It’s a difficult dilemma. Nearly 300 Level Three sex offenders are out of jail and living in Minnesota — the majority of them in just a few Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, a handful of communities outside the metro have passed ordinances that make it nearly impossible for offenders to move in, making it more likely the urban concentrations will grow.
It’s certainly understandable that people wouldn’t welcome new neighbors of this kind. The law requires notifying nearby residents because Level Three offenders are considered the highest risk to reoffend.
But state law also requires that supervising agencies should to “the greatest extent feasible’’ avoid concentrations of offenders near other offenders and schools.
Still, after doing their time, offenders need to find jobs and a place to live. The state and local governments need to rethink how to address community concerns and spread out where this category of offenders live to follow the spirit of the law. It’s unfair for just a few neighborhoods to be overburdened.
A recent Star Tribune news story found that more than half of the nearly 300 Level Three offenders who now live outside confinement reside in a handful of Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods. Minneapolis is home to 126 of them — about 44 percent of the state’s total. Most live on the North Side, near downtown, and on the South Side.
That disproportionate concentration occurs for several reasons. The neighborhoods in question tend to have lower rents and landlords who will accept ex-offenders. The few group housing options in the state are in the two large cities. And some of the neighborhoods have multiple public-safety problems and are not as good at mobilizing and complaining to keep out released offenders.
When state or county corrections staff help offenders find housing, they often can’t find places in other communities — including the counties where the offenders lived or had connections before they went to jail. And when some of the men become homeless, the only shelters that will take them in are in the core cities.
Corrections officials point out that neighborhoods get up in arms about Level Three offenders because the law requires that their presence is reported to citizens. However, at about 5 percent, reoffense rates are lower among these offenders than among almost any other category of ex-convicts. Experts report that some 90 percent of those who commit sex offenses each year have never been convicted before and are not on the list of known offenders.
Nonetheless, high concentrations of offenders, combined with other public-safety problems, can lower property values and discourage families from moving to the affected areas. Both individual neighborhoods and the overall city suffer.
Without question, more offenders will be released back into the community in the future. Their ranks have doubled since 2008 and are expected to rise. They come from all areas of the state, and more communities should do their part in taking them back.
A comprehensive statewide review is in order. How can the state and local governments help facilitate more geographically varied housing options for offenders? What kind of education can help neighbors better understand the risks and put them in perspective, be more accepting and contribute to the reintegration of former inmates?
Though a not-in-my-back-yard response to this problem is natural, solving it must be a shared responsibility. Like it or not, the vast majority of convicted criminals eventually get out of jail and return to live among the law-abiding. It is in the best interest of society to find the most equitable ways to make that reintegration successful.