A law that stops sex offenders living within 2,000ft of playgrounds is being used to force out paedophiles from US communities
Communities in the US who say their neighbourhoods have been blighted by high concentrations of registered sex offenders have found an unusual way of driving them away.
The phenomenon of ‘pocket parks’, which are built on patches of waste land, is spreading across the country and forcing sex offenders to move out.
Under Jessica’s Law, which is named in honour of nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford (pictured below) who was abducted and murdered by a convicted sex offender, anyone on the register cannot live within 2,000 feet of a park or school.
Because of that, communities that are considered “park poor”, with few schools or play areas, have become havens for high concentrations of registered offenders.
(Jessica Marie Lunsford (October 6, 1995 – February 27, 2005) was a nine-year-old American girl who was abducted from her home in Homosassa, Florida in the early morning of February 24, 2005. Believed held captive over the weekend, she was raped and later murdered by 46-year-old John Couey who lived nearby. The media covered the investigation and trial of her killer extensively. On August 24, 2007, a judge in Inverness, Florida sentenced Couey, a convicted sex offender, to death for kidnapping, sexually battering, and first degree murder of Jessica.)
Couey (pictured above) died on September 30, 2009, of anal cancer before his death sentence could be carried out
Local people have taken to calling them “perverts’ row”.
Civil rights campaigners claim the parks are driving sex offenders underground and do nothing to make children any safer.
However, communities argue it is a demonstration of people power.
In Harbor Gateway, a working-class neighbourhood close to the Port of Los Angeles, a former patch of waste ground close to a busy junction is now home to a new playground.
It often stands unused but since it was built, dozens of registered sex offenders who lived in the area, including more than 30 in one small apartment block, have been forced to move on or face violating their probation or parole.
Council member Joe Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who now represents the Harbor Gateway district, pushed for the playground to be built.
He told Sky News: “Parents would live in fear, close their curtains shut and lock their doors, and we sent a message loud and clear that we shouldn’t have to live this way.”
Pocket parks are being built from Florida to Oklahoma as more communities learn of their impact.
The LA suburb of Wilmington is another that has become home to high concentrations of registered sex offenders, many of whom live in former hotels. A soon-to-be-opened playground will change that.
Mum-of-two Corina Larios, who lives near the site, said: “I used to worry about me or my kids being out at night.
“It is terrible that they feel that they can come and throw all of the undesirables into our city … and we’re upset because there are a lot of good families here.”
Those who campaign for the rights of registered offenders say the parks simply make it harder to monitor them and suggest they are unconstitutional and misguided.
Janice Belluci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said: “The people who are already on the sex offenders’ registers are the least likely to sexually assault their children, with the rate of re-offence less than 2%.
“The people most likely to assault your child are family members, teachers, coaches and members of the clergy.”
Local police applaud community action but say society needs to find an answer to where rehabilitated registered offenders should go.
LAPD sergeant Catherine Plows told Sky News said poorest neighbourhoods often suffer the most.
“Does that make it right for them to endure an inordinate number of sex offenders being placed here? No, it doesn’t,” she said.
“There is no magical island they can be placed on. In the end they are human beings and they have the same rights as we do.”