EDITORIAL - Wasteful appeal: The county's sex-offender law deserved rejection

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Allegheny County is wasting taxpayer dollars by appealing a federal court decision that struck down its ill-advised ordinance restricting where convicted sex offenders may live.

County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, who wrote the law, and his fellow council members, who passed it unanimously, have their hearts in the right place. They want to protect children from sexual assaults, as do all well-meaning citizens. Unfortunately, the ordinance would not have provided the insulation that its backers seek.

Protecting children from sexual predators is more complicated than keeping them away from a lurking stranger. Such assaults are a rarity; 93 percent of child sexual abuse victims knew their attackers, 34 percent of whom were family members.

Nonetheless, Allegheny County Council in 2007 passed a feel-good measure banning anyone required to register under the state Megan's Law from living within 2,500 feet of a child-care facility, school, recreation or community center or park.

Despite its intention, the law applied not just to those sexual offenders who abused children but to all convicted sex offenders, regardless of the age of their victims. Its provisions were so tight that they put nearly all of the city of Pittsburgh and most of the county's suburbs off limits for housing. That meant some inmates who were eligible for release had to stay in prison longer. In addition, requiring former offenders to live in outlying areas makes it difficult for them to get jobs and attend counseling sessions, factors that reduce the likelihood that they will repeat their crimes.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Lancaster said the county ordinance undermined the goals of state law governing parole, which include rehabilitation and reintegration into society. And a uniform statewide system already exists for evaluating and supervising offenders on probation and parole, including a requirement that anyone convicted of rape or other sexual assaults registers with state police.

County Executive Dan Onorato, who announced Tuesday the county would appeal the judge's ruling, should have let this matter drop.


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