The Boys Next Door
Spittle slid down her face as Juliana Ibarra stood, frozen, in the aisle of the Blockbuster store.
She'd run in for a video, looking for an evening's entertainment for herself and her foster kids. Just another Northglenn mom in a hurry.
But Juliana's entrance quickly attracted attention. There were whispers. Hostile looks. Then, "There's that lady with all the kid molesters," a woman said to her companion, nodding in Juliana's direction. And she hawked a wad at Juliana.
It took a moment for what had happened to sink in.
And then Juliana laughed.
"I have to hold my tongue a lot, because I really believe in what I am standing up for," Juliana says, weeks later. "I've lost some friends since they found out what kind of work I do. I had a friend for twenty-some years, and now we no longer speak. She called me up and said, 'You defend child molesters!' And I said, 'No, you've got it wrong.'
"But people, they ignore what's the truth."
Juliana and her husband, Eusebio, have been martyred by that "truth."
Since December, they have had eggs thrown at their car, trash tossed on their lawn. Juliana was recently refused service at Foley's. The clerk told her, "Maybe you'd be more comfortable shopping at Wal-Mart."
December is when a neighbor realized that the Ibarras' foster sons are sex offenders, when he began petitioning people door-to-door to have them evicted from their home of fifteen years.
And December is when the City of Northglenn passed a law requiring the Ibarras to send at least two of the boys packing or face jail time or a fine or both.
How could she ask them to go? She couldn't even begin to think about it.
"I know each and every one of them and what they've been through," she says, and glances at her charges.
Sean, eighteen, is lounging on the floor and wiggling his toes, making his flip-flops slap against his bare feet. Beside Juliana on the sofa, seventeen-year-old Adam (the boys' names have been changed for this story) fidgets with a teddy bear, one of several stuffed animals decorating the living room. He twirls the bear and folds it onto his lap, not so much playing with it as he is dispelling nervous energy.
"They are regular boys. Good boys," Juliana continues. "They're both A students. Two or three houses down, those kids are always vandalizing around here, drinking and smoking dope."
The boys murmur in agreement.
The Ibarras, along with nonprofit group homes across the metro area, have been blindsided by what started last year as an effort to rid Lakewood of a home full of adult sex offenders. It has since blossomed into a legal movement to purge sex offenders of all ages from group living arrangements in Northglenn, Jefferson County and a dozen local towns.
Juliana has been a foster mom for thirteen years. For her, it was natural. Her grandmother was a foster mom. Her own mother took in kids, and Juliana was raised with foster brothers and foster sisters. Her biological brother and sister are foster parents, too, and a nephew runs a foster-care agency.
In the beginning, when her children were still small (she has two boys and a girl of her own), she took in only girls.
"When my boys became teenagers, I switched from girls to boys," she says. "I like working with boys. They're neater and not as mouthy. It's rare for them to be in my face.
"Oh, I've heard them downstairs sometimes: 'Oh, that blankety-blank.' And I'll say, 'I heard that!' They call me 'Miracle Ear.'"
At that, Adam grins, and Juliana reaches over and playfully slaps his knee.
About three and a half years ago, when Juliana changed agencies and began contracting with the Lost and Found child-placement agency, therapists there encouraged her to take in boys who'd been found guilty of sex offenses.
Initially it wasn't something she wanted to do. "I was just like everyone else," she says. "I didn't want anything to do with sex offenders."
But as she learned more about their backgrounds, she decided she'd give it a try. Lost and Found provided a week of training to prepare her for the boys' special needs and issues, and she began trying to provide them with as normal a home life as possible under the circumstances.
The boys go with her to family functions. They go out to eat, to the mall, to movies. They have chores.
"It's pretty much just a regular household," Sean says.
"Most of these kids are not used to having that," Juliana says. "So much is taken away from these kids. And they will never have it back."
The rush to zone out sex offenders began a year ago this month, when Lakewood officials discovered that five unrelated men, all of them convicted sex offenders, were living in a rental home in Green Mountain.
Sometime around June 4, 1999, convicted sex offenders began filing in one by one to register with the Lakewood Police Department. They all listed the same home address. (The sex offenders, four pedophiles and a rapist, are part of a treatment program called Teaching Humane Existence.)
"The police soon realized we had five sex offenders living in one home," says Lakewood Deputy City Attorney Janet Young. "I'm the attorney in the police department, and they brought it to my attention."
Then it was brought to the attention of Lakewood's city council, whose members voted to sue the owner of the Green Mountain home. The suit, which claimed that the landlord was illegally operating a correctional facility in a residential area, was filed June 9. On June 28, the council passed an emergency measure amending the city's zoning ordinance. From that point forward, households were banned from including "more than one individual who is required to register as a sex offender."
The men were forced from the home the following month. They then moved to Arvada. After a neighbor questioned police about the men this spring and learned that they were sex offenders, newspapers picked up the story and their landlord moved to evict them. Arvada has since passed a law banning such group homes from the town.
It's easy to find out information about sex offenders. Since 1991, state law has required sex offenders to register their addresses with local law-enforcement agencies. When they move, they have seven days in which to re-register. And since 1994, the Colorado law requiring them to register has allowed law-enforcement agencies to release that information to the public. (Similar legislation is more widely known as "Megan's Law," which was named for a seventeen-year-old New Jersey girl who in 1994 was raped and killed by a twice-convicted sex offender who had been living in her neighborhood. Later that same year, the New Jersey Legislature passed a law requiring sex offenders to register with police. In 1996, President Clinton required that all states adopt the law.)
In July, Jefferson County took up the zoning fight after residents of the Columbine Knolls neighborhood complained that their community was teeming with juveniles who were in the legal system for committing sex crimes. Many of the south Jefferson County residents had known for some time that adolescent sex offenders were living in three group homes in their neighborhood; they just hadn't known they could do anything about it.
The Lakewood ordinance gave them an opening.
Jefferson County officials went about the process more slowly than did their Lakewood counterparts in part because counties, unlike towns, are required by state and federal laws to find suitable placements for juvenile sex offenders.
At the same time, however, cities have the right to make zoning decisions without interference from the state, but the federal Fair Housing Act mandates that a city's zoning regulations cannot discriminate against a person with a handicap. (The "sex offender" classification is not considered a handicap in and of itself; however, some providers and their attorneys point out that because many of these kids are also being treated for mental-health issues, they might fall under federal guidelines protecting the mentally ill.)
The Colorado Children's Code guarantees that children who are removed from their own homes by state or county officials will have a secure and stable environment and won't be moved from foster home to foster home.
Lakewood city attorneys were aware of the fact that the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on familial status and that their zoning laws made no distinction between families and "households"; they defined a household as "unrelated individuals or related and unrelated individuals, living together as a single housekeeping unit, up to a maximum of one person per room which is being used for living purposes." So they proceeded to amend the definition, stipulating that a household cannot include more than one registered sex offender.
In Jefferson County, the matter was even stickier -- the county zoning department and the county commissioners would be going up against the recommendations of their own social services department, who backed the group-home environment for juvenile sex offenders.
To handle the issue, Jeffco administrator Ron Holliday established a group of staff members, community residents, group-home providers and representatives from the district attorney's office and the social services department. The group met five times, and in October published a 193-page study containing nine recommendations for the county commission to consider. Among the recommendations were that the county identify locations outside of residential neighborhoods for the group homes, that the county force group homes located in residential areas to move, and that it be "proactive" in helping the group-home providers find "appropriate" locations for their facilities.
Public meetings on the matter were heated. Harl Hargett, executive director of Lost and Found, called the proposed zoning change a "knee-jerk reaction." Because the vast majority of adolescent sex offenders had themselves been molested, he argued, they were kids first and foremost, not offenders. He labeled the proposal "Jim Crow" legislation that "violates the human in all of us."
Neighbors were equally adamant that the homes be moved elsewhere. "I'd rather have a fireworks factory next door to my house than a single one of those offenders living next door," Columbine-area resident Chuck Wheeler told the county commissioners at one meeting.
