Thursday, April 18, 2013

Where Should Sex Offenders Live?

The Star Tribune's big cover story from Sunday seemed like a typical piece of muckraking: Sex Offenders Up, Down the Street, said the headline. And the story pointed out the important fact that Minneapolis neighborhoods provide homes to a disproportionate share of Level 3 sex offenders. The city has 7 percent of the state's population, but 44 percent of the highest-risk offenders.

All true, and disturbing. But what the story did next, in going beyond those facts, was refreshing. The writers, Brandon Stahl and Maya Rao, made the case for housing sex offenders:

Despite the law, concentrating sex offenders actually has advantages, some corrections officials say.

One Hennepin County official pointed to a 2004 Colorado study showing that high-risk offenders are less likely to commit more crimes if they live in the same dwelling. A 2008 analysis by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found only a 5 percent reoffend rate for Level Threes, lower than other sex offenders.

“They hold each other accountable,” said Hana O’Neil, sex-offender supervisor for Hennepin County Community Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Putting sex offenders in the same house, or the same neighborhood, can also make it easier to track them.

Most of them are under intense supervision and get daily to weekly check-ins by police and probation agents. Any slip-up, from drinking to having the wrong store catalog to losing their job so they can’t afford rent, can result in being sent back to prison.

It’s why Cheryl McCluskey, the landlord of the Golden Valley Road and Thomas Avenue apartment buildings, calls sex offenders “my better residents” in the past four years she’s rented to them.

Two offenders interviewed at one of her buildings said they felt more comfortable living in the relative anonymity of the North Side, rather than face the public shaming that other sex offenders did when they tried to move to wealthier neighborhoods.

Then there is this stark reality, said John Menke, the assistant director for the Ramsey County Community Corrections Department: Finding any home for sex offenders, even if that means putting them in just a few neighborhoods, is safer than having them homeless. As of last week, 33 Level Three offenders had no place to live, could go anywhere they wanted in the state, and were unmonitored, save for a weekly check-in with law enforcement.

“The worst thing in the world is to not know where they are,” Menke said.
Thanks to the Star Tribune, Stahl, and Rao for showing how complicated this problem is.

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