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Miami’s Sex Offender Bridge Encampment Continues to Grow

by David M. Reutter

Population: 52. That’s how many sex offenders have been forced to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami, Florida as of March 2009. In late 2007, the population was only 19. [See: PLN, June 2008, p.1].

With city and county laws creating restricted residency zones, the number of sex offenders who reside under the causeway bridge is bound to continue growing. The strict laws forbid sex offenders from living within 2,000 or 2,500 feet of schools, day cares, parks, playgrounds and school bus stops. The bridge is the only place available for many released sex offenders in Dade county.

“We have talked to them, they demonstrate that they’re looking, but they just haven’t been able to find anything. There’s so many restrictions in that area of Florida,” remarked Jo Ellyn Rackleff, a Florida Dept. of Corrections spokes-woman. “It’s just a situation that’s unsolvable at this point.”

Officially, the state of Florida does not require sex offenders who have completed their sentences to live in such squalid conditions, but parole officers tell them they can either stay under the bridge or return to prison. “They check us here every evening. We’ve got to be here or we go back to prison,” said a sex offender identified as M.C., who has been living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway for two years.

There are 15 tents, three mobile homes, two shacks, a van and a few cars jammed under the bridge as makeshift homes. The residents have a toilet made of scrap wood, a plastic bucket and a tattered sheet. To keep their electronic monitoring bracelets charged, they pooled their money to buy a $300 generator. “They throw us under here and just hope that we can do something ourselves,” said resident Patrick Wiese, 47.

With the bridge encampment becoming crowded, the offenders who live there have begun to spill out onto the grassy areas where they can be seen by passing traffic. As a result, five Miami cops arrived on January 29, 2009 and told them to remove the shanty homes that extend beyond the causeway or face trespassing charges.

One public health advocate said the failure to provide the bridge residents with a dumpster, sanitary toilet or running water, while exposing them to the weather, creates a haven for communicable diseases. “It’s horrible. It makes no sense,” stated Dr. Joe Greer. “Not only does that camp endanger the public, but it’s inhumane.”

The makeshift camp may endanger the public in other ways, too. Without a stable living situation and an opportunity to reintegrate into society, homeless sex offenders who are forced to live under the bridge may be at higher risk of re-offending. On March 2, 2009, a former bridge resident who had left the camp was charged with molesting a 7-year-old child while visiting a friend’s house.

Ironically, the harsh residency restrictions imposed on sex offenders may, in this case, have created another sex abuse victim.

Sources: Miami Herald, Miami New Times

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