Sunday, June 13, 2010

Opinion, Special Edition - Importing Felons

Importing felons
That’s My Opinion – Special Edition
By Bob Robinson

If there was ever justification for capital punishment, it would be for the sexual predator. Rape is unforgivable, as is any crime – sexual or otherwise – against a child.
There. You have it. That is my “black & white” opinion about the growing controversy over John Graham’s Good Samaritan homes. If I was calling the shots, none of his homes would have sexual predators in them because they would – at best – be thrown into a black hole to live out the rest of their sorry lives.
But I’m not in charge and that’s not how our society works. Our leaders, in their infinite wisdom, have determined that these animals get a set prison term and then they are turned loose on society again.
That’s the reality.
It’s a reality that, frankly, I had not dealt with but John Graham has. He’s been working to give convicted felons a second chance for years… an evolution of his original plan to provide a temporary shelter for the homeless of Greenville.
Graham and I go back a long way. I hadn’t been here a year when we talked about the lack of resources for people living on the streets. He didn’t just talk about the problem, but with the support of his wife Kathy, chose to do something about it. I watched their struggle as he and Kathy made an historic but neglected home livable, and I watched with concern as they began taking felons into their own home… on the “promise” that they were serious about their desire for a second chance.
I thought it was risky at best – as did many of their neighbors – but the Grahams would not be swayed.
I watched as they expanded their goals – cashing in their retirement plans, depleting their savings, living hand-to-mouth on Kathy’s salary and donations from the community to offer second chances to people being released from prison who didn’t have other options.
I talked long and hard with them one evening when they wrestled with a decision to help their first sex offender… prior to that sex offenders had been taboo in their program. If I recall correctly, they were still keeping felons in their own home, and he would be one of them.
I thought they were being reckless and stupid, but once again they could not be swayed. Over time, our meetings became fewer as we both became more involved in our individual goals and activities. I watched, however, as Graham set up the Citizens Circle, a group of local residents of strong standing in the community, to aid in the decisions of the Good Samaritan program. It is still going strong and, in a recent interview, Graham said it was recognized as one of the best in the state.
And I watched as his efforts began to be recognized in Columbus, and I guess elsewhere, as grants and other forms of state and federal assistance became available. The funding is provided for programs designed to offset the growing overcrowding problem in our prison population.
If I understand it correctly, there are five homes today, one of which is the Graham residence and no longer houses felons. Of the other four, there is the Ludlow house (the primary location for the felon release program), the Fitzpatrick House (a temporary homeless shelter), a low-income rental, and a fourth that is unoccupied and currently being remodeled.
I was contacted last week by one of the organizers of Citizens4Change, so I figured it was time to stop watching and get involved. I spent about an hour with Graham and Ron Bonfiglio of the Citizens Circle. I’ll be at the Citizens4Change Town Hall meeting Saturday (10 a.m., Shelter House 3, Greenville City Park).
Many issues have surfaced around this controversy – property ownership, the fact that Graham has started receiving compensation for his efforts, the number of sex offenders – and where they are located – at any point in time, use of local resources, the danger to the community and our kids, and the tier level of the offenders (note above I used “predators” not “offenders”). While I plan to write a follow-up after the Town Hall meeting, a complete discussion of this complex issue could require a book.
So let’s chew on this for a while.
There are 98 sex offenders living in Darke County, 33 of them in Greenville. All but 10 (Graham’s, by his count) are probably without supervision, guidance, mentoring, monitoring or support of any kind. Graham’s residents are supported through the Citizens Circle program. He acknowledged that some are from outside the county… most return to their counties upon completion; those who don’t finish the state program are required to return to their county. Felons have to meet stringent requirements to even be considered for the program.
“The state says they are free men,” Graham said. “They can live anywhere they want. If they stay here, it is because of the support they get from our group. They are working and contributing rather than draining our resources in prison.”
Regarding recidivism, about the only thing everyone agrees on is that they don’t agree. Some sources say sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than other violent offenders. I’ve settled on the U.S. stats that say they are four times as likely to reoffend.
Graham says that 80 percent of sex offenders who receive support on the outside don’t reoffend. That didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy. It means one out of every five will.
At Ludlow he said the previous renters were responsible for 14 police calls, noting that it was a crack house. Since his program has been there, there have been seven calls… all medical. Only one resident has committed a new crime and been sent back to prison. He got drunk and broke into a car.
These are Graham’s stats. I assume they can be verified if anyone is interested in checking.
If the felon is local to begin with then Graham is probably doing a good thing… acknowledging that parents will rightfully object no matter where these people live. However I strongly criticize importing felons. Always will. I repeat, predators should spend the rest of their sorry lives in a dark hole. If our “enlightened” choose to turn them loose, then they can turn them loose in the communities that spawned them.
Unfortunately, the state has chosen to do otherwise.
I also strongly object to the attacks on John Graham’s character. I may not agree with his program but I respect him as an individual who believes he’s doing something positive. If you have issues with his motives… show me the proof!
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Bob Robinson is the retired editor of The Daily Advocate, Greenville, Ohio. If you wish to receive his opinion comments by direct email or receive notification when a blog is posted, send your email address to: Feel free to express your views.


