A homeless has sparked fierce debate this week on both sides of the issue.
Legis. Ed Romaine, R-Center Moriches, is calling upon County Executive Steve Bellone for a timeline regarding a proposal for four to six “mini” homeless sex offender sites that would be created and house only six individuals each. The sites would be monitored 24 hours a day, he said, with rules that must be adhered to by homeless sex offenders.
While expensive, Romaine said currently the cost to tranport sex offenders from their hometowns in parts of western Suffolk to the trailers by taxi every night tops $15,000 per year.
And while plans seemed to have stalled, Romaine said he thinks Bellone will move the initiative forward, unlike his predecessor, former County Executive Steve Levy.
“I believe we’re getting close to closing the trailers,” he said, adding that he wants both trailers shut down as soon as possible. “It’s been taking a long time to address,” he said.
Bellone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Romaine also said the problem needs to be addressed on a larger scale; he believes New York State needs to embark upon legislative reform to address the issue of sex offenders, who are unable to find work and left homeless.
“It’s then on our backs as taxpapers, as a local government, when they are shipped back and the county department of social services has to feed, clothe and house them,” he said.
In Suffolk County, Romaine added, there are not only the 40 sex offenders living in the two trailers, but 1,000 sex offenders who are not homeless countywide. He believes civil confinement for Level 2 or 3 offenders who have been screen and shown “not to be stable,” might be the answer.
“These people should not be let loose on the community,” he said. “We can’t arrest a guy because he thinks about it. We have to wait until he commits a crime, that’s the problem.”
On the other side of the issue, Shana Rowan, an advocate for sex crime legislation reform in New York State, whose fiancé is listed on the New York State sex offender registry, said there are misconceptions that need to be shattered.
“Obviously, and as always, most community members are outraged and screaming ‘pedophiles’ and ‘perverts.' However, this is simply not accurate,” she said.
Rowan said the term “sex offender” does not mean "pedophile" or "child molester.” She added that many sex offenders do not have child victims and in recent years the number of individuals arrested for non-contact crimes has risen dramatically.
Many convicted sex offenders, Rowan said, are teenagers with consenting underage girlfriends.
Recidivism rates for sex offenders are “extremely low,” Rowan said, pointing to studies that indicate convicted sex offenders arrested for another offense range from 2 percent to 11 percent.
“The assumption that sex offenders are dangerous to children is founded largely in hysteria, especially when it's been repeatedly proven that the overwhelming majority sex abuse victims are abused by people not on the registry, and are better able to avoid drawing attention to themselves,” Rowan said. “The danger in letting communities continue to perpetuate the hysteria, without providing them with all the facts, is that's how knee-jerk, unenforceable laws get passed. Yes, harshly regulating sex offenders may feel good, in a vengeful sort of way, but it really does nothing to protect children.”
Rowan added removing incentive for sex offenders to reintegrate healthily makes it far more likely they will re-offend. “So really, intolerance promotes sex crimes,” she said.
Social stigma and prejudice makes life difficult for famlies and loved ones of offenders on the registry, Rowan said. “Children and families of registrants are so easily swept under the rug and ignored; I don't think most people are even aware of how many innocent people are suffering because of widespread misconceptions,” she said.
But Romaine said change needs to start on the state level and, with a focus currently on the budget crisis and other problems, critical issue such as sex offender legislation tend to get overlooked.
“There is one priority government must address and that is public safety,” Romaine said. “A government that can’t protect its citizens should not be in existence. This is a compelling and urgent situation.”