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on October 20, 2013 at 7:30 AM, updated October 20, 2013 at 12:07 PM
On most days, about 10 men who have finished prison sentences for rape or other sex crimes live in trailers behind the small church.
A legislator from the county said the men’s presence is troubling to some families who live nearby, even though the county sheriff says there’s never been a serious incident involving the church and the men who live there.
“The community is not happy, I can assure you,” said Rep. Kurt Wallace, R-Maplesville.
Wallace wants the facility to be licensed by the county under an arrangement that would require a live-in monitor and other restrictions. He has proposed legislation that would designate such places as “residential sex offender clusters.” He has pre-filed a bill for the legislative session that begins in January. The law would have statewide application.
Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, is co-sponsoring the bill because he said there is a similar place in Autauga County.“You’ve got families with kids even though it’s out in the country, and you’ve got no way of safeguarding and protecting them,” Beckman said.
State law already restricts where sex offenders can live. They are not allowed to live within 2,000 feet of a school or child care center, or within 2,000 feet of their victim.
That can make it hard for sex offenders to find a place to live when they are released from prison.
“It’s one of those things that nobody wants them, but they have to go somewhere,” Wallace said.
Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis said a total of about 60 sex offenders have found a temporary home at Triumph Church over the last few years. The trailers where the men live are behind the church, Wallace said, but are not readily visible from the highway.
Ricky Martin, the church pastor, declined to be interviewed for this story. Martin and others were holding a yard sale next to the church Friday morning.The sign in front of the church read: “Fear not, the Lord can help you.”
A couple who live less than a mile from the church said the men who live at the church have never caused them a problem but they would prefer they were not there.
Sheriff Davis said about 9-11 sex offenders live there most days. He said the number has been as high as about 15.
“It has not been a problem,” Davis said. “Certainly I understand the concerns of having them all in one spot. But also, on the flip side, if they’re all there it’s very easy to go and check and make sure they’re all where they’re supposed to be.”
County sheriffs are responsible for keeping track of sex offenders under the state’s Community Notification Act.
Davis said one concern is that many of the sex offenders are not from the county. He said some have come from out of state.
“They have no ties to the community. They’re not coming because this is home,” the sheriff said.
Wallace said that is one reason the place bothers him. He said the county doesn’t want to be home for sex offenders from all over the state.
“We don’t mind taking care of our own,” Wallace said.
Wallace said he found out about the sex offender residence after a woman became alarmed when two men knocked on her front and back doors. She didn’t answer but called 911, Wallace said. The two men told authorities they were looking for work. The woman later learned the men were two of the sex offenders living in the trailers.
“When she found that out she of course went nuts because she had a couple of small grandchildren that occasionally stay with her,” Wallace said.
Wallace has proposed similar bills the last two years but they did not pass.
The Legislature has passed bills applying only to Jefferson County and Birmingham that prohibit more than one unrelated sex offender from living in the same residence.
Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian said the laws have worked well. Christian said he did not think placing a new requirement on sheriffs to license locations with more than one sex offender was a good idea.“Simply say more than one cannot live at an address and a violation means jail time,” Christian said in an email. “I think that is the most effective way to deal with that issue and it has been effective here in Jefferson County.”
Montgomery County Sheriff D.T. Marshall said there are places in the county where multiple sex offenders live, like some low-rent motels.
“It’s getting harder and harder for them to find a place to live,” Marshall said.
When sex offenders reach the end of their prison sentence they are required to have an approved place to live. If not, they are returned to the jail in the county where they were convicted.
Marshall said Wallace’s licensing bill sounded like it could be a good idea but he didn’t want to give an opinion without reading the bill.
The bill sponsored by Wallace and Beckman would define any place that housed two or more sex offenders as residential sex offender clusters and any place that housed five or more as large residential sex offender clusters. The maximum would be 30 sex offenders.
The clusters would have to have a monitor with no record of a felony conviction who lived with and supervised the sex offenders. There could be no less than one monitor for every 10 offenders.
Large residential clusters would have to pay an annual licensing fee of $100 plus $20 per offender.
Chilton County Sheriff Davis said having sex offenders live together raised a concern about how they might influence each other’s behavior. He said jail inmates often express a desire to change their ways, but that can change if they run in the same circles after they’re released.“A lot of times behavior is based on who we hang around,” Davis said.
Wallace said he would not be opposed to sex offenders living together in a treatment facility that was certified by the state and said his proposal would exempt such a facility from the licensing requirement.
“I just don’t want them hanging out together with nothing to do but sit around and talk about the things that make them do what they do,” Wallace said.