Christine Stuart file photo
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby (Christine Stuart file photo)

A Republican and a Democrat announced plans last week to push for a law to prohibit sex offenders from living near places where children gather.

The proposal comes from Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge. In a joint press release, the two legislators called for legislation establishing a 1,000-foot radius around schools, daycares, “and other locations where children typically gather.” The bill would prevent any registered sex offenders from residing within these zones.

“The last thing a parent should have to worry about when they send their child to school is whether a depraved sex offender is lurking around the corner from the jungle gym or classroom,” Klarides said in a statement.

The legislation also would ramp up penalties for crimes committed within the zones.

Klarides said she proposed a similar bill in 2007 but was met by “inexcusable opposition” from Democratic lawmakers.

Crisco does not share that opposition. He said the state already has good reason to require sex offenders to register where they live.

Courtesy of Crisco's office
Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge (Courtesy of Crisco’s office)

“This initiative is a straightforward extension of these safeguards and protections and if enacted, will help separate those on the registry from schools and daycare centers where children congregate,” he said.

The proposal is in some ways similar to the state’s already-existing “drug-free zone” statutes. Another group of state lawmakers have worked unsuccessfully for the past few years to get those policies repealed.

For many lawmakers in urban communities, the problem with the state’s 1,500-foot drug free zones policy is that as it is currently written, the zones often encompass entire urban neighborhoods or even most of a given municipality. As a result, anyone who’s convicted of a drug charge in those cities faces a stiffer penalty than they would in another town.

According to an Office of Legislative Research report from 2007, many states impose varying residency restrictions on convicted sex offenders. The report found the most compelling argument for the laws is that they reduce recidivism by separating known offenders from potential victims.

But OLR also found that the policies can have unintended consequences, like forcing sex offenders to move into rural areas. The relocation can sometimes lead to homelessness, which causes the offenders to go underground and become more difficult for law enforcement to track.

Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice policy adviser, said the state currently imposes residency restrictions on sex offenders on a case-by-case basis. There are 2,284 sex offenders in Connecticut under probationary supervision by a specialized sex offender unit, he said.

“Probation and parole can decide where they can live, where they can work, where they can go, and where they can’t go,” Lawlor said. “That’s all standard for the offenders under supervision. The approach we’ve taken in Connecticut depends on the individual offender. We’ve resisted the ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

Klarides said she believes most people think there already are laws preventing sex offenders from living near schools.

“Keeping sex offenders away from kids is a common sense policy that many people assume is already in place . . . I call on my colleagues to do the right thing for our communities and support this legislation when the 2014 session convenes,” she said.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have questioned the constitutionality of such residency restrictions. Andrew Schneider, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU, said Tuesday that his organization will oppose the proposal if it is raised next year.

“Banishing former sex offenders from certain neighborhoods and depriving them from the basic right to freedom of movement would be unconstitutional and counterproductive. It would interfere with their reintegration into society and their rehabilitation, which could harm both them and society,” Schneider said.