An 8 1/2 by 11 direct-mail piece arrived in the mail today from a 527 group called Independent Voices. On one side there’s a big photo of a man in an orange jump suit labeled “PRISONER,” who is looking through a chain-link fence at a group of children. The text reads
Why Does Ed Fallon Think It’s O.K. For Sex Offenders to Live Near Schools?
Ed Fallon voted to allow sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of our schools and day care centers
At the bottom in small print it says, “Paid for by Independent Voices, Red Brannan Chair”
The other side has the same photo of the prisoner, with a large photo of Ed Fallon and the following text superimposed:
Fallon Cast the Only Vote To Allow Sex Offenders to Live Near our Schools
Associated Press October 14, 2005
Fallon concedes he is the only lawmaker who opposed the restrictions.
“There was a fear that if we don’t support this bill we’ll be viewed as weak on crime.”
Parents know how many challenges kids face after they leave the house for school. Ed Fallon thought it was more important to cast his vote to make a political statement than to cast a vote that protects our kids from these dangerous predators. That’s not the help our kids need.
Call Ed at 515.277.0424
Tell Ed that sex offenders shouldn’t be living next to our schools.
First, it’s important to note that Red Brannan is a developer who disagrees with Fallon’s stands on reducing urban sprawl and curbing abuses of eminent domain. Brannan and many other developers would like to see a four-lane beltway constructed through a rural area in northeast Polk County. Boswell is committed to seeking federal funding for this project, which would require hundreds of millions of dollars in public spending. Fallon opposes the northeast Polk County beltway for various reasons; it’s a bad use of federal transportation dollars and would be bad for the environment as well.
But let’s take this mailer at face value and assume that Red Brannan and the rest of the financial backers of this 527 group really are bent out of shape over Fallon’s vote on the sex offender residency restriction law.
There are two kinds of laws: those that address a problem, and those that give a politically convenient appearance of addressing a problem.
At least 22 states have barred sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, but it’s misleading to suggest that those laws do anything to protect children from predators:
But residency restrictions for sex offenders not only don’t seem to be working as promised, there’s some indication that by hindering smarter practices they help increase the danger of molestation. And despite their popularity with lawmakers and the public, they have not been universally embraced, even by those in the law enforcement community. A January 2007 resolution passed by the American Correctional Association declares, “There is no evidence to support the efficacy of broadly applied residential restrictions on sex offenders.” A 2006 statement issued by the Iowa County Attorneys Association on that state’s residency restriction requirements takes a similar view, asserting, “There is no demonstrated protective effect of the residency requirement that justifies the huge draining of scarce law enforcement resources in the effort to enforce the restriction.”
Got that? They do nothing to reduce crimes against children and drain resources away from law enforcement.
Not only that, prosecutors and advocates for missing and exploited children agree on the uselessness of such laws:
In Iowa, which in 2002 became one of the first states to impose residency restrictions, police and prosecutors have united in opposition to the law, saying that it drives offenders underground and that there is “no demonstrated protective effect,” according to a statement by the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which represents prosecutors.
“The law was well-intentioned, but we don’t see any evidence of a connection between where a person lives and where they might offend,” said Corwin R. Ritchie, executive director of the group.
Enforcing the law consumes lots of law enforcement time, he said, and leads some offenders to list interstate rest stops or Wal-Mart parking lots as their addresses.
“Our concern is that these laws may give a false sense of security,” said Carolyn Atwell-Davis, director of legislative affairs for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “We’re not aware of any evidence that residency restrictions have prevented a child from being victimized.”
So while the mailer accuses Fallon of casting his vote “to make a political statement,” the opposite is true: all of the other legislators who voted for this bill were making a political statement rather than doing something real to help protect children and support law enforcement efforts.
One reason Fallon is so unpopular with the legislative leadership is that he refused to go along with this kind of phony “solution” when he was in the Iowa House.
The irony is that in its endorsement of Fallon, the Des Moines Register mentioned this very vote as an example of how he was “frequently on the right side of issues.” The editorial board noted that the residency restriction has driven up costs for law enforcement while making it more difficult for them to track sex offenders.
But I’m not surprised that a group of Boswell backers resorted to this misleading line of attack. Anything that diverts voters’ attention from Boswell’s voting record, which is out of step with the Democrats he represents, can’t be bad for the incumbent.
I have no idea whether this mailer will significantly increase support for Boswell or whether it will primarily make Fallon’s supporters that much more determined to get out the vote.