In late January, six months after first delving into the matter, Jefferson County commissioners changed the zoning law to disallow more than one registered sex offender per home, "unless related by blood, marriage or adoption." Group homes essentially were banned from residential areas of the county, although Jeffco granted them two years to be "brought into conformity."
"Jeffco was the nail in this coffin," says Arlene Martinez Meads, Lost and Found's child placement services director. "At one of the meetings, a commissioner said, 'You'll never convince me that they're victims first or that they're innocent children.' And I thought to myself, 'Never were more ignorant words spoken.'"
Sean, one of thirteen kids in his family, is a wiry blonde who graduated with honors from high school this month. He looks like any other teenager, except his shorts and T-shirt are a little less scruffy, his hair just a little more G.I. He's into sports and Junior ROTC. His lifelong dream, he says, is to join the military.
But the chances of Sean getting into the Navy are "slim to zero," says Lost and Found's Hargett.
Sean, Hargett testified in court earlier this year, is the product of incest going back at least three generations. He was so young when it happened that he can't remember the first time he was abused.
"I figured it's just something that happens, you know," Sean says. "So I didn't really think about it. I don't know what I thought."
He lived with his mother until he was eight, when he moved in with his father and his father's new family. At age twelve, Sean was charged with molesting his stepsister. His life since then has consisted of group homes, treatment centers, foster homes, social workers, probation officers and therapists.
He moved into the Ibarra home a year ago.
"It would be very difficult to define whether he's a perpetrator or a victim," Hargett says of Sean.
Hargett says this about a lot of the young people who come through his center.
And many treatment providers make similar observations. In a report to the director of Jefferson County Human Services, child welfare coordinator Sue McDonald wrote, "Our experience is consistent with the literature in that the vast majority of these youngsters have experienced severe trauma and sexual victimization themselves, and are acting out sexually in an effort to deal with their own victimization...While they are clearly perpetrators, they are most often victims as well. They are clearly responsible for their behavior, yet they are most often the products of their circumstances."
Treatment providers believe that these perpetrators, sometimes called "sexually reactive" children, are trying to overcome their own abuse by repeating the behavior against others. "When kids are stressed out, emotionally overloaded, like the rest of us, their defenses come up," says Gail Ryan, director of the Perpetration Prevention Program at Denver's Kempe Children's Center.
"As part of their defense, they try to imagine what they could do to feel better and get back that sense of control. For kids, their fantasy develops into something compensatory or retaliatory that makes others feel as bad as they do." And many times these kids have learned to be abusive because they were exposed to role models who were abusive.
For young people, she says, sexual assault is much more about power than deviancy, which is what sets them apart from their adult counterparts.
Adolescents tend to be aroused by a wide variety of stimuli. Sexually, they're much more fluid than adults, and they haven't internalized any particular kind of sexual behavior. They are not as likely as adults to have fantasies directly related to their offenses. And changing an adolescent's behavior and the way he deals with stress is considerably easier than changing an adult's sexual preferences and arousal patterns.
But research shows that as untreated juvenile offenders grow toward adulthood, their crimes increase in frequency, severity and level of coercion. The sexually abusive patterns and the accompanying arousal and fantasies become increasingly habitual, and the sexual deviance becomes more significant. A 1982 study among adult rapists and child molesters found that as many as 60 to 80 percent of adult sex offenders had committed sex assaults during adolescence.
That understanding led to a nationwide commitment among therapists and criminal-justice agencies to identify sex offenders early and intervene. When sex offenders are identified at an early age and placed in proper treatment, the success rate is extremely good -- as high as 93 percent, based on recidivism rates.
"The juvenile courts were created originally to act as a kind and benevolent parent to turn kids around, to take those who are clearly violating the norms of the community and give them some incentive to reshape themselves," Ryan says. "When we ostracize them, we lose the expectation of them conforming to the community."
Adam was four, he says, when he was sexually assaulted the first time, by an older brother. His brother told him it was "hush, hush," and "just between them."
"My brother said he would beat me up if I told," Adam says.
Adam was eight when he molested his sister, ten or eleven when his family discovered what was happening and Social Services plucked him from the house. Though his age kept him out of the court system and his name off the sex-offender registry, he was sent to do time in a boot camp, a foster home and a residential treatment center. He went to live with the Ibarras four years ago.
