Sunday, August 9, 2009

There’s No Place Like Home, If You Can Find One ( Article from 2008)

(This represents a different aspect of the subject brought up in my last post)

I saw them in class everyday, they were at every school function. I ate lunch with him, did class projects with him, fought with him, laughed with him, after a party he walked me back to my car. At the prom, one of them danced the robot. We were not close friends, only classmates, but never once did I ever think ‘these boys are sex offenders,’ but they were and we all knew it.

In my lifetime, I have known four men who have committed sexual crimes. Two of them were too young to be registered, one of them fled the country, one was incarcerated.

I will never excuse their actions, but I will say that people who commit sexual crimes or are accused of committing them are individuals with family, friends, and deeply rooted emotional problems. When we talk about sex offenders we tend to group them into a faceless lump. If they were your old friends, your classmates, your male relatives, you would not dismiss them so easily.

I can never say that all sex offenders can be fully rehabilitated. One of my classmates committed another nonsexual crime and has since dropped out of high school. He now works in the town, but he will probably never outrun the reputation and scars of his past.

My other classmate was arrested from the school the year after I graduated. His crime involved lewd acts with a minor at the after school program, even though he was supposed to be under supervision.

While their actions are unforgivable, they are not the hardened criminals you think of when you hear “sex offender.” The came from broken, low income families. They had parents and other family members in jail, they moved around from home to home, and suffered abuse and neglect. I have watched them struggle to fit in and keep up in school, succeed and then relapse.

It is hard to watch someone fight a battle they are losing. Especially, in a small town, like mine was, where everybody knows your name. Communities, have to figure out what to do with these people. How can you help them to live normal lives, as well as keep them out of high risk areas which offer opportunities for behavioral relapses?

This is the question that Carson is asking itself. The Daily Breeze reported that 30 registered sex offenders have been living in the Carson Plaza Hotel-a high concentration for a city that considers itself a “vibrant city with a small town atmosphere.”

click on image to see source

Rita Boggs, a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and a member of the politically active group Carson Citizens for Reform, said that the city council is still going over the situation and suggestions have been made for the city to limit the number of sex offenders allowed to live in a specific area.

“ We can ask that there be no more than a certain number,” Boggs said.

Boggs also said that, at the next council meeting, City Attorney Bill Wynder will give a presentation based on how other surrounding cities have dealt with similar problems.

“They are human beings and they do in fact have a right to live someplace,“ said Gilbert Smith who has lived in Carson for 45 years and was the city’s third mayor.

“Do you build a place isolate in the desert somewhere…I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Smith said.

Smith said that establishing quotas for how many sex offenders can live in an area would not be effective because arriving at a specific number would be problematic. He also said that sending out public notices could cause a “community panic,” at the very least, he said he thinks that local jurisdiction and law enforcement agencies should be aware of where and how many sex offenders are living in the city.

Both Boggs and Smith said that, at the last city council meeting, the number of sex offenders reported at the Carson Plaza Hotel was down to 10. However, the Daily Breeze and the Office of the Attorney General’s online list of registered sex offenders say the number is between 25-30.

“It’s been since reported that there are 10 (sex offenders) as of yesterday,” Hitesh Patel, general manager of the hotel, said.

Patel said that there has been a surge of misinformation and sensationalism created by the initial Daily Breeze article.

“We’re bound by law to provide housing…We’re running a business here, we need to protect the livelihood of our business, but we share the concerns of all the residents,” Patel said.

He went on to say that the hotel is complying with the law in everyway, but it has chosen not to post signs about the sex offenders because it would deter business.

Patel said the Carson Sheriff’s Department said the average amount of time that each parolee spent at the hotel was about two weeks. They are placed at the hotel by the state parole board, Patel said.

This is what Smith said he is most concerned about.

“I don’t think our community should be the dumping ground for any kind of activity that other communities find undesirable,” Smith said.

According to an article in the Daily Breeze, state parole officials “identified (the) hotel as a viable spot to house sex offenders because of its location.”

While no one seems to have the right answer to what should be done with sex offenders on and after parole, I think that remembering the fact that all concerned are human beings, is the most important part of the discussion.

Update: Carson, CA Passes Ban Prohibiting More than One Sex Offender from Living in a Single Dwelling

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