Life as a sex offender has its ups and downs, but we mainly hear about the downs. Fear of the unknown plays a big role in this. We hear about the worst, so that`s what we expect. But having accurate information about what it`s really like to live as a sex offender can help reduce that fear.
The following is some general information about some of the major concerns that people have as they face life as a sex offender. This information is from people who have lived through this stuff. It`s the raw facts. No sensationalism here.
Legalities of Living as a Sex Offender
Chances are, you`ve never been in trouble before and now you`ve got to figure out a maze of sex-offender rules and laws. Everyone tells you one wrong move and you`re going to jail. Not to scare you, but it`s mostly true. Your best defense is to be informed.
The first legal issue you`ll face no matter where you live is the sex-offender registry. You`ll have to show up at the local office of whatever law enforcement agency your state uses to register. This could take 20 minutes to several hours. They`ll take your picture every time you register, and ask you dozens of questions. They might even take pictures of your vehicle.
If you live in one jurisdiction (county or city) and work in another, you may have to register in both jurisdictions in some states. And if any of your information changes in your registration, you must update the registry people usually within a short time, like a few days. Failure to do any of this is a “failure to register” and often carries jail time or probation. Stay on top of this stuff.
If you`re on supervised release or probation (supervision), then you`ll be given instructions on where to go and when to show up to register. If you`re not being supervised, then you`ll have to get all of this done within a few days for the first registration, and then you`ll re-register sometime during the month of your birthday for your renewal.
The trigger that starts the clock for the initial registration deadline varies by state, but is usually the date of conviction or date of release from jail or prison. If you change your email address, phone number, or you move, you must update your registration within a short time, usually two or three days. Some states even require you to notify them before you make any changes, if possible.
Whether you`re on the sex-offender website depends on the state`s rules. For example, Florida puts every sex offender on its website and keeps them on there even after they move away or die. That`s right, Florida keeps dead people on its sex-offender website.
Some jurisdictions might require public notification, depending on your crime. This means they`ll hang your “flyer” (a printout of your sex-offender website page) on every door within a certain distance from your house.
Finding Housing as a Sex Offender
Finding housing is by far one of the biggest complaints sex offenders have. This can be for many reasons but typically it`s because of the residency restrictions placed on sex offenders in some states or localities. You might have a 1,000 or even 2,500 foot restriction, meaning you can`t live within that far of a daycare, park, school, or anywhere kids gather.
If you have a residency restriction where you live, check to see where other sex offenders live in your area. Most cities and counties have online maps to warn residents of where sex offenders live. Use it to your advantage and see where other sex offenders found safe housing and go try that area.
Another obstacle is finding a place where sex offenders are welcome to live (or at least not rejected). Ask other sex offenders about this. Go to these places — apartment complexes, trailer parks, etc. — where some of them live and ask them. They`ve been in your spot themselves and can help.
But be aware of some restrictions that you might have that they don`t. Sometimes localities have “anti-clustering” laws, meaning you can`t live within a certain distance of other sex offenders. Laws change and new laws may not be applicable to the old-timers, but would apply to you.
If you intend to live in a house where minors are present, it`s not an automatic denial. Get help from the proper state agency to help you devise a “safety plan” to let you live in the house. Also keep in mind the “burden” your presence in the house will have on others living there. Law enforcement will often do residency checks and surprise visits to make sure you`re following the rules. Your co-habitants might get annoyed with this.
If you decide to move locally, you`ll need to update your sex-offender registry information within a specific time frame — sometimes even before you move. If you want to move to another state, you may have to notify the state you`re leaving, and then register within a set time in your new state. Crossing state lines without properly registering could result in a federal failure-to-register offense under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), with up to 10 years in prison. Moving to another country is a little different, and that`s assuming they will take you as a sex offender.
Finding a Job as a Sex Offender
Some jobs you can`t do, of course, such as working at a daycare center. But some employers won`t hire sex offenders even if the job has nothing to do with kids or vulnerable people. And if a company does hire felons, they still might exclude sex offenders.
But there are jobs out there that will give a sex offender another chance. Usually, it`s simply about getting a job and then you can go from there. Too often, sex offenders are educated people who have held steady jobs before. Smart employers will realize this and hire a sex offender, if they want a reliable employee they can trust.
Speaking of smarts, sex offenders also might want to go to college and establish a new career. Most jurisdictions consider going to college a form of employment, so that might satisfy any supervision requirements for a job. Be mindful that not all college students are over age 18 and associating with a “minor” could cause problems with any conditions you may have on supervision.
Common Sex-Offender Restrictions
Sex offenders on supervision will have conditions they must follow. Sometimes quite a few of them. They are not the same for everyone, but the most common are mentioned below.
Residency restrictions, as we already discussed, might apply to only those on supervision in some states. So if you hear about a 1,000-foot rule where you live, confirm whether this is for all sex offenders or only those on supervision. Florida is a state having conditions for sex offenders on supervision but often none for those not on supervision.
GPS tracking of sex offenders is rather common now. The days of having to carry a box the size of a car battery with your ankle bracelet, thankfully, are mostly gone. A tiny ankle bracelet now can pinpoint your location for a central monitoring office. Some jurisdictions even use cell phone GPS trackers. With as much information that people willingly give social media platforms with “geo-tagging,” GPS tracking isn`t much different.
Travel may be restricted to your city, county, or even state. Experience shows that travel restrictions are commonly modified by the courts for valid reasons.
Internet access is an evolving restriction that is lessening over the years. Some older court judgments may say that a sex offender can`t have any internet access. However, most of the judgments are being modified to allow limited or monitored internet access. Some judges have even pointed out that you can`t file your taxes anymore unless you have internet access.
Most storm shelters will also be off-limits for sex offenders during an emergency. Typically, authorities expect sex offenders to go to the local county jail if they need emergency shelter. Homeless shelters are a different story and some will take sex offenders.
Sex Offender Treatment
If you`re on supervision, you`ll likely have to go to sex-offender treatment. This is usually once a week and done in a group setting. You`ll have maybe ten to twenty (or more) sex offenders and one or two counselors. The kind of treatment varies, but you`ll probably be expected to show that you`ve taken responsibility for your crime and to participate.
From what some guys say, this treatment group becomes their “support network,” because they can talk to them about things they can`t with their family.
The length of time a sex offender is required to attend treatment is not set in stone, but the average is about two or three years. The cost is often dependent on your income, but rates are around $30 to $50 per session. Any extra treatment, like polygraphs (lie detector tests) will be an additional cost. A polygraph can run upwards of $500.
Dale Chappell is the author of hundreds of published articles on the federal criminal justice system, and the Insider`s Guide series of federal post-conviction books. He is a consultant in federal post-conviction procedure and an authority on federal sex offense issues.