Group urges RI governor to veto legislation restricting SO access to shelters

By Sophie Culpepper . . . Last month, a bill that would cap the proportion of registered sex offenders in homeless shelter beds at 10 percent for shelters whose capacity exceeds 50 people passed in the Rhode Island State House. A coalition of activists are now asking via petition that Gov. Gina Raimondo veto the bill, arguing that the legislation is “against the public interest.”

The bill passed the state Senate in May, and the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended it for passage in early June. The bill was passed in concurrence by the Rhode Island House of Representatives Sept. 19, and the veto petition was sent to Raimondo Sept. 26.

Seven individuals, including several directors of homeless shelters and non-profits, co-signed the petition to the governor. Forty to 50 individuals will be displaced if the bill is passed, which would create a public safety concern both for the displaced individuals, as well as the larger community, according to the petition. If passed, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, and the petitioners note that this would leave people homeless in the dead of winter. This would also increase risks of recidivism, petitioners say.

Perceptions of the bill are sharply polarized, and while detractors argue that the legislation jeopardizes public safety, supporters say the bill actually defends it.

State Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, is a co-sponsor of the bill and introduced it alongside State Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston. Cranston is the location of Rhode Island’s largest homeless shelter, Harrington Hall. Harrington has 112 beds which are open to single men. “Harrington Hall has the highest number per capita of registered sex offenders transported there at any given time in the state of Rhode Island,” Lombardi said. This disproportionate concentration of sex offenders in a single neighborhood was the impetus for the bill especially because “the residence hall surrounds at least three elementary schools,” he said.

The question of appropriate maintenance of distance between schools and sex offenders is no new issue in Rhode Island. Convicted sex offenders have been restricted from living closer than 300 feet from any school property since 2008, The Providence Journal reported. In June 2015, the General Assembly expanded this to 1,000 feet for Level III sex offenders — those most likely to re-offend. This law placed 64 percent of Providence off-limits to these registered sex offenders, according to the Journal. In October 2015, the lawsuit Freitas et al. v. Kilmartin was filed challenging the law’s constitutionality as violating due process; after the case was filed, a judge placed a restraining order on the law, effective to this day and as long as the case remains unresolved.

“It’s very sad that we have a significant population of people who are required to register as sex offenders that have no place to live but Harrington Hall,” said Andrew Horwitz, petitioner and assistant dean for experiment education at Roger Williams University. Although the 1,000-foot rule is not in effect, the critics of this bill say that sex offenders do not have options other than Harrington Hall because of policies in other shelters and the 300-foot restriction. “We’ve got such incredible restrictions on where registered sex offenders are allowed to live that pretty much any place in Rhode Island that has affordable housing is off-limits for somebody who is a registered sex offender,” Horwitz added.

Concerning the safety of the public, “what reduces recidivism is stability,” Horwitz said. “When you render somebody homeless” by limiting the number of beds available to them in shelters, “you destabilize them,” he said.

One of the “public safety” concerns in Lombardi’s district is cases of sex offenders being dropped off at the shelter and loitering if no beds were available. He characterized the bill as an “incentive to have all of these homeless shelters share — not overburden Harrington Hall only with registered sex offenders.”

Lombardi had not heard about the petition but was not surprised to learn there was one; “there was a very vibrant debate” in the Senate, he recalled, “given the polarizing issues involved; on one side the issue of public safety and on the other side is the issue of homelessness.” Though he supports the bill, Lombardi recognizes more progress is needed to be made toward finding permanent solutions to homelessness, including for sex offenders. “We need the judiciary, we need law enforcement, we need the public housing folks,” he said.

The petition proposes an alternative path from the bill: a “study commission” that would devote time and resources to considering viable options for housing for registered sex offenders, which could inform future legislation. It also suggests potential amendments to the bill, such as changing the date it would take effect and limiting its applicability to Level III Sex offenders.

Horwitz himself is in favor of building more homeless shelters and having a more decentralized homeless system to relieve Harrington and the neighborhood; but fundamentally he said he views shelters themselves as only rudimentary solutions to homelessness. He would prefer legislation creating more affordable housing and repealing “irrational” housing restrictions to address Harrington’s predicament.

