Reply To: Ringgold, GA: A town with compassion

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Dustin

Georgia has a handful of prison transition centers throughout the state, where inmates are put to work through temp agencies so they have something more than the $35 and a bus ticket to the county that convicted them to begin life after incarceration. Only one of them, Phillips TC, accepts those convicted of sex offenses. I know because I spent the last 9 months of my incarceration there.

The only jobs available at Phillips were very labor intensive – chicken processing plants, warehouses, and so on. When I was there, there was an 85 year old man who had been locked up for over 50 years. No way he could do the work required, and not tech savvy enough to work at the only place that did’t involve back-breaking labor (customer service call center). He ended up just sitting around the TC his whole stay. I don’t know what ever happened to him; he had no friends or family to lean on, and I presume he’s not at the center any more (there’s a 2 year limit). I’m guessing he was either returned to prison or is now homeless somewhere in Georgia (assuming he’s still alive).

I don’t know why Phillips is the only TC available to registrants. There’s another in Claxton that was declared off-limits because there’s a women’s probation detention center across the street (I walked by them every day when I worked at the plant there). Maybe I’m biased, but that seems a pretty flimsy excuse to keep registrants out of there – if security at both centers is that week, one should wonder if either should be operating at all. I’m guessing the reasons for excluding registrants at the other TCs is equally or more flimsy.

My overall point is that the registrants under the bridge that drove this story likely had no choice beyond that bridge. Bed space has always been a problem for Georgia TCs, exacerbated by the exclusion of registrants from all of them but Phillips.

I would also have liked the reporter of this article to have talked about the reactions of the city council members at this forum. They’re the ones who enacted the insane ordinance (further) criminalizing the homeless. Council member Sara Clark was quoted in the original story as the ordinance specifically pertaining to the homeless, presumably to doge an accusation of picking on registrants. Council member Larry Black, author of the ordinance, claimed it necessary because, “We have no way of knowing what that person is doing, as far as our safety concerns of our children, at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, when we’re very vulnerable,” as though Ringgold children are out and about at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, no one locks their doors at night, and all law enforcement is off duty.

Has there been a wave of sex crime since those men started living under that bridge? Increase in burglaries or stalking? Peeping Tom’s? Any unsolved crime of any kind? I presume not.

That DCS isn’t required to notify residents of nearby registrants is not exactly true. Supposedly, notifying communities of registrant presence is the whole point of the registry in the first place. Do the original complainants really expect someone to go door to door to tell them a registrant just moved in nearby? Further, if such notification is to allow people to “take steps to protect themselves from potential threats,” what steps are they supposed to take that are different from those taken against strangers anyway? How is it that the registry has been in existence for 20+ years and no one has even asked (let alone answered) that question?

I personally don’t buy for one second that those men’s probation officer(s) didn’t tell them to go live under that bridge. It doesn’t even pass the common sense test. They claim to assist in finding housing though they’re not required to, so what do they tell those that they can’t find housing for? Is it sheer coincidence that those men are registrants and just happened to find the one place in Ringgold that was both free and within local residence restrictions that, until the recent ordinance, didn’t subject them to penalty simply for being there? A bit of a stretch, if you ask me.

And finally, I find it disturbing that this article only allows for public comments via Facebook. I’m sure many registrants have a lot to say about it (for or against) and can’t have their opinions heard due to Facebook policy (and laws or probation/parole conditions). I’m not suggesting all media needs to offer alternatives, just that laws/rules precluding registrants from using Facebook (et. al.) need to be stricken.