July 24, 2015

New R.I. law widens school buffer zone for sex offenders

7-24-15 Rhode Island:

High-risk offenders must now live at least 1,000 feet from schools — up from 300 feet — in law signed by Governor Raimondo.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — High-risk sex offenders must put the distance of more than three football fields between their homes and the nearest school under a new law signed by Governor Raimondo last week.

In 2008, the state made it a felony for a registered sex offender to live within 300 feet — the length of one football field — from any public or private school. The new law extends the buffer to 1,000 feet from any public or private school for Level III offenders — those deemed to be at the highest risk for committing another sex-related crime.

The law was passed despite objections from advocates for the homeless, the ACLU and the public defender's office, who argued that the law will leave people homeless and and untraceable without making communities any safer.

There are roughly 260 Level III sex offenders registered in Rhode Island, according to a list maintained by the state Parole Board. Those offenders have been designated by the Sex Offender Board of Review and/or the Superior Court as people at high risk of reoffending.

But it was one offender's presence in Warwick that prompted the legislation.

Byron W. de Weldon, the son of acclaimed sculptor Felix de Weldon and a Level III sex offender, has been living in Warwick, according to the Parole Board. De Weldon, who grew up on a Newport estate, was convicted in Rhode Island of third-degree sexual assault with a 15-year-old male and second-degree child molestation with three 11-year-old males in cases dating back to the 1990s.

"A Level III sex offender moved into my community and rented an apartment that oversees a children's game room and is in direct line of sight — an unobstructed view — of an elementary school. So parents were furious. Business owners were concerned," Rep. Joseph McNamara told the House Judiciary Committee in April. "He's like a kid in a candy store where he is now."

State records show that de Weldon's residence is less than a quarter mile from John Brown Francis Elementary School.

McNamara and Sen. Michael McCaffrey, both Warwick Democrats, sponsored the legislation that initially would have banned all sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school. The amended version of the legislation that passed the General Assembly narrowed the change to apply only to Level III offenders.

During the same hearing, Michael DiLauro, a legislative director for the Office of the Rhode Island Public Defender, said that while the measure was well-intentioned, it could have unintended consequences.

"This forces offenders underground where they have less access to services and treatment," DiLauro said.

Barbara Kalil, co-director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, also argued against the measure earlier this year, saying that many landlords won't rent to registered sex offenders, making it a challenge to find housing. She said her opposition to the legislation was also personal because she and her partner — a Level III sex offender — would be forced to move from their Providence apartment under the new law.

Kalil and her partner, John Freitas, were responsible for starting the tent city known as Camp Runamuck in 2009. He was arrested while living at the camp for failing to register as a sex offender. Offenders must register with an address and their local police departments.

Kalil said she was homeless for six years before finding an apartment in Providence three years ago.

"I know that we are not going to find another apartment in our price range in Providence," Kalil said. "I am positive that this legislation is not going to solve any problems." ..Source.. by Jennifer Bogdan, 
Journal State House Bureau

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