October 27, 2011

State and local law is minimal regarding sex offender residency

10-27-2011 Minnesota:

Minnesota state law doesn’t actually contain any residency restrictions for predatory sexual offenders. Although Duluth has adopted residency restrictions, no towns or cities in Carlton County have. That's either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you talk to.

Minnesota state law doesn’t actually contain any residency restrictions for predatory sexual offenders.

Instead, state statute provides one provision regarding level 3 offenders: “the agency responsible for the offender’s supervision shall take into consideration the proximity of the offender’s residence to that of other level 3 offenders and proximity to schools and, to the greatest extent feasible, shall mitigate the concentration of level 3 offenders and concentration of level 3 offenders near schools.”

Because Cloquet only has one level 3 offender – Joseph John Couture – not even that policy applies.

For local mother Tarissa Saice, that’s not good enough. Saice, who already asked the Cloquet School District to move her child’s bus stop because of proximity to a sex offender, is also asking the city of Cloquet to consider implementing its own residency restrictions for predatory sex offenders. Judging by letters and online Facebook comments, Saice is not alone in her concerns.

Currently, unless a residency restriction is written into an offender’s release conditions, the state and the city of Cloquet have zero control over where a sex offender decides to take up residence. Although Duluth has adopted residency restrictions, no towns or cities in Carlton County have any sex offender laws, according to Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake, who said Moose Lake did consider such restrictions but never passed any.

Depending on who you talk to, restricting where sex offenders live can be a good or a bad thing.

Saice would like Cloquet to add restrictions to its city code.

For William Donnay, director of the risk assessment and community notification unit for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, residency isn’t so important.

“Where he sleeps isn’t the issue, it’s where does he hangs out when he’s awake,” Donnay said in a phone interview Wednesday.

In fact, Donnay said, a Minnesota study of repeat offenders showed that implementing residency restrictions would not have made any difference.

“A residency restriction would not have had an impact on any of those new sex offenses,” Donnay said. “Some data says a residency restriction actually makes it worse, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that such a restriction actually helps.”

For those who worry that sex offenders are allowed to roam at will around the city because there are no restrictions written into the city code, Carlton County probation officer David Gilberg said that Couture’s movements are severely restricted.

In addition to being monitored by GPS, Gilberg said Couture is on an approved (by Gilberg) schedule that details where and when he can go. The probation and supervised release officer also meets with Couture face-to-face several times a week.

For communities considering implementing a residency restriction, Donnay suggests they instead enact “sex offender exclusion zones and prohibition of certain employment-related activities.” He has a prototype written out and will send that draft version to those who request it. In it, offenders are prohibited from being present on an elementary or secondary school property, childcare facility or any place intended primarily for the use of minors, or loiter within 300 feet of those types of property. A registered sex offender cannot enter a public library without informing the library staff upon entry of his/her status as an offender. (Editor’s note: In last week’s story the Pine Journal incorrectly identified these provisions as state law; they are not.)

“It’s an evidence-based perspective we try to take on these things,” Donnay said, noting that the state of Iowa has enacted a similar law. “This (exclusion zone) offers an alternative to residency restrictions that we think is a better approach.”

One of the problems with residency restrictions, Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande pointed out in an interview last week, is the fact that some offenders simply quit registering if the restrictions become too severe. Then law enforcement officials don’t know where the offenders are.

Statistics also tell a story. According to Donnay, approximately 90 percent of sex offense convictions are perpetrated by individuals who have no prior sex offense history and are therefore unaffected by any residency restrictions. As well, in approximately 90 percent of sex offenses, the victim knows the offender. “It’s about relationship, not residence,” a Donnay background presentation notes.

If the city were to enact any type of restrictions, City Attorney Frank Yetka said officials and residents would have to make sure any restrictions didn’t exclude such an individual from living here.

“You can’t just say, ‘We don’t want them anywhere’ and you can’t just come up with an arbitrary distance from a school or daycare,” he said. “You can give reasonable restrictions that you can defend.”

Duluth’s restrictions apply to level 3 offenders, and forbid them to establish a permanent or temporary residence within 2,000 feet of any school, licensed child care center or public playground.

Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said he was aware there have been discussions about residency restrictions for sex offenders living in Cloquet but no one had contacted him personally.

“We are not engaged in any formal process to adjust the city code,” he said, adding that he’s made the City Council aware of the discussions.

Deputy Cloquet Police Chief Terry Hill said the city’s police department does keep an updated list of addresses for every sexual offender residing in the city that is updated at least yearly, adding that the police would certainly want to know if an offender was violating the terms of any probation or parole.

Gilberg pointed out that the community notification meetings held when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood are intended to make people aware of any potential threats, and also to make them aware that offenders have rights to.

“We hold these meetings to give whatever information we legally can to people, and also to try to get people to understand that these offenders – despite what they’ve done – still have a right to come out after they’ve done their time and try to live as close-to-normal life as they can,” said the probation officer. “If they don’t comply with their schedules and other conditions, then I have to do something about it.” ..Source.. by Jana Peterson, Pine Journal

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