YMCAs Revoke Memberships of Registered Sex Offenders

A group of YMCAs in Connecticut have begun revoking the memberships of registered sex offenders in a move officials say is meant to comb out predators who may come in contact with the thousands of children who use those Ys.

The new policy by the Connecticut YMCAs is the latest in a spreading movement by YMCAs. Similar programs already exist at Ys in Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.

While the policy has been applauded by some, it is also raising questions whether it violates the rights of registered sex offenders and makes it harder for them to be rehabilitated.

Living Under A Bridge

Last week, 12 YMCA community centers in Connecticut cross referenced their membership database with the state's sex offender registry.

Philip Dwyer, the president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Coast group, said that YMCAs have always done background checks on their staff members and volunteers and that checking for registered sex offenders was just the next step.

"Technology has caught up and made it easier to do these checks," said Dwyer, "and so we took the natural progression on that journey and began to check the database of the entire membership as well."

Dwyer said that the first sweep of the 12-branch membership occurred last week, and checked approximately 50,000 names. Of those, Dwyer, who refused to give precise numbers, said only a "handful" came up as registered sex offenders.

"Once we get a name, we first confirm that the information is correct. Technology is not perfect," said Dwyer. "We need to go through the proper steps and confirm it's the same information, determine what caused the registration to be necessary and make a decision based on facts."

Will YMCA Policy Ban Offenders Who Are Trying to Reform?

Dwyer told ABCNews.com that the circumstances surrounding an individual's crime would be taken into account before their membership to the YMCA is revoked.

"We'll use the same approach that we do for our staff and volunteers," said Dwyer. "If someone was in college and did something at a fraternity walking down the street after having more beers than they should have and there's been a clean record since then, then that will be part of our decision [into their membership]."

But offender advocacy groups worry that with registered sex offenders already limited in where they can live and work, closing another door to them may hurt their chances at a normal, crime-free life.

"I assume that at some point we'll get to a place where registered sex offenders won't be allowed to breathe," said Paul Shannon, one of the founders of the Boston-based Reform Sex Offender project. "This is just going down the same path of lunacy."

Many states limit how close in proximity registered sex offenders can live to schools or playgrounds. Depending on their crime, some registered sex offenders aren't allowed to live with children either, even if they are related.

Shannon said the YMCA's screening process is "ineffective" and lumps all registered sex offenders together, when really not all of them are dangerous.

"We have to stop using horrendous cases that are typical of a registered person as a way to violate the rights of registered people and to further jeopardize the possibility of community in society," he said.

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