By Alison Bauter
MOUNT PLEASANT - After hearing testimony on how sex offender placement ordinances can backfire, a village committee voted unanimously Wednesday to take more time in creating such an ordinance for Mount Pleasant.
Such ordinances set restrictions on where child and violent sex offenders out on supervised release can live, sometimes limiting them to only small sections of a municipality. Village Board members on the Finance/Legal/License committee said Mount Pleasant’s proposed ordinance is designed to mirror those passed by Racine, Caledonia and Sturtevant, ensuring their village doesn’t become a “dumping ground” for released offenders.
But Department of Corrections Field Supervisor Matt Kaesermann cautioned committee members Wednesday, saying research and experience shows such ordinances can hurt more than they help, leading to homelessness among offenders after release. When offenders are homeless, it makes it hard for authorities to monitor them and increases their chances of re-offending.
Following a recent flurry of sex offender ordinances passed in the area, Kaesermann said only one transitional living home, in the 2100 block of Mount Pleasant’s Racine Street, is available to temporarily house offenders upon release. The other approximately 15 to 20 homes that previously served the purpose can no longer house them thanks to recent ordinances, he said.
Additionally, although his department is currently working to re-establish those transitional homes in areas that comply with the ordinance, Kaesermann said the next group of sex offenders scheduled for release this January is currently expected to be homeless.
According to Kaesermann, limiting the locations released offenders can be placed leads to “unintended consequences” by increasing the number of homeless offenders and draining department resources by complicating the search for housing. It additionally makes those offenders harder to monitor and/or concentrates them into small geographic areas, he said.
“That’s not public safety,” said Kaesermann, himself a Mount Pleasant resident. “In my opinion, that doesn’t do anything.”
Mount Pleasant Chief of Police Tim Zarzecki said that after speaking to Kaesermann, he reached out to law enforcement officials in Brown County, where similar ordinances have been in place and at least one has been rescinded.
“What they both told me, in essence, summarized, is that in their opinion, the sex offender ordinance has pushed people underground,” Zarzecki said.
Research shows recidivism decreases when offenders are kept separate from one another, re-integrated with society and closely monitored, Kaesermann said.
“Suitable housing, positive social supports … that leads to a reduction in recidivism. Are they working? Do they have a sense of self-worth?” he said.
In light of Kaesermann’s testimony, Mount Pleasant trustees unanimously voted to temporarily delay a decision on the ordinance.
“We’ve received some new information,” said Village President Mark Gleason. “We need to have an ordinance that has the right teeth in it.”
Gleason stressed the need to carefully craft the ordinance to best ensure public safety, but he also insisted, “We don’t want to sit on it. We really need to focus on this a little bit and bring it back as soon as we possibly can.”