The main plaintiff in Freitas et al. v. Kilmartin, John Freitas, is a Level III sex offender. Barbara Freitas, director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and formerly homeless herself, is his widow. She was another of the seven signatories of the petition.

Freitas echoed Horwitz’s concerns. The bill’s “attempt to keep the public safe is failing miserably, because they will end up in the street,” she said. Freitas explained that sex offenders are at least accounted for in a homeless shelter due to the requirement to register. This means that “public safety” is better served by keeping homeless shelters’ numbers of sex offenders uncapped for community members and visitors alike.

Freitas does not expect Raimondo to heed the petition. Freitas says she was part of a previous attempt to convince Raimondo to veto the 300-foot rule, without success. “Nobody wants to have the veto go through about sex offenders. That’s a sure way to have yourself not get elected,” Freitas said.

If the governor were to veto the bill, there would be no effort by the legislative branch to override the veto, according to Lombardi. The bill was transmitted to the governor Oct. 3. She is required to sign or veto legislation within six days of transmittal. The bill is “currently under consideration for action in the coming days,” according to the governor’s press office.

Source: The Brown Daily Herald

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Viewing 14 reply threads
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    • #23204 Reply
      Jerry P.

      The possibility of my brothers and sisters freezing to death scares me…. My heart is yet again saddened…

      • #23444 Reply
        Sandy Rozek
        Sandy Rozek

        Jerry, your simple statement brings tears to my eyes. And then the sadness is overcome with fury.

    • #23202 Reply

      Has anyone done a study of how man sex offenses have been committed by offenders while living in one of those shelters? I’d be willing to bet is is close to zero if not zero. The lame stream media has convinced the public that a sex offender is a person who abducts children from a playground but have no facts to back it up.

    • #23199 Reply
      Yeah right

      Also, once an American satisfies their sentence (punishment) which is spelled out by their Judge, their rights are restored. AND it may be looked at as retro active punishment imposed by the legislature. AND WHERE IS THE PROOF THAT THE STATE IS IN DIRE NEED OF THIS LAW??!!?!

    • #23197 Reply
      Yeah right

      Can the convicted domestic violence felons stay? What if they were convicted multiple times?

      • #23262 Reply

        As long as you a murderer, bank robber, drug dealer, car thief, shoplifter, serial killer, hey you can stay as long as you want to, if your on the ML list then you a danger to everyone! It’s known now that RSO’s have the lowest recidivism out all the above but politicians want everyone to think SO’s are a danger to society not murderers or drug dealers who feed people poisonous drugs or shoot an innocent person because some addict didn’t pay for his drugs on time and they pull a drive-by shooting, but hey we’re the dangerous folks here.

    • #23227 Reply

      The courts are providing some measure of help, though the fight is far from over. This nonsense in RI is just another example of RSO’s being used as political fodder. With the public it appears, to me at least, not as much a matter of fear as it is hatred. We are turning into a society that is so filled with bitterness, and that is sad. The outlook for such a society is very disturbing.

    • #23233 Reply
      Jane Smith

      I’m so sick and tired of how SO’s are repeatedly being vilified and constantly used as political pawns- taking on more and more restrictions in their lives. If they have served their time let them be! These laws are draconian and I find it appalling that in 2017 politicians, judges and people are just as ignorant as they were in Salem during the witch trials. Wake up!
      They must be allowed to establish a normal life without having that registry ball and chain follow them for years and years and for some the duration of their lives. When it comes down to restricting them from getting shelter that is just plain sad. It’s barbaricly inhuman.

    • #23278 Reply
      Sue Wearethepeople

      God is to watch over all his children. We are all his children! So my question is, how many of the shelters had problems with SO? How many of the schools had problems with SO? So why is it even an issue?Taking away shelter is just taking away someones life. When it comes to medical, we save everyone no matter who they are, and what they may have done. We are all created equal!

    • #23308 Reply

      I am an RSO in Rhode Island. I have just sent the governor my thoughts. Hopefully, other Rhode Islander RSO’s wont sit back and complain and rather do something. Perhaps my letter will have little effect, but I feel better after writing it.

    • #23332 Reply

      I’ll tell you what I’m personally sick of hearing/reading about living restrictions for sex offenders…
      I’m sick of this ‘crutch’ always being used: “If they don’t have stability, it could cause recidivism.”

