Over at the fantastic Posse Comitatus — a substack on sheriffs — Jess Pishko, wrote about ways in which sheriffs (and other law enforcement) often frame themselves as being on the side of victims even as those narratives are (a) often incoherent and (b) demonstrably false beyond their rhetoric.
So it was timely that I saw an article with the not-at-all-alarmist headline Illinois bill would allow sex offenders to live closer to schools, concerning a proposal to tweak Illinois law that the evidence conclusively supports would enhance — as opposed to diminish — public safety: among other things, reduce residency restrictions to alleviate chronic homelessness amongst people on public conviction registries.
Given that headline, it’s not terribly surprising that the article itself also included some equally bizarre quotes from — in this instance — a pair of sheriffs.
"The closer you bring a sex offender to these vulnerable targets, the more likely they are going to offend,” Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said.
Campbell said this is a pro-sex offender, anti-victim, anti-police bill.
"Overall, the bill would make our communities less safe,” Campbell said.
Housing restrictions for people with past sex offense convictions do not exist at all in roughly half of the states, and they’re getting along just fine without them. The evidence is so conclusive, in fact, that these are failed policies that Kansas’ DOC has a fact sheet up about why they’re bad (though Kansas has a ton of other issues in this area), and the even US Department of Justice recommends against their implementation:
Finally, the evidence is fairly clear that residence restrictions are not effective. In fact, the research suggests that residence restrictions may actually increase offender risk by undermining offender stability and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work, and family support. There is nothing to suggest this policy should be used at this time.
Yet a bill proposing to reduce this policy in Illinois is pro-sex offender, anti-victim and — curiously — anti-police. I say it’s curious because the bill also reduces the amount of work police have to do! According to the Chicago 400, Chicago police detectives re-register homeless individuals on the registry, “collecting and uploading the same forms each week,” to the tune of 23,000 times every year. Perhaps a better use of Chicago police resources would be investigating rapes, but I guess Sheriff Campbell feels that would be anti-victim:
Sheriffs are different from police in many ways, but one of those is ways is that they are elected officials: they are essentially politicians with guns, and the way that politicians (and the media) frame these kinds of proposals is such that any attempt to even move them in a direction that aligns with the data is met with disgust, contempt, and panic.
There is a kind of disconnect between the law and culture here. Legally, these types of laws are characterized as civil regulatory schemes that are not intended to punish. Legislatures (and the courts) are extremely careful about characterizing them as non-punitive, as otherwise certain constitutional protections would kick in. Culturally, the public sees and demands them as a form of punishment, such that efforts to align them with public safety evidence are met with sneering responses about what people ‘deserve’.
Simply stated, for most Americans who aren’t policy wonks, the purpose of the registry is to punish — effectiveness be damned.
This disconnect means that any law that is perceived as reducing the punitiveness or draconian nature of registries is framed as being ‘anti-victim,’ or going ‘too easy’ those required to register, especially from politicians (and sheriffs!) who never lost votes by demagoguing on this issue.
Even when the evidence suggests that rejecting such a proposal would lead to more victims, which seems profoundly anti-victim to me.