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Oklahoma, ahead of the times in re-integrating sex offenders into society

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Local News.
September 24, 2012

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Sex offender…the mere mention of the word can turn even the most pleasant conversation into one filled with anger. Questions like ‘How could they?’ and ‘Why would they?’ inevitably come up. And those who commit the crimes often face years in prison. But if and when they get out, what greets them on the outside?

Before we get there, we should start here. Sex offender: it includes everything from felony rape to inappropriate touching. But all the crimes get grouped together. If you’re a registered child sex offender, a 2008 law barred you from living within 2,000 feet of a school, park, or day care…

“Any metro area of Oklahoma, they’re not going to be allowed to live in. So you have to think rural when you begin to reintegrate them, almost from the beginning. When I say rural, I’m saying at a minimum the outskirts of a metro town or city.”

Floyd Long is transition coordinator for the state’s Department of Corrections. He works to get the worst of the worst integrated into society, so they can contribute whatever is possible. He tries to find them housing, a job, and transportation, with the help of family.

“The ability to buy a car, your metro transportation, your bus systems do not go out to the metro areas. So it becomes a big challenge when it comes to transportation.”

“Thus it becomes a challenge to get employment because they can’t get to their job. So it kinda snowballs, there’s a snowball effect that begins to occur.”


Inside the Crossings Community Center, just north of Lake Hefner, non-profit leaders, DOC staff, religious leaders, and interested volunteers, all came together a couple weeks ago to get a sense of the problem.

“If anything it’s going to get worse…”

This is one of the few conferences in the country devoted to the topic. Steve Gordon heads the Oklahoma Partnership for Successful Reentry and organized the gathering of about 50. That’s fifty people trying to help hundreds of sex offenders due out this year…

“We want to get that dialogue started. Dialogue with each other, dialogue with the powers that be, dialogue with the community and the two biggest challenges, nothing personal against you, but the media and public opinion.”

But yet here in Oklahoma, a state often cited in national media as backwards and behind the times, a discussion about what can be done. Why?

“We have a very strong faith community in Oklahoma and a lot of the churches have been stepping up. And then if they really are sensitive to the needs, the hardest reentry of anybody is the sex offender.”

“Nobody wants to help them, they’ve typically burned their bridges. And so it takes someone with a great heart of mercy even to want to look at them. They’re the lepers of society.”

I’m out on a walk with John at Hand Up Ministries in southwest Oklahoma City.

A registered sex offender from California, he now works full time for the ministry. John got out of jail in 1994 and has been in Oklahoma for years. An enthusiastic, eternally optimistic guy, he seems to take the best possible view of the situation he put himself in. But he’s fighting his registration requirements because of the stigma..

“I believe if a person lives like me, I’ve been out for twenty years, why shouldn’t I be able to?”

John points to studies that show the recidivism rate at somewhere between 5 and 15 percent for sex offenders, far below the average for most other crimes.

Everyone I talked to described a snowball effect. They have trouble finding a place to live, then they don’t have access to transportation, and so they can’t even try to interview for a job, where there’s a whole another set of barriers. Wayne Bowers works with CURE-SORT, devoted to sex offender reentry.

“I think all of a sudden, there’s beginning to be more and more people who are speaking out. When I moved here, I was worried. I thought ‘Am I really getting into something?’. But I’m encouraged to see there is a lot of place for growth here.”

But how does this affect you and me? Lately, the default position has been to wall sex offenders off. Well, Steve Gordon says some are starting to realize why that often doesn’t work…

“It’s making the public less safe because right now in Oklahoma County, we have 120 homeless sex offenders because there’s no place for them to go. That’s not good. Everybody I talk to, no matter what their background or what their profession, they say that’s a bad thing.”

But in the back of Steve Gordon’s mind, there’s the question of the standards these programs are held to.

“We can have the best reentry policies, the best reentry concepts and systems, they will not work. All we need is one angry citizen going up onto the steps of Legislature pitching a fit and it will undue years of good work we’ve been trying to do.”

That’s all it came down to in the day-long conference. The best programs could struggle to compete with one of the most powerful motivators: fear. A solution to that is far more difficult.

