On March 27, 2018, Stamford attorney Audrey Felsen of Koffsky & Felsen filed suit in federal court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the town of Windsor Locks. The suit, on behalf of plaintiffs One Standard of Justice, Inc. and a Windsor Locks resident identified as John Doe, challenges the constitutionality of Windsor Locks’ “Child Safety Zones” ordinance.
“This suit is for declaratory and injunctive relief from an overly broad ordinance that clearly violates the first and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution,” said Felsen. “The plaintiffs are subjected to substantial discrimination, prejudice and irrational fears because of false concerns of an “alarmingly high” recidivism rate among a discrete category of citizens.”
The Windsor Locks ordinance, which is similar to ordinances adopted in at least nine other Connecticut municipalities, cites “evidence that the recidivism rate for released sex offenders is alarmingly high, especially for those who commit their crimes on children” as rationale for prohibiting access to public facilities, including parks, Town Hall, schools, and the senior center.
Working with attorney Felsen on the suit is North Carolina attorney Paul Dubbeling. Dubbeling, a former U.S. Army Ranger and prosecutor for the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corp, has successfully litigated similar issues in North Carolina. Mr. Dubbeling said, “This ordinance effectively denies these citizens access to almost all public areas and therefore the opportunity to substantially participate in adult education, sports, nutritional programming, and community social and political events, and even their own children’s education.”
Mr. Dubbeling continued, “By ostracizing these citizens, by shutting them out of public life, we do nothing to make our towns safer. In this, and in all government action, we should demand thoughtful, reasoned laws that materially advance the public good.” Cindy Prizio, executive director of One Standard of Justice, said, “Ordinances like the one in Windsor Locks, as well as in other Connecticut towns, seeks to perpetuate a myth that a narrowly defined segment of our population is an ongoing, permanent threat to public safety. The facts tell a completely different story.”
Studies in Connecticut, as well as other states and federally, show offenders with low recidivism rates. The state of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management conducted two five-year studies of rates for new offenses, providing them with a ten-year window. They found a rate for arrest for a new offense of 3.6% and 4.1% for released offenders from prison for each five-year period. Enormous media attention to rare “stranger danger” cases has created a false and mis-targeted sense of danger in the public. As a 20-year study in New York covering 160,000 arrests showed that 95% of people arrested for sex-related crimes had no previous criminal history for such offenses.
“We are tired of a continuing campaign of shaming, isolation and denial of constitutional rights. We are working to build a campaign to help prevent sexual violence and harassment by educating citizens and policy makers how future offending is overwhelmingly likely to be committed by people who have never been arrested for offending before,” Prizio said. “If the monetary and statutory efforts to stigmatize were re-directed toward prevention, including services before offending occurs, and appropriate services for survivors, we would be much better off as a society.”