June 2, 2013

Sex offenders clustered in Fargo’s core

6-2-2013 North Dakota:

Concentration in low-income areas brings risks, expert says

Heidi Laho was packing last week to move her five small children, her husband, and herself – carrying their sixth – from their current house to a new one.

The new house is pretty near their old one, still in the Madison neighborhood, north of Main Avenue and west of University Drive in Fargo. But she’s not staying because they like it there.

Laho moved to that area of Fargo about three years ago out of economic necessity, needing affordable housing while raising a large family. As her mom helped her pack, they kept an eye on the kids playing outside.

“Hopefully, sooner or later we’ll be able to move out of this neighborhood,” she said.

One of the reasons Laho wished she was packing to move somewhere else is the 16 registered sex offenders who live in the Madison neighborhood.

Seventeen registered sex offenders live in the neighborhood the city defines as downtown, and 10 are in the Jefferson neighborhood, which stretches from Main Avenue to 13th Avenue South from University Drive to 25th Street. Another 10 sex offenders live within one or two blocks of those three neighborhoods.

That means that in Fargo, home to most of the metro area’s sex offenders, all but 10 of the 63 offenders whose addresses police publicly disclose are clustered in the city’s core – which includes some of Fargo’s poorest neighborhoods. About 75 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch at the elementary schools that give Madison and Jefferson neighborhoods their names.

That sort of concentration can have upsides, a local probation official says, but a researcher who studies sex offenders warns that the clustering in the lowest-income and least cohesive neighborhoods of a city brings risks.

“We are immersing them in communities with greater amounts of deviant influences – drugs, alcohol, prostitution, poor economics,” said Ohio State University’s Richard Tewksbury, who studies justice administration and sex offenders.

Cluster concerns

While research shows sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than those who have committed other types of crimes, Tewksbury said the clustering ensures more offenders live in areas of a community that are less organized in key ways, setting them up to fail.

Though it’s “almost desirable to disappear” due to the intense stigma of a conviction for a sexual crime, Tewksbury said the concentration in poorer neighborhoods isolates sex offenders, who are better able to re-enter society when they have community support.

For those concerned to be living near sex offenders, children are often less supervised in poorer neighborhoods, Tewksbury said.

Laho has a rule that her children aren’t allowed to go anywhere without her.

“There’s a few people – (but) I just don’t trust anyone,” she said.

Also, adults in those areas of communities are less likely to access registry information and know where offenders are living, Tewksbury said.

Take for instance Amber Kanowske, who was out for a walk in the Madison neighborhood last week with her chatty 3-year-old son, D’Angelo Tucker.

Kanowske moved to the area from Milwaukee last month, primarily for the welfare of the children, since there were shootings back home. ..continued.. by Emily Welker, INFORUM

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