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At a court hearing today on the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction, the state and the Providence Police Department have agreed not to arrest and/or prosecute the plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that makes it a felony for any person required to register as a sex offender to reside within 300 feet of any school. Across the country, experts involved in the treatment of sex offenders, as well as victims’ rights groups, have opposed sex offender residency laws as being ineffective, counter-productive, and potentially more, rather than less, harmful to public safety.
The three plaintiffs face potential homelessness if the law is enforced against them. Two of them have development disabilities and are living in Warren Manor, an assisted living facility in Providence operated by NRI Community Services, a provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment. They are not even subject to community notification requirements.
RI ACLU volunteer attorney Kate Godin said today: “I am very pleased that, at least for the foreseeable future, our clients will not face any action that could lead to homelessness or their reinstitutionalization. We remain prepared to take further action if any other offenders are similarly threatened with arrest under the statute while this lawsuit is pending.”
Among the groups that have publicly raised concerns locally about broad sex offender residency laws are the RI Disability Law Center, the RI Coalition for the Homeless, and Day One Rhode Island. A year before the Rhode Island law was enacted, the Rhode Island Sex Offender Management Task Force prepared a draft statement on residency restrictions that noted that “research shows that sex offenders with residential and family stability (which can be disrupted by such restrictions) are less likely to commit new sex offenses.”
Even though the plaintiffs have been in their residences for some time with the full knowledge of probation and police officials, the Providence Police Department notified them last month that if they did not move out within 30 days, they risked being arrested under the statute. At the time the suit was filed, Chris Stephens, the President/CEO of NRI Community Services noted that some of the residents at Warren Manor were placed there by the state probation and parole office, and that “subjecting them to arrest and eviction is not only contrary to their medical needs and increases their risk of homelessness, but it categorically does nothing to make the community safer.” Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ordered briefs to be filed in the case by August17th.