Duluth may restrict sex offenders housing
DULUTH -- If you look closely, there's a spot on the Aerial Lift Bridge where Level III sex offenders could live. Otherwise, if an ordinance proposed by three Duluth City Council members passes this week, the number of areas sex offenders who are...
DULUTH -- If you look closely, there's a spot on the Aerial Lift Bridge where Level III sex offenders could live.
Otherwise, if an ordinance proposed by three Duluth City Council members passes this week, the number of areas sex offenders who are most likely to reoffend can live in Duluth would be severely limited. The ordinance would all but bar them from most low-income housing areas in the city.
That's according to a map put together by the city of Duluth that shows where the offenders would be banned -- which is within 2,000 feet of any church, playground or day care.
Not that the council memberswho proposed the ordinance have any problem with that.
"For me, this is about the (Minnesota) Department of Corrections accurately placing these people in the community the way it was meant to be," said 4th District Councilor Kerry Gauthier, the lead author of the ordinance.
"The idea is to make sure (Level III sex offenders) aren't around children," said At Large Councilor Dan Hartman, who is co-sponsoring the ordinance along with 3rd District Councilor Sharla Gardner. "I think this is an opportunity to make people feel safer in the community."
But some experts disagree that would be the case. Studies suggest that limiting where sex offenders can live doesn't reduce the rate of repeat offenses -- but actually increases it, said William Donnay, director of risk assessment and community notification for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
A Department of Corrections study of all 224 sex offenders from 1990 to 2002 who returned to prison for another offense found that in not a single case would the reoffense been prevented by restricting where the offender could live.
Donnay says other studies show that making it harder for an inmate to find housing increases that person's instability, leads to homelessness and increases chances of reoffending. An ordinance such as the one proposed by the Duluth City Council, he said, provides a false sense of security for residents.
"People conclude because of the residency restrictions, there are never any sex offenders in my neighborhood," he said. "It's not where they're sleeping at night, who they're hanging out with, who they are associating with. It's where are they spending their time during waking hours? That's what we need to look at in terms of recidivism."
Tom Roy, executive director of Arrowhead Regional Corrections, which supervises the offenders, said he also believes the restrictions might increase the likelihood of reoffending.
"We would support efforts that would tend to support sex offenders rather than destabilize their lives," Roy said.
Gauthier rejects the notion that the ordinance could increase the chances a Level III offender would reoffend, calling that "conjecture" by the Department of Corrections.
He said areas of West Duluth and Duluth Heights might offer offenders affordable housing, and he notes that there would be exemptions for offenders who have already found housing and for offenders to live with family or in a facility owned by the corrections department.
That means Level III offenders could still live in a house in Lincoln Park the corrections department owns and uses as transitional shelter -- and also happens to be a half-block away from Gauthier's home.
Still, offenders would largely be banned from the areas and facilities they typically use for housing now, such as the Seaway Hotel and the CHUM shelter.
"Do you really want Level III predators to be staying at a shelter?" Gauthier said. "I think we need to find them more stability than that."
Gardner said the ordinance isn't about reducing recidivism but protecting the community, noting that nine sex offenders currently have been placed in Duluth, though not all of them lived here before their crimes.
"It's too easy to place people in Duluth because there aren't restrictions," she said. "This is about the future; it won't disturb what's already in place. I don't think it will do harm and will ultimately protect our community."
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