|Waiting outside in the cold|
By Rob Wildeboer
The Chicago Police Department forces sex offenders to violate their parole. I know that sounds crazy. I thought it was crazy when I first heard about it, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two weeks with sex offenders waiting -- for hours and hours -- outside police headquarters and watching a Kafkaesque process play out.
Every morning sex offenders start lining up at 6, while it’s still dark out, sometimes even earlier than that, and I probably don’t have to remind you how cold it’s been this winter. _____ was one of a couple dozen men on a recent morning.
- We're sure they don't care. Ex-offenders in other states have froze to death due to not being allowed into shelters during cold weather.
“It’s freezing out here,” said _____. “Man, I had frost bites today. Somebody gave me some gloves to put on my hands.”
It’s often like this, with the men stomping their feet on the cold concrete, trying to stay warm. For some reason, there’s no waiting room. A small vestibule acts as a makeshift waiting room but there are 20 guys stuck outside. By 10:30 a.m. all of the men are cold and frustrated. “I been here since 7 o’clock waiting in line trying to see these people to keep me from being locked up,” said _____.
On this morning an ambulance was called for one of the men because he had numbness in his feet. After that, the men were allowed to wait in the main lobby of police headquarters but that’s the exception to the rule.
People convicted as sex offenders have to register once a year. It basically means they have to go to the police department registration office and update their personal info and show proof of their current address. And if they move, they have to go back to re-register within three days. If they enroll in school they have to re-register within three days. If they change jobs they have to re-register within three days.
There are a lot of requirements and in Chicago, and they can be nearly impossible to meet, not because the offenders don’t want to meet them but because of the way the Chicago Police Department runs the registration office.
When I met _____ in line it was his third time trying to get in the office to register. “Every time we come here they have us standing in this line out here in this cold,” he said.
_____ was turned away the other two days because the office doesn't have the capacity to process all the sex offenders who show up to register, and _____’s worried the same thing is going to happen again. “At 12 o’clock they’ll cut the line, they’ll stop the line and tell us to come back tomorrow but I been standing out here already four to five hours,” said _____.
Go home, but you can still be arrested
Sure enough, an hour later, at 11:45 a.m., a man comes out of the registry office and tells _____ and the two dozen other men who have been waiting in the cold all morning, that they won’t be able to register today. But then it gets weirder. The police department employee tells the men they can sign a list that will prove they showed up today to register but then he tells them that even if they’re on the list, they can still be arrested for failing to register.
In a written statement, Adam Collins, a spokesman for the Chicago Police, said the list is collected and the department “proactively sends their names to Illinois State Police … to minimize any potential criminal registration problems for the individuals.”
Of course letting the men actually register would be an even more effective way to minimize registration problems. For clarity, I asked Collins several times, aren’t the men at risk of being arrested? He simply resent a portion of his written statement.
For the offenders being turned away every day -- sometimes 10, 20, or even more of them -- the message they’re getting is that the department prefers to risk their arrest rather than process this paperwork more quickly.
Violating registration rules can mean prison
The men are nervous and they have good reason. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections there are currently 841 people in prison for violating registration requirements.