Larry Neely, an administrator for the group Reform Sex Offender Laws, said many cities and states have passed bans on living with so many feet of a school, playground, park or house of worship -- making it next to impossible to find somewhere to live once they're out of prison.
Neely -- who The New York Times said pleaded guilty in California to multiple counts of sexual indecency with a child -- said it's taken him a long time to become comfortable speaking in public about his situation, but the group insists the laws are unfair and in some instances can make it more likely someone convicted of a sexual crime will reoffend, the Times reported Wednesday.
"Your fears are really rational," Neely said. "But if you don't fight, you will lose."
At a conference in California, the sex offender group said 5 percent of convicts reoffend within 5 years of being released from prison but residency laws sometimes force them out of a family home -- and sometimes force a sex offender to live on the street, a situation that makes it more likely to reoffend.
Sympathy for the cause is difficult to find, however.
Prosecutors told the Times they stand by residency laws as worth it if it prevents even a single sexual assault -- particularly of a child.
"We recognize that there is some argument that these laws don't work, the residency restrictions, but I think the jury is still out; I think they're good laws," said Susan Kang Schroeder, the spokeswoman for the Orange County, Calif., district attorney's office. "The pro-sex-offender lobby likes to bandy about percentages [of convicts who reoffend], as if even 1 percent is acceptable."
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