Many of us live relatively close to a released sex offender.
A search on the state Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry listed six names when we entered a local address to find offenders within a mile of the location.
The issue earned attention recently when Eau Claire County was considering a Fairchild area site for a placement. Jeffrey J. Bonnin will be released soon and, thanks to recent changes in the law, the county, as opposed to the state, has the daunting responsibility of finding him housing.
“If the court determines an individual has reached a point in his treatment in which he is no longer more likely than not to reoffend,” reads a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Christena O’Brien, “the court orders either community living on supervised release or discharge with no supervision.”
Bonnin was given supervised release, and a committee has been looking to place him in housing since October.
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Rochelle Hoffman, who was involved with a petition effort to keep released sex offender placements out of the Fairchild area, acknowledged the dilemma presented by the situation.
“This is really a difficult task the state has put on the counties,” she said in an O’Brien story, “and I absolutely sympathize with how difficult of a task this is.”
Said Nick Smiar, Eau Claire County Board chairman: “You could put (a house for one of these people) on top of a flag pole in the middle of the desert, and people would still object.”
The option for Bonnin can’t be within 1,500 feet of any school premises, child care facilities, public parks, places of worship or youth centers. But placing such people in an unstable housing situation is not the answer, says the American Bar Association.
“Perhaps the greatest irony is that transience, homelessness and instability interfere with effective tracking, monitoring and probation supervision, undermining the very purpose of sex offender registries,” reads an ABA column. “If sex offenders cannot find compliant addresses to register, their whereabouts may become unknown.”
The ABA column also says that research shows “a clear link between housing instability and increased criminal recidivism.”
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It’s not hard to relate to a resident who doesn’t want to live near a registered sex offender. However, these are individuals that have fulfilled at least the incarceration aspect of their sentences.
Released offenders are placed in the county in which they were convicted. Matt Joski, Kewaunee County sheriff, addressed the issues in a 2017 op-ed piece.
“While many times this will allow the offender close access to follow-up counseling as well as resources from family or friends, this is not always the case,” he wrote, “and many times efforts are made to place the individual in the environment which will facilitate his or her return to a normal life and minimize the potential for re-offense.”
Housing them in remote areas often is not advisable since conditions of their release may require access to certain services.
“While no issue has the potential to create more anxiety,” Joski wrote, “it is important to note that the recidivism rate among these offenders is only 8.8 percent and that a majority of the cases (86 to 94 percent) were committed by either family members or close acquaintances.”
So what’s the answer?
That’s the unenviable task of the county committees that make the placement decisions.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor