The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says a 2007 Allegheny County ordinance that bars sex offenders from living in certain areas is invalid. The ordinance banned registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, child-care facilities, community centers and public parks.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote a strongly-worded opinion on behalf of a unanimous high court and said this law would force many to live in isolated areas that in effect become "localized penal colonies."
Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says "while places that have passed these ordinances may effectively exclude sexual offenders, the end result is that it's going to funnel these folks into certain other communities and people in those communities aren't going to be too happy."
The high court said the county ordinance is preempted by the state's Megan's Law registration and state policies that promote rehabilitation.
Walczak says he has no doubt that Allegheny County Council members who passed the ordinance were well-intentioned but you have to "look at the big picture" because ultimately these laws are not in the best interest of the community. "In fact they undermine public safety by making it more difficult for sex offenders to re-integrate into the community and be rehabilitated."
The State Supreme Court's opinion stems from a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of several sex offenders. The county appealed federal judge's 2009 ruling striking down the ordinance. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals then sought the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's input.