      So basically what that is saying (and we are saying it, and our advocates are saying it) is that we are sooooooooooooooo dangerous that we MUST be given shelter be it as homeless people or being allowed to live where we chose to….OR ELSE!
      We are FEEDING THE FEAR MONGERING by using the excuse to give us shelter by saying we’ll recidivate if we don’t have it. So…. the L.E.A. and the politicians scare people into not wanting us anywhere and then we, ourselves, along with our advocates seem to be saying “only fear us if we’re homeless and denied shelter.”

      • #23361 Reply
        Sandy Rozek
        Sandy Rozek

        I too wish the word ‘recidivate’ would not be used in this context, but because most people don’t distinguish between recidivating and re-offending with a sexual offense. A more accurate phraseology would be that those with stability in their lives are more likely to successfully be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, all of which reduces the risk of re-offense.
        And please don’t misinterpret my use of rehabilitation. No, not every one with a sexual conviction needs to be rehabilitated. I can think of no needed rehabilitation for two teens sexting each other or engaging in a sexual relationship — probably a crash course in risky or illegal behavior but not rehabilitation. However, that is not true for many sexual offenses.
        And I don’t believe that anyone would argue that someone who is homeless is at less risk of engaging in behaviors that will run him afoul of the law than is someone with a stable home and life. The homeless are at higher risk for many undesirables…health wise, nutrition wise, and engagement with law enforcement wise.

    • #23373 Reply

      No man is an island. Actually I like all these comments on here. After collage I went to business school studied travel and tourism. Believe I worked in a lot of National parks during the summers. Yes I worked at a place called Ballard Inn on Block Island. I’m sure with my small sex ordeal I couldn’t get any job with any Park or anything like that today. Yes all that was in my drinking days.
      Sure we can all throw off the old man and put on the new but when siciety deny’s one group over another because of a ” fear factor” element than thats not justice. Sure protecting and serving are good but its still predicting in these sex offender ordeals. Matter of fact I wouldn’t want to be around someone as pompus as someone denying me or be any different than everybody else. Weather your a sex offender or drug addict doesn’t matter we are still human and human rights would look down on this one. Can someone say “Ostracize” in a dire circumstance such as this.

    • #23435 Reply

      . No, not every one with a sexual conviction needs to be rehabilitated. Sandy I liked that answer. And you know you are right in a lot of respects. I was always wondering why they didn’t want me in those mandatory sex offender classes. Maybe the instructor couldn’t make her point with the others in the class and be more in tune with her lectures than me giving a sort of a gospel throw to all her brew making ways to cleanse one from this man eating flesh one has in themselves.
      Remember we are all carnal by nature. You know I’ve finely figured out Maestro and I know where’ he’s coming from. He’s ok
      The main point sandy there’s no “love thy neighbor” in any of this restricting thing in case of a real disaster. Sure the law can do just so much. If that’s the case that. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I think these sex offender things have more of man’s thinking, but if man created the world I’d hate to be living in it. I feel its getting stranger and colder everyday in some respects.

    • #23586 Reply

      I think they should be more worried about the Gilbert Godfrey impersonation up top, I mean that’s a great costume for Halloween. Sorry just trying to lighten things up around here. I know this sucks bad but we will get through this one way or another.

    • #23632 Reply
      Tom hewes

      Sadly, Governor Rainmondo, like most politicians, took the political points and ignored research and evidence. She signed the bill into law on Friday, October 5th.

      • #23677 Reply

        Well then screw the shelter, once a storm hits or natural disasters happens all the SO’s need to go camp out in her front yard then. I don’t believe there are restrictions on that in your state.

        • #23687 Reply
          anthony jones

          Jews in NAZI GERMANY were denied entry to shelters see documentary film exposing this

    • #23779 Reply

      “One of the “public safety” concerns in Lombardi’s district is cases of sex offenders being dropped off at the shelter and loitering if no beds were available.”

      Yeah, ONLY sex offenders need to be a concern. Dropping off a convicted thief or a drug dealer/addict or a gang member is of no concern to us if they loiter.
      The hypocrisy is REAL.

    • #24943 Reply
      Wes gray

      This is all murder, just like they are killing our children with this stigma alone. They should be held accountable. We are human not animals. Fight back now, all of us and our families, we can stop this witch hunt. Demand justice now, do not fear the evil.

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