Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green Bay Sex Offender Ordinance Takes Toll on City

greenbaypressgazette.com: Green Bay sex offender ordinance takes financial toll on city.

Green Bay prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other places where children gather. It's an expensive ordinance and one that has raised questions about whether it's worth the cost. The state spends more than $220,000 a year to house convicted sex offenders after they are released from prison at the state's Transitional Living Program house, according to the Department of Corrections.

It also pays nearly $4,000 a month for each offender housed at the Brown County Jail after prison release who cannot find a place to live. It can become costly — convicted sex offender Geitano Schmidt, 50, stayed at the Brown County Jail for five months before he was approved to move.

Those costs include payments to an agency that drives offenders around to look for housing.

Green Bay's sex offender residency ordinance prohibits sex offenders from living in nearly 90 percent of the city. The ordinance was approved in 2007 because of concerns that most of Brown County's listed adult sex offenders lived in Green Bay. An analysis that year by the Green Bay Press-Gazette of the state's Sex Offender Registry found 65 percent of adult sex offenders in the county lived in Green Bay.

The increased cost hasn't translated into increased safety for city residents.

Authorities refer about 200 sexual-assault cases to the Brown County District Attorney's Office, a number that hasn't changed much since the ordinance passed. However, sex offenders refusing to register with the state has more than doubled since the city ordinance went into effect in 2007, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Authorities referred 41 cases of noncompliance to the Brown County District Attorney's Office in 2009, according to the state corrections department. That number jumped from only 14 cases in 2007 and is more than the 38 cases referred in 2008.

"It's a result of the residency restriction because convicted sex offenders can't find a place to live so they would rather go underground," said Tom Smith, Corrections sex offender registration specialist.

Noncompliance is a refusal to provide correct information, including an address. Refusing to register is a felony that carries a $10,000 fine and up to six years in prison. "They're giving up," Smith said. "They want to comply but can no longer comply because of the restrictions that are held over their head."

Safety zones and loitering ordinances around parks, schools and day cares are some alternatives to the city ordinance, Smith said.

Donna Ysebaert of Green Bay expressed concerns over copycat ordinances by surrounding municipalities and potential overcrowding at the Brown County Jail. She said if people support the ordinance, they can't complain about taxpayers footing the bill.

Jed Neuman supervises 52 probation and parole agents in Brown County. The sex offender ordinance isn't necessary, he said, since agents already require similar restrictions regarding housing and contact with minors. "They've had to become real estate agents. It really makes our jobs quite difficult," he said.

Agents have to pick up offenders each morning when they stay at the Brown County Jail to help them look for housing, then drop them off each evening. Agents have reduced their caseloads to remain effective at protecting the public and rehabilitating the offenders, he added.

Gary Hein of Green Bay said the sex offender ordinance prevents people from being able to contribute to society. "They're forcing them to be criminals because they have to lie about where they're living," he said.