Allen said...

Bob - I agree with you 100%. I sent John an e-mail about my concerns also a couple of days ago, and I suggested, at the very least, that sexual and violent offenders should be housed outside the city limits. Why wait until we have a victim like 13 year old Esme Kenney, who lived in a suburb of Cincinnati, and was killed by a sexual predator who was also in a half-way house. He should be working WITH his neighbors and the community rather than keep fighting it.

That's My Opinion said...

Art G said:

Just because a person is labeled a felon doesn't make him a bad person. Perhaps a person who has made a mistake, but not all felons are bad people. I facilitate Hope in Recovery and I know MANY felons who are good people and have turned their lives around. Gesh, Bob....... Have a heart here!

And about the sexual predators? What about the men who are wrongfully accused, convicted and labeled for the rest of their lives? I know two in particular in this county. What about the girl who gets mad and screams rape because she's mad at her boyfriend? Or the couple madly in love; she's 17 in about a month, and he just turned 18? Is that rape? I always heard you can't rape the willing. Consensual sex is not rape.

I do agree with you about the fear of the predators who have molested children; but again I must say that I know a man who did just that over a decade ago and he's never reoffended.

I'm off my soap box friend, but my opinion remains the same. We are all God's children and I am thankful for His Grace and for second chances.


That's My Opinion said...

Hey Art - I am grateful God gives second chances... He's given me many. The exceptions you noted are the reasons I differentiated between predators and molesters; not perfect, but the best I could do in the space I allotted myself. As for the rest? I'd prefer to ask the victims what they think. Keep doing what you are doing. It is a beautiful thing.

That's My Opinion said...

Dan Burchett said...

Having read your blog concerning the meeting Saturday at Shelter House #3 I feel compelled to let you know my view of John Graham’s placing sex offenders in the midst of our community. I site the following quote for the context of my letter.

“The prognosis of successfully ending pedophilic habits among persons who practice pedophilia is not favorable. Pedophiles have a high rate of recidivism; that is, they tend to repeat their acts often over time. ”

The majority of pedophiles, as high as 80% by some estimates, never seem to lose the compulsion to molest children or even worse. Though Mr. Graham reports that they have only five in the one location, if even one child suffers at the hands of a convicted and released pedophile here in Greenville that, in my view, is too many. Even if the predator is again incarcerated for the offense the damage is already done. The public safety has been compromised for what purpose? So that the offender has a chance of a better life since being released? Why should they? They have committed one of the most heinous acts imaginable and yet Mr. Graham and his “enlightened” advisory board have chosen to expose our own citizens to the chance that any of these men may suddenly revert to their old ways and attack another child.

One must ask by what right these “enlightened” individuals have a duty to endanger the lives of people in the community. In this instance Mr. Graham feels, being a man of God, it is his “mission” to help these men to blend into society and make a life for themselves. It is obvious that he hasn’t considered the “unintended consequences” of his actions. Putting a pedophile in a neighborhood where there are children is seriously tempting fate. Has he or his advisory board even considered that? With an 80% recidivism rate four of the five men John Graham is presently housing are awaiting the opportunity to reoffend. That isn’t tempting fate, it is providing them with what they want, more potential victims. That being the case, if a child is attacked in Greenville by any of these men John Graham and his advisory board has to be charged as accessories for placing the offender in a target rich environment thereby facilitating the offense and resulting in psychological and/or physical injury to the child or children that may never be repaired. They, John Graham and the advisory board, would, of course, be the subject of personal lawsuits that could wipe them out financially. That would certainly discourage most people from opening the door to such an outrageous project.

How does a situation with which we are faced occur? Too often, outreach programs intended to help those with such antisocial behaviors morph into a potentially lethal problem. For totally innocent reasons some of these programