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Report: Babylon's sex offender rules can cause problems

Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone says current sex offender residency restrictions could be pushing offenders underground and away from law enforcement - citing a two-year analysis of the addresses of sex offenders living in the town that found nearly one-third were not residing at the locations listed on the state's sex offender registry.

The report also stated that, as of Sept. 24, eight of the 17 sex offenders never lived at the locations where they were registered, and 50 of Babylon's 57 registered sex offenders were registered at addresses from which they were barred by residency restrictions.

Bellone called on Gov. David A. Paterson to commission a statewide analysis of the rules governing where sex offenders can live, laws which vary by jurisdiction. Babylon uses Suffolk County's restriction that offenders cannot live within a quarter-mile of schools, parks, day care centers and nursery schools.

Bellone proposed a different option: Apply residency restrictions at sentencing, with tougher rules for those more likely to re-offend.

"My concern is we often, in government, leap to do things that seem tough, but might actually undermine the goals" of laws designed to protect children, he said Wednesday.

Paterson's administration will review the report, said John Caher, a spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Spokeswoman Janine Kava said the state registry - which includes 29,518 Level 2 and 3 offenders - is designed to make it "incumbent on the sex offender to get in touch with us about the change of address."

Bellone's findings seem to echo the sentiment of sex offender rehabilitation advocates who have said residency restriction laws merely push offenders off the grid and do not make children more safe.

Richard Hamill, president of the New York State Alliance of Sex Offender Service Providers, said the laws can discourage sex offenders from registering at all because they are left with few options for housing. Bellone's report includes a map showing offenders are barred from living in more than 80 percent of the town's land area.

Fewer housing options can produce clustering, critics say, pointing to communities such as Gordon Heights, a Brookhaven Town neighborhood where officials say about 40 offenders live within a roughly half-square-mile area.

Long-term supervision is a more effective way to prevent sex offenders from committing more crimes, Hamill said.

"As long as we keep the populations of sex offenders up in the air, moving from place to place . . . they are more likely to commit offenses," he said.

Residency restrictions have many proponents, including Parents for Megan's Law, a Stony Brook-based group that has lobbied for tougher laws governing sex offenders.

Laura Ahern, executive director for the group, cautioned that restrictions "reduce the potential for offender escalation by removing the very stressor - the ability to observe potential victims on a daily basis."

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