Housing and Placement

Securing appropriate housing is a critical aspect of the transition planning process for sex offenders (Bumby et al., in press; Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005; Schlank & Bidelman, 2001). Indeed, the inability to find affordable and adequate housing is among the most significant barriers to effective reentry for all offenders and this challenge is significantly more pronounced when sex offenders are involved for the following reasons (Bumby et al., in press; CSOM, 2007; Lynch & Sabol, 2001; Petersilia, 2003; Spencer, 1999; Travis et al., 2001; Zevitz & Farkas, 2000b):

Because some sex offenders are unable to develop suitable residency plans prior to release, they may be denied conditional release. As a result, they serve out their maximum sentences in facilities and are released to the community with no supervision or treatment of any kind. In these instances, criminal and juvenile justice practitioners are not able to provide critical assistance and support, or implement monitoring strategies that could reduce the likelihood of future victimization.

In addition to these unique challenges for sex offenders, it is often the case that, at the time of release, they do not have the financial resources to secure affordable or suitable housing independently. Taken together, this suggests the need to provide sex offenders a more gradual and incremental community reintegration plan that utilizes a range of transitional options.

The inability to find affordable and adequate housing is among the most significant barriers to effective reentry.

To facilitate this approach, correctional agencies may need to consider implementing an expectation that sex offenders will be transitioned to lower level facilities (e.g., community corrections facilities, pre–release centers, work release programs, halfway houses), provided that their assessed level of risk does not preclude such a transition (Bumby & Talbot, 2007; CSOM, 2007; Schlank & Bidelman, 2001; Spencer, 1999; Steele, 1995). Specialized sex offense–specific assessment instruments may be helpful in making these decisions, along with other factors that are traditionally considered (e.g., institutional adjustment, risk of violence, program participation/refusals).

The utilization of a continuum of lower level placement options for sex offenders and other offenders within the correctional system requires that these agencies dedicate resources to enhancing the capacity of lower level facilities when possible. Moreover, some agencies will need to reevaluate some of their policies that create internal barriers to gradual–ly transitioning sex offenders from higher security institutions. For example, in some jurisdictions, correctional policies wholly exclude sex offenders from placement in work–release programs simply because of the nature of their crimes and the presumed high level of risk that is posed by these individuals. This runs counter to the recidivism research on sex offenders, which indicates that not only do sex offenders as a whole recidivate at relatively low rates (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998; Hanson & Harris, 2000; Hanson & Morton–Bourgon, 2007), but they also recidivate at lower rates than other criminals released from correctional institutions (Langan et al., 2003).

Because these types of exclusionary policies—which parallel those in the community—appear to be based on misinformation about sex offenders, an investment in specialized training is warranted. This can help to ensure that reentry policies within criminal and juvenile justice agencies, including policies that affect transition and step–down policies for sex offenders, are well–informed. For those transitional facilities in which sex offenders are or will be housed, specialized training will also be important for the staff members who work in them. Information about sex offenders and their management, including an emphasis on the specific dynamic risk factors that are associated with sex offender recidivism, can equip staff in these facilities to supervise and monitor sex offenders more effectively while promoting successful reentry.

Intermediate transitional placement options afford sex offenders additional time and opportunities to begin to manage the housing and placement challenges associated with reentry, to develop viable and permanent residency plans where access to victims and other high risk situations is minimized, and to mitigate the often difficult transition from a highly structured and restrictive environment directly to the community.

Jurisdictions may also wish to consider the investment of state agencies’ resources to expand the range of housing options for sex offenders (e.g., through rent subsidies, transitional shared housing) outside of the criminal and juvenile justice systems. In some locations, policies and procedures encourage partnerships between residential/institutional case workers and community stakeholders (e.g., housing authority officials, landlords) to address the challenges associated with sex offender housing and placement, and to make informed decisions about how residency options in the community can be utilized most effectively to promote successful reentry (see, e.g., Cowan, Gilroy, & Pantazis, 1999; Cowan, Gilroy, Pantazis, & Bevan, 1999; Scottish Executive, 2001).

A particularly promising example of managing sex offender housing challenges involves inviting housing representatives to participate proactively in the transition planning process as members of multi–disciplinary teams. The benefits of such an approach are numerous, including the following (Cowan et al., 1999):

Juvenile Considerations

Just as is the case with adult sex offenders, juvenile sex offenders’ post–release placement needs should be considered early during their stays in residential/institutional facilities. This ensures that viable placement plans are developed expeditiously so that youth do not remain in a higher level of care because of a lack of proactive planning.
Given the evidence that supports family–based interventions with juvenile sex offenders (Borduin & Schaeffer, 2002; Saldana et al., 2006), the family of origin is the first logical placement option for these youth post–release. Placement with other family members may be an appropriate alternative. In situations where a juvenile sex offender’s placement plan is to return to the family of origin or to another family member, it is essential that institutional/residential case workers, community supervision officers, and others work with the parents, primary caregivers, to ensure that:

Undoubtedly, returning to the home of origin or an alternative family member will not always be a viable option for some juvenile sex offenders. In these instances, group homes, therapeutic foster care, and other community–based placement options should be considered (Bengis et al., 1999.)

Finally, with respect to older youth who evidence stability but for whom no reasonable placement options exist, independent living programs are an alternative that should be explored. In these instances, some jurisdictions support such facilities and make them available at minimal cost to these youth as they transition to the community. Still other youth–serving agencies dedicate funds and other resources (e.g., clothing, toiletries) specifically to offset the costs associated with the movement to an independent living setting. To promote self–sufficiency on the part of these older youth, providing vocational training, life skills and independent living classes, and assistance with employment searches prior to release is vital. This again highlights the importance of beginning to consider potential post–release placement options and key barriers to community placements as soon as youth enter facilities.

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