Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Can't win for losing (and that's the way they want it)

Counties burdened with sex offenders
MONTGOMERY, AL | Officials in counties with state prisons say they are being burdened by an unexpected side effect of the Community Notification Act, which requires sex offenders to give authorities a valid address 45 days before their sentence ends.

Under the act, failing to give a residential address that isn’t at least 2,000 feet away from a school or childcare facility is a Class C felony. And offenders whose addresses don’t comply must remain jailed in the county where the violation occurred until they have a valid address.

That usually means offenders -- and their costs -- are transferred to county jails, said Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director for the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

“They’re released from the state prison and as they walk into the parking lot, a sheriff’s car is already there to pick them up and take them straight to the jail," he said. “The law makes no provision for them to come back and say 'Sorry, I didn’t know my address was bad.’"

“They’re not going back to inmates to say this address doesn’t work -- there’s not a way for the inmate to correct his problem," Brasfield said.

County officials say there needs to be some recourse for inmates who are homeless or unknowingly give an address that has become invalid while they were incarcerated. Inmates who are homeless are considered violators and charged with felonies because they don’t have a valid address to give.

Ron Smith, chairman of the Bullock County Commission, said so far seven inmates have been taken to the county’s jail under the act and the same has happened in St. Clair and Barbour counties, which are home to other state prisons.

Smith said something needs to be done soon to change the act.

“I think that’s unconstitutional because what are we holding them on? Suppose they never find a good address?" Smith said. “Suppose he was staying with his mother and God forbid his mother died? Now he doesn’t have a place to go. We get no money for housing the state inmates and for a poor county like us, we’re going to suffer."

Inmates taken to the county jails are kept there until they have a date to go before a grand jury on the felony charge.

Bullock County Sheriff Raymond Rogers said jail officials worked with family members and community assistance programs to get valid housing arrangements for four of the seven sex offenders who have been affected by the act at his jail. The remaining three are homeless and are still in the Bullock County Jail, he said.

“The longest one I ever kept in my jail was for four months," Rogers said. “Their loved ones don’t want them. I have to keep calling the county they live in trying to help them find a place. It’s kind of like the jail is turning into a halfway house and we don’t have the people or the money for that."

Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen said the corrections department is aware of the problem and he’s offered to keep the sex offenders in the state prisons while they wait for their grand jury appearance.

But Attorney General Troy King, who pushed hard for passage of the act last year, said a better idea is to force all sex offenders to serve their full sentences instead of giving them less time for good behavior and parole.

King acknowledged the problem would still exist once the offenders served their full sentence, but said it would give them more time to find a valid address. He said the cost of keeping them in county jails is worth it to keep sex offenders off the streets longer.

“We put people in prisons to punish them. I think most people would say if I can keep a predator away from my children, away from hurting my grandchildren by paying to keep them in prison, I’ll pay to keep them in prison," he said. “Yes, we’re spending (taxpayer) money, but I don’t think anybody would say that’s not a good investment."

Allen said plans are already in place to expand programs that help inmates transition from prison to life outside the corrections system. Part of the program will be assisting inmates with housing and that will help them avoid giving addresses that aren’t in compliance, he said.

Bullock County attorney Johnny Waters said he’s eager to see what will be done to resolve the problem.

“You may have a man who’s been in prison for 15, 16 years on a rape charge. Now his family’s disowned him, momma and daddy says he can’t live with us, and he’s got no other family. He doesn’t even hardly have bus fare to get home," Waters said. “What does somebody in that scenario do? Nobody can answer that question for me. He’s basically thrown to the wind.

“There’s pros and cons to the law. Mainly it’s to keep people protected and I can understand that side of it. But on the other side you’ve got a person trying to do right. Somewhere there’s got to be a better answer."


And there you have it. Attorney General Troy King said it most clearly, it's all about "keep[ing]sex offenders off the streets longer." Who needs a constitution when the laws can be written so you've got no chance of winning? Being homeless can now earn you a felony rap, complete with prison time, in Alabama.

Sweet.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question:

How can you locate a home if you're in prison serving time? You can't get out there and check anything out--you're in prison!

Oh, and I love how taxpayers are expected to pay this unnecessary bill.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a small but slowly growing site (that links to this blog) called angryoffender.com that looks like it's actually written by a sex offender. The story that illustrates how ludicrous registries are is bone-chilling, in fact. Perhaps you might want to do a blog entry on it?

10:08 PM  

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