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Arrested Development

A Denver therapist wants to lock up sexual predators -- forever. But patients say the treatment is just making them bitter.

Rosberg doesn't like not being able to talk to his nephews, who live in Texas, but he doesn't mind the other restrictions. Anything, he says, is better than T.H.E.


Although Veeder was largely responsible for shaping the state's philosophy about sex offenders, he hasn't escaped without his share of troubles.

Anthony Camera
Psychologist James Selkin says T.H.E. is overkill for most patients.
Anthony Camera
Psychologist James Selkin says T.H.E. is overkill for most patients.

Last year, Montbello residents discovered that four sex offenders were living in an SLA on their block and no one from the neighborhood had been notified. After residents raised a stink about the homes, Denver's zoning board shut down four SLAs across the city because they were in violation of an ordinance forbidding group homes of three or more unrelated adults in residential areas with predominantly single-family homes. Several other cities and counties in the metro area also passed laws limiting the number of sex offenders who can reside together. Most of the 23 men in T.H.E.'s SLAs now live together scattered around different apartment complexes in Glendale and Denver.

Some of Veeder's colleagues in the local sex-offender treatment community say they lost respect for him after that. The men in his program rented out the homes under their names, not T.H.E.'s, so to many people it looked as though T.H.E. was trying to slip sex offenders into neighborhoods. "This is why he needs to open a facility now to house sex offenders," says one. "It's his fault the SLAs got shut down in the first place."

Veeder says he wasn't trying to surreptitiously place offenders in neighborhoods. "They were already in neighborhoods. There were no options that didn't put them in proximity to some kids or near some school," he says. "We just tried to have them live together so as to destroy their privacy as much as possible."

Veeder hopes to break ground on the Sex Offender Containment and Research Facility, or S.O.C.R., in the next five years, but at this point, he's only pitched the idea at one town hall meeting, at the Denver Public Library on October 15. He won't yet disclose the locations he has in mind for the facility, but it will need to be located close enough to a metropolitan area for its inhabitants to get to and from work each day.

Treating patients with the intention of someday releasing them will not be the goal at S.O.C.R. If it were, Veeder says, the entire project would be undermined. "You'd lose the ability to control people in a limited setting," he explains. Men living on his campus would only be allowed to attend work, much like the criminal-justice system's halfway houses.

In addition to keeping society safe from offenders, S.O.C.R. would give therapists the rare chance to study many sex offenders in a controlled setting. Even with polygraphs, therapists can't be sure what their clients are doing outside of their care. But if they are all living in the same place under strict supervision, the polygraphs will be more reliable indicators of the perpetrators' honesty and adherence to restrictions. There is no facility like it in the country -- or even the world -- as far as Veeder and other local treatment providers know.

Veeder isn't sure yet what it will cost to house and treat the 300 offenders, but his goal is for S.O.C.R. to be cheaper than prison. The offenders themselves would have to contribute money, but the state would also have to pitch in, he says. Veeder's dream will be difficult, at best, to achieve. The first challenge will be finding the funding, and now is not the best time to expect the cash-strapped government to hand over money. "I'd love to think we're going to grab a bunch of legislators and convince them to take money away from other programs and put it into this," says boardmember Moore. "It's going to take a public outcry to get this thing going, and I don't know how long it will take to generate that."

The second big challenge will be getting approval to have it built. Communities cry foul when there are four sex offenders living together in their neighborhoods, so who's going to want 300?

The Sex Offender Management Board as a whole hasn't taken a position on the facility, but boardmember Brake is in favor of it. "I think the idea of a campus is a good one," he says. "There's not enough time or resources in outpatient treatment programs to provide the kind of in-depth monitoring and therapy that many sex offenders need."

The Colorado Department of Corrections is equally non-committal, with DOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan saying, "It's really a policy decision for the General Assembly and the community. There is no easy answer for what to do with sex offenders, but the research tells us that when we can keep sex offenders in groups, there's greater accountability than when they live alone."

Rosberg and others in T.H.E. disagree. "The accountability part of the SLAs is a log on the front door that you sign when you're leaving. They can say they're going to church to worship, but that's no guarantee that they aren't actually going to the park to look at children," Rosberg says. "T.H.E. says the polygraphs show if they're lying about where they go, but I don't know about that."

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