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From NC: “Sex offender registry makes reentry a balancing act of restrictions without resources”

Republished in full with permission from NC Health News

By Elizabeth Thompson . . . Chris Budnick is in an impossible position.

As the leader of Healing Transitions, a peer-based recovery-oriented service for homeless and uninsured people located in Raleigh, Budnick is left scrambling if someone with a sex offense comes to him for housing.

Some of society’s most vulnerable people come to Budnick, asking for help. He has to turn them away due to the location of Healing Transition’s men’s campus on the edge of the new Dorothea Dix Park.

“I’ve heard people say you have a better chance if you murdered somebody with like, moving on in your life after you’ve done your time,” Budnick said.

Some 98 percent of people currently incarcerated will eventually reenter society, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, most of those people will face barriers upon reentry. Sometimes people who have been incarcerated for years don’t know how to use now-familiar technology such as computers and cell phones. Others have difficulty rebuilding relationships with family, or struggle to find work and housing.

For people exiting prison with sex crimes on their record, it can feel like a life sentence, said Coleman, who was formerly incarcerated for a sex crime and asked to go by a different name.

Discussions over how people convicted of sex crimes should be punished popped up during incoming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s recent Supreme Court hearings. As a student at Harvard Law School, Jackson critiqued sex offender registries and questioned if they could infringe on the rights of people who could be considered some of society’s most hated.

Even when people with sex crimes are released from prison, their crimes follow them in the form of the sex offender registry.

“No matter what, you’re going to be on the registry,” Coleman said. “And that really affects it seems like every part of reentry and just being a citizen in the world.”

People with sex crimes may not live within 1,000 feet of any public or non-public school or child care center, and their crimes immediately come up on background checks, making it difficult to find work or housing.

During a telephone interview, Coleman admitted he was preoccupied. He was supposed to meet a landlord later that day, and he had to tell him that he was a registered sex offender. If the landlord denied his application, he’d have to start his housing hunt all over again.

Stephanie Treadway, founder of Redirection NC, a non-profit that houses women coming out of prison, said the sex offender registry makes it incredibly difficult for the women she works with to find housing.

“Once you’re tagged as a sex offender, there is no level to that until you get into the nitty-gritty of it,” Treadway said. “And somebody that’s housing somebody or going to employ them, they don’t go into the nitty-gritty, they just see sex offender, big red flag. They carry it for the rest of their life.”

Not being able to find housing is likely to just continue a cycle of abuse, Treadway said. The average lifespan of a homeless person is shorter than a housed person by about 17.5 years, according to one study.

Treadway said some of her clients who have struggled to find housing or employment end up with few options. Sometimes they end up selling drugs to get by.

“They know how to make money — it’s not legal — but they know how to make money,” Treadway said. “Then they get around the same people and do the same things and then they end up getting high. And so they don’t last a long time.”