Summary: Zoning laws that prevent sex offenders from living within close proximity to schools and other places where children congregate have proliferated over the past 10 years. In many communities, few dwellings are compliant with these laws, causing sex offenders to become homeless. First, a brief history of residence restriction laws will be provided and then the research around their impact and effectiveness will be summarized, followed by empirically supported recommendations for reform.
Findings: Legislating individuals into homelessness is not sound social policy, nor is it humane. These laws do not conform to what is known about patterns of sexual perpetration and victimization, and thus do little to prevent recidivistic sexual violence. In fact, these policies may undermine the very factors shown by research to be associated with positive reentry and reduced recidivism.
Applications: The grand challenge of social justice requires social workers to advocate on behalf of those who are marginalized in our communities including criminal offenders. Research-based policy reform can result in improved public safety outcomes and social justice in our communities.