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FARGO (AP) ― North Dakota and Minnesota have programs to provide transitional housing for sex offenders after their release from prison.
In Fargo, Ellric Giroux and Andy Perhus are living in a Fargo apartment after being turned down a combined 38 times when they tried to find place to live.
Barb Breiland, the program manager for the North Dakota Sex Offender Specialist Unit, said the state leases the apartment as transitional housing.
For $7 a day, including utilities, "it beats living on the street," said Giroux, who was homeless for a year in Minneapolis.
Giroux was convicted in 1997, in an incident involving a 15-year-old when he was 19. "I'm not opposed to people knowing," he said. "People are afraid of what they don't know; it's human nature."
Perhus was convicted in 2003 of burglary and criminal trespass for entering private homes and stealing female undergarments. His probation was revoked in 2006 after he was found with female and children's undergarments, according to the city's sex offender site.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections uses a home in Moorhead for up to four offenders after their release from prison.
"Offenders are placed there so they're not living in their car, they're not living under a bridge," said Shari Burt, a spokeswoman for the department.
Burt said the state can monitor the offenders, who usually stay up to 90 days while looking for permanent housing or employment.
"We believe that it improves, it enhances public safety," she said.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
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MONROE TWP - A registered sex offender is suing the township, claiming a local ordinance that restricts where he can live is unconstitutional and is pre-empted by state law.
The 55-year-old man, only identified as A.B. in court papers, claims he will be homeless and potentially jobless as a result of the ordinance. The New Jersey Public Defender's Office, on behalf of A.B., is asking the courts to stop Monroe Township from enforcing the ordinance, which was adopted in August 2006.
Similar complaints have been raised in other Gloucester County towns and municipalities throughout the state where local regulations have been enacted. In some instances Superior Court judges have found the local laws to be invalid because they trump the state's.
Monroe's ordinance applies to all three tiers of sex offenders and restricts them from living within 2,500 feet of any place where children often congregate such as schools, playgrounds, day care centers, churches and libraries. It also requires the sex offenders who are in violation of the ordinance to move within 60 days of being notified.
A.B. pleaded guilty in July 2003 to sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He was released from prison in June 2007 and was registered as a Tier 2 or moderate-risk sex offender, according to court documents.
After he was released, he moved to an apartment in Monroe Township because of its affordability and location to his job. A.B. claims he was notified by the township police on March 12 that he was in violation of the ordinance and would have to move.
Because of the residency restrictions in Monroe Township, A.B. claims "there are few, if any, affordable apartments" in which he can live.
"The present status of the law says these statutes are unconstitutional," said Seth Belson, assistant deputy public defender. "The municipality is attempting to enforce it against someone knowing that its unconstitutional and I'm trying to stop them."
Township Solicitor Charles Fiore did not return a request for comment.
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Ellric Giroux and Andy Perhus were turned down a combined 38 times before they found a place to live.
They don’t have bad credit. They’re sex offenders.
Some potential landlords are open-minded. Others hang up the phone after hearing that the interested tenant is a registered sex offender, Giroux said.
Giroux makes it a point to tell landlords upfront so there aren’t problems later. He also tries to thank them for their time, even if they’re not interested.
“I’m not opposed to people knowing,” said Giroux, who was convicted in 1997 of gross sexual imposition for an incident with a 15-year-old when he was 19. “People are afraid of what they don’t know; it’s human nature.”
Perhus was convicted in 2003 of burglary and two counts of criminal trespass for entering private residences and stealing female undergarments. His probation was revoked in 2006 after he was found with female and children’s undergarments, according to the city’s sex offender site.
Both Giroux and Perhus recently landed at 1315 1st Ave. N., No. 6, in Fargo following their release from prison.
The North Dakota Department of Corrections leases the apartment as transitional housing, said Barb Breiland, program manager for the North Dakota Sex Offender Specialist Unit.
For $7 a day – which includes utilities – “it beats living on the street,” said Giroux, who was homeless for a year in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections has a similar transitional housing program in Moorhead. The agency uses a home in the 1900 block of First Avenue South for up to four recently released offenders.
“Offenders are placed there so they’re not living in their car, they’re not living under a bridge,” said Shari Burt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
Burt said the housing allows the state to use supervision tools, such as home monitoring, for residents who usually stay 30 to 90 days while looking for permanent housing or employment.
