Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=88631
Story Retrieval Date: 9/2/2014 9:09:53 PM CST
Click the images to see a google map of the registered sex offender locations in the area.
It’s afternoon in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side, and on one block, kids fill the streets, laughing and riding their bikes.
In a halfway house nearby, four registered sex offenders are inside, watching TV or sleeping.
This is a common scenario in this low-income community, in which more than 300 sex offenders live.
Some residents in the neighborhood, interviewed about the influx, say they are unaware; others say they understand the difficulties sex-offenders face when re-entering society. Activists, however, are concerned about the possible problems of having so many offenders concentrated in one area.
One resident, however, reflected the live-and-let-live mentality of many residents.
“They don’t bother me,” said January Robertson, who lives a few blocks from one halfway house. “The way I see it, they are people just like us. Everybody makes mistakes.”
No place to go
Anyone leaving prison has a tough time, but it’s especially hard for those who have been convicted of a sex crime.
They face barriers when it comes to getting a job or a house. When you have no cash, form of identification, social security card or place to go, options are limited. Many are unable to return home because of family and community distrust.
The assistant manager of one of the halfway houses underscored the points.
“They might have burned a lot of bridges, they might not be a likeable guy, with no family ties, even their own momma doesn’t want them in her house. ‘I love ya baby but you can’t stay here,’” said Carl Johnson, the assistant manager.
These limitations cause many to seek refuge in low-income communities. This results in a high concentration of offenders in poor neighborhoods; in contrast, more affluent communities such as Winnetka have only two.
Lower-income communities tend to not notice when sex offenders move in, as opposed to more affluent communities, because they are already overwhelmed with so many other social concerns.
Higher-income communities tend to more actively oppose any influx, said Johnnie Muhammad of Teamwork Englewood, a social service organization that provides financial support to groups working in the community.
Community opposition and fears
Chanel Ballard, who just moved to Englewood from Alabama, said she was shocked at the idea that so many convicted sex offenders live in her neighborhood.
“If I had known that, I would have reconsidered moving here, especially since I have younger brothers and sisters” she said.
Ballard isn’t the only one who worries about the safety of children living near so many sex offenders.
Media-driven fears have portrayed sex offenders as people who hang out in the bushes and prey on little kids, said Mike Fogel, chairman of the forensic psychology department at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Another academic, who has studied the impact of sex crimes on housing prices, agreed.
“It’s a misconception to think of the sex offender only as the parish priest,” said Jonah Rockoff, assistant professor of business and economics at Columbia University’s graduate school of business.
Instead, the majority of sex-offenders abuse members of their own family or people they know, said Becky Palmer, a social worker at the Alternative Behavior Treatment Centers who works with sex offenders.
Experts say communities shouldn’t worry so much about convicted sex-offenders in their neighborhood because they are often highly-monitored. The predators you don’t suspect are the ones to worry about, such as the softball coach or family friends, said Dr. Debra Nickerson of Nickerson & Associates, who provides therapy to sex abusers and their victims.
“The ‘not in my backyard’ philosophy doesn’t serve anybody,” she said.
Experts say instead of opposing move-ins, communities should become involved with the rehabilitation process. Research has shown that convicted sex offenders are less likely to re-commit crimes if they are engaged in their community.
“If you have support services wrapped around somebody, [that person is] more likely to succeed,” said Fred Maclin of Christian Community Health Center, an agency that provides social services to offenders.
The halfway house Johnson helps run has experienced community opposition in the past. Despite the backlash, Johnson and other halfway house managers in the area said they want the neighborhood to understand the progress they are making within their homes.
Johnson conducts group meetings twice a day, during which house members talk about their struggles, house issues and career opportunities. He also encourages them to deal with their emotions.
“Why stereotype a group because they live in a certain place? Why put them under the spotlight instead of worrying about the other million guys standing out on the corners who are doing nothing, not making any progress.”