The Boys Next Door

In the rush to ban sex offenders, cities and counties may inadvertently be creating more of them down the line.

The justice system determines the offender's placement on an individual basis rather than by a class of crime, which left the Arvada council befuddled. Adolescents in a group home could be placed there for any and every offense from indecent exposure to rape, VanderKolk notes.

So councilmembers passed a law limiting sex offenders to one per household, but they might reconsider the cap on juveniles if more research assures them the community would be safe.

"The sad thing is," VanderKolk observed a week prior to the vote, "these people have to live somewhere."

Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
John Johnston
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
They're Not Columbine Knolls
Jefferson County struggles to find a place for its sex offenders.

Checking It Twice
The sex-offender registry brands kids well into adulthood.

The question, increasingly, is where?

The tone has been set, and Zach's flight is only one of many symptoms therapists and justice officials see ahead in light of the new zoning ordinances.

"The system is already overburdened," says Lost and Found's Meads. "There are not enough placements for children as it is."

According to Hargett, there may be as many as 2,000 children each month awaiting out-of-home placement for everything ranging from neglect to sex abuse. "Many of these are already extremely difficult to place because of emotional and behavioral disorders, mental illness and sexual offenses.

"Now, with these zoning restrictions, it will be almost impossible to find a foster or group home to accommodate the need."

The Division of Youth Corrections holds on to its charges until suitable placements can be found, says David Bennett, the division's central-region director. The average length of sentences for sex offenders has been creeping upward, from 14.1 months in 1994-95 to 20.7 in January 2000, a fact Bennett attributes to problems finding proper placements. At any given time, the average daily population of sex offenders in the DYC is 108.

The cost to the public is substantial. The state pays from $90 to $139 per day per kid to keep young offenders in state correctional facilities.

Lost and Found charges $1,800 to $2,000 per month.

Probation officers, corrections officials and therapists for juvenile sex offenders say that although the laws may have restored a sense of safety to some community members, the new ordinances may breed consequences far beyond what the public envisioned. The laws, they say, could create an atmosphere precisely the opposite of what communities are seeking.

Professionals warn that the treatment process may be harmed and the public placed at higher risk because juveniles will be sent to live in homes where there are no specially trained professionals.

"Limiting the number to one [juvenile] sex offender per home removes the ability to treat incest perpetrators in a 'family' setting," Lost and Found's Meads wrote to the Jefferson County planning commission. "Specifically for incested children, the goal is to teach self-awareness of arousal as well as learn to thwart the enticement of others, all while experiencing wholesome family life. For a child to learn to love and be accepted outside of sexual favors is not a quick or easy lesson. Unfortunately, the current ordinances passed by other cities and counties will not allow for this specific treatment modality to be enacted."

In effect, the ordinances are a spit in the eye to people who work with juvenile sex offenders -- and to the kids, who have increasingly fewer chances for a normal home life.

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My Voice Nation Help

I won't  use a blanket statement like "everyone deserves a second chance", but I do believe that these folks do. Its kind of sad how society can be with labels sometimes. Tearing people down, not giving them a chance when more than one professional has said they can do better, its not fair. People like Harl and his <a href="">child placement agency</a> shouldn't have to have these concerns.