“We believe that it improves, it enhances public safety,” she said.
Two offenders now live at the residence.
Finding housing can be difficult and frustrating for sex offenders after they’re released from incarceration, said Bernice Jamgochian, whose grandson, Allen, is a registered sex offender.
He was convicted in 2007 of gross sexual imposition for an incident involving a 14-year-old female relative. He was also convicted of corruption of a minor in 2005 for an incident involving a 15-year-old female acquaintance, according to the city’s sex offender Web site.
Jamgochian said they struggled at first, but found a place at 1423 6th Ave. S. in Fargo with the help of Cass County social services.
Pete Sabo, who owns the building Jamgochian lives in, said he has never had a problem with any of the sex offenders he has had as tenants.
“I find them to be excellent renters,” Sabo said. “They pay their rent on time. They don’t want any trouble. They go to work on time. They’ve never so much as bothered any other tenants.”
The Fargo businessman tries to look at all the circumstances surrounding a sex offender being required to register, adding he checks the story they give him with each individual’s probation officer.
But Sabo said he isn’t a fan of renting to convicted child molesters.
“If they’re molesting little girls, I don’t think a lifetime sentence would be enough for them,” he said.
Sabo said he has had a few residents complain about him renting to sex offenders, “but the ones that are complaining are the worst tenants I’ve got.”
Jamgochian’s grandson had problems with neighbors at his last residence, which resulted in him going back to jail for a probation violation, she said.
Jamgochian thinks her grandson might have better luck this time with his new neighbors.
Jim Mahlke, who lives in the same building as Jamgochian and just down the hall from another high-risk sex offender, said he doesn’t have any problem with his neighbors.
“They did their time; they served their sentence,” Mahlke said. “Everybody’s got a right to live somewhere.”
Most of the neighbors of Giroux and Perhus have been friendly, Giroux said. Several other sex offenders have lived in the neighborhood near their apartment and have since relocated. About a block up the street, two high-risk sex offenders live one house away from one another.
Neither have been a problem for neighbor Sonja Johnson, although she said she appreciates being aware of the men’s histories.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me if he lives there as long as he doesn’t bother me,” she said of neighbor Jeffrey Theisen, 1413 1st Ave. N.
Theisen was convicted of gross sexual imposition in juvenile court in 1997 for an incident involving a female known to him who was younger than age 15. He is one of a few sex offenders who have moved frequently in the past several months, according to offender relocation notifications Fargo police send to the public.
Authorities can’t force someone to live somewhere, said Fargo police Lt. Pat Claus.
Two detectives are assigned to monitor the city’s sex offenders, a task Claus said has become more than a secondary duty.
The detectives estimate that almost 50 percent of their week goes into keeping tabs on sex offenders, Claus said.
Giroux said he understands why sex offenders have to register. He said he believes it helps give the community a better sense of protection and awareness.
“I’m all for that; I have children myself,” he said. “I don’t mind them scrutinizing me. I’m not doing anything wrong.”
For the most part, he feels he is pretty much left alone by the public, although he knows there are some people who are uncomfortable with his situation.
“If people don’t like me because of that, that’s one less person that I’ve got to deal with,” Giroux said.
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Kids in Daytona are committing more serious crimes, violence on the rise
DAYTONA BEACH - When the police got a tip that Bonner Elementary was being hit for the second time in a week, they rushed three squad cars to the school. As they were cordoning off the grounds, the burglars emerged — dashing out a front door and across a field.
Norm Kenaiou, a veteran cop, caught one burglar struggling to hop a chain-link fence. The shock came when he spun his suspect around and saw two, doe-like eyes blinking back at him: the eyes of a terrified, 8-year-old girl.
Should he read the child her Miranda rights? Handcuff her? Kenaiou couldn't bring himself to do that. Instead, as he later described it, "I took her hand and, just as a father would lead a child, walked her back to my patrol car."
That another 8-year-old, a 9-year-old, two 12-year-olds and a 14-year-old were also arrested for the New Year's Day break-in was just as troubling. "It was a real gut punch," Kenaiou says.