20 Responses to “Oklahoma, ahead of the times in re-integrating sex offenders into society”

  1. Les says:

    The media is largely to blame for contributing to the fear mongering and hysteria that accompanies any news about "sex offenders". Politicians eat that up. The fact is, children are more in danger of being molested by a family member or a close neighbor. Parents should be monitoring their own children instead of buying into the myth of stranger danger. A child is more likely to end up on the Sex Offender Registry than to be molested by a person on the registry.

  2. rudy101 says:

    The sex offender registry has the only outcomes of harssment, threats, isolation, and fear for the offenders. These outcomes are well known to make the community more dangerous be making desperate outcasts.

    This is done, for many, ex-post facto, wihtout challenge, and without appeal.

    Does anyone really believe that registry laws are going to be followed when they are passed and implemented in the way they are?

    .The registry is a punishment. That being the case, the prohibition on ex-post facto laws applies. You people have no other arguments.

    Your registry is being LAUGHED AT!

  3. Arianna says:

    Studies are showing that residency restrictions don't work and nor does the public registry. people have been killed over it, and innocent families terrorized.
    The best thing to do is, stabilize these people, let them have a home, a job, therapy and family connctions

  4. yellowroselady says:

    The place I would start is this comment…….Floyd Long is transition coordinator for the state’s Department of Corrections. He works to get the worst of the worst integrated into society, so they can contribute whatever is possible….

    That is a horrible statement….the "worst of the worst". I don't know if that came from Mr. Long or you, Mr. Allen but, it is despicable. How do you hope to affect public opinion when you put something like this in print?

    The recidivism rate is 5.3% for another "sexual" offense and that should be stated over and over by televised and print media until the damage of "stranger danger" is reversed. Check out the Justice Policy Institute, Dr. Jill Levenson, Tamara Lave and other credible sources if you want to get the 'true' picture.

    I am so proud of the "few" churches nationwide who follow the Bible and example set during the time Jesus was on the earth. For ALL have sinned and fall short. Just to be clear there is no big or little sin….it is all the same in God's eyes. In the end, He is the judge…not man!

    Registrants and their families have the right to a life once adjudicated and that satisfied.

    Vicki Henry
    Women Against Registry dot com

    • Claire53 says:

      Amen, Ms. Henry!!

    • cheryl62 says:

      Amen is right! DOC is unrighteously in charge over everything, it's gonna be a law one day, that if you belch or break wind that you'll be punished with prison time. It's pretty bad that DOC has the all mighty authority to play god, boy what is this world coming to. DOC doesn't even offer programs for these people when they are in prison to help them when they get out, they are forced to do it when they get out, and pay for it, but if they can't find work, then it's a hash mark against them, I've got no respect for DOC when it comes to this. This problem that these people deal with is a repeat problem from there childhood, but nobody cares to help them, that's why so many repeat.

      • Darryl Scott says:

        cheryl62, you are partially informed. OKlahoma DOC has strong re-integration programs within their facilities aimed at assisting offenders with successful re-entry into society. Insider prison walls inmates can work on their education (adult basic education/ literacy and/or GED. indeed many have successfully met their individual goals. Some have attended college, even completed degrees. Also, after completing GEDs, many used to enroll and complete Vo-tech classes (depending on the facility) in construction, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, mechanics, and more. NOTE: the completion accompanied a certificate of graduation. Sadly, many vo-tech programs were terminated. But I don't know why. However they can still pursue college inside. I marvel at the men and women who triumph over their past. Let's support them.

      • m&n says:

        Is it not discrimiting -after man or woman served their time only to have their past held against them – why let them out – they have no future – so why have to tell employer your past then you are let go- get real! these people need to be wanted – trusted – and I believe the "three time for samecrime " you have to look at it differently..there is NO reabilitation in prisions – the individual has to do that IF given a chance while in do we need an overhaul in our systems.

    • Valigator says:

      Vicki is outraged by the "worst of the worst" description due to the fact her son is considered in the eyes of society the "worst of the worst" ..dont fall for her crap, Vicki is a failed parent with a failed poor excuse for a child that should never see the light of day, let alone have his mommy infiltrate forums with feigned outrage.. jeez Vick get new material..

