The executive director of the Connecticut affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union did not hesitate; the ACLU is prepared to take the town to court to fight what it calls the unconstitutionality of the newly passed Senior Safety Zone ordinance. It just needs a client.
“We would encourage people from the area that would be (targeted) under this clearly unconstitutional law to talk to us. This is an (ordinance) we would challenge,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the Connecticut ACLU.
“This (ordinance) is unconstitutional punishment. You’re punishing people that have paid for their crimes.”
Schneider rejects the ordinances’ stated purpose, that the “Town has a compelling interest in protecting seniors from the threat of sexual abuse from sex offenders.”
“Where’s the motivation coming from? I’m not aware of any onslaught of attacks against the elderly by sex offenders. I’m not aware of one. The sociological evidence out there, the research, indicates that there just isn’t the high rates of recidivism people believe there is,” he said.
And he said the law violates citizen’s fundamental rights.
“What happens if the sex offenders are seniors themselves? That’s another reason this law is so flawed,” Schneider said.
When the attorney that drafted the ordinance for the town was asked if the law could stand up to a civil liberties challenge he told the council he thought it could.
Eileen Duggan, attorney for the town and Suisman Shapiro director, had no comment for the story.
What the ordinance says
“It shall be unlawful for a Sex Offender to be present in a Senior Safety Zone,” which includes essentially any location where one might find senior citizens – persons age 60 or older, per this new town law -- including “any park, senior center, senior bus, elderly community, elderly housing, elderly event, elderly function, or other like facility, wherein seniors congregate...” It does not include public streets or sidewalks. But pretty much everywhere else within the town one might find a gathering of seniors is fair game.
“It’s basically banishment,” Schneider said.
The new law, which will take effect Jan. 11, 2013, explains that a sex offender who wants to visit an elderly family member must get permission from a parole officer or the mayor (who is technically the chief of police).
“The chief of police or your mayor decides if a sex offender can visit a relative in senior housing. This could break up families …keep families from each other,” Schneider said.
Additionally, a sex offender that has a job that would require him to come in contact with seniors at say, the senior center, or a delivery person delivering packages to any senior housing, both must leave immediately after conducting their business.
“This whole thing runs afoul of basic constitutional principles,” Schneider said.
Sex Offenders in Montville
There are 46 registered sex offenders in Montville according to the state registry. Twenty-five are housed in the facility located at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, 19 live in the community at large and two are out-of-compliance (see separate story).
Two views on Senior Safety Zones
Town Councilor Rosetta Jones, a 22-year veteran of the state department of corrections where she served as a prison warden voted against the ordinance but not because she isn’t law and order, or because she doesn’t want seniors to be safe, she said. Indeed, she herself, under the definition in the ordinance, is a senior. Her concern was two-fold; she argued the law is at once ineffectual – she suggested self-defense training for seniors would be a better choice, or even a whistle -- and opens the town to lawsuits.
“The intent is one of good will,” she said. But it’s a “litigation magnet.”
And perhaps the most outspoken opponent has been McFee who cautioned the council before its vote last week: “If we end up being sued,” he said pointing to councilors in favor of the ordinance, “You’ll be remembered for this, for doing this. That will be your legacy.”
But with the majority votes from the Town Council in favor and support from Senior Center president Sandy Stauffer, Sen. Edith Prague, countless seniors and Senior and Social Service director Kathleen “Kathie” Doherty-Peck, the law will soon be on the town books.