Milwaukee’s running out of room to house its sex offenders, thanks to a new residency restriction that was approved by city officials in 2014.
The restrictions that were approved last fall include one that forbids sex offenders from living for four days or more within 2,000 feet — or about four city blocks — from any place that children tend to congregate, like a school or a day care center.
Here’s the unintended consequence of the well-intentioned effort to keep children safe: Milwaukee officials have found they don’t only have to deal with sex offenders who have been released from prison and returned to society. They now have a new classification of sex offender to worry about: homeless sex offenders.
A WISN-TV investigation discovered in April the Department of Corrections had been conducting a secret operation in which it was moving homeless sex offenders in and out of ten houses in Milwaukee. Because of the “four day rule,” officials had to move the offenders from one house to another every three days, and WISN-TV caught it all on video.
One of the paroled sex offenders being moved in and out of the safe houses committed his first sexual assault at the age of 13 and is on the Wisconsin sex offender registry for raping a 16-year-old girl. He also suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“They just move us every three days because of the city ordinance,” Davin Rollins told WISN. “(But) it’s kids everywhere as soon as you go outside.”
This came as news to most people in Milwaukee when the station ran the story, and it was a real blockbuster for people who live in the neighborhood where the Department of Corrections had set up these sex offender safe houses.
They had no idea who was living next door to them.
It isn’t just the city of Milwaukee that is having trouble finding space for sex offenders who are being moved into society. All 18 municipalities in Milwaukee County have the same ordinance. The city of Milwaukee was just the last to jump on board.
Milwaukee officials say they only approved the ordinance out of a sense of self-preservation.
Before Milwaukee approved the ordinance, residents and city officials said their community had become a dumping ground for the county’s sex offenders. Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy said a 2014 study of Department of Corrections data showed 89 percent of the sex offenders living in the county resided in the city of Milwaukee.
What choice did they have but to make it just as tough as possible for a sex offender to find a place to live, or at least compete on an even playing field with other cities?
It is easy to see what city officials and the people who live in Milwaukee were thinking. But that doesn’t make the future any brighter for people like Raymond Rosa, who is doing his time for second-degree sexual assault.
He is scheduled to be paroled from a state prison in June. His brother Richard told city officials at a neighborhood meeting in May that Raymond had no alternative but to live in his van after being released.
Niel Thoreson, the chief of Region 3 for the state Department of Corrections, said Milwaukee is not the only city facing this problem. Urban Milwaukee reported Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay and Madison are also being inundated with sex offenders trying to find their way back into society.
Thoreson said state officials would be working on this since it was such a major problem in so many communities. But he’s also afraid legislators might come up with an even worse idea.
The people of Milwaukee County are not the only people in America facing this problem.
The City of Refuge has been built in Florida. It is home to 120 registered sex offenders who live in a compound made up of 60 concrete buildings.
Or community officials in Milwaukee County could do what their colleagues in California did in March: soften the law.
The California Legislature simply amended Jessica’s Law, which had imposed a blanket restriction on sex offenders.
Just like Milwaukee County did city by city, registered sex offenders in California were prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of any place where children were likely to congregate.
And just as cities like Milwaukee are finding out, California soon ran out of room to put sex offenders. So they changed the rules.
Now, people in California who are convicted of sexually assaulting children 14 years of age and younger still have to stay 2,000 feet away from kids. But other sex offenders who are looking for a place to call home will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Whatever they wind up doing in Milwaukee, unless someone figures out what to do before his parole date in June, Richard Rosa said his brother Raymond would just as soon finish out his sentence in a state prison rather than be put out on the street.
“He wants to stay there because he’s got a bed, he’s got a routine, he’s got food,” said Rosa. “They’re forcing him to come home to live homeless.”