Contract To Help Sex Offenders Awarded To Non-Profit They're Forbidden to Enter

Categories: Crime
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Paroled sex offenders are now being told they are no longer welcome at the city site specifically designated to service them
Paroled sex offenders forced into homelessness in San Francisco by Jessica's Law used to have at least one place they could call "home": the day-reporting center for parolees at the Northern California Service League, a non-profit in an alley across from the Hall of Justice. There, they could grab a snack, receive counseling, and charge their Jessica's Law-mandated GPS unit as they must do for two hours each day. Many of the sex offender parolees we wrote about in a December cover story spent hours there daily as an alternative to roaming the streets.

Yet the contract to operate the day reporting center recently expired, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently relocated the service to Walden House, a non-profit providing drug rehab programs at Mission and 15th Streets.

But there's a problem with the new location: Walden House sits across the street from Marshall Elementary School -- and the powers that be have decided that congregating sex offenders a stone's throw from a school is a poor idea. So now, the parole department has told the sex offenders they're out, though all other parolees are still welcome at the center.

That's right, the contract to help the sex offenders was awarded to a place they are now forbidden to enter.

Now some parolees say they simply stay outdoors all day long, charging their GPS units at the bus station, public health clinics, the library or the welfare office.  

That's the case of Monroe Jones, a paroled sex offender who used to frequent the Service League. On Friday afternoon he instead sat on a crate on Bluxome Street in SoMa alongside a rolling suitcase of possessions, after having walked to Food Co. to get some lunch.

Jones has been homeless ever since the parole department started enforcing Jessica's Law in 2007, which bans sex offenders from living within 200 feet of a school or park. In dense San Francisco, that means they have to register as transients. State experts have blasted the law as making the public less safe; case workers have even blamed the law for one parolees' recent death.

Jones said he's spent his days for the last two years of homelessness at the Service League. He then spent about 10 days at the new center at Walden House. He loved the change of location at first; there were "thousands of plugs" to charge their GPS units and the place served them three meals a day, including "eggs, pancakes, and sausage" for breakfast. "It was perfect," he said. At first, the sex offenders got instructions to take their smoke breaks on Mission Street in order to stay away from the school on 15th and Capp, Jones says. Then, after a few days, a Walden employee told him and about 10 other paroled sex offenders that the parole department said they had to leave.

 
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Jones and the other parolees walked a block down Mission to the San Fransisco parole office to ask what was going on. He says they spoke with San Francisco parole supervisor Arnel Farnsworth, who didn't know they weren't allowed to be at Walden House. He says Farnsworth left the room to make a phone call, and then came back and said it was true.

Farnsworth declined to comment on this story. 

Walden House CEO Vitka Eisen says that CDCR reps should have known about the school's proximity to the non-profit: They toured the facility "to make sure it met specifications" during the bid process, and that "we showed them the community and other programs in proximity."

Obviously they must have seen the big words "Marshall Elementary School" across the street? No?

CDCR spokesman Fred Bridgewater was not familiar with the decision (and says he would have to wait until Monday to get to the bottom of it). Yet he says he can understand the rationale, and stresses that the program serves all types of parolees, not just sex offenders.

"We don't want a large group of sex offenders being right there in close proximity to schools," Farnsworth said. "You'd probably be asking us other questions if a kid was accosted by a parolee attending that location."

Then why award a contract to a place near a school in the first place?

It seems this Kafkaesque situation won't be resolved easily. Walden House's contract lasts three years. "They contracted [the program] at that site, so moving it would require a contract amendment," Eisen says.

She says Walden House isn't necessarily the best provider for sex offenders in the first place. "I believe sex offenders should be in places they can get treatment for sex offending -- that's not our area of expertise. We're substance abuse rehab and mental health providers."

Apparently that statement didn't make it into the contract application. Northern California Service League declined comment for this story.  


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