BUZZ Blog: Why the sex offender ordinance will likely pass, and more thoughts on the issue
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
The next level
Living in Observation Hill, if the council passes the ordinance Monday barring Level III sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school, playground or daycare, that would mean they'd be barred from living in my neighborhood. And I have to be honest: I wouldn't be crushed. I'd probably be pretty happy about that. (Yeah I'm a reporter and have to be objective, but I'm also a resident of this city. What the council does affects me personally.)
And yet ... it really worries that me experts with the Minnesota Department of Corrections and Arrowhead Regional Corrections say the ban would probably make it more likely that the Level III sex offenders would re-offend. Is it spin? Surely the ordinance would make their jobs harder in finding a place to live for the offenders, but their foremost interest is in making sure their offenders don't re-offend. So I'll take their word that the ordinance will make it worse, not better.
But imagine being a city councilor Monday and deciding how to vote on this (though for five of them, their minds are made up: Jeff Anderson, Patrick Boyle, Sharla Gardner, Kerry Gauthier and Dan Hartman); could you possibly imagine the political implications of voting this down? It makes logical sense to not allow a sex offender to live near a playground, right? Poll the community and they'll support this, right? Despite what the experts say, I'm not even sure I want the council to vote against this.
But then ... If you're interested in looking through the data cited to me by the DOC, it mostly went with this 2007 study. And it seems pretty conclusive that this ordinance won't make our neighborhoods safer. One of the things pointed out to me by the DOC that I didn't quite squeeze into my article: in an overwehelming amount of the re-offenses (89 percent), the victim was known to the offender -- meaning the council ordinance would have no real affect on that percentage. Of course, if the council ordinance reduces the 11 percent were strangers number, then that's a positive, right?
And so what decreases recidivism, according to the DOC study?
"that post-release supervision has had a significant impact on the extent to which sex offenders have recidivated."
"the evidence shown here provides tentative support for the notion that part of the reason why sexual recidivism rates have dropped over the last 15 years is because sex offenders have been supervised more intensively for longer periods of time following release from prison."
In other words: when a group like Arrowhead Regional Corrections is properly supervising a sex offender, the chances of re-offense are greatly reduced. But if a Level III offender can't find a place to live and becomes homeless, doesn't that increase the chance of recividism?
For what it's worth, the city council has only received four emails on this topic so far -- all in opposition to the ordinance. Two of them below:
"I wanted to give you some feedback on this ordinance that you all have introduced, 10-022-O on last night's council agenda, to prohibit Level 3 predatory offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or playground. I'd like to see a copy of the actual ordinance; if any of you could send it to me, I would appreciate it. I'd also like to know, why was this ordinance was brought forward at this time? What is the motivating factor? If it was requested by someone, by whom?
Here are my own comments, which I wanted to make at last night's meeting, but unfortunately I am recuperating from a cold and it was past my bed time when the council got to it finally, so I had to dip out early. In any case, my first reaction to the ordinance was surprise that you three, Kerry in particular, who did such a great thing with getting the health care resolution passed, would turn around and bow to the unwarranted hysteria about "those people" sown by our right-wing daily newspaper and other un-neighborly people who seek to further divide our community. I live with a small child whom I care about very much, and one of my concerns is that this ordinance would not make the city safer for him, but might in fact do the opposite.
I would challenge any of you to present one trustworthy study demonstrating that such laws restricting where predatory offenders live increases neighborhood safety, and I might modify my opinion. As it stands, I believe such laws work to increase recidivism by making it that much harder for ex-offenders to get back to being a contributing member of society. It's already very, very difficult for such people to find housing outside of homeless shelters, which is necessary along with adequate employment and education for rehabilitation. Through my research for Zenith articles, I've had ex-offenders tell me directly that when they see the situation as hopeless and are excluded from society no matter what they do, no matter how they have reformed, they are very likely to get back into drugs and crime and reoffend just because there is no alternative. I don't want my family at risk from someone without hope going loopy on drugs or just looking for a way to get back to prison, where at least they get three squares a day.
Where will those labeled predatory offenders go? (By the way, you do not have to be convicted of a sexual offense to be labeled a Level 3 predatory offender, and once registered, there is no way to get off the list; you're on for life. There is no due process within the DOC). The CHUM shelter, where many ex-offenders find it necessary to live, is within 2000 feet of the Washington Center, Central Hillside Community Center (which includes a playground), and Unity High School. Are you going to kick them out of the CHUM? Would you care to invite them to live in your front yard instead?
