By Alan Johnson
Ohio has about 250 former prisoners — two-thirds of them sex offenders — who are homeless but still under state parole-authority supervision.
The lack of address hampers compliance with laws designed to keep officials and the public informed about where sex offenders live.
Spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said that while the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction works to find places for offenders to live when they are released, that’s not always possible, particularly with sex offenders who are notoriously hard to house.
One of them is _____ of Franklin County, who will be homeless when he is scheduled to get out of prison on Feb. 16. Officially, _____’s address will be 53 E. Main St., 2nd floor, Logan, Ohio — the Adult Parole Authority office.
_____, 41, spent more than nine years in prison for three felony counts of gross sexual imposition and one count of abduction involving a teenage girl.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said he was surprised to receive notice about the upcoming release of _____ — whose victim was a relative — without anywhere to track him.
“He is subject to registration upon release, and even though he is being released to Hocking County, the purpose of Megan’s Law and the Adam Walsh Act is to know where sex offenders reside,” O’Brien told The Dispatch.
“A release by the parole board in either a post-release control or to parole (someone) ... to (a parole) office doesn't accomplish that purpose. I always understood a parole plan contemplated a known residence, but apparently that is no longer the case.”
_____’s is not an isolated case.
Smith said when an inmate’s sentence expires, the state cannot keep him locked up, even if he has no place to go. The agency works cooperatively with local law-enforcement officials to keep track of released offenders, she said. They are required to report regularly to their parole officer as long as they are under state-mandated supervision, which can last several years.
David Berenson, the prison agency’s director of Sex Offender Services, said housing for released sex offenders is “a huge problem in every state. Researchers are looking into it, at what might be more effective laws. But there’s really nothing substantial. A lot of them are homeless because they've burned every bridge.”
State statistics show that just 11 percent of released sex offenders return to prison on sex charges, compared with the overall recidivism rate of 28.7 percent in Ohio.
Columbus victim advocate Brett Vinocur, who tracks released offenders and inmates up for parole, said homeless sex offenders are common.
“The system failed the citizens of Ohio,” he said. “These guys are just being dumped, putting sex offenders on the streets. I've seen them living under the bridge, living on the side of the road.”
But Vinocur does not blame state prison officials for the problem. Instead, he lays it at the doorstep of state legislators who changed state laws in 1996 to eliminate indefinite prison sentences in favor of flat sentences, in the process reducing time served for a variety of crimes, including sex offenses.