His own family is splintered. His older brother, the one Adam says assaulted him, ran away years ago. He sees his father about once a month.
Now seventeen, Adam has a part-time job and another year of high school to go. He still sees a therapist, and he'll be a ward of the state until he's 21.
Other than the Division of Youth Corrections (the equivalent of teen prison), Adam has been through the treatment continuum for juvenile sex offenders offered in Colorado -- child placement (foster care, group homes), a residential treatment center and outpatient therapy.
Of these, residential treatment centers are the most intensive, structured and restrictive. The residents are supervised 24 hours a day, and clinicians provide them with specialized treatment. Adam lived at Lost and Found's facility in Morrison, a small center that also includes an on-site school. The average stay there is six months.
Group homes, such as Shiloh House in unincorporated Littleton, are more open environments. Up to a dozen youth might live in one home. Offenders attend therapy and are closely supervised, but these are not "lockdown" facilities with guards and bars.
Foster homes are the least restrictive of all placements for sex offenders who have been removed from their own homes. Those offenders who are sent to foster homes are often young, their offenses have been minor and they're at low risk of reoffending, or they are "in transition," preparing to move back in with their biological families.
The Ibarra home is considered a "therapeutic foster home." Thus far, Juliana has received almost 100 hours of special training.
She keeps close tabs on her boys. They are required to check in with her every two hours whenever they're out of the house, whether it be for work or for school. They have curfews. They are never left alone in the Ibarra home. An alarm chimes whenever someone opens a door.
It's a home, but a highly structured one.
Group and foster homes allow children to maintain ties with their biological families; they also teach them how to behave in family settings. The homes are placed in residential areas where schools, recreational facilities and employment are readily available. According to the Child Welfare League of America, placing those homes in commercial or industrial areas (which is what is being recommended in Jefferson County) "would further stigmatize and isolate [the offenders] when they have already experienced the pain of abuse and separation from their family."
Federal law mandates the least restrictive, most appropriate placement that will meet a youth's needs while assuring community safety. In all cases, the goal is to reunite the offender with his family if that's at all possible.
After a youth is arrested (or, as in Adam's case, taken in by Social Services), he is evaluated numerous times to determine the best place for him. Social workers or probation officers obtain information from the offender, his family, schools, therapists and prosecutors. The offender is given psychological and sex-behavior tests, which might include polygraphs and plethysmographs (the latter measures levels of arousal by sensing changes in penis circumference). Evaluators take into account safety concerns, the parents' ability to supervise, the juvenile's acceptance of responsibility, and his sexual history and willingness to participate in therapy.
"We try to identify factors that led to the offending behavior, identify what interventions need to be put in place to really address the issues and protect the community," says Leah Wicks, the recently retired supervisor of Jeffco's juvenile probation unit.
"The ones who are going to continue to be high risk are not the ones referred to group homes," Ryan says. High-risk offenders, those who engage in predatory behavior such as stalking or "grooming" their victims, are most likely to be sent to the Division of Youth Corrections.
"I think that there are some more serious offenders, and we are able to know who they are, and we know that we will probably have to watch these kids the rest of their lives," says Wicks. "They're usually the ones who go on to Youth Corrections and become adult offenders."
That doesn't mean dangerous kids don't slip through the net. Recent Denver Post reports on the state's foster-care system included stories about a twelve-year-old sex offender placed in a foster home with an eight-year-old boy, whom he subsequently molested, and a fifteen-year-old foster boy accused of raping a nine-year-old bunkmate.
And as yet, there have been no studies proving that group homes are more successful than residential treatment centers in turning offenders around. That makes people who live near group homes very nervous. And it provides them with a wedge when they try to zone group homes out of their neighborhoods.
But Ryan says that the vast majority of sex abuse by juveniles occurs in the offender's home. More than 40 percent of the victims are younger siblings. Fewer than 5 percent of the cases involve assaults on strangers.
