According to this article, the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami has become a modern-day land of exile.

Sex offenders have nowhere to live anymore because of a law that forces them to live 2,500 feet from schools or playgrounds, so they head out to places like the Julia Tuttle Causeway. In fact, some probation officers have ordered their charges to relocate there, and several of the residents have the overpass listed on their driver’s licenses: "Under the Julia Tuttle Causeway." It would sound like an address from a Harry Potter novel, except the reality is that these men — 15 to 30 of them — live in tents amid garbage and human waste.

They are free to go wherever they want during the day, but they have a government-imposed curfew at the causeway encampment — 10 p.m. — and "officers check nearly every day to make sure they are home on time." The local government says it has asked the men to leave, but can’t force them out, so it’s set up rules — sort of like a 21st-century Australia, minus the hard labor and transoceanic voyage.

According to the article, the laws that forced these men under the bridge are currently in place in "more than two dozen states and many more towns and cities." As an expecting parent, I can understand why people are so frightened of sexual predators: It’s terrifying to think your kids may be at risk of being picked up by a stranger. But as an expert quoted in the article points out, "most children who are abused are abused by someone who is well known to them."

If these sex offenders are so dangerous, why aren’t they being kept in prison longer? If they are being released, then given that America is supposed to be about second chances (just ask David and Victoria Beckham), they deserve a chance to reform themselves. Keeping them utterly exiled from the rest of the population will likely make their antisocial behavior worse.

Another troubling aspect of these so-called "buffer" laws is the sex offenders subject to them include not just rapists and pedophiles but also "youngsters convicted of illegal but consensual relationships with minors" — in effect, much of the high school population in this country, should they be tried for statutory rape. Forget STDs — sex ed classes should now include the message, "Have sex and you’ll end up living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway."

Victor Tan Chen is In The Fray‘s editor in chief and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Site: | Facebook | Twitter: @victortanchen

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