I wish the three of you could have been at the forum we had yesterday at the Central Hillside Community Center for the Free Democracy Summit. A couple of social workers involved with the Minnesota Second Chance coalition came up, and boy do they know their stuff. I asked them point blank about this ordinance, and their response was that such housing restrictions do not increase safety in any way, shape or form. Also, I learned that 75% of predatory offenses happen between the perpetrator and a family member or close friend. The stalker waiting outside the school yard fence is a very rare phenomenon indeed, and when it does happen that stalker need not live within 2000 feet of the school yard. I also learned that it costs $35,000 per year to lock up an adult male in Minnesota, and $75,000 per year to lock up a juvenile. Clearly, it's much cheaper to open up opportunities for supportive housing and rehabilitation to ex-offenders than to close them off so the only housing opportunity is prison.
In my opinion, the impetus for ordinances such as this one is the desire by some to divide working people and stigmatize a class of citizens to the point where they are desperate for work at any wage and can be super-exploited by the likes of day labor, telemarketing and temp agencies, in addition to being used as strikebreakers should the need arise. Here in Duluth, we don't have many Latino immigrants, which fill that role in other parts of the country; instead the need is met by ex-offenders, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color. If for no other reason, I would oppose this law on the basis that it would further racist stereotypes, which recent events have shown are already plenty strong in Duluth.
People can and do change. The strength of working class people, which are in a majority in Duluth, is in unity and mutual support, regardless of someone's past. That support can lift ex-offenders out of hopelessness and make our whole community safer and more harmonious. Ordinances such as this one do the opposite. Which side are you on?
Just want to give you something to think about regarding the new policy you are trying to rush thru regarding housing and sex offenders.
First of all, we had an offender - level 3 - move into our neighborhood last year - 1 block from my home - I walked past his apartment everyday to get on the bus. I know how uncomfortable - angry - sad - vulnerable it made me feel. We had a neighborhood meeting - 50 people attended - all voicing the same discomfort!
He now rides the bus everyday with his lady friend - no idea of their status. They sit together and talk about work - giving each other tips to make more sales (telemarketers) - they laugh, share and support each other. She was pregnant and now her & the baby go with him each morning to the bus stop - they are a very loving couple just like many other young couples starting out.
I'm not saying what he did was right but he served his sentence - according to the law - which we all must live by - he only has to register where he lives & when he moves. I'm not saying I agree with this either - this is how our society is set up - that's why we have laws and consequences. I've forgotten the name of the head of the Sex Offender Program with the Duluth PD. She reinforced he's paid for his wrongs according to the law - he is now back in society living just like all of us - trying to survive and make a living. She assured us that the Duluth PD does keep an eye on these people - HAVING AN ADDRESS HELPS THAT PROCESSES - THEIR PRESENCE - KNOWING SOMEONE IS WATCHING THEM JUST MAY MAKE THEM THINK TWICE BEFORE DOING ANOTHER CRIME.
I REQUEST YOU THINK ABOUT THE LONG TERM IMPACT OF YOUR PROPOSAL TO LIMIT WHERE SEX OFFENDERS MAY LIVE. THIS WIPES OUT A LOT OF PLACES AND FORCES THEM TO LEAVE (WILL THEY REALLY DO THAT?) OR TO LIVE ON THE STREETS - GO UNDERGROUND. THE OFFICER EXPLAINED THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING A ROUTINE - NORMALCY - TO KEEPING SEX OFFENDERS STRAIGHT. IF THEY GO UNDERGROUND, HOW IS ANYONE GOING TO BE ABLE TO WATCH THEM - KEEP TRACK OF THEM? STRESS BUILDS - PEOPLE ACT OUT - WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN? SHOOTING SPREE - PICK OFF ONE VICTIM AT A TIME????......
There's a lot of really bad things that happen in our society that hurt innocent children and people. This is really horrible! This is reality!
Is your new proposal really going to make a positive attempt to change this situation or is it just going to put fuel on the fire - make the sex offender really upset and blow - go out and do more terrible things????
Sex offenders are people too - no body wants them - where are they suppose to live - how are they suppose to function in society? Don't worry, I've spent a lot of time thinking and saying some pretty bad stuff about this situation and I still have very strong personal feelings but that doesn't change the situation. Short term - this may get you re-elected. Long term - you've just opened a huge can of snakes that is going to come back to haunt everyone of us.
Any of us can be victims of crime - some of us already have experienced the shame & humiliation - this is a reality of our society. Please think before passing this ordinance limiting where they can live. I bet they aren't doing their crimes "at home - in their own neighborhood" so is it really helping?
I'd be very interesting in hearing your spin on this contriversal topic. Thanks for your time.
PLEASE - STOP AND THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE!!!!