While registered sex offenders in the state of Ohio are prohibited from living with 1,000 feet of a school or daycare facility, they are not prohibited from actually entering schools.
A News 5 investigation revealed that at least 77 Cleveland sex offenders are registered to vote in the city’s elementary and high schools.
The majority of those offenders were convicted of crimes against children. Most victims were between the ages of 11 and 14, with some victims as young as 5.
Unless a sex offender is currently under some form of community control, Ohio law is otherwise silent on a sex offender’s ability to enter schools and interact with children.
While Cleveland schools were closed Tuesday for the election, several parents noted that large groups of children continue to play on school property long after the final bell and on their days off.
“I really feel like that’s putting more than just kids in danger,” said Cleveland mother Mary Lawrence, whose daughter attends one of the more than 40 elementary and high schools where sex offenders are registered to vote.
Pat McDonald, Director of the Cuyahoga Co. Board of Elections, acknowledged that the issue has raised concerns from voters and some school superintendents.
“I would encourage them to vote by mail or come down here and vote in person to alleviate any potential conflicts or any potential issues,” he said.
But McDonald noted that he can’t actually require sex offenders to do so.
Ohio is one of a handful of states that allows convicted felons to vote, and unlike nearby Indiana and Illinois, does not have such voting requirements.
Former Mahoning County sex crimes prosecutor Natasha Natale told News 5 she considers it a perfect storm of bad conditions.
“It just takes a second for something to happen,” Natale said. “And even it if doesn’t happen at the school it could be something where you’re triggering that mechanism in their brain, where they’re going to leave and commit some subsequent act that could harm a child.”
Natalie is teaming up with Rep. Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta), to draft a bill that would bar sex offenders from entering schools and daycare centers for any reason.
“It’s just not worth the risk, why put them in that situation?” said O’Brien, who plans to introduce the bill early next year.
O’Brien stressed that sex offenders would still be allowed to vote by mail or in person at the board of elections.