In the midst of the great healthcare debate many otherwise news worthy stories are flying under the radar. But, the Associated Press did manage to report on a civil liberties atrocity that is taking place in the State of Georgia: the relocation of homeless sex offenders to camp in a wooded area.
Georgia has some of the toughest probation requirements for sex offenders in the Union. Georgia state law bans sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and other spots where children would likely gather. This strict ban has left homeless sex offenders with no other choice but to camp out in the woods.
According to Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, there is only one homeless shelter in the entire State that meets the requirements, and that center only has 2 beds.
But, I am not writing this post to argue that the State has a requirement to provide housing for homeless sex offenders, I am instead arguing that imposing such strict violations on convicted sex offenders is a violation of human dignity.
By barring sex offenders from being within 1,000 feet of churches, the State has effectively excluded them from housing in churches like many homeless persons do. The strict 1,000 feet requirement also limits the amount of jobs these sex offenders could possibly find, when this number is already diminished given their ex-convict status.
The purpose of our prison system is to punish and rehabilitate. With respect to rehabilitation, if we do not let these people live normal lives after they are released, it is virtually impossible to fully integrate them back into society. The punishment is supposed to be the time spent in jail. Once you have finished your jail sentence the State should protect your rights equally to the rights of other citizens, as obligated by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Those who support these strict limitations on the liberties of convicted sex offenders will say that the State is simply acting in the best interest of its citizens and is thus protecting these citizens’ rights. But, the fundamental issue here then becomes why are we releasing non-rehabilitated prisoners?
If the State of Georgia and others who support these limitations want to protect the law-abiding citizens then we ought to do it without violating the liberties of these convicted sex offenders. The best way to accomplish that is to simply increase the duration of their jail sentences and make it more difficult to receive probation.
What we mustn’t forget when discussing law and order is that convicts (in this case sex offenders) are humans too and therefore entitled to the same rights as the rest of us once they have served their time.