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Safe placement is goal for state

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Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series regarding recent struggles to place two sex offenders in Dodge County under Chapter 980 of the Wisconsin State Statutes.

The potential placement of two sex offenders in Dodge County has created some dilemmas for the court system, as well as the agencies charged with finding a place for the offenders to live.

Under the Chapter 980 statute, when a violent sex offender has completed his or her prison sentence, the state has the ability to civilly commit the individual indefinitely for the purpose of treatment of the offender, as well as to protect the public. However, once an offender is determined to be no longer sexually violent, they are entitled to release.

There are two options for release: discharge and supervised release.

Once a patient is discharged they are are passively monitored by GPS while they remain in Wisconsin and are required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives.

Supervised release may be granted when a court determines that a person meets the conditions of such release. Offenders on supervised release are only allowed out of their home for basic living needs, treatment, religion and employment. They are also actively monitored by GPS and receive random visits by escorts and monitors to ensure they comply with a number of restrictions.

According to Jennifer Miller, a communications specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, when supervised release is ordered by a judge, the state works with counties, municipalities and local law enforcement to find housing in the patient’s county of residence in a manner that “puts community safety first, complies with state and local laws regarding placement of sex offenders and upholds the court order.”

“In most cases, staff with the supervised release program (SRP) identify potential residences through leads from vendors, contacts with landlords who have previously rented to supervised release patients, and other means like Internet searches for properties in the county of residence,” she said.

Once a housing option is located, Miller says staff assesses whether or not it meets the legal requirements and determines the proximity to vulnerable populations and other sex offenders.

“Local law enforcement and the Department of Corrections also conduct their own, independent assessments of potential residences,” she said.

When a viable residence has been identified, staff negotiates a lease with the homeowner or informs its vendors if the property is for sale.

Miller said, “Ultimately, the judge handling the case must approve of the selected residence before an individual is placed there.”

That is where the process has stalled in Dodge County.

Robert Larson and Jonathan Miller are eligible for full discharge from Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, but have both requested supervised release. An initial placement near Brownsville was rescinded by Judge Brian Pfitzinger and Judge Joseph Sciascia due to proximity to a home with young children.

More recently, Larson and Miller were expected to be placed in a home in the town of Lowell, but the home was taken off the market.

Many Lowell residents expressed a desire for Larson and Miller to be placed in a larger city in Dodge County with a 24-hour police department. However, finding a placement that meets the law’s requirements in Dodge County communities that have a police force would be difficult.

The Daily Citizen mapped possible locations that would meet statutory requirements and found nearly all viable locations are completely rural.

Judge Sciascia, who gave conditional approval for the offenders to be placed in the Lowell residence, warned that while he understood why people did not want the offenders placed in their communities, blocking placement could put the constitutionality of the program in jeopardy.

Sciascia explained that when a Chapter 980 sex offender meets the criteria for release, state law mandates that they must be released.

If the Chapter 980 law was repealed all the people currently being detained as a part of the program would be released without any supervision whatsoever. Sciascia argued that this would further put the safety of the people in Dodge County in jeopardy.

When asked what an ideal placement would look like, Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said, “An ideal placement would be a residence that has no children in the immediate vicinity, whether it be at 1,500 feet or just beyond 1,500 feet, that would be accessible to those offenders. I believe there are available options in the county. The ultimate goal has to be to insure the safety of the residents of Dodge County.”

(2) comments

Lara K

Residency restrictions are never a good answer, although it is hard to see that sometimes. Even those in Sand Ridge who have successfully completed treatment have earned a second chance in a community where they do not have to hide and they are not shunned for their mistakes. It is hard to live a stable life when everyone around you including the whole community appears to be trying to keep you unstable. That is what safety plans are for, along with those around the offender keeping them accountable for their lives.

While communities may never want an offender released from Sand Ridge teaching in their elementary schools, being scout leaders or teen mentors, but that doesn't mean they have nothing to contribute to the community. There are more than enough careers where child interaction will never happen. It is foolish for the public to think that to just remove people from their presence will remove the problem. At one point in time these were first time offenders, over 90% of sex assault/abuse cases are first time offenders, who many times lived only 8 feet from their victim's bedroom door.

We keep trying to regulate the punishment never breaking the cycle where it starts. No we do not want our government in our homes, but we do need to keep each other accountable to ourselves, which is the most important.

Brandon Cole

"Safe placement is goal for state ". Really great article :)

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