By Bridget Shanahan
Advocates say living restrictions could keep communities safer
COLCHESTER - Sex offender laws do not do enough to protect our families, say advocates for both victims and sex offenders.
Vermont's laws governing convicted sex offenders are more lenient than neighboring states, including New Hampshire and New York.
Offenders can pretty much live wherever they want as long as they're not on probation or parole: that includes next to schools, playgrounds and day cares.
- And that is how it should be! Residency laws do nothing to prevent crime or protect anybody and study after study has been done to show it does basically nothing except prevent registrants from getting homes, jobs, support, etc, which could put people in potentially more danger from those who are prone to committing new crimes.
They're required to register, but only for a set amount of time, and even then the public doesn't know exactly where they are.
The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigation is out in Essex, hunting down addresses and knocking on doors, for their yearly sex offender registry checks.
Their stops take them past schools, parks and other areas specially designed for children.
- But not all registrants have harmed a child, so the one-size-fits-all law is unconstitutional, in our opinion.
“A sex offender should stay away from areas where there are children if he's attracted to children. They should stay away,” Pastor Pete Fiske said.
- Registrants who are attracted to children (pedophilia) are rare, not the norm!
Fiske runs the church at prison and a religious treatment and reintegration program for all types of convicted criminals, sex offenders included.
He's working with recently released sex offender _____ -- imprisoned for handcuffing and sexually assaulting a young boy he met on the banks of a river in Southern Vermont.
After public outcry in Vermont, _____ tried to live in California, but the move sparked outrage from the mayor of San Francisco.
In a letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Mayor Edwin Lee says he's writing about a matter of "deep concern" and accuses the Vermont Department of Corrections of not notifying authorities of _____'s move, something Shumlin disputes.
Now _____ is back in Vermont, living in Hyde Park, just a mile or two from local schools.
“I think that if there are ways that we can help make the community aware, and if we can help protect the community, that we should take any steps possible,” Hope Works Executive Director Cathleen Wilson said.
Wilson works with sexual assault victims and agrees with Fiske, restricted living on a case-by-case basis, particularly when the crimes involve children.
“I think that would make a lot of sense. I think that would be a good step, quite honestly,” Wilson said.
It's something the city of Rutland already has: sex offender dwelling restrictions but only for those with crimes against children.
Despite those recommendations, Vermont Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito still says enforcing zoning limits isn't the right move for sex offenders, arguing they'd be pushed out into rural areas without any treatment programs or law enforcement.
“When you start to enact sex offender zoning regulations, you start to drive people who have high risk out into areas where you really can't keep an eye on them,” Pallito said.
Rutland Mayor Chris Louras says that's not the case.
He says the guidelines help make his community safer and that sex offenders don't have a problem finding a home.
It's a similar system to the one Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon tried to put in place in his city, too, but the measure was stopped by a judge.
“As we sit here talking today, there are extremely high-risk offenders who have simply served their time and maxed. So they're no longer required to have treatment and they're no longer supervised by the Department of Corrections, and in those cases, I do think it's important to place restrictions, if you're on the registry,” Lauzen said.
The state of Vermont has considered creating statewide restrictions, but in the end, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and other lawmakers decided against housing guidelines in favor of creating tougher penalties and the possibility of lifetime probation for sex offenders.
“We made a lot of steps to try to keep, particularly, kids safe, but Vermonters in general, safer from sex offenders, and I think as we worked on the bill it was general agreement based on what other states had experienced with residency requirements, that that would not help,” Sears said.
Right now there are only four sex offenders who will be monitored for life. They were initially sentenced to a maximum of life in prison and were released.
As for those sentenced to probation for life, the Department of Corrections doesn't track that information, but the director of field services said he believes there are likely "not many" on that list.