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YMCAs Banning Sex Offenders

SALISBURY, MD — In a move to protect children from sexual predators, the Mid-Delmarva Family YMCA, Salisbury, MD, joined a growing list of YMCAs that ban registered sex offenders by checking their member lists against the National Sex Offender database. YMCAs in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana and Michigan also have adopted this practice.

Although the trend appears to be gaining ground, it is not part of a coordinated nationwide effort, according to the YMCA of the USA. Many Ys nationwide do screen potential employees' records for past sex offender convictions before they are hired, however.

Last month, the Mid-Delmarva Family Y began running its membership list through the National Sex Offender database using specially designed software from a company outside the fitness industry. Y officials said any matches will be verified, and members will be allowed to appeal the decisions.

The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), which serves for-profit health clubs, has not made a recommendation about screening for sex offenders to its member clubs. IHRSA has no official stance on whether club operators should adopt this practice, officials say.

Between 12 percent and 14 percent of sex offenders repeat their crimes, according to statistics from the Center for Sex Offender Management, operated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Those figures may be low, however, since many crimes go unreported, the center stipulates. And sex offenders often are restricted from living within 500 feet to 2,000 feet of child safety zones, such as schools and child care facilities.

Since many YMCAs have extensive youth programming and day care facilities, the decision makes sense for Ys, according to officials from the Mid-Delmarva Family YMCA.

Although such policies are gaining momentum in Ys nationwide, some question whether the organizations could be liable for legal action based on anti-discrimination laws. Others wonder if such measures make it harder to rehabilitate past offenders.

But the Mid-Delmarva Family Y has received positive reactions and phone calls from members about the decision to screen registered sex offenders, Rich Stover, Mid-Delmarva YMCA chief executive officer, told local media.

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