By HARRY F. THEMAL
Lt. Gov. Matt Denn has been handed a formidable assignment by Gov. Markell: chair of a Justice Reinvestment Task Force. Denn says it will consider whether more money should be directed into crime prevention, in such areas as drug treatment and assisting released inmates.
It's that last goal that became so clearly crystallized this month when police action forced the eviction of released sex offenders from one of the few havens they can find.
Denn told the Delaware Law Weekly his 18-member task force intends to speak with "policy experts, prosecutors, public defenders, parole officers, corrections officers, judges, law enforcement officials, advocate organizations and crime victims."
Remarkably missing from that list are men and women still incarcerated or who have been released. Their viewpoint must certainly be considered before any guidelines can be formed for reducing our prison population, paying less for enforcement and reducing recidivism.
- Recidivism is already low, period, and passing more and more feel good laws that really do absolutely nothing to prevent crime or protect anybody, except exile and turn ex-offenders into homeless nomads, just so the public can feel better, is not the way to go about it! But, we all know the prison system is a major cash cow, and they need to keep people flowing into the system to make billions of dollars, at our expense, while pretending to be doing something, just so they can continue getting corrupt politicians voted into office, so they can look good.
The failure of Vice Chancellor John W. Noble to allow some breathing space for legal issues involved in the eviction, by granting a temporary restraining order, is evidence how hard-ball authorities are playing. What would have been lost by debating some of the issues before the sex offenders had to find new housing.
The men being ousted from the rooming house in the 700 block of Buttonwood Street are joined by the American Civil Liberties Union in raising serious questions about the evictions from a home Wilmington police said was seven feet closer than a 500-feet restriction. (A few General Assemblies ago a bill failed to pass that would have extended that to 1,300 feet.)
Title 11, Section 1112 says offenders involved with a sexual offense "upon a child under 16 years of age" may not loiter or live within 500 feet of a school. That's defined as "any preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, secondary school or any other institution which has as its primary purpose the education or instruction of children under 16 years of age."
- And how many people have actually been to any of these places to commit a sexual assault? I am willing to bet very few, if any. Again, most sex crimes are committed in the victims own home, by their own family, or close friends, not some stranger coming to a school.
Did the day care center in the Christina Community Center fall within that definition? Didn't Edgar Woodlen Jr.'s rooming house exist before it was established? Has the day care lost its license, making this entire action moot? Does the law's definition include a home where individuals care for a few children, a question Noble also pondered? All questions remaining to be determined in court.
Woodlen tells me the affected residents have found places to live but that he is looking to buy another safe house where he can rent rooms as he has been doing since 2003.
The suit says he has a waiting list of 14 looking for a place to live. He says he does not charge any ex-felons, including the sex offenders, any rent for the first 30 days while the man tries to find the ground under him. Then rents range from $350 to $500, if they can afford it, but often if the former prisoners are not getting disability payments, they have no source of income.
Getting a job to earn rent and buy food is always tough for ex-cons, but in these economic times even many people without any criminal record cannot find work. Woodlen says he helps the men with their problems.
Denn's task force needs to consider these problems. Are there enough community resources for released offenders, and again not just those convicted of sexual crimes, to find a place to live outside of that 500-foot barrier? If the task force report hopes to recommend how to relieve the pressure on our prisons, then it must suggest what should be done to show a path forward for the ex-cons, and particularly the sex offenders already shunned by society and often their fellow inmates.
The designation given sex offenders and the requirement they register and be publicly listed should also be examined. There are now three levels of offenders, depending on the nature of their crime, ranging from various degrees of rape to sexual exploitation of a child to possession of child pornography. As Roger Lancaster, author of "Sex Panic and the Punitive State, " wrote in the Aug. 21 New York Times, "Our sex offender laws are expansive, costly and ineffective -- guided by panic not reason."