Saturday, February 20, 2010

OR - Homeless offenders find home in forest

Original Article

It's not just in Oregon, it's occurring all across the country, due to the laws the idiots in office are passing.


By Alexander Rich

COOS BAY — The woods behind Blossom Gulch Elementary School are a popular destination for nature lovers. There are trails to hike and animals to observe. The wooded hills also offer shelter for people who have nowhere else to live, including a registered sex offender.

There are 401 registered sex offenders in Coos County, according to Vi Beaty, sex offender registry manager for Oregon State Police. Most live in apartments or houses, but “at least a handful” are homeless, said OSP Lt. Steve Smartt.

Technically, they have to give us a physical address,” he said, “but it doesn’t have to be an address number attached to it.

At least one man has told the OSP he lives back there.

The Blossom Gulch forest is technically listed as Jeffery Hockett’s home. One mile past the gate off Elrod Avenue is the address the registered sex offender has given to State Police, smack in the middle of the forest above the school’s playground.

Sex offenders can say they live under a tree near an intersection and be in compliance with the law, Smartt said. In Hockett’s case, he has been listing that location as his home for more than a year, and last registered it on Jan. 21, said Beaty. A week later, police arrested him on second-degree criminal trespassing, when he was seen loitering near the back edge of the Blossom Gulch playground area.

School officials have a good relationship with the police, said Blossom Gulch Principal Jodi O’Mara following Hockett’s arrest. Officers can be at the downtown campus within minutes if needed. The school closed the track when Hockett appeared, but officers told school officials there wasn’t a need to close the playground.

Students at all elementary schools in the district receive instructions about what to do if they see a stranger, O’Mara said. School employees also keep an eye out for students whenever they leave the building.

When we have concerns, (the police) have a fast response and they are good to come and check it out for us,” she said.

Hockett’s not a stranger to police. Officers have arrested or cited him about six times in the past year and have contacted him 26 times since the start of 2009, said Capt. Cal Mitts of the Coos Bay Police Department.

But he’s not a predatory sex offender, someone with a high risk of re-offending. He was convicted in 1997 of molesting an 8-year-old, and in 2006 for watching child pornography at the library.

He served his sentence and isn’t on probation.

A sex offender can live anywhere he wants, just so long as he let’s police know where that is, said Smartt. It’s harder checking on sex offenders when they are homeless, but that’s the only difference between them and those who live in houses, he added.

It’s not uncommon for criminals who are released from jail to spend time without a permanent home, said Roy Wright, director of Coos County Community Corrections.

It can be even harder for sex offenders.

Their families have rejected them and they don’t have a place to stay,” he said. “They really are starting out at the bottom.”

But many of the sex offenders Wright has seen manage to get jobs and get homes.

While they have the sex offender conviction, they don’t have the drug or alcohol issues,” he said. “There are a lot of places that will hire them throughout the county.”

Coos County’s parole and probation officers expect their clients to live in houses or apartments, Wright said. There were some times when Hockett was on probation that he was found living in the woods. When that happened, police arrested him, Wright said.

If you don’t have a place to live, you can live in the jail,” he said.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin