February 17, 2015

Le Center restricts residency for dangerous offenders, questions state decision to house rapist in town

2-17-15 Minnesota:

Spurred by a federal lawsuit that some fear could lead to the mass release of the state’s most dangerous sex offenders, the Le Center City Council approved restrictions limiting where in town offenders can live.

“This ordinance, I believe, serves the purpose of protecting the public,” City Attorney Jason Moran said during the council’s Feb. 10 meeting.

The ordinance, which keeps Level 3 predatory offenders from living within 2,000 feet of parks, schools, child care facilities and other places where children congregate, essentially keeps them from moving into town. Only a small segment of the city near the industrial park isn’t covered by the restrictions.

But while the council unanimously approved the proposal, two Minnesota Department of Corrections employees urged the council not to OK the ordinance. In a letter to the council, Mark Bliven, the department’s risk assessment/community notification director, said that while residency restrictions seem like a good idea, they “actually create a false sense of security and more likely diminish public safety in a number of ways.”

While predatory offenders labeled as Level 3 offenders are deemed the most dangerous, statistically they are the lowest risk to the public.

Blevins also noted that residency restrictions destabilize and limit housing options for offenders which makes compliance with other release requirements less likely.

“Almost all sex offenses in Minnesota are committed by those not designated as Level 3 and the vast majority of offenses are committed by those not even previously identified as sex offenders,” he wrote.

Another Department of Corrections employee, Dayna Burmeister Thelemann, expressed her concerns during the meeting, noting that Iowa’s residency restrictions have caused a host of problems in that state.

“There, they go underground and you don’t know where they’re living,” she said of offenders. “You can’t track them and you can’t supervise them.”

A March 15, 2006, New York Times article supports Thelemann’s assertions, reporting that “nearly three times as many registered sex offenders considered missing since before the law took effect in September.”

A June 2008 report by the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board which recommended against residency restrictions, saying they are “counterproductive” to community safety, found that research “indicate(s) that homelessness, absconding from supervision, and not registering for tracking purposes all appeared to be significant byproducts of residence restrictions. Additional research has revealed that residence restrictions have negatively impacted the risk for recidivism with sex offenders due to increased isolation, financial hardship, decreased stability and lack of support.”

Moran, the city attorney, challenged Thelemann, who pointed to a 2007 Department of Corrections study which found there’s no evidence restrictions such as those Le Center approved are effective. He noted that no study includes clients in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, about 700 who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that the program is unconstitutional.

“Rather than lowering sexual recidivism,” the study said, “housing restrictions may work against this goal by fostering conditions that exacerbate sex offenders’ reintegration into society.”

The ordinance follows the December release of Robert Jeno, a Faribault man convicted in 1984 of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. After his sentence was complete, Jeno was civilly committed and underwent treatment through the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. A state Appeals Court panel in November ordered Jeno’s release from MSOP in St. Peter.

Other concerns

Even as council members discussed the proposed ordinance, several expressed concerns about how and why Jeno is housed in Le Center. As an MSOP client, Jeno’s placement was the state Department of Human Services’ responsibility.

The December community notification meeting to discuss Jeno’s release, which followed the appellate court order, was a mere formality, said Mayor Josh Fredrickson. He lamented that “our opinions didn’t matter” and admitted to being confused over Jeno’s placement.

“I hate to say it, but it would be a little different if he had ties here,” he said, later adding that the ordinance was an effort to ensure Le Center “doesn’t become a dumping ground” for former MSOP clients. The council’s decision, he hopes, will make the state stand up and take notice.

“At a bare minimum all this does is put this on the radar of the state of Minnesota,” he said. “Cities are not going to put up with this.”

Fredrickson scoffed at the idea that Level 3 sex offenders are the least likely to reoffend and restated the council’s need to act. “Recidivism doesn’t happen: That’s great when you’re sitting in St. Paul, but that doesn’t do nothing when you’re sitting in Le Center,” he said. “We need to at least make the effort.”

The ordinance will take effect after it’s published in the newspaper. ..Source.. by Suzy Rook

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