edits.
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