Eau Claire County — for the first time — is responsible for identifying an appropriate residential option for a man once deemed a sexually violent person.
However, “there have been 980s placed in this county on and off for a number of years,” said Michael Chase, a supervised release contract specialist with the state Department of Health Services, referring to convicted sex offenders committed to inpatient treatment under Wisconsin’s sexual predator law. From those people, “we’ve never had any … concerns.”
The law — statute 980 — was enacted in 1994.
Chase, at a Supervised Release Committee meeting Tuesday, addressed Eau Claire County residents concerned about where Jeffrey J. Bonnin, 47, will be living.
“Nobody wants them in their backyard,” said Chase, noting the state is in the process of placing a similar offender in Marathon County, where he lives. “Nobody wants to think about it. Nobody thinks about it until it’s in front of them.”
Because of a change in the law, counties — instead of the state — now must identify a housing option within their borders for people like Bonnin, who has been granted supervised release.
Men, committed to treatment through the sexual predator law, can petition their committing court for release from the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston every 12 months, according to the Department of Health Services.
If the court determines an individual has reached a point in his treatment in which he is no longer more likely than not to re-offend, the court orders either community living on supervised release or discharge with no supervision.
Eau Claire County Judge Sarah Harless signed an order for Bonnin’s supervised release on Oct. 8, prompting the search for housing.
“Supervised release is a transition program,” Chase said. “The court is giving (these offenders) another chance.”
Supervised release comes with a number of supports, including continued treatment, employment, housing and medication, to help the individual successfully re-enter the community, according to the Department of Health Services. It also comes with strict conditions, including required chaperones virtually anytime offenders leave the house for at least the first year.
“Our clients are actively monitored,” Chase said.
The Supervised Release Committee has been meeting since October and has attempted to locate appropriate housing options for Bonnin, according to county officials. However, none of those worked out, so the committee had to consider other options, including placing him in housing on county land.
Action taken last month by the county’s Highway Committee, which unanimously approved a motion allowing use of a portion of county-owned land on U.S. 12 in the town of Fairchild to house such offenders, sparked outrage among residents living in eastern Eau Claire County who don’t want Bonnin or any other offender living on the property.
“We are really concerned about that type of person … ,” said resident Richard Adamski, who suggested county-owned land by the Wisconsin State Patrol headquarters on U.S. 53 is “much better suited” to house such offenders.
The Supervised Release Committee, which continues to look for housing options, included an address in a report submitted to the state last month, but that location hasn’t been revealed.
“Until the court has a chance to review it, we can’t make it public,” Chase said of the address, explaining the location at this point in time is considered to be part of Bonnin’s treatment plan, so it is covered by a federal law that restricts access to individuals’ private health information.
Per state law, the Department of Health Services is to use the committee’s report to prepare a supervised release plan for Bonnin. The state has 30 days to submit that plan to Harless, who scheduled a hearing for April 29.
In terms of the process in Eau Claire County, “the cart got in front of the horse,” Chase told residents attending Tuesday’s committee meeting.
There is no requirement for neighbors of locations being considered to house individuals on supervised release to be notified prior to a court approving that person’s supervised release plan, Chase said.
Once the court approves an individual’s supervised release plan, local law enforcement is responsible for notifying the community through flyers, door-to-door contact, a press release or community meeting.