By Douglas Walker
State Department of Correction officials say they are no longer sending recently released sex offenders to Muncie houses
MUNCIE - The Indiana Department of Correction is no longer operating "DOC Assist" homes in Muncie's Old West End neighborhood.
The Star Press reported last June that two adjacent homes in the neighborhood — at 927 S. Elliott St. and 612 S. Elliott St. — for the past two years had been used by the DOC as temporary housing for recently released sex offenders from 11 Hoosier counties who had nowhere else to go.
Concerns raised by the article prompted a sometimes heated meeting last July 24 involving DOC employees, local officials including Mayor Dennis Tyler and Delaware County Prosecutor Jeffrey Arnold, and Old West End residents.
Those living near the houses said they were unhappy they had not been told about the "DOC Assist" program — or the proximity of sex offenders to their families. Tyler, noting the Muncie houses were the only such facilities in the 11-county district, said he didn't want the Old West End viewed as a "dumping ground" for offenders.
In an email exchange with The Star Press on Friday, Victoria Fafata, supervisor of the DOC's 11-county New Castle Parole District, confirmed there were no longer "DOC Assist" facilities in the Old West End, or elsewhere in Muncie or Delaware County.
She also said there were no such houses for recently released offenders in Blackford, Henry, Jay or Randolph counties.
Brad King, president of the Old West End Neighborhood Association (Facebook), said Friday that "neighbors in the area feel bit of a relief," but said they were also concerned about "residential opportunities, job opportunities and support networks for the paroled sex offenders in Muncie and Delaware County."
King, who moderated the July meeting with DOC officials, said it was "never the intention of the neighborhood association to shut down this housing opportunity, but to make sure everyone was aware, safe, compliant with the law and situations like this were as transparent as possible."
Tyler on Saturday said he was "really happy for the Old West End residents."
"I know they felt like a dumping ground," he added.
The mayor said communities have a responsibility to provide opportunities for those released from prison, but said having Muncie as the destination for so many out-of-county sex offenders had troubled him.
The Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry would make it appear the Old West End — with general boundaries of Franklin Street to the east, White River to the north, Kilgore Avenue to the west and the railroad tracks to the south — still has what many would consider more than its fair share of released sex offenders.
The registry map shows 29 such offenders living in the neighborhood, but the registry's accuracy has been questioned. Offenders are shown living at the addresses at which they most recently registered, and in some cases are listed as still residing there years after they have departed.
The registry still shows nine offenders living at the Powers and Elliott houses. However, at least four of those felons have returned to prison, and three others are apparently the targets of arrest warrants. (The owner of those houses, Calvin Gilliam, at times continued to rent those apartments to offenders who were no longer participating in the "DOC Assist" program.)
The vast majority of offenders listed as living in the Old West End were convicted of sex offenses outside of Delaware County, and in some cases, out of Indiana.
For example, of five offenders listed as living in the same apartment house in the 700 block of West Jackson Street, only one was convicted of a sex crime in Delaware County. The other four were convicted, respectively, in Elkhart, Hamilton and Wayne counties, and Michigan.
Authorities have suggested some felons have settled in the Old West End in part because it for the most part lacks facilities — including schools, parks and daycare centers — that some sex offenders are prohibited from living near.