January 25, 2012

Living areas may expand for sex offenders

1-25-2012 South Dakota:

A House committee has recommended passage for a bill that will allow sex offenders on probation to live in halfway houses within community safety zones.

The bill, which passed 9-3 on Monday, expands a 2010 law that allowed sex offenders on parole to live in supervised housing within 500 feet of a school, church or park – part of an overhaul of the sex offender rules that also allowed some people to have their names removed from the registry.

House Bill 1060, which was proposed by the Unified Judicial System, would allow probationers, who have not gone to prison for their crime, the same residency rights as parolees.

“Parolees and probationers often are referred to as the same, but legally, they’re not,” said Greg Sattizahn, the legal representative for the UJS.

In Sioux Falls, there are two halfway houses and one homeless shelter within community safety zones: The Arch halfway house, the Glory House and the Union Gospel Mission.

Until the law change in 2010, sex offenders who couldn’t find a job or a home could be charged with a felony for residing at the mission. Those who needed supervision after their prison stay couldn’t be placed at one of Sioux Falls’ halfway houses.

Now, parolees can be placed in those halfway houses, but probationers cannot.

Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, was not part of the legislative debate that altered the rules for sex offenders in 2010. He voted against HB 1060, saying it puts children in danger.

“We’re talking about sex offenders here. They’ve been tried, they’ve been convicted. I don’t want to be a part of any process that puts them back in the presence of children,” Nelson said.

Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, said those who’ve been released from prison have been deemed safe enough to be out in the community and ought to be allowed to live in a supervised environment if no housing option exists outside of a safety zone.

The same should hold true for probationers, he said, who the courts have deemed less dangerous than those sentenced to prison.

“In most cases, they can be trusted more than a parolee,” Abdallah said. “To say that this is being soft on sex offenders … we have a court system, we have a probation system. If we can’t rely on our courts, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here.”

Abdallah and Rep. Shawn Tornow, R-Sioux Falls, each voted for the bill. Tornow said his support isn’t guaranteed in the full House.

He wants to know whether there are options for sex offenders that aren’t within safe zones.

“I don’t believe it’s outside the realm of reasonableness to assign them to a halfway house that’s not within a community safety zone,” Tornow said.

Fran Stenberg, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission, expects that lifting the restriction will be helpful for some of the homeless sex offenders who turn to his shelter. Stenberg said sex offenders often volunteer that information.

“It’s a small problem, but it is a problem,” Stenberg said. “It’s not anything we have to worry about, but it’s a problem for them. It’s on their shoulders (to register their address).”

The bill now moves on to the full House. ..Source.. by John Hult

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