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Concentration Of Paroled Illinois Sex Offenders Stirs Controversy

Following news that a disproportionate number of paroled sex offenders were concentrated on Chicago’s South Side, Illinois officials instituted more rigid oversight of transitional group homes and returned 55 parolees to prison.

The Chicago Tribune reported on January 3l, 2005, that 10.5% (158) of the state’s 1,503 currently paroled sex offenders were placed in transitional group homes in poor African-American communities on Chicago’s South Side. In fact, five transitional homes are located in the area’s 60628 zip code, which includes the communities of Roseland, Pullman, West Pullman, and Washington Park. Community leaders and residents were outraged upon learning of the high concentration of paroled sex offenders in their neighborhoods. “They dump every damn thing here,” said Alderman Carrie Austin. “It’s a disrespect to our community.” No increase in crime has been reported and it is unclear if the sex offenders are from those neighborhoods before being convicted.

According to the Tribune, paroled sex offenders are placed in the group homes only as a last resort after prison officials have tried to locate family or other private housing. When released to one of these homes an offender must wear an electronic monitor at all times; may leave the premises only for job interviews; must sign out and inform his parole officer of his plans; and is required to present proof upon his return that he indeed went where he said he was going.

Still, fear that sex offenders will re-offend has prompted opposition to the homes in many communities. As a result, the potential pool of transitional facilities outside of Chicago has dwindled over the years, said Deanne Benos, a DOC parole official. “An unacceptable situation has evolved over the past several years with the decline of the number of ... providers working with parolees,” she said. “There is no question that this is a serious concern.”

On February l, 2005, Governor Rod Blagojevich responded to the criticism by ordering prison officials to limit the number of sex offenders placed in a particular area. However, no specific number as to how many could live in a single ZIP code was given. Blagojevich also told the DOC to devise standards for transitional group homes for sex offenders, including limiting the number of offenders in each home, requiring 24-hour supervision, and mandating regular contact between the home and the local police. Finally, Blagojevich directed prison officials to implement a pilot project to track 200 of the sex offenders deemed most dangerous through 24-hour global positioning system (GPS) monitoring.

Immediately after the Governor’s guidelines were issued, the DOC began moving some parolees from Cook County to other areas of the state. Fifty-five were returned to prison due to a lack of suitable housing.

The Tribune report also caused city and state officials to target the transitional homes themselves. Chicago authorities ticketed several of the homes for building code violations and took them to Housing Court. State Representative Kevin Joyce (D-Chicago) joined the fray and introduced legislation that would prohibit more than one registered sex offender from living at particular address. The bill passed on February 3, 2005. Joyce is considering an amendment to the bill to provide an exemption for transitional group homes.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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