Friday, March 11, 2011

Letter in favor of treatment exclusion to Jefferson Co. anti-clustering law

This was sent specifically to State Rep. Todd because she has spoken publicly about the need to reform sex offender laws in Alabama. Adding an exclusion to B'Ham's sex offender laws to allow Shiloni Transformation Ministries to resume housing for former offenders would be a nice start.

I'd like to ask other readers to contact State Rep. Todd- maybe she can propose a bill to allow halfway house services in Birmingham to resume.

Dear State Representative Patricia Todd,

I am writing you today to express my concerns over the anti-clustering laws passed specifically in Jefferson County during the 2010 Legislative Session (a bill sponsored by State Senator Priscilla Dunn), and to suggest an exclusion to the bill on behalf of halfway houses, specifically the Shiloni Ministries of Birmingham. I have written you specifically because you have spoken out in the past, calling for reform and review of Alabama's policies of managing those convicted of sexual offenses.

This bill was written without regard to the benefits of Shiloni Ministries and similar programs that run reintegration services for those convicted of sex crimes (in fact, it has been said the bill was written specifically to target Shiloni Ministries). Instability on post-release life,
particularly housing and employment deficiencies, is a primary factor in criminal recidivism, and in crime rates in general.

On the contrary, halfway houses and reintegration programs, much like the one offered by Shiloni Ministries, are effective measures to reduce the already low rates of recidivism among those convicted of sexual offenses. A study by the
Colorado Department of Public Safety found "Shared Living Arrangements" to be a very effective for of those deemed "high-risk" sex offenders, with less overall violations and higher reporting of violations (in other words, the registrants police themselves). Places like Shiloni Ministries offer a positive support network that increases the likelihood of a successful post-release reintegration, especially during those critical first months of release, when the likelihood of recidivism is highest.

Unfortunately, Alabama has a history of supporting the "tough" on crime but not "smart" on crime policies promoted by the Troy King/ Bob Riley regime. There is ample research that many of these pos-conviction policies are more placebo than panacea. This is one area we can at least change.

Ohio has made exceptions to the residency law rule [Ohio Revised Code 2950.01(u)] that excludes treatment facilities as "residences" under the letter of the law. I am proposing a similar rule to allow Shiloni Ministries to continue its efforts to provide stable housing and social support to former offenders. (I have attached a rough draft of a similar proposal I wrote on behalf of another halfway house in California).

I am not a representative of Shiloni Transformation Ministries. I am, however, a nationally known advocate for the rights and advancement of former offenders. I am also a former offender, convicted in Alabama. I experienced the frustration of trying to find housing while incarcerated and without the help of loved ones. I had written over 60 places as far away as Oregon to no avail. I was five days away from release and facing a "Failure To Register" charge when a church ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio accepted me. I have been free since April 1, 2003. I beat the odds but it wasn't easy-- I've been homeless, denied housing and employment, harassed by self-appointed vigilantes, and forced out of a pre-approved residence. I believe in these programs because without them, the likelihood of a released prisoner being a productive citizen are significantly diminished.

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