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New Law Pushes Sex Offenders Into Rural Areas

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state law that bans sex offenders from living in most residential areas is pushing the offenders into rural areas and making the state less safe, some experts say.

The law bans sex offenders from moving within 2,000 feet of day-care centers, playgrounds and parks, in addition to schools, which have had the same restriction for years. Offenders who were already living within the buffer zones when the law passed will not be forced to move unless they are within smaller, 300-foot safe zones around those locations.

The halos leave few places for sex offenders to live legally _ especially in cities and towns. This means they may be pushed into rural areas. As that happens, law enforcement officers, civil rights proponents, prosecutors, lawmakers and children's advocates say Oklahoma will become less safe.

``There is no doubt in my mind that what the legislators have done has put the community at risk,'' said Mark Pursley, a parole officer who supervises sex offenders. ``Residential restrictions actually increase recidivism.''

Pursley said his research shows that removing sex offenders from the conveniences of urban areas _ housing, jobs, treatment and public transportation _ makes them more likely to reoffend.

Pursley said the law is based on irrational fears, not fact.

``We as a society want to believe that the sex offender is a crazed man that is going to crawl through the window,'' Pursley said. ``Most of the time it is a brother-in-law, an uncle, a dad or a grandpa.''

Some say the law may put Oklahoma's children in more danger. Others claim it's unfair to minor offenders, like one-time flashers, who are lumped together with habitual child molesters.

Still others have little sympathy for anyone convicted of sex crimes.

``My heart bleeds for them very little,'' said state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore. Terrill is a co-sponsor of several bills that included the residency restriction.

``The solution is real simple ... don't commit the crime.''

While officials figure out how to enforce the law, sex offenders still must find a legal place to live. Few urban areas are an option.

In Tulsa, only 8 percent of the city's land lies outside 2,000-foot halos, police Sgt. John Adams said. And that 8 percent includes industrial zones.

In Oklahoma City, only 16 percent of addresses are outside the halos. Offenders in other cities, such as Lawton and Enid, also are having trouble finding places to live.

Instead of leaving the city limits, many offenders will simply fall off the registry, said Adams, who heads the child exploitation unit for the Tulsa police.

That appears to be happening already.

Adams said 40 sex offenders dropped off Tulsa's registry in the first month the new law was in effect.
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