In an effort to address the issue of a concentration of sex offenders in Harrington Hall, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and State Rep. Robert Lancia (R - District 16) were both open to an amendment to the latter’s 10-percent sex offender bill to become effective Jan. 1, 2018, should it be passed.
That date was provided by the Speaker’s spokesman, Larry Berman, on Tuesday. The new date would give the administration time to get “additional facilities and resources” in order, according to Rep. Lancia.
The proposed time limit at Saturday’s forum was six months, which, if the bill were passed and signed by the end of June, would give the administration approximately that amount of time.
The comments came at the first of Rep. Lancia’s three forums beginning at Glen Hills Elementary School.
Rep. Lancia’s legislation would force a 10 percent cap on sex offenders at state-funded facilities, with exceptions for some institutions like hospitals and nursing homes. His other bill would require a list of sex offenders registered at these same facilities to be updated by the hour. About 30 people attended the Glen Hills forum.
Speaker Mattiello stepped behind the podium Saturday afternoon to address the number of sex offenders residing at Harrington Hall, known as a “shelter of last resort.” According to the estimate provided, 35 sex offenders were housed at Harrington. That figure is 21 more than the next greatest concentration of sex offenders at Emanuel House in Providence according to Rep. Lancia.
The number was never supposed to be that high, though.
Rep. Lancia noted a “gentleman’s agreement” under the Chafee administration to cap the number of sex offenders at Harrington Hall between three and five.
That proposed time limit, proposed by Speaker Mattiello at a meeting that included Crossroads, Rep. Lancia and Cranston City Council Vice President Michael Favicchio last week, was made public on Saturday to general agreement in the room.
“The City of Cranston is being failed by the state right now,” Speaker Mattiello said. “I don’t think the state is doing enough, but the state is facing an up-tick in the problem. The sex offender population is growing. They have nowhere to go, so they go to their homeless shelter of last resort.”
Speaker Mattiello said that he would be “inclined” to pass both bills, but without a time limit he believed they don’t address the heart of the problem. Should Harrington be limited to 10 percent starting today, it would only be allowed to house eight sex offenders. The remaining offenders would be turned away, and they would not be in violation of their mandatory 24-hour need to register.
With playgrounds and homes close by, the Speaker said it would make a “horrific” problem worse.
“My concern is we’re going to be putting people in your neighborhoods,” Mattiello said. “I don’t have a problem putting the legislation on the floor, I just have to be convinced this is going to make our situation better. We can pass them [as is], we can address them, it’s just not going to solve the problem. We are trying to work with the admin[istration] on having them increase the inventory of homeless housing and shelters of last resort so everyone doesn't end up in Cranston.”
That is where the time limit comes in. Rep. Lancia said the bill would “force the hand” of the administration to work on either opening another shelter to alleviate the overflow at Harrington, or renovate a building to get it up to code so that sex offenders could go there instead.
Speaker Mattiello also said the incoming budget would appropriate more money to Crossroads, which operates Harrington Hall, to pay housing locaters that can help place sex offenders outside of the shelter and into other areas to soften the burden.
Carolyn Medeiros, the executive director of the Alliance for Safe Communities, said the shelters need additional programming as well. Anyone residing at Harrington Hall has to leave the premises at 7 a.m. and cannot return until 5 p.m.
“I don’t understand how we can run juvenile shelters and have the youth in programs from morning till night,” Medeiros, who works in juvenile reentry, said. “Those kids were busy from morning until they put their head down on the pillow at night. We cannot handle our adults. Adults fall, too, as adults and they need to get back up again. When I say programs, I’m talking about giving them work. Giving them skills and putting them to work. I’m not coddling here.”
Medeiros and Rep. Lancia have both advocated for a facility like the January Center in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Center is a 24-bed facility that helps prepare sex offenders for re-entry and the average stay ranges from three to six months, according to its website.
Speaker Mattiello noted that Crossroads is an improved operator over House of Hope, but it is “inundated.”
“They’re shoveling against the tide,” Speaker Mattiello said. “You need services. You need to make sure they’re engaged and not clustering for the wrong reasons.”
Michael Tondra, Chief of the Office of Housing and Community Development said Tuesday in a statement to the Herald that safety for Rhode Islanders remains the administration’s “top priority.”
“We share the ultimate goal of reducing the number of Rhode Islanders without stable and appropriate housing,” Tondra said in his statement through OHCD’s Matt Sheaff. “OHCD and the rest of the Governor’s administration will continue to focus on supporting Rhode Islanders in need while ensuring the safety of Rhode Island families.”
The time limit seemed to please those in attendance, most notably Favicchio and Rep. Robert Quattrocchi (R - District 41), who have heard their own complaints about sex offenders in the area.
Glen Hills falls within Favicchio’s constituency, Ward 6, and he also noted that he was looking into a possible city ordinance that would ban sex offenders from the library system. The Central Library has added cameras on its property after an increased amount of incidents with patrons that Libraries Director Ed Garcia predominantly believes to be homeless. Garcia said Monday that he has had to issue about 12 no-trespass orders in the past couple of years.
Auburn Library has also had to add security cameras, but Garcia said those are more concerned with vandalism.
Favicchio added that sex offenders are not required to register when they enter the library, provoking some consternation amongst the crowd.
“The six-month thing would make some sense because even if you had to rehab an existing building, the state would go through its budget appropriation which comes out in June so for the July 1 budget,” Favicchio said, explaining the potential timeline. “Now the money is appropriated and then it may take time to rehab a facility to make sure it’s up to code, building codes or whatever. It does give notice to the Gov[ernor]’s office that we need to get this done.”
Rep. Quattrocchi said that he was approached by a constituent in Scituate about a sex offender in her neighborhood about whom she was never notified, which “spurred” him to attend. He said he is new to the issue, but the cap and limit sound favorable to him.
“This issue in particular is not something I’m familiar with, so that’s why I’m here,” Rep. Quattrocchi said. “The cap, from what I’m hearing, with that six-month period sounds reasonable to me, but I’m just beginning to get introduced to this right now.”
Rep. Lancia also had forums scheduled for Sunday at Garden City Elementary and Monday night at Daniel D. Waterman Elementary. He said he understood the scheduling was difficult, especially with Palm Sunday this past weekend, but he didn’t want to wait to open the floor for discussion.
“It’s going to take one child, just one child and that will be one too many,” Rep. Lancia said. “I will not allow this to happen in this district and then all hell would break loose.”