Havre Daily News
Hill County Commission chair Kathy Bessette recently spoke with a pregnant woman who was concerned to learn that a sex offender resides four doors down from her and her 5-year-old. The woman had been unaware that the man was an offender, Bessette said.
The mother wanted to know how residents are notified about offenders, Bessette said.
She said the mother was also “quite disturbed because she had a young child.” Many people are in the dark about the laws governing sexual offenders who live in the community.
The state Department of Justice maintains a Sexual and Violent Offenders Registry Web site, which contains a host of information about the offenders and the laws.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the registry and the information listed on the registry, according to Bob Anez of the state Department of Corrections, is that people have a “not in my backyard” mentality about sexual and violent offenders in their community. He said that a lot of people in the communities where offenders are released think the offenders should have restrictions on where they can live.
Unless a judge imposes a restriction on an offender's place of residence, the offender is constitutionally free to live wherever they choose, according to the registry's Web site. Janet Haas, Havre Police Department dispatch supervisor, agreed with Anez's comments. She said she often gets calls from people who don't understand that the police department cannot change where an offender lives.
Anez said that once offenders are released back into the community, other residents don't expect the offenders to move in next door. He also said the offenders' release back into the community is a part of their rehabilitation.
There are several organizations that work to rehabilitate sexual and violent offenders. The District IV Human Resources Development Council's domestic abuse program provides anger management classes for both men and women. A judge can order someone to attend the classes or people can voluntarily enroll.
Roxanne Ross, director of the domestic abuse program on Wednesday said: “The more people understand, the less fear they'll have.”
Marla North, a licensed counselor, specializes in treating sexual offenders. She belongs to the Montana Sex Offenders Treatment Organization. She said in an interview from Lewistown on Wednesday, “I'd like to see more people educated” about the subject.
The registry outlines the tier levels for sexual offenders, how they get their designations, a history of the registry, why some offenders have no designations or information, address and length of registration requirements, and the failure to register and non-compliance definitions and penalties.
There are several types of offenders listed in the registry. Sexual offenses range from unlawful restraint to incest. Violent offenses range from robbery to deliberate homicide. The definitions and sentence requirements for the offender types are listed on the Web page.
Individuals are screened by evaluating their past behavior to determine their tier level - which describes how much of a risk the DOC considers that offender, Anez said.
The registry's Web site also said that the high score on an individual does not necessarily mean the individual will commit an offense again. It does mean, though, that an individual with a higher score is more likely to have repeat offenses than an individual with a low score.
According to state law, before a sexual offender is sentenced, either the state Department of Corrections or a sexual offender evaluator provides a report recommending the level of designation. The judge then takes statements from a variety of people including the victim and the offender. Armed with the information, the judge issues a decision. This is how an offender receives the designation.
It is possible for offender's to not have a tier level or other designation. Offenders who are not designated with a tier level may not be for several reasons: they may have been incarcerated after 1997, they may have been incarcerated prior to 1997, or the sentencing judge did not assign them a tier level. Violent offenders are not on a tier level system.
Anez said that it is possible for sex offenders to change their level of risk. According to Montana law, offenders designated as a level two offender can petition the court to change the offenders designation from a level two offender to a level one status. This can only be done if the offender has successfully completed a sexual offender program at either the state prison or one that is approved by the state's Department of Corrections. The court may change the designation if it finds clear and convincing evidence that the offender's risk of repeat sexual offenses has changed since their sentence date.
For more information, visit the registry. If looking for an offender, go to the search page and type in your county of residence.
On the Net: