GA Sex Offenders Driven to Living in Woods

September 28, 2009

Google/AP : Homeless Ga. sex offenders directed to makeshift camp.

In an astounding apparent attempt to emulate the disaster of Florida’s sex offender laws, Georgia is now pushing registered sex offenders to live in the woods.

Marietta, Ga. — A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up camp in a densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park, directed there by probation officers who say it’s a place of last resort for those with nowhere else to go.

Nine sex offenders live in tents surrounding a makeshift fire pit in the trees behind a towering “no trespassing” sign, waiting out their probation sentences as they face numerous living restrictions under one of the nation’s toughest sex offender policies.

The muddy camp on the outskirts of prosperous Cobb County is an unintended consequence of Georgia law, which bans the state’s 16,000 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and other spots where children gather.

It’s not the only place in Cobb County where offenders can live — there are hundreds of other sex offenders throughout the county living in compliance with the law. But Ahmed Holt, manager of the state’s sex offender administration unit, calls the camp a “last resort” for homeless offenders who can’t find another place to live that complies with the law.

He said probation officers direct them to the outpost if other options fail, such as transferring to another county or state or sending them to a relative’s place that meets the requirements. Homeless shelters and halfway houses are often not an option, he said, because of the restrictions that bar them from being near children.

Critics say it’s an example of how laws designed to keep Georgia’s children out of harm’s way create a hazard where penniless sex offenders live largely unsupervised at the government’s urging.

“The state needs to find a responsible way to deal with this problem,” said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights who represents another man living in the camp. “Requiring people to live like animals in the woods is both inhumane and a terrible idea for public safety.”

The tent city is similar to one in south Florida, where dozens of sex offenders moved under a remote bridge because it was among the few places that complied with local ordinances. Florida officials say the sex offenders found the bridge on their own, while some residents of the camp dispute that.

In Georgia, however, Holt said state probation officers have directed homeless offenders into the woods.

“While having an offender located in a camp area is not ideal, the greater threat lies in homeless offenders that are not a specified location and eventually absconding supervision with their whereabouts unknown,” he said.

Update Sept. 29, 2009 : Camp closed by Georgia Officials, sex offenders ordered to leave camp.

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