I applaud members of the Lewiston City Council for tabling their decision on a sex offender restriction zone to give the matter more thought.

This is the kind of issue for somebody who has no stake in the matter that seems obvious. Disallowing sex offenders to live within 750 feet of a school or daycare appears, on the surface, to be a smart move but, upon closer inspection, has no basis in history or science.

There is not a single reputable study that links sex offender recidivism to proximity to a school. The sad fact is, most hands-on offenders know their victim because they are part of or close to the family; and for those who reoffend, again, it is somebody they already know.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections released a study tracking 329 high-risk offenders for five years. At the end of their data-gathering period, 13 (4 percent) reoffended. When those cases were examined, not a single offense was related to the proximity of the offender’s residence to a school.

In Colorado, the Department of Safety tracked 130 sex offenders for 15 months. There, 15 (12 percent) reoffended and all were non-contact offenses. Researchers mapped where the offenders lived and found no pattern connected to residency, with most living more than 1,000 feet from a school.

These, and many other studies, are not done by those sympathetic to sex offenders. They are done by government and law enforcement agencies that want to make sure they will make good decisions, not react on a gut-level. Despite the fact some may wish otherwise, the actual data shows proximity has no relation to recidivism.

I am not an apologist for those who have committed sexual offenses against children, hands-on or non-contact. What I personally did was reprehensible and what everybody else on the sexual offender registry did was heinous and horribly wrong.

In my time in treatment facilities, support groups and while incarcerated, I met more sex offenders than I ever thought I would in my lifetime. Most were very sick at the time of their crime, but addiction and mental illness does not equate to being evil. When addiction and mental health needs are met with therapy and/or medication, we are not the kind of people who commit such crimes.

I was one of the lucky people, in that I was able to afford and receive the resources I needed to address my issues and live a life in recovery with my family by my side. Most offenders lose their families and are forced to enter a life that is socio-economically much more disadvantaged and troublesome than before. Access to simple things, such as a place to live and proximity to recovery resources, will be lost by forcing them away from certain neighborhoods.

For those who aren’t offenders or aren’t in the lives of an offender, none of this probably seems extreme; but I would ask you to put yourself into the shoes of somebody who made a horrible, horrible mistake — the kind that casts a long shadow that can never be escaped. When it comes to finding a place to live, employment, loans, insurance and just about every other normal facet of life, we will always be paying a price. Most of us have done the time given to us by a judge, diligently follow our recovery plans, and report to law enforcement as required because of probation and/or to maintain compliance with the registry.

I appreciate Councilor Lajoie’s anecdotal evidence from his time spent in law enforcement and his desire to support Chief O’Malley along with Councilor Bouchard’s fear that it would tarnish the image of the city, but backing up a colleague and a desire for good PR cannot outweigh the rights of a group of citizens who have complied with everything the courts have mandated. Changing those rights for emotional and not factual reasons is just wrong and cruel.

Residency ordinances and laws like the one being proposed in Lewiston — and currently in place in Auburn — are being struck down and modified by state courts in places like Michigan, California and New York. Handling offenders on a case-by-case basis and setting up boundaries similar to drug-free zones around schools have been new solutions implemented by municipalities, and I would urge Lewiston to consider these options.

The public has a voracious appetite for sex offender laws, and it’s usually a slam-dunk for politicians. Singling out a specific group because they did something morally reprehensible is easy, even when they’ve paid their debt and are doing all of the right things. Pausing to consider their rights and what’s best for them is difficult. Acknowledging that history and science illustrates a reality devoid of recidivism near schools may be even more difficult. I appreciate Lewiston’s City Council taking its time in considering the issue deeper than most have.

Joshua Shea is a former Auburn City Councilor and magazine publisher who was convicted in May 2015 on three child pornography charges.

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