In this working-class tourist mecca, a party town best known for motor racing and spring-break frivolity, crime has never been an outsider. Today, Daytona's crime rate is more than double Florida's and the nation's, having jumped 13 percent in 2006 alone, according to the most recent state figures available.
But what especially unsettles law enforcement here is that juveniles — some as young as 7 — are being arrested for a larger share of the city's felonies.
Crimes under high noon
Mike Chitwood flagged the problem two years ago, soon after taking over as Daytona's police chief. It wasn't just that poorer neighborhoods were being pounded by burglaries, or that cars were vanishing from dealership lots, or even that assaults and sex offenses were up.
The crimes were happening under the noon sun — and not far from the city's schools. Initially, Chitwood ordered truancy sweeps. Then he had his officers fingerprint kids caught skipping school. After running the prints through the FBI's national database he saw his suspicions confirmed: Kids were behind the spike.
It didn't take long for the police to link rings of teens to burglaries, car thefts, carjackings and even armed robberies. "We even had kids taking stolen cars out of stolen-car lots," Chitwood says.
But more arrests do not a victory make, as the chief came to learn.
High crime rates
In a city such as Daytona — where poverty lives among the weeded lots and sagging houses off the palm-lined, neoned strip, behind the triple-bolted doors of tenements in the shadow of the Speedway — teen crime and even preteen crime have proven to be resilient adversaries.
Here and in other cities, chronically high juvenile crime rates — those ranging above the national average of kids under 15 committing 5 percent of violent crimes, 7 percent of robberies and 9 percent of burglaries — fray the patience of judges and politicians and pop up on newspaper front pages. Each spike in offenses prompts a new round of questions, namely:
What will it take to keep our kids out of the juvenile justice system — for some, just a pipeline to the prison system? More aggressive policing? More social services? Harsher sentences? Or something else?
Would programs to modify the behavior of kids as young as 5 help? Or would taxpayers dismiss that as just more nanny government, especially at a time of economic slowdown, when local and state governments are desperate to cut spending?
Chitwood doesn't hesitate in answering.
"I've got 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds committing burglary and stealing cars now. What are they going to be doing when they're 21?" he says. "Hey, either you pay when they go to state or federal prison, or you're going to clean the crap up now. But somewhere along the line you are going to pay."
Youngsters committing big crimes
When children commit, or even plan, violent crimes, America takes notice.
Think about the attention paid in April to a school in Waycross, Ga., where a group of third-graders allegedly hatched a plot to knock out, handcuff and stab their teacher with a steakknife.
Recall the outcry a decade or so ago, when a series of horrific murders by kids prompted dire predictions that teen "superpredators" would take over America's streets. Legislators passed get-tough laws, and children were increasingly transferred to adult prisons for serious crimes — a policy that many states are now rethinking, and in some cases, retooling.
But the "rookie" offenses, the ones that start children on the journey to a life of crime, often don't get the attention they should, says Dan Mears, an associate professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
"There's an at-risk population of kids in our country, particularly those in poverty — 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds — who get no attention from our juvenile justice system. Even in our most progressive states, we wait until a kid has committed a really bad crime ... to do something."
And even then, he adds, "the response is much more focused on being punitive, rather than asking, 'Jeez, what can we do to prevent them from getting enmeshed in juvenile justice?' — which would cost us a lot less money than eventually having to incarcerate them."
Far from immune
Daytona Beach is no New York City, no Chicago; criminologists don't look here for national law enforcement trends. And yet, Daytona suffers from economic and social maladies that plague many American cities with high youth-crime rates, making it fertile ground for a study on how to divert at-risk youths from a life of crime.
Seventeen percent of Daytona's families live below the poverty line, nearly double the national and state averages of 9 percent. Median household income, $25,439, is not two-thirds of the national average of $41,994, according to U.S. Census data.
The percentage of single-parent households in Daytona Beach is higher than that of two-parent households. Nationally, there are three times as many two-parent households as single-parent homes, the census notes.
Fewer than half of Daytona's residents own their homes, far below the average for the rest of Florida, where 70.1 percent are homeowners, census data shows.
