Many states and communities have residency restrictions for where in the community people with sex offense convictions may live. Additionally, federal law prohibits anyone on a state sex offender registry from living in public housing. While these laws are intended to increase public safety, they often make community reentry especially challenging for those with sex offense convictions. These restrictions can make finding a legal place to live virtually impossible for individuals on the sex offender registry. This, in turn, pushes some individuals into homelessness, a known contributor to recidivism after reentry. Ongoing behavioral health treatment helps reduce recidivism; however, housing instability contributes to individuals’ inability to maintain treatment.
Barriers to housing and employment leave individuals with a sex offense conviction vulnerable to rearrest for non-sex-offense-related charges. Research shows that individuals convicted of sex offenses are at highest risk of rearrest shortly after release from prison. This leaves community leaders with the conundrum: How can they help these individuals access stable housing, thereby maintaining ongoing treatment and reducing recidivism, within the context of existing state, county, or local residency restrictions and public opinion? Read on to learn how an interagency collaborative in Connecticut has developed its own solution to housing individuals convicted of sex offenses on parole or probation.
Connecticut’s Model for Housing Individuals Convicted of Sex Offenses
In Connecticut, both the Department of Correction (DOC) and the Judicial Branch have roles in managing and supervising housing for people convicted of sex offenses after their release. The DOC has jurisdiction over individuals on parole, while the Judicial Branch oversees those on probation.
The DOC provides housing assistance for individuals on parole for sex offenses via its Sex Offender Supervision Model. This program provides participants with individualized case management, cognitive behavioral treatment, employment services, and monitoring and supervision activities. Housing is managed through contracts with several community-based housing programs. The DOC also works with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) to provide behavioral health services for individuals with additional mental health conditions.
On the other hand, the Judicial Branch offers a rapid re-housing program for individuals convicted of sex offenses who are released on probation. For the first 4 months of an individual’s release, the program subsidizes up to 100 percent of the participant’s rent. When the participant becomes able to pay (once they get a job, for instance), they typically begin paying 0 to 60 percent of their income toward rent. “Our goal is to stabilize them, get them into specialized treatment, and help them get into a financial position that they can take on housing expenses on their own,” says Deanna L. Dorkins, chief probation officer II, Sex Offender Supervision & Special Projects, Connecticut Judicial Branch. “This contributes to reduced risk of recidivism and increased community and victim safety, which are of utmost importance to us and our community.” The Judicial Branch’s housing program includes REACH (Reentry Assisted Community Housing), which offers scattered site, subsidized housing, along with intensive case management and vocational support, educational opportunities, transportation assistance, and referrals to mental health treatment. Additionally, the DOC and the Judicial Branch jointly contract with The Connection, Inc., to provide a 24-bed residential facility, the January Center, dedicated to higher-risk individuals.
“Having to register as a sex offender is a known barrier to reintegration because it restricts opportunities and supports for the offenders,” says Natalie DuMont, PhD, LPC, regional manager, Community Services Division, DMHAS. “These individuals are often stigmatized in ways that have negative implications when seeking housing, employment, and social services.” Connecticut’s Sex Offender Supervision Model helps address these barriers for individuals convicted of sex offenses while ensuring the community feels safe and supported.
Scattered-Site, Transitional Housing Model
Within Connecticut’s model, the state secures a contract with multiple outside housing providers that manage housing leases, usually an apartment, for people with sex offenses on their records. This allows the supervising agency to maintain contact more successfully with and monitor these individuals than if they were transient, experiencing homelessness, or otherwise housing insecure. In fact, the Connecticut DOC’s reentry model has allowed the agency to avoid placing people convicted of sex offenses in homeless shelters for more than 10 years, according to a state report.
The model focuses on placing individuals in areas proximate to their communities of origin (when appropriate) and near their jobs, public transportation, and needed services and away from their victims. Additionally, because it is a scattered site model, no single community ends up with a high concentration of this population.
“This model helps develop equitable access to treatment, employment, and housing in areas that make sense for them and is not specific to a particular ZIP code,” says DuMont. “This allows that individual to have improved quality of life, and thereby, lower rates of re-offense.” Contracts and providers change over time but often include elements such as time-limited scattered site reentry housing, vocational supports, and transportation services.
In conjunction with housing support, other services available to individuals convicted of sex offenses through Connecticut DMHAS, the DOC, and the Judicial Branch include the Advanced Supervision and Intervention Support Team (ASIST) for defendants with moderate to severe mental illness to receive case management, treatment, and medication management upon reentry, alongside supervision. The Judicial Branch refers individuals convicted of sex offenses under its supervision to contracted Alternative in the Community programs, which provide job-readiness programming. They are also allowed to attend other residential services on a case-by-case basis.
Importance of Relationship Building for Success
A key element of Connecticut’s program is building relationships with other partners in the state and community. These partners include public and private agencies, faith-based organizations, and community leaders.
There is regular collaboration between the DOC, DMHAS, and the Judicial Branch to ensure that people reentering the community from incarceration receive the behavioral health services they need to succeed. Additionally, the DOC notifies Connecticut State Police (CSP) and local law enforcement upon the placement of an individual on the sex offender registry in the community. The DOC also collaborates with the CSP Sex Offender Registry to ensure registry requirements have been fulfilled upon release.
The DOC also works closely with the Judicial Branch. When these two groups collaborated to open the January Center, a 24-bed residential treatment facility for individuals convicted of sex offenses, they held community forums and conducted other outreach to engage with the community and share information on safety and programming.
The voices and perspectives of victims are always an important part of the reentry process. The Judicial Branch and the DOC work closely with the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence and other victims’ advocates. Victim impact, awareness, and community safety are built into treatment and housing plans. “Ongoing conversation and dialogue with communities are important to gaining trust and reducing fears,” says DuMont.
Partnering for Positive Outcomes
The state’s cross-agency collaboration helps to secure all needed services for people convicted of sex offenses, helping to address many social determinants of health (SDOH) and factors that may increase the risk of recidivism or other negative outcomes. “Many individuals with sex offenses may experience multiple severe disparities—insecure housing, family discord, justice involvement, mental illness, and stigma, which affect their ability to gain employment and meet their basic needs,” says DuMont. “With a secure home and related case management, now they have somewhere to keep their medication, an address to put on job applications; they are able to meet the requirements of their probation or parole, and their risk of returning to criminal behavior is greatly reduced.”
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