Expert Commentary

Sex offender housing and mobility: New research

A study in the American Journal of Criminal Justice looks at where registered sex offenders live 15 years after arrest.


A new study looks at the residential patterns of registered sex offenders 15 years after arrest.

The issue: Numerous state and local governments have adopted policies restricting where registered sex offenders can live. Often, they are prohibited from living within a certain distance of a school, daycare center, park or other place where children gather. In some parts of the country, restrictions are so strict that sex offenders have very limited housing options. News organizations nationwide have chronicled the most severe consequences of these policies — groups of sex offenders living under bridges and in hotels,  tent cities and parking lots. A decade ago, the Palace Mobile Home Park in Florida began offering housing specifically to sex offenders.

A study worth reading: “Sex Offender Residential Mobility and Relegation: The Collateral Consequences Continue,” published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, December 2016.

Study summary: Richard Tewksbury, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisville, and Elizabeth Ehrhardt Mustaine, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida, teamed up with doctoral student Shawn Rolfe to build upon previous research that Tewksbury and Mustaine did together on sex offender housing. The earlier study, published in 2006, found that the majority of registered sex offenders changed residences after conviction but that only some had difficulty finding housing that was comparable to where they lived prior to conviction.

For the new study, the three researchers examined the housing conditions of 212 of the sex offenders who had been investigated for the earlier study, which focused on a metropolitan community in Jefferson County, Kentucky. The authors wanted to see whether and how offenders’ circumstances had changed 15 years after their initial arrest and a decade after the previous study.

Key takeaways:

  • Of the 212 offenders in the study, 76 percent are required to register in their community as a sex offender for their entire lives.
  • Fifteen years after arrest, many offenders were living in less desirable neighborhoods. About 38 percent moved into neighborhoods that were more “socially disorganized” than where they had lived 15 years earlier. Socially disorganized areas tend to have characteristics such as higher rates of poverty and unemployment, lower rates of home ownership and a higher proportion of households headed by single mothers.
  • Overall, more than half of offenders lived in neighborhoods with higher than average levels of social disorganization (as compared to county-level averages).
  • The odds of moving to a more socially disorganized neighborhood are 15 percent higher for non-white sex offenders than white sex offenders.
  • No sex offender moved to a less socially disorganized neighborhood.
  • The findings suggest sex offenders “continue to experience the collateral consequences associated with sex offender registration a full 15 years following their arrests.”
  • The authors argue that “the placement (or, relegation) of registered sex offenders in poor, low social capital, and often crime-ridden communities may actually be working counter to the justifications for sex offender registration and community notification. If community members are to be assisted in avoiding sexual offenders by knowing where they live and who they are, the residents of the communities into which sex offenders are relegated are perhaps the least likely to have the opportunity, resources or knowledge to know how to access and use such information.”

Helpful resources:

More research on this topic:

Keywords: sex crime, sexual assault, child molester, housing restrictions, rapist, bus stop, SORNA

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