Corrections Department: Putting Parolee Program Next to School Was Only Option

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You see? There was a perfectly good reason for placing a parolee help center a stone's throw from a grade school -- which means sex offenders are legally barred from entering.
State corrections officials say they had no choice but to award a contract to aid paroled sex offenders to a non-profit they're forbidden from entering because it's across the street from a school.

We first chronicled this confounding story last week. Sex offenders forced into homelessness by Jessica's Law residency restrictions used to be able to go to a day reporting center for all parolees at the Northern California Service League across from the Hall of Justice. But the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) awarded the new three-year contract to run the center to Walden House at 15th and Mission Streets, starting on April 1.

Here's the problem: Walden House sits across the street from Marshall Elementary School, so CDCR has banned the sex offenders from going there. The parolees who've committed any other class of crime can; murderers are likely breathing a sigh of relief.

State parole officials claim they foresaw this situation of their own making. They say, yes, they knew there was a school in close proximity when they were evaluating the site. Yes, they had already discussed that this wouldn't be a good place for sex offenders.

Yet, the awarding of a contract is based on a scoring rubric, and proximity to school is not one of the factors tabulated. The location portion of the contract evaluation is either a pass or fail; either you have the zoning and conditional use permits to host the program or you don't. Walden House did, and won the contract on points over one or two other competitors that put in proposals, one of which was the Service League. 

"When we went out there [to tour the Walden House facility] we saw exactly where it was at," Rodney Gray, a parole administrator for CDCR, told SF Weekly. "We knew the school was there. In San Francisco, there's logistically, many, problems, but nothing in the penal code prohibits the program from having [a school nearby] right now."

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Sex offender parolees are mandated to charge their GPS tracking devices two hours a day. Finding a place to do so is a challenge in San Francisco.
So for now, some of the parolees who used to hang out at the Service League all day are just roaming the streets instead. To reiterate: CDCR officials claim they were helplessly handcuffed by a formula they knew full well would result in some parolees being unable to enter the parolee help center. And their decision to exclude the sex offenders in the name of safety, has given some of those parolees few alternatives to just roaming around.  

But Gray says soon there will be at least one effort specifically aimed at these wandering sex offenders. Starting June 1, he says, a new program will debut in the city, providing group and individual counseling, polygraphs, and cognitive classes tailored specifically for sex offenders. Gray wouldn't go into any more details than that, or if CDCR will choose to locate it next to, say, the maternity ward. 

Still, whatever is coming on June 1, it won't be a day reporting center -- where parolees can snack, hang out, or plug in the GPS units around their ankles that they're required to charge two hours a day. For that, they'll have to continue to be creative.
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