And this city has yawning demographic disparities: In Daytona Beach, where a third of the population is African-American and half is white, 8 of 10 children arrested in 2005-06 were black; just 16 percent were white, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
"These poor, minority kids always fall between the cracks," says Jeffrey Butts of Chapin Hall, a child and family research center at the University of Chicago. "Their law violations scare away child welfare agencies, but most times their initial crimes are not serious enough to merit aggressive intervention by the juvenile justice system."
What to do, then, in cities like Daytona?
"We'll never have the tax base and political will to bring outside solutions into every neighborhood," Butts says. "What it takes is creative organizing — to find positive people in each community and to build them into a force for change."
There exists a patchwork of nonprofit groups that endeavor to dent this city's child-crime problem — faith-based, medical, government, among others. And then there are foot soldiers, such as Georgia Williams, who works for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
"Miss Georgia," as the children respectfully call her, is director of the Palmetto facility in 32114, Daytona's poorest ZIP code. Her responsibility: 166 kids, ages about 6 to 12. Her staff: Two.
In physical terms, Williams' workplace is modest: A one-story structure of graffitied brick that a decade ago served as a low-income housing project. This club has no basketball court, no pool, no soccer field, not even a flag for its flagpole — just a faded sign hung crookedly in a barred window: "Safe Place."
What it does have, though, is fundamentally important: rules.
Here, bad behavior isn't tolerated: not fighting, profanity, backtalk, forgetting to brush one's teeth, or fluffing off homework. At 52, Williams is old-school, likes order. "These kids don't come here to get their character developed," she says, "but they wind up getting just that."
Spanking is a no-no, but she has other tools, such as "time outs." Those punished in this way sit alone for 10 minutes or perform clean-up duty. More serious offenders receive two-day suspensions, and do neighborhood cleanup.
Grooming for life 'on the big stage'
Williams' larger purpose is to groom these children for life "on the big stage," starting with lessons in hygiene, and other basics. She and her helpers drill the kids on the importance of a good breakfast, telling the truth, staying in school.
And, adds Kamri Skillings, 11, on the pitfalls of illegal substances. "Cocaine, marijuana, meth — the biggies," she says. Anything else she's been warned to avoid? "Um, diseases that can be spread from kissing and stuff."
This all might seem rudimentary, but it's vital to children who often don't get the basics from a grandparent who's raising them, or a single mother who's working multiple jobs to pay the rent, says Joe Sullivan, who oversees 11 Boys & Girls Clubs in east-central Florida.
"A lot of these latchkey kids need boundaries — how to act, how to behave. They need somebody to pay attention to them," he says.
And yet, he says, only a handful of the poorest families in the surrounding projects send their kids to the Palmetto club. Why?
Williams thinks it's largely cultural: "We do a lot of mentoring here. I like to mold my youngsters, push them to the limit. I think that makes a lot of the parents around here uncomfortable."
Sullivan understands that. Still, he might be able to attract more children from the neighboring projects by adding an outdoor playground. "You need to have things for the bigger kids to do. They won't just sit indoors."
Tough times getting tougher
Then, reality sets in: This is going to be a hard year. Private donations have shrunken in the slowing economy; government dollars are getting scarcer. Consequently, the Boys & Girls Club will shutter two facilities in the county, spreading kids among its remaining clubs, Sullivan says.
Gail Hallmon, operations director at The House Next Door, a support agency for troubled families, commiserates. Her organization lost $100,000 last year in funding from the state and county — a 5 percent budget hit. This year, she expects more cutbacks.
"In times like these, all social services are getting cut — and the first things to go are the programs designed to keep kids from becoming criminals. There isn't really any organized attention and funding to help those kids who haven't broken the law yet — only for kids already in the juvenile justice system."
Last year, her group partnered with the local police to try to create a Daytona Beach Truancy Center. The cops would sweep neighborhoods for truants and bring them to the center. (Presently, they are returned to school, but police say the students often walk in the front door and out the back.)
At the Truancy Center, two social workers would interview and assess the children and, together with school counselors, link them and their parents to drug or mental health screening, classes on managing anger and impulses, and the like.
The House Next Door applied for state grants; the Daytona police applied for a grant from the Department of Justice. The idea was to pool resources — about $250,000 — for the center's first year.
Both were rejected.
"It's painful to know," Hallmon says, "that you know what will work to keep kids from becoming criminals, but that you can't get the money to make it work."