Thursday, July 9, 2009

UPDATED: July 9: Florida Needs To Address Issue of Sex Offenders' Residency

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What happens once sex offenders have served their prison sentences?

In Miami-Dade County, many of them have settled under the Julia Tuttle Causeway because Dade law states they can live no closer than 2,500 feet to schools, parks or other areas in which children gather.

The county is removing them from under the causeway because of its proximity to a location called Picnic Island #4. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the county, saying its law overshoots state law, which puts the mark at 1,000 feet.

Meanwhile, almost no politician at a local or state level has addressed the issue of what happens after these people are released from jail. Can they be rehabilitated and reintroduced into society? If not, what happens then? Certainly, chucking them under a bridge is no solution.

When Gov. Charlie Crist was in the Florida Senate, he was known as "Chain Gang Charlie" for a proposal to have prisoners in chains by the side of the road as they did their work. The nickname and proposal earned both scorns and superlatives, but at least he showed some imagination.

Now, Crist needs to show similar creativity - and work with the Florida Legislature and local governments to decide how to make offenders who have served their sentences productive members of society. Putting them to substantive work - and not in substandard living conditions - would be a start. Perhaps creating special work camps for them would be a solution.

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