  5. rebeccaw says:

    A strong message from the symposium was the need for policies and programs that focus on restoring registered individuals to society as well as programs that allow individuals who perceive that they are at a risk for committing an initial offense to seek help confidentially before it's too late. Presenters from all sides of the issue agreed that the current system is not effective and many of the laws do more harm than good. I'm proud to have been part of this event and see the growing awareness of the true issues faced by registrants and their families and the increasing efforts to solve the problems.

  6. oncefallendotcom says:

    The headline is a slap in the face. AHEAD of the times means abolishing residency laws and the registry in favor of reintegration and rehabilitation programs. Oklahoma is way behind in that respect.

  7. Will Steen says:

    The Registries are a disgusting abomination.

  8. Sarah says:

    Thank you for the article & the people working to make our current system a little more "just"…you gave someone in love with a man on that list some hope that I may someday be able to be with him without fear of being hated & punished for it.

  9. Rose Toellner says:

    I agree that the best thing we can do is abolish the registry and to prevent issuing monitors to wear forever. That is a farce. And my son just lost a job that he'd had for seven years, a week after the last Jailbirds tabloid came out. He worked in an all male shop, where everyone knew about his crime, and had no problem with him. Until a new person in upper management saw the picture and charge. This is the only group who has a lifetime sentnce even after they are out of prison. It's just not right!

  10. destroyed Life says:

    Those falsely accused in divorce/child custody battles face a different challenge, however, with the same collateral consequences of being a registrant. I have proof that I didn't commit the crime, but in the state I reside, this evidence is allowed to be stuffed out from view. I am right along with the public urinators and the child rapist. Fortunately, I served this country and earned my VA benefits. I earned my Paralegal certification in prison during my sentence where the bond was so high I couldn't get out. After almost 3 years in country jail and facing 210 years, I figured a non-violent "attempting" charge wouldn't be so bad, and away I went. Because it was a minor, in this state, one of 19, I was forced back to county the day I was released from prison to be forced into a jury trial. Because I denied the charges, the state determined I was "in denial" and therefore needed long-term, control, care and treatment in the state's sexually violent predator unit. The nightmare finally ended with my appeal being considered and the state's chief psychiatrist reporting that I was "least likely to reoffend than the typical sex offender". (wonder how they go there from "attempting" to "predator" status when I never offended to start with). Since my release, I haven't been able to secure a job anywhere. The qualified under Chapter 31 benefits and have since returned to school earning my BS in Advanced Legal Studies. All it takes, which it seems the state of OK is trying to do is, if we are eventually going to release these persons back into society, the for reintegration purposes, catch them about 1 year out from maxing out their prison sentences, give companies tax breaks or even assist in the hourly wage for them to come in and meet with the sex offender. Have the company already building a rapport with the offender, assessing his geographical, financial and support information. If possible establish a housing program in which they will earn up to gain their own dwelling. As for the registry itself, my neighbors aren't too happy I live here, but this has been the family home now for over 30 years. We live within the limitation of the law. I get a lot of stares and when people find out, most of them won't confront me to ask me about my case. None of them look at the appeal on the record available online for their review. In prison, everyone knew I was set up by my ex wife. I had no worries in there, but to get out and the church people in this state don't want you in their church… I just found out there are now more than 700,000 persons on the registry nationwide. If each registrant has, at a minimum of 6 connected family members, that means 4,200,000 people are affected by the registry! Out of these 700k on the registry, some 20,000 are presumed innocent from false allegations and coerced confessions. We need to do something now, we need to educate the public and we need a mandate from Washington, DC on the media's presentment of the registry, sex offenders as a whole, and the ill if not fatal effects the registry causes not only to the ex offender but to the 4,200,000 family members who are affected by the Megan, Walsh and other laws which has virtually turned our state and federal governments into Gestapo type agencies gathering the Jews or the witch hunters of Boston in the days of yore.

  11. Ben Therre says:

    Without a solid support network, the registered offender on probation statistically faces certain re-incarceration. Offenders are forced to pay back court costs, mandatory counseling fees, the cost of semi-annual polygraphs, etc, etc, etc.and all the while are generally considered "unemployable" in society. Add to that the costs associated with a normal living (food, rent, clothes) and the requirement to "sustain a job pursuant to the terms of probation….." and the path back to "the joint" becomes more and more certain. Thanks be to God that some people are finally getting this message and reaching out to those in such despair.

  12. Beryl Sylvia McNair says:

    This is so true, God is the judge.

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