By Heather Asiyanbi
Racine is considering a rule that would put buffer zones where offenders could not live, similar to what Caledonia has on the books. Neither Mount Pleasant nor Sturtevant have sex offender ordinances.
Where sex offenders live after their release from prison is a touchy subject in any community. But the subject is front-and-center in the Racine area after a convicted sex offender was nearly placed in a home near that of one of his victims.
City of Racine leaders are vetting a new ordinance that would create buffer zones around areas where children congregate. Caledonia has a sex offender ordinance, but Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant do not.
Though Sturtevant does not currently have a sex offender ordinance, Village Clerk/Interim Administrator Mary Cole said trustees considered one about five years ago, but determined it would be too difficult to enforce for those not under supervised release.
"We will probably address this again at some point now that the [name withheld] case has shone some attention on the issue," she said.
Former Mount Pleasant Village President Carolyn Milkie said the subject did not come up during the almost 10 years she served on the board.
Caledonia's ordinance only allows placement in the village for offenders who are originally from Caledonia. Some of the village restrictions for people released after commitment as a sexually violent person (also known as Chapter 980 commitment) are:
- At least 1,000 feet from a school, church, park, athletic field, trail, playground, conservation district, or H.F. Johnson Park (which is managed by the city); and
- At least six blocks away from other sex offenders.
- Chapter 980 is the statute that outlines how the state can commit people to a secure treatment center if they are deemed a danger to re-offend after completing their prison sentence.
For those not under supervised release but required to register with the Department of Corrections' sex offender registry, they must live:
- At least 2,500 feet away from schools, churches, parks, athletic fields, trails, playgrounds, conservation districts, or H.F. Johnson Park; and
- At least six blocks away from other sex offenders.
What the city is doingRacine Alderwoman Molly Hall introduced a draft ordinance at a recent city Public Safety and Licensing Committee meeting after convicted sex offender [name withheld] was nearly moved a few doors away from a former victim and just four blocks from an elementary school.
At [name withheld]'s Feb. 14 placement hearing, instead Hall said the city needs equal footing with surrounding communities that have sex offender ordinances on the books.
"This draft ordinance takes into account state requirements for placing these individuals, like locating them back into the communities where they offended," she said. "We know we don't live in a bubble, but we have to balance the rights of the offender with the rights of the community."
Because of that placement requirement, the community's involvement with the process should be strong, Hall added.
She is hosting a public information meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Zion Lutheran Church, 3905 Kinzie Avenue, to present the particulars of the ordinance to the community. Anyone can attend that meeting.
Impact of ordinancesRacine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz at the Feb. 14 [name withheld] hearing took Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and Hall to task a bit for perhaps not being fully informed about the measures the state takes to monitor 980 releases.
Barca on Feb. 13 requested a state agency review placement procedures, and Hall is the primary author of the ordinance under consideration.
Part of Gasiorkiewicz's statement addressed the rate of recidivism and how isolation increases the likelihood of sex offenders committing additional sex crimes.
"Wisconsin is at the forefront of sex offender treatment and the misnomer is the rate of re-offending as high when it is actually between 12 and 24 percent," he said. "If we, as a community, exhibit hostile behaviors toward them, their lives continue to be unstable. Under the present law, this is the reality even if we don't like it. Collaboration is key for successful integration back in to the community."
[name withheld]'s lawyer, Robert Peterson, represents Chapter 980 cases all over the state, and he opposes ordinances like the one in Caledonia and the one proposed in Racine.
After the hearing, he stressed that Racine is not a dumping ground for sex offenders and that there is only one other 980 release in the city. He also spoke against any overly restrictive ordinances because they can actually increase the chances of offenders committing new crimes.
"The way these ordinances are crafted, the only location these people can move is the middle of the airport," Peterson said. "I understand how the community feels, but the truth is that these ordinances are counterproductive because they can push individuals into homelessness. Once that happens, all supervision and registering is impossible to monitor and makes it that much more likely for new crimes to be committed."
[name withheld] is not allowed to leave his home unless chaperoned and even then, cannot be more than an arm's length away from that person. He cannot mow his grass, shovel his snow or get his own mail. [name withheld] will be on GPS monitoring for the rest of his life and is also required to wear a proximity bracelet which lets law enforcement know just how far outside his allowed perimeter he might be.
- Wow, the worst serial killer in history was not monitored this much! You'd think this man was Satan himself.
Peterson said it's the highest level of supervision he's ever seen, and he's hoping this issue raises awareness for the sex offender registry.
"There are over 300 people on the sex offender registry in Racine, and we want people aware," he said. "I hope this raises awareness because that's what the registry is for."