August 14, 2013

Sex offenders in Hebron restricted

8-14-2013 Wisconsin:

HEBRON — Following the controversial placement of a sex offender into their community in June, the Town of Hebron Monday enacted an ordinance restricting the placement of sex offenders near areas where children congregate.

The ordinance will prohibit registered offenders from living within 2,500 feet of locations where children congregate, including private or public schools, parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, daycare centers and campgrounds.

The measure, proposed by Hebron resident John Byrnes, is a reponse to the recent placement of a sexually violent offender under the state’s supervised release program into a Hebron home, which sparked controversy in the rural community.

Resistance to the placement reached such a level that Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath called a community meeting on July 10 to address the rules and regulations of the program. Once placed into the residence, the offender is obligated to sign a list of 48 rules restricting alcohol intake, contact with minors, Internet access and more to ensure that he or she will not be a threat to the community.

He also is monitored by a Global Positioning System (GPS) device at all times to ensure that he will not leave the residence unescorted during the first year of his placement in Hebron. Violation of these rules can result in revocation of his supervised release privileges.

Community members still felt after the meeting that their community lacked safety measures against sexual offenders, with much of the concern surrounding proximity of the new offender’s residence to the county Head Start program and homes where children reside.

“I thought that there was a state law that restricted where sexually violent people could be placed as far as near schools,” said Byrnes. “But there wasn’t any, and all the other towns in the area do have something. So I think the state basically then finds a spot like this and then keeps placing them there until an ordinance gets passed.”

Wisconsin law dictates that an offender who has completed his or her sentence must be placed in the county in which he or she last resided prior to incarceration. However, finding suitable placements within the county often can be challenging due to municipal ordinances restricting their placement, which are becoming more popular, often making rural locations more desirable for the program.

Byrnes said he thinks state officials have a mistaken idea that rural communities offer safer placements.

“The state says that they do this thorough risk assessment, and I got that risk assessment from them, and it’s basically one line,” he said. “It just says ‘rural neighborhood, Hebron community, has 1,000 people, residence is outside of the downtown area.’

“I don’t think they realize there’s the Head Start facility, there’s the museum there, there’s the campground ... so all these areas,” Byrnes added. “All these things you’d think the state was doing for a risk assessment, they don’t do.”

That realization led to his attempt to drum up support for a resolution, of which he said the town was supportive. The measure unanimously was authorized at Monday’s meeting because the town board shared many of the community’s concerns, said Town of Hebron Supervisor Randy Thorman.

“We don’t have a police department around here, and by the time they respond ... that’s more or less what people are worried about,” he said. “We’re just a small community. We’re not equipped for any of that stuff.”

The adopted measure is based off of the City of Jefferson’s ordinance restricting the residence of sex offenders within 1,500 feet of any location where children congregate. Such measures are popular ways to limit the number of sex offenders within a municipality as it severely reduces the number of residences available to those convicted as a sex offender, and effectively the number of registered sex offenders living within the town’s borders.

“I don’t need to see one of my neighbors having problems with their kid because of something like that,” said Thorman.

The ordinance is effective immediately, though any offenders already living in the town will not be affected. However, it might impact the program’s future plans to place offenders within Hebron, as the program often places multiple offenders within the same house.

Due to the ordinance, a second offender likely would be prohibited from residing at that residence.

Jennifer Miller, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said the department will take the ordinance into account when placing future offenders.

“When the Department develops supervised release plans and residences, it takes into consideration many factors, including any municipal ordinances to ensure that the residence is appropriate for the court’s consideration,” she said.

Byrnes said he does not want to make it impossible for sex offenders to live their lives, but he does want the community to take precautionary measures.

“I think people deserve a second chance,” he said. “They go to jail, they serve their time, and they’ve got to move on with their lives. I get that side of it.

“I think the town needs to have some ability to say who gets placed there, especially when the state is paying for them to live there,” Byrnes added.

Because these offenders cannot leave the house for at least the first year of their placement, and thus cannot find jobs, the state pays their rent, utilities and basic living costs. Often, the program pays greatly inflated rents, which has sparked a state audit of the program to be completed this summer. The rent the state pays on the three-bedroom Hebron house is $2,500 per month.

“While I understand that these people have to be placed somewhere, I think hopefully they’ll figure out maybe this isn’t the best model to place these people,” said Byrnes, expressing concern both with the costs and the communities involved. “Maybe there’s a cheaper work-release-type thing that would make more sense that the state will go to.”

But for now he is happy having passed the ordinance in his small community.

“I just want the state to move on,” Bynes concluded. “I think we’ve had to deal with enough of this. I’m not trying to solve the world here — I just want them (sex offenders) out of my town.” ..Source.. by Lydia Statz, Union staff writer

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