In the fifteen years Shiloh has been in Columbine Knolls, for example, not one of the agency's charges has been arrested for committing a new crime in the neighborhood. Northglenn police likewise report no problems with Juliana Ibarra's boys in the three years she has been caring for sex offenders.
That has had little effect on the public's fears, however.
"How many more Megans do we need?" Jeffco administrator Holliday asked at a January 19 meeting about the Shiloh homes. "Do we need a Megan in our community to say, 'Oops, now we have a problem'?"
The hysteria that started in Lakewood spread "like a brushfire" throughout the metro area, says the Kempe Center's Ryan. "What looked like a good idea in one place began spreading to more and more communities without people taking time to get more information and to think."
In December, Northglenn officials decided to amend their zoning ordinances and limit sex offenders to one per household unless related by blood.
"We learned about the [Jefferson County] ordinance, and it was new to us that there was this relatively new method of treatment being employed with group homes for sex offenders," says Northglenn City Attorney Lee Phillips. "Northglenn concluded that consolidating or grouping registered sex offenders in one neighborhood is a dumb idea."
Only after the ordinance was adopted did city officials realize that Juliana Ibarra's foster family included three registered sex offenders. "This ordinance was adopted without the Ibarra family in mind," Phillips says. "We passed the ordinance, and then we looked at the registered sex offender list."
And there they were.
It was sometime around Christmas when Juliana learned about the new ordinance. A Northglenn detective left an order at the house informing the Ibarras that two of the three boys would have to leave. If they did not comply, the Ibarras would be in violation of the city ordinance and subject to possible jail time and/or a fine.
Lost and Found, which had placed the youth with the Ibarras, subsequently contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. After reading the ordinance, ACLU staff attorney Mark Silverstein informed Phillips that the Ibarras were not affected by it -- their home and business were considered legally non-conforming uses and, as such, could be grandfathered in, he said.
So on January 27, Northglenn officials adopted a new ordinance -- in an emergency measure -- stating that no one could be grandfathered in. The Ibarras were served with a notice that same day, ordering them to comply with the ordinance in four days or be considered in violation of the law.
"In this case, everyone understood that the Ibarras were legally using their property on January 27 when the new zoning ordinance passed," Silverstein says, "yet the city passed it and said, 'We'll charge you with a crime unless you move your kids out of this house.' It's unheard of to change the rules without providing a period of time to continue the legal existing use.
"There's no way they'd make you tear down your garage for non-compliance four days after passing a new ordinance."
On February 1, the day the Ibarras would have had to move the boys out, the ACLU obtained a temporary order in federal court preventing the city from charging the family with a crime. The ACLU argued that the family had been denied due process and that the ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against the Ibarras based on their familial status.
The Ibarras are "effectively banished by this ordinance," says Silverstein. "The ACLU believes that the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act prohibit the city from discriminating against foster families in this matter. This is a case of zoning people out of an entire town, and I don't think that's a proper use of zoning ordinances. The city's zoning power allows them to regulate the uses of the land, but in this case, they're using it to forbid a certain type of family from living in town.
"It is not a blood relationship, but it is still a foster family authorized by the state, and the kids were placed there by the government. And I don't think that either the Constitution or the Fair Housing Act was drafted so narrowly as to protect only families related by blood or marriage."
Silverstein and ACLU cooperating attorney Greg Eurich appeared in federal court again on February 7 to extend the order. They argued that Northglenn doesn't have the power to tell the Ibarras that their foster children are not part of their family.
"It's not a group home. It has all of the characteristics of a family. And to say that we're going to do this based on safety reasons, that this fundamental right of free association is overcome by fear of these individuals -- the only evidence of that is the bald statement in the ordinance itself, which simply says there may be a risk of re-offense," Eurich told U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.
The city of Northglenn had "offered no evidence [of risk] whatsoever," Eurich continued. "The only evidence in this record is the opposite, and that is that in this setting, with treatment and supervision and the kind of loving relationship these boys have in this family, that there isn't that risk, that the county is just wrong, and the bald statement I don't think rises to the level of being able to satisfy the standard of strict scrutiny."
Matsch was not swayed by the arguments. Saying he doubted that there had been a substantive due-process issue in the case, he denied the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction.
The Supreme Court, Matsch said, has recognized the distinction between foster families and biological families in that foster families are rooted in state law and contractual arrangements.
As to the scope of the Fair Housing Act, Matsch was less certain. "I'm not dismissing the case," he said. "I anticipate the case going forward as a declaratory judgment case. [A declaratory judgment establishes the rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the court on a matter of law without ordering that anything be done.] I think it's very questionable that Congress had this sort of thing in mind in passing the Fair Housing Act, but the mind of Congress is not something easily divined."
Matsch mentioned, too, that he was troubled by the absence of representatives from either the county social services department or the state government.
"It seems to me," he said, "that the state, having created this special status [of registered sex offenders] might have an interest in limiting what communities can do in response to that...I'm concerned about just how far this goes, and what is the state's interest here. It somewhat troubles me that the state's not involved in this case."
Following the hearing before Matsch, Northglenn reinstated its charges against the Ibarras. The case went to court June 1.
Once the municipal judge declined the ACLU's request to dismiss the charges, the trial was basically a formality, says ACLU cooperating attorney Jim Goh. All parties agreed that the Ibarras had more than one registered sex offender under their roof and therefore were in violation of the zoning ordinance.
The trial was short and to the point. The Ibarras lost. The judge assessed a small fine. The ACLU plans to appeal, however, and the fines will be held in abeyance until the appeal is heard.
"Our goal should be to reduce the risk of sex offenders repeating their crime, but ordinances like Northglenn's likely have the opposite effect," says Silverstein. "To achieve a low rate of recidivism, the key is to promote stability, reintegrate the sex offender into the community and continue therapy even after they have finished with prison or probation or parole. A group home or a foster family with trained parents and on-site staff for on-site therapy provides one of the best possible models to get them the help they need to become productive citizens.
"On the other hand, you decrease the stability and increase the risks when you're hounded from home to home, neighborhood to neighborhood, community to community, and that's exactly what the Northglenn ordinance does, especially in combination with every other community passing look-alike ordinances."
Juliana and Eusebio discussed how they would choose which boys might have to leave, "but it's really hard for me to even begin to think of that," Juliana testified in court. "It would be like somebody coming and knocking on my door and saying, 'Listen, out of your three biological kids, I'm going to have to take two. Which ones would you pick for me to take?'
"I love my boys. I don't want to get rid of any of them."
On March 2, though, one of the choices was taken from them.
Eighteen-year-old Zach, who'd lived with the Ibarras for three years, ran away. He had become nervous and "sick" after he and the other foster kids were publicly identified as sex offenders, Juliana says. He lost weight.
When he first came to live at their home, she says, he was constantly "terrified" and would flinch whenever he heard a loud noise -- and after December, he began to revert to that type of behavior.
When he left, Zach was on the loose but not on a tear.
He went to his pastor's house, Lost and Found's Hargett says. "He told his pastor he'd been released and that he needed a place to stay. His pastor finally discovered the truth and turned him in about three weeks later.
"Zach went to a safe place, and he went there deliberately," Hargett says. "He wasn't at just anybody's back door or at a playground."
After the pastor turned him in, Zach was arrested and taken to the Marvin W. Foote Youth Services Center in Arapahoe County, a secure juvenile facility where he has remained while a judge determines his fate.
"His probation officer is trying to get him committed to the Department of Youth Corrections," Hargett says, "but we're trying to give him another shot. It seems disproportionately inappropriate to commit him."
"No matter what happens with Zach," Juliana says, "my husband and I will stand by him."
The spate of zoning laws has slowed since this spring, and some of the communities have passed ordinances in which juvenile sex offenders are given some leeway. Littleton, for example, stipulates that its one-sex-offender-per-home ordinance, passed in April, applies only to offenders "over the age of 12."
Arvada initially proposed a law allowing foster families to include more than one juvenile sex offender if certain conditions were met, but backed off from that liberal proposal following a June 5 hearing. "After some discussion, the [city] council had a number of concerns, one of which is that there doesn't seem to be any way of classifying the level of offense," says Arvada spokeswoman Maria VanderKolk.
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."
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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