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The pendulum is swinging back in Georgia regarding sex offender laws. It is often politically expedient to be "tough on crime," especially when it comes to drugs, crime and sex offenders. However, sometimes states find that their sex offender law does not serve the purposes for which they intended. At that point, it can become difficult to reverse course. Politicians can easily be portrayed as being weak or soft on crime and it can become a liability. But a recent case in Georgia demonstrates that it can be done.
Just four years ago, Georgia passed perhaps the nation's most strict sex offender laws. The laws were applauded by tough on crime conservatives at the time, but the state has had no choice but to back down on a number of provisions. Otherwise, a federal judge was on the verge of throwing out the entire law. The problem was the law was vague and overbroad, even including sex offenders convicted before the new law went into effect in 2006.
Under the old law, sex offenders were prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of parks, schools and other places where children are present. Offenders were driven outside of town or even outside of the state. A tent city of homeless sex offenders was even discovered in the woods behind an office park. Now, more than 70 percent of Georgia sex offenders can live wherever they like. Not everyone is happy about that.
Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told the AP:
Lessening those kinds of restrictions is dangerous -- it could lead to more crime, more offenders ... We know that sex offenders who prey upon children do well in prison because there aren't temptations there. These guys get into the community, they begin to fantasize as they encounter kids in the community, and they lead to new offenses.
Senator Seth Harp contends that Georgia had little choice but to ease the sex offender laws: "The bottom line was that the hammer was about to fall on us, and I was deeply concerned that the entire statute was in jeopardy."