December 2, 2012

Hundreds of Arizona's sex offenders unaccounted for

First I'd like to point out that this is a well written articles identifying all the problems with housing of offenders. One lawmaker says its a "time bomb" situation, but notice this, the city did a study in 2005 and ignored the results, so the situation has gone on since then, some 7+ years, and no mention of any increase in sex crimes or that any of these folks recidivated. It seems to me that any claim that these folks are a danger to the community is blown way out of proportion as there seems to be evidence of the contrary just in this article.
12-2-2012 Arizona:

Arizona's system of tracking and monitoring sex offenders is failing, with nearly a third of the state's high-risk, registered offenders unaccounted for at some point during 2012.

Some also are homeless and living on city sidewalks and vacant lots because they have nowhere to go but the streets when released from prison. Going home is often not an option because family and friends have shunned them. Finding even temporary housing is difficult because most employers won't hire them, homeless shelters have banned them, and a patchwork of state and local laws restrict where they can live.

Nonetheless, state law requires their registration to an address or "place of residence." So authorities have created an unsettling situation: permitting clusters of homeless offenders to register to central Phoenix and Tucson street corners.

An Arizona Republic analysis of nearly 5,700 high-risk offender registrations found large concentrations of offenders in the central areas of Arizona's two largest cities.

About one-third of these high-risk offenders had an unverified address at some point during the seven months The Republic conducted its analysis, meaning authorities could not report precisely where they were and the state database did not contain the current address of the offender.

Nearly 200 offenders were homeless statewide as of Nov. 7, many registered to street corners or intersections close to homeless shelters, where they have access to social services -- but where they are no longer allowed to stay overnight. As darkness falls in these neighborhoods, dozens of the urban nomads can be seen spreading out cardboard and sleeping bags, creating makeshift bedrooms on sidewalks and vacant lots.

Though it is a potential crime for those convicted of dangerous crimes against children to live within 1,000 feet of schools and day-care centers, police working the streets struggle to discern whether offenders are complying with the distance restrictions. To do so requires research on the nature of their offense -- determining if the law classifies it as a dangerous crime against children -- and whether the offenders' assigned risk levels prohibit their being at certain locations. Meanwhile, some sex offenders are registered to Phoenix street corners near such facilities.

Conflicting policies, rules and laws disperse responsibility for these homeless offenders, meaning some individuals evade registration because no single agency can be held accountable. At least five agencies have some role in tracking sex offenders. Most acknowledge difficulties in meeting their mission.

There is no evidence that sexual crimes have spiked in areas where offenders are clustered. In fact, the recidivism rate among registered sex offenders in Phoenix was found by one local study to be roughly 6 percent. The national average was pegged at 5.3 percent in a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But there is reason for concern when registered sex offenders are homeless or unaccounted for: If one in 17 is likely to re-offend and some are not being tracked, the public may be at risk. And studies show the likelihood of re-offending is higher when sex offenders have no support system or are driven to the social fringes. Experts warn that policy makers should improve the tracking of these offenders and find solutions to their homelessness before a horrendous crime is committed by one of these offenders.

Indeed, local and state policy makers have long known about the problem but have made no coordinated effort to fix it. Instead, apathy and unwillingness to dedicate taxpayer money to a long-term solution leave agencies with overlapping responsibilities pointing fingers at each other.

The Phoenix City Council commissioned a study in 2005 to evaluate solutions to sex-offender clusters and homelessness, but ignored most of its recommendations despite the study's warning that the registry system needed repair.

There is little political incentive or public pressure to change the current monitoring system or to dedicate taxpayer money to housing for a group of ex-cons viewed largely as social pariahs.

But Arizona Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said the time to act is approaching.

"There's no choice but coming up with some way to ... monitor these individuals," said Taylor, the incoming Senate minority leader. "There are a lot of things we have to address this coming session, and certainly this should ...continued... by Michelle Ye Hee Lee

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