Forcing Released Offenders to Live Under a Causeway: The Outrage Continues

Readers may recall an angry anguished posting of mine from March, How Can We Tolerate This? recounting policies of Miami-Dade county which forced five released sex offenders to live under a bridge because there was no available housing they were allowed to live in due to rules prohibiting sex offenders to live within 2500 feet of a school — any school. This was followed up with Bridge to Nowhere, reporting that the County had swung into action — and moved the people to a different outdoor location under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Well, eight months later, not only are they still there, their numbers have grown. Now instead of five we have about twenty who are forced to live rough because they county won't let them live (almost) anywhere else.

The story was picked up by national media outlets, and for a few weeks the bridge was a source of widespread disbelief. Statements were made, resolutions were passed, letters were sent — but nothing changed. Since then, much to the relief of local politicians, no doubt, the situation seems to have quietly faded from public memory.

But the numbers kept growing. More than 30 men have been sent to live here in the intervening months. A few have since left — the majority of them arrested for minor violations of probation, two or three were able to move out, and two have disappeared. But most — as of press time, at least 20 — remain under the bridge, even though many have families willing to house them. Everyone agrees the situation under the Julia Tuttle has become untenable, but so far neither local politicians, nor the courts, nor the state legislature have been willing to do anything about it.

How much of Miami-Dade County, exactly, does the 2,500-foot ordinance cover? Pretty much all of it, according to a map produced by the county and distributed to police and newly released sex offenders. It shows schools in the county — private, charter, and public — each with a colored blob around it representing the 2,500-foot sex-offender no man's land. The blobs cover the map; the only open patches are Miami International Airport, a few farm tracts in the Redland and near the Everglades, and, perhaps ironically, much of the well-to-do town of Pinecrest, which is protected from most sex offenders by property values instead of ordinances. (Sex offenders, like any other kind of felon, overwhelmingly tend to be poor.)

State and local leaders have taken turns abdicating responsibility for the problem of homeless sex offenders — that is, sex offenders made homeless by local law. Politicians have dumped it, whenever possible, back and forth onto one other like a game of hot potato.

There are other places sex offenders can live. On Krome Avenue in Northwest Miami-Dade — past the vacant lots, junkyards, and farms — sits a small, rundown trailer park, inhabited mostly by Mexican families, laborers, and agricultural workers. Three sex offenders are registered as living there. Far from any school, park, playground, or daycare center, the location might seem ideal. Except for one thing: Every day, around 3 p.m., a dozen women gather in front of the park to wait for a dusty yellow school bus to drop off their children. They scream and squirm their way to their mothers' sides and walk away with them, hand in hand.

Asked if the 2,500-foot ordinance is pushing sex offenders into poor communities, [Ron] Book [chair of a county task force that is supposed to be considering the issue] pauses. “I don't have to like it,” he says. “Look, I don't have all the solutions.”

This is not just a Miami problem:

In July, Fort Lauderdale probation officers came up with six different bridges to which they planned to assign sex offenders on a rotational basis.

Let us be really clear on what is happening here: the state — in the form of probation officers — is ordering these released persons to live outdoors, in a squatters camp under the causeway, because there is no other place they can live. Failure to stay there is a probation violation which will have them returned to jail.

This must, by any sense of the law, be cruel and unusual punishment: people are not even allowed to live in the homes they previously inhabited. In some cases the causeway-bound have spouses and own homes, but as a result of this rule they cannot live together.

The county's rule must be unconstitutional. But the wheels of justice grind slowly,

At least two challenges to Miami-Dade's ordinance are already brewing. On November 7, the Public Defender's Office filed a memo in support of a motion to declare the county ordinance unconstitutional and pre-empted by state law. The ACLU is looking into challenging the law as well.

Read the whole thing.

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12 Responses to Forcing Released Offenders to Live Under a Causeway: The Outrage Continues

  1. nimby says:

    I think there is something wrong with your server again. The bottom of your post is cut off. Specifically, the part where you suggest a housing option near your children’s school was cut off. You should probably talk to your sysadmin about that, because it really added a lot to the piece.

  2. Mojo says:

    My browser must be malfunctioning as well since, unlike nimby, I didn’t see any portion of the post where Michael said NIMBY. Or perhaps nimby has the wingnut plugin that allows him/her to read into a post things never stated or intended by the author.

  3. nimby says:

    Well, I missed the part of the article where he invites the sex offenders to come and camp out in his back yard. I missed his letter to the UM administration to house the sex offenders in any unoccupied dorms. Indeed, I missed any suggestion as to exactly where to place these miscreants. Bridge seems as good a place as any.

  4. michael says:

    Well, for starters, if people own homes and/or have family who’ll take them in, let’s start there, shall we?

    More generally, I’d say that when people are released they should be allowed to live more or less where they want, like the rest of us. The point of not being in prison is that you have some freedom returned to you. Probation is a way-station with additional restrictions and reporting requirements, so that is more complex, but the basic point still holds.

  5. nimby says:

    “when people are released they should be allowed to live more or less where they want”

    These aren’t people. They’re sex offenders who our justice system currently fails to realize cannot be rehabilitated. Maybe those without offenses against minors ought not to be restricted from school areas, but the other sick perverts absolutely must. What if a family member lives right next to a school, are you giving the green light to a child molester living there?! Are we seriously to believe you wouldn’t object to a child molester living next door to you…so long as he’s “done his time”?! Not even you are that liberal.

    Send them all to Guantanamo.

  6. michael says:

    These aren’t people.

    That’s what the Nazis said as they herded millions into concentration camps.

    Have we learned nothing since then?

    And while I would not enjoy having on my street any convicted felons — a wide class that includes killers, rapists, corporate looters, thieves of various descriptions, brigands, pension embezzlers and so on — the point of law is not to give free reign to my prejudices or yours, but rather to create a just society.

    If society believes that some people are too dangerous to be on the street, then it should be honest about it and make the penalties for those crimes long, and keep them incarcerated. But when we let someone out, when we say they have ‘paid their debt to society’, then we ought to try to allow them to have shelter, live peacefully, and earn a living.

  7. nimby says:

    Why do you keep playing a cheap shell game with the issues? You did it in your headline and each comment. These are not merely violent (you even list white collar criminals in your last post) criminals, they are SEX offenders including CHILD MOLESTERS. Are you so liberal that you do not distinguish between CHILD MOLESTATION and “corporate looters” in terms of the threat to society?

    There may be a place for therapeutic justice, and perhaps our prisons “reform” some criminals by teaching them anger management, job skills, etc.. But society is just now waking up to the fact that CHILD MOLESTATION is an incurable mental illness, and these individuals are ALWAYS a threat to society. I appreciate your desire to uphold the rule of law, and principle that once a man has served his time he should be given tabula rasa. But the safety of CHILDREN outweighs this principle, and there is little doubt that the liberal criminal justice theoreticians are beginning to admit that current medical science is unable to “rehabilitate” men with the proclivity to RAPE AND MOLEST CHILDREN.

    There may be some men improperly subject to such school zone bans, and perhaps those without legitimate molestation histories should have relaxed restrictions (ex. college aged male convicted of statutory rape of a 16 year old). But while Talahassee has failed to pass legislation mandating longer sentences for sex offenders who rape children, local cities have to PROTECT CHILDREN ANY WAY THEY CAN.

    You characterize it as “paying a debt to society” when one does prison time. That is but one purpose of criminal justice. It is also supposed to be “therapeutic” by means of counseling, job training, or simply having a long time to think about one’s crimes and consider alternative morality and ways of living. Obviously the success rate of our current system in this regard is low, but not zero. On the other hand, many men come out worse than before.

    But consider this, even their fellow prisoners have a virulent hatred for child molesters, and they often have to be segregated in the prison. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

    Your comparison to nazism borders on insulting. Comparing Jews to CHILD MOLESTERS? You have no right to a domain name called “discourse” if as a law professor you’re going to engage in that kind of rhetoric. When I say they are not “people” I mean they do not have the human element of COMPASSION and INSTINCTUAL PROTECTION OF ALL CHILDREN that all of the rest of us are born with. Perhaps they were victims themselves, and part of a cycle where SOCIETY FAILED TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM PREDATORS.

    If a child molester moved in next door to you, you’d never let your children out of the house, and your property value would drop to nothing, coral gables coral schmables at that point. If one lived next door to your children’s school or bus stop, you’d be forced to drive them to and from school every day yourself or arrange carpools with other parents…school bus out of the question. You can probably afford to do this. But what about SINGLE MOMS WHO DEPEND ON SOCIETY TO KEEP THEIR CHILDREN SAFE? What about the parents who can’t afford to hover over their children every morning at the bus stop or can’t drive them to school because of job demands? What exactly are they getting for their tax dollars, if not first and foremost SECURITY FOR THEIR CHILDREN?

  8. Michael says:

    1. Lots and lots of people who carry the “sex offender” label are not particularly dangerous to their neighbors. The guy who buys porn — even very disgusting porn — online is in my mind very different from the uncle who molests his niece or nephew.

    2. Some sex offenders victimize family members; they’re not cruising for strangers. They are evil, but they may not be dangerous to others.

    3. Whether there is a core of incurable and dangerous, ie mentally unstable, sex offenders who prey on strangers, I am prepared to leave to experts in criminal psychology (but not to mobs whipped up by the local news). A priori, this strikes me as being equally plausible to the claim that there is a class of incurable rapists, murders, or thieves. I would like to believe that anyone can be saved, but recognize that this may in fact not be the case.

    4. Nevertheless, I believe it is wrong in all — repeat all — cases to impose extreme and crippling civil disabilities on released felons. If we think they are too dangerous to have in society, we should bite the bullet and sentence them to life in prison with no parole. When we have not done that, we owe them a chance, rather than putting them into a legally mandated daily hell while washing our hands of their situation.

    5. While I think protecting children is very important, I think other things are important too. I’m not sure that I think there would be much difference between having a convicted rapist next door or a convicted child molester. Neither would make me happy. But the law is not there to maximize my personal happiness. It is there to do justice to the extent we, as a society, are able.

    6. The comparison to Nazis is unfortunately spot on. Anyone who will look at a human being, however ill or depraved, and deny them basic personhood as an excuse to torture them is no better than a Nazi. Find a mirror and look in it carefully. Then get help before you hurt someone.

    I’ve said all I have to say here; have the last word if you want it.

  9. CallingYourBluff says:

    So make bubby proud, show us all you’re the mensch you claim to be:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,328827,00.html

    Now post your personal address on your blog and invite these fine gentlemen to camp out in your back yard. Its just empty space, what do you really need it for anyway? I also missed the legal clinic you started at UM to help these fine human beings vindicate their legal rights, what’s that URL again?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  10. merde says:

    The situation is garnering the attention of state lawmakers. Democratic State Rep. Jack Seiler said that while restrictions to keep sex offenders away from children are good, communities are trying to “one-up” each other with tougher and tougher restrictions.

  11. vync grtt says:

    We must keep sex offenders far from the children, he is right!

  12. ecologie says:

    I quite agree with you Michael, it is necessary that the government took these actions. Pending issues remain unresolved.

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