ACLU Addresses Sex Offender Crisis In Miami

As you know, the ACLU never shies from controversial topics, especially if no one else is willing to tackle them. We have taken a classically principled ACLU stance now that Miami-Dade County's so-called "get tough" residency restriction for released sex offenders has produced unintended consequences -- namely the creation of an ever-growing shantytown under a bridge in the middle of Biscayne Bay connecting downtown Miami to Miami Beach.

Last week, the ACLU of Florida filed Exile v. Miami-Dade County challenging the County ordinance that prohibits released sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school.

The shantytown that now exists under the bridge on the causeway between Miami and Miami Beach is the most visible example of a statewide problem, though many Florida communities have enacted ordinances that go beyond the State's residency requirement.

These ordinances interfere with the State's comprehensive system of monitoring and tracking released sex offenders. State law contains a 1,000-foot residency restriction, while the County Ordinance has a 2,500-foot restriction, which has made it virtually impossible for these individuals to find affordable housing in Miami-Dade County that meets the requirement. The County's ordinance has required released offenders to either live in the shantytown under the bridge or abscond and evade supervision of law enforcement and corrections officers.

The County Ordinance has created a public safety crisis in our community in which the very people who were to be protected by the Ordinance (namely, children) are now put more at risk. Our community is less safe as a result of local politicians' posturing.

Today, the unintended consequences of this ordinance can be seen under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, where over 70 sex offenders live in a shantytown.

Buffers are wrongly based on the premise that there's a relationship between residency and recidivism. Children deserve every protection... But state and local governments can't continue to dump people under a bridge and pretend this community is safer for it.

After years of outreach to legislators to address this growing concern and endless finger pointing by local, county, and state officials, the ACLU had no choice but to take the issue to the courts, as acknowledged by The Miami Herald's editorial. Amidst a slew of local, national, and international media attention, it has become increasingly clear that what began as an effort to protect children has actually posed a greater threat to our community by forcing this population to become homeless and more likely to abscond and/or re-offend.

"The State has a comprehensive system to monitor and track sex offenders, and includes a 1,000-foot residency restriction. The County's ordinance, while seemingly well-intentioned, creates more problems than it solves," said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director. "Our community will increasingly become less safe every day that this ordinance leads offenders to live under a bridge, where they are more likely to abscond and evade officers. The County is directly interfering with the State's obligation to monitor offenders. The time for finger pointing is over and it's time for a solution."

After the ACLU filed the lawsuit, the City of Miami filed its own lawsuit attempting to remove the shantytown residents. The City's lawsuit offers no solution for where to place the sex offenders, only more finger pointing. As of this writing, ACLU attorneys filed a motion to intervene in the City's lawsuit. Stay tuned for additional details.

For more information on this case, please visit

Attorneys for Exile v. Miami-Dade County include Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director; Randall Marshall, Legal Director; Jeanne Baker, Cooperating Attorney, all of the ACLU of Florida; and Peter Sleasman, Steckley Lee, Christopher Jones and Robert Dwyer, all of Florida Institutional Legal Services