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ACLU Sues Fla. County Over Sex Predator Law

(CN) - The American Civil Liberties Union sued Miami-Dade County, Fla. to block enforcement of a law that prevents registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools and other public places where children gather.

The lawsuit, which was file in the federal court in Miami, argues that the county ordinance vague, that it denies due process to sex offenders released by the state Department of Corrections, and that it in practice, it threatens their public safety.

"These individuals, who frequently subsist on meager incomes after being released from prison, are unable to locate stable, affordable housing in Miami-Dade County. This transience is primarily because the ordinance arbitrarily renders off-limits broad swaths of housing," the complaint says.

The law being challenged by the ACLU is the Lauren Book Safety Ordinance. It is named for a Florida girl who was abuse by a nanny for six years, starting at the age of 11. Now 29 and married, Lauren Book-Lim is now a well known advocate for the sexually abused.

Prior to the passage of the 2010 law, Miami-Dade County followed a less restrictive state law that allowed when sex offenders to live within 1,000-feet of schools, bus stops and parks and other places children are known to gather.

After the local ordinance went into effect, about 100 sex offenders who had been living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, a freeway spur that links mainland Miami with Miami Beach, were forced to find a more isolated place to live.

According to the complaint, many of them, including plaintiffs identified as John Does 1-3, now live in a railroad yard in nearby Hialeah's warehouse district.

"There is no housing at this location. Instead, dozens of individuals have formed encampments near privately-owned warehouses and an active railroad track," the complaint says. "The area is without adequate shelter. It has no sanitation facilities, potable water, or other basic necessities, placing Plaintiffs in imminent risk of physical harm from attack, exposure, or disease."

The complaint continues: "Defendants have hampered Plaintiffs' efforts to obtain and maintain affordable housing at or near the River Park Mobile Home Park (2260 NW 27th Avenue, Miami, FL 33142) ("River Park"). Defendants previously deemed River Park a valid location under the Ordinance.

"However, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office and the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust lobbied Defendants to have a nearby youth emergency shelter called Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, Inc. ("Miami Bridge"), classified as a school. Their aim was to evict former sexual offenders in the area, though River Park and the Bridge coexisted within 2,500 feet for years without incident."

The ACLU says this lobbying pressure led the Florida Department of Corrections to deem Miami Bridge a school. It then evicted dozens of offenders covered by the ordinance.

"It did so despite the fact that Defendants had previously approved these residences and despite the fact that the Miami-Dade Police Department declined to enforce Miami Bridge as a school for those registrants not under FDOC supervision," the complaint says

Brandon Buskey, staff attorney at the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a written statement, "As public policy, the Miami-Dade ordinance is a disaster. It has created a homeless population living outdoors in squalor, while doing nothing to serve public safety.

"Disease, exposure to the elements, no drinkable water-these conditions make it extremely difficult to find and maintain stable employment and psychological treatment, which are the only two factors proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. We know from decades of research that housing restrictions like Miami-Dade's have no impact on reoffending and, are more likely to increase it," he said.

A spokesman for the Miami-Dade County attorney's office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Daniel Tilley of ACLU Foundation of Florida is the local attorney for the plaintiffs.

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