Highlights include statistics and child safety zone maps

By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

On the heels of a preliminary discussion early this month, Whitewater’s municipal decision-makers had an initial reading of a draft ordinance that could limit where convicted sex offenders can live within the city after serving their sentence.

The Common Council on Sept. 21 combed through the four-page ordinance and supplementary documents, which include child safety zone maps, statistics from two separate studies and a glimpse through the state’s sex offender statutes.

A number of Wisconsin municipalities already have sex offender ordinances on their books, including larger, more urbanized communities. Legal challenges have been raised in some municipalities in the past due to the size of prohibitive boundaries drawn within a city’s borders.

When he kicked off the preliminary discussion of the ordinance on Sept. 7, City Manager Cameron Clapper said the lawsuits that were filed in some of the other communities in years past gave Whitewater pause in going forward with an ordinance of its own.

“At times, there’s been issues with legality,” Clapper said. “Whitewater has been reluctant to establish an ordinance.”

More recently, there has been more clarity in the latitude communities have in determining where registered offenders can and cannot live.

State and federal law does provide certain protections for convicted sex offenders who re-enter society after serving out their sentence. For example, offenders can return to the community they resided within at the time of the offense with the caveat their name be included on a publicly available registry.

The city’s draft ordinance delves into a range of issues, including findings from the pair of recidivism studies.

A 2003 study from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a recidivism study on a group of sex offenders who were released from prison in 1994. It found that people convicted of this crime were four times as likely to be re-arrested as people charged with non-sex offender crimes.

A similar follow-up study conducted in 2019 by the same federal agency indicated sex offenders released from prison were more than three times as likely to be re-arrested for a rape or sexual assault.

With the statistics in mind, city officials have placed a statement in the draft ordinance that outlines the rationale behind having a sex offender ordinance on the books.

“Because reducing both opportunity and temptation will minimize the risk of re-offense for those sex offenders who will recommit sex offenses against children and others, there is a compelling need to separate sex offenders from places where children congregate or play in public places.”

The ordinance, as proposed, also includes what is described as a “new resident restrictions clause” that would prohibit Whitewater residency if a convicted sex offender committed the crime elsewhere. A number of larger municipalities – most notably, Milwaukee – have similar provisions on their books.

“If Whitewater does not have a new resident restrictions clause in its ordinance, it may have a disproportionately high number of new residents who are recently convicted sex offenders that had not previously lived in Whitewater,” the statement within the ordinance reads.

It continues, “This would have adverse impacts on the health, safety and welfare of residents of the city.”

 
 

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