A backlash against Minnesota's growing ranks of Level Three sex offenders

Despite a state law, many Level Three sex offenders are ending up in the same few neighborhoods.

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The 2500 block of Golden Valley Road has at least three Level Three sex offenders living in one apartment building. Is a sex offender in your neighborhood? Visit startribune.com/offendermap to find the names, faces and locations of Level Three sex offenders statewide, or turn to A7.

Photo: RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII , Star Tribune

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Two of Minnesota’s highest-risk sex offenders live in a house on 26th Avenue N. that is fronted by a yard sign warning “We watch, we call” and owned by a pastor who prays with his tenants.

Five other sex offenders live nearby on Knox Avenue, a few houses away from a single mother of four who keeps her children from playing in the yard.

Three more rent apartments a mile away in a drab brick building on Golden Valley Road, down the street from a playground and school bus stop.

After getting out of prison for their sex crimes, they have something new in common: They all moved to north Minneapolis.

Nearly 300 of Minnesota’s most dangerous sex offenders now live outside confinement, and more than half of them are residing in only a few neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a Star Tribune analysis of state records shows.

That saturation is occurring despite a state law that requires authorities who supervise newly released sex offenders to avoid concentrating them in any community. Sidestepping the law, however, brings no penalties.

In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, frustrated leaders are calling for tougher laws that would result in wider dispersal of the riskiest sex offenders.

“What you’re talking about is the equal distribution of the undesirables,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, who is running for mayor.

But those demands have come as public alarm over the resettlement of “Level Three” sex offenders — those considered most prone to committing more crimes —is rising around the state. Eight cities in Minnesota have essentially banned offenders from living within their borders, thwarting the state’s aim to guide the offenders into a stable lifestyle after prison.

The issue has gained urgency because more sex offenders in the state are completing their prison terms and transitioning to supervised release in communities — from 123 in 2008 to 289 as of last week. If that rate continues, the number of Level Three sex offenders living in Minnesota could double in the next six years.

As debate intensifies, corrections officials say offenders with permanent housing are more able to find jobs and less likely to get in trouble again.

“Would you like them in a place that accounts for their whereabouts, or would you like them to be released in the community without that support?” said Richard Gardell, the CEO of 180 Degrees, a Minneapolis halfway house that transitions high-risk offenders to the community.

Some local leaders say that’s not their problem. Restrictions imposed in Wyoming, about 30 miles north of the Twin Cities, mean an offender can only live in a few square blocks of the city.

If you’re a high-risk sex offender, said Wyoming City Administrator Craig Mattson, “you can’t get to live here, and that’s the end of it.”

‘It creates ghettos’

The blocks around Golden Valley Road and Thomas Avenue in north Minneapolis look like a typical middle-class neighborhood. Most of the modest single-family homes along the tree-lined street are well kept. In the mornings and afternoons, the street comes alive with children getting on and off school buses and running down the sidewalks.

But these blocks are home to 14 high-risk sex offenders — four more than live in all of Rochester.

No city bears the burden of housing Level Three sex offenders like Minneapolis. It has 44 percent — 126 as of last week — of Minnesota’s highest-risk offenders, despite accounting for just 7 percent of the state’s population. Most are concentrated on the North Side, where rents are low and corrections officials have found cooperative landlords. Some neighborhoods there have become so resigned to living with the offenders that public notification meetings are no longer held.

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