Monday , July 30, 2018 - 6:15 AM
OGDEN — When Monica Williams was a graduate student searching for a topic for her Ph.D. dissertation, she turned on the TV to see what people were talking about.
“When I was looking for a topic, I was interested in things and issues that people get so worked up about,” Williams said.
She would see TV shows that illustrated the anxiety many people feel upon learning about sex offenders living near them.
“Given the outcry didn’t seem to match the statistics, I just wanted to know more about that,” she said.
Williams said she knew many of the statistics regarding sex offenders. For example, if you analyze types of crime and the people who commit them, sex offenders have the second-lowest rate of reoffending, second only to murder.
“When I found out these sexually violent predator placements, I thought, ‘That’s a perfect intersection of sex offender anxieties and community dynamics,’” Williams said.
Five years after she was awarded her Ph.D. and moved to Ogden to teach in Weber State’s criminal justice department, Williams’ book on this very topic is hitting the shelves.
The book furthers her research, and aims to answer a broad, complex question that many areas of the country struggle to answer: What should communities do when violent, convicted sex offenders move into their neighborhoods?
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In “The Sex Offender Housing Dilemma”, Williams takes a detailed approach to answer the question.
The introduction of Williams’ book acknowledges what many readers may be thinking upon learning the book’s subject matter: “This book focuses on the problem of finding housing for sex offenders. The public has little sympathy for these offenders, but a lack of social supports and stable housing can increase the likelihood of reoffending.”
Often times offenders have restrictions on where they can and cannot live.
Much of Williams’ research was done in California, where she completed her decorate at the University of California-Davis in 2013.
In her research, Williams found that rural areas and places with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to receive these types of offenders once they are released.
Of course, there is always a chance that sexually violent predators reoffend, and communities should be aware of those around them in the community, Williams said.
But Williams argues in her book that the best way to approach this topic is to create a balance between holding government institutions accountable for distributing prior offenders so they aren’t isolated to certain areas and having community members engage with one another to ensure their concerns are heard.
The topic of placing offenders after their release from prison is something that particularly impacts Ogden.
The city is home to one of five state-funded parole facilities in the state, and the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center houses around a third of state parolees. It’s also the only facility outside of Salt Lake County.
This makes the topic of housing prior offenders an issue that residents of Weber County hold dear.
However, a bill passed during the 2017 legislative session would allow lawmakers to decide whether or not to distribute parolees around the state, as long as law makers set aside funding to build new facilities around the state. The bill also outlines how the number of parolees would correspond with the population of the county.
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In California, the state sends offenders back to the county where they lived prior to their incarceration.
Williams also mentioned the state’s Good Landlord Program as an obstacle for prior offenders who want to find affordable housing. The program has been criticized in the past for incentivizing landlords to avoid renting to people with felony convictions.
A 2015 report from the Standard-Examiner profiled a handful of people recently released from prison that struggled to find a place to live due to the Good Landlord Program. A man with prior meth convictions said he was rejected by 46 apartments before finding a place to live in Davis County.
Williams added that often times people are on the sex offender registry for lower-level offenses, like public urination, or people are convicted on charges that may not accurately represent what they did leading up to their conviction.
One example Williams found during her research was the case of a man who was convicted of a crime, but due to the way the California state law was written and titled, it seemed as if the man had assaulted a child. This was not the case, according to Williams.
While many people are not willing to have prior criminals or sexually violent predators near them, Williams says that doing things like intimidation or ostracising them from the community could make things worse and increase their chances to reoffend.
Williams said it’s important for community members to educate themselves and be aware of policies in order to hold law makers accountable for taking into account their concerns.
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