The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Monday, May 10, 2010
Sex offender housing restrictions may lead to more crimes; SNAP responds
Statement by Barbara Blaine, SNAP President 312 399 4747
Increasingly harsh measures targeting already-convicted child sex offenders may or may not work. But publicly identifying not-yet-criminally convicted child sex offenders DOES work. http://cheetah.vizu.com/t.gif?cid=653;t=1273515911678(The more parents and police know about child molesters, the safer children are.) That's why we in SNAP have long pushed for reforming or eliminating the statute of limitations.
Kids are safest when predators are jailed. But that can't always happen. And when it can't happen, the next best approach is to at least publicly 'out' them through our open, time-tested justice system. So more child sex victims must be given the chance to publicly expose dangerous pedophiles in court, both criminal and civil.
Some experts believe that 90% of those who prey on kids are never caught, convicted and imprisoned. Let's work on finding out who those thousands of child predators are now, while we figure out what's the best way to handle the tiny minority who have already been discovered and exposed.
Sex offender housing restrictions may lead to more crimes
After his prison sentence came to an end in April 2007, child sex predator Ronald Dubbins was supposed to undergo one year of tightly controlled supervision as he transitioned back home — with electronic monitoring, mandatory therapy and frequent meetings with a parole officer.
But because he could not find a place to live that met Illinois' ever-expanding sex offender housing restrictions, Dubbins served parole behind bars and then was released into Cook County without monitoring.
Faced with complete freedom, he quickly returned to his predatory ways, attempting to lure young children into his Berwyn apartment for sex, court records show.
Dubbins' case illustrates a growing danger in Illinois. A Tribune review has found that the state's sex offender housing laws, enacted over the past decade with the goal of protecting the public, may be having the opposite effect.
Thousands of sex offenders have remained in prison for parole and then been returned to the streets without oversight or treatment. These offenders are less likely to register their addresses than those serving tightly monitored paroles in the community. They also are more likely to reoffend, sometimes repeating the same sex crimes, the review found.
For example, within a year of his release, Dubbins was convicted of trying to abduct children between 4 and 12 years old and soliciting sex acts from them. And Khieng Heng, released into Des Plaines, was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a young relative, while Jermaine Johnson was charged with killing a man in Chicago with a broken bottle after what investigators said could have been a sexual solicitation gone wrong.
Of the 1,292 sex offenders discharged in fiscal 2008 after serving parole behind bars, 28 percent were listed as missing, not having registered their address or not being up-to-date with their registrations, compared with 23 percent of the 1,868 sex offenders paroled into the community.
Another 21 percent of the discharged offenders returned to prison, a slightly higher rate than those who were paroled. But in most cases, offenders monitored in the community were sent back to prison for technical parole violations, in many cases housing-related problems, while the discharged offenders were convicted of new crimes.
Sex offender housing restrictions have long been criticized by civil liberties advocates, who argue that it's unjust to banish any segment of society, and by criminal justice experts, who say it's more productive and cost-effective for most offenders to undergo parole supervision and treatment in the community.
Now some victims' advocates and members of law enforcement are echoing the calls for reform.
"There's a growing awareness that these housing restrictions make politicians feel good, but don't protect victims or prevent crime," said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, a legal director at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
The restrictions were prompted by several high-profile attacks on children in the 1990s, among them the abduction, rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka of New Jersey by a convicted sex offender who was the family's neighbor.
The first wave of laws required that convicted offenders register their addresses or face arrest. They were followed by actual prohibitions on where offenders could reside.
In 2000, Illinois passed a law that prohibited child sex offenders from residing within 500 feet of schools, parks and day care centers. Some municipalities went further, setting the distance at 1,000 feet or more.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office pushed for a 2004 law that, among other things, allowed parole officers to prevent all sex offenders, not just those who targeted children, from living in such areas.
One year later, lawmakers from Chicago championed legislation that made it illegal for more than one sex offender to live in the same apartment complex unless it was a transitional housing facility that met strict state licensing requirements, such as 24-hour-a-day security. They were upset that offenders from across the state were landing in high concentrations on the city's South and West sides after prison.
"It's a dangerous world out there," said state Rep. Kevin Joyce, D-Chicago. "We want to help protect our kids."
Since then, the number of transitional housing beds for sex offenders in Illinois has dropped from more than 200 to 26. Today, there is only one halfway house licensed by the state. The facility, in East St. Louis, has a waiting list of more than 1,300 inmates.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has stopped releasing offenders for parole who do not have an acceptable place to live.
There are as many as 1,800 of these refusals to release each year, according to the department. In many cases, inmates have been walked to the prison door on the day of their scheduled release, only to be turned around and reprocessed all over again.
"We won't release them if they don't have a place to live," said Alyssa Williams-Schafer, the department's coordinator of sex offender services.
This turnaround policy has come under fire from civil rights advocates, including a team of Chicago attorneys who filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections alleging that the offenders' constitutional rights to due process and equal protection are violated when they are forced to remain behind bars because they can't afford a place to live.
Other critics question the one-size-fits-all application of housing restrictions, seeing a significant difference in the small percentage of sex offenders who target strangers, for example, and the so-called "Romeo and Juliet" cases, in which older boyfriends are convicted of criminal sexual abuse for having consensual sex with their younger girlfriends.
"The boyfriend-girlfriend thing with an age difference is different from a person who kidnapped a 7-year-old girl or boy," said Laimutis Nargelenas, a lobbyist for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. "Maybe the housing laws should only apply to the most serious sex offenders."
Less visible are the safety concerns that come with releasing sex offenders without supervision.
When sex offenders serve parole in the community, they must wear electronic monitoring devices, participate in weekly counseling and undergo other strict monitoring.
Those who serve parole behind bars are not required to undergo counseling (most don't, Williams-Schafer said), and their length of parole can be cut in half due to "good time" credit applicable to inmates — as was the case with Dubbins. Once the parole comes to an end, the prison has no legal means to keep or monitor them once they are out.
"It's kind of scary as a woman out on the street," said Tracie Newton, supervisor of the state's sex offender registry.
Even those convicted of sex offenses see the heightened risks in such scenarios.
A 32-year-old sex offender serving parole in Chicago said many of the participants in his weekly sex offender treatment sessions make him nervous. He was not surprised that those released without any monitoring after serving parole behind bars are less likely to register their address and more likely to commit other crimes.
"It's more dangerous to society if the person maxes out parole in prison and then just leaves straight up," the sex offender said. "Some people require a lot of attention."
Madigan's office in 2007 began tracking down sex offenders who disappeared after serving parole behind bars. Investigators have been able to locate no more than 60 percent of offenders, including many who landed back in prison. About 40 percent remain missing.
"They have disappeared into a black hole," said Cara Smith, Madigan's deputy chief of staff.
Last month, The Collaborative on Re-Entry, a coalition of community safety officials from across the state, pledged to find ways to address the unintended consequences of sex offender housing restrictions.
Absent reform, offenders such as Dubbins will continue to walk the streets without oversight.
Tribune reporter Joe Mahr contributed to this story.
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests