New York sex offenders face challenges after incarceration

Registration and residency restrictions for sex offenders in New York may prevent them from returning to normal life after serving a prison sentence.

After serving a prison sentence for a sex crime in New York, an offender has to register on the state and national sex offender registries, regardless of the nature of the offense. The intent of making the offenders' personal information available to the public is to protect communities from violent sex crimes.

In theory, by being able to identify a person who has been convicted of a sex offense, the public is able to enforce residency restrictions that prevent an offender from living near a place where children congregate. However, according to the New York Times, the results often have the opposite effect, to the detriment of everyone in society.

Anyone can identify an offender

According to the 2014 Sex Offender Registry Annual Report, nearly 40 percent of the offenders on the New York registry are designated level one, which means they did not commit violent sex crimes and they are not likely to commit a second offense. Even so, level one offenders are required to be on the sex offender registry for 20 years.

Offenders designated as level two and three are on the registry for life. The registration requirements include the name, address, vehicle and photograph, as well as other personal information, and this is all published online. Although a level one offender's information is not on the website, anyone in the community may also learn the same data about level one offenders through a phone call. This can make it difficult to find employment, even though a job is essential to becoming self-sufficient again.

Housing is often unavailable to offenders

Many who are released from prison discover that they are unable to meet the requirements of their probation, which include finding housing so they can be monitored while being reintegrated into society. However, the residency restrictions often prevent a person newly released from prison from moving in with a family member or friend who might be able to provide financial and emotional support during the difficult transition. In effect, these housing issues make it impossible for many in New York to find a place to live.

Homeless shelters are rarely an option

The Guardian reports that New York's mayor is seeking to provide a solution to the housing crisis by designating a homeless shelter specifically for those who have been released but have no place to go. Some say that this is not a viable solution because the facility does not have the means to serve this population adequately. In fact, the facility's only real qualification to fill this role is that its location meets the residency restrictions.

Because every person on the sex offender registry has to abide by the same rules, regardless of the nature of the offense, a person guilty of a misdemeanor who spent a short time in prison is likely to be treated with the same disrespect that a violent offender encounters in the community. Seeking the guidance of an attorney at the outset of the charge may make a significant difference in the conclusion of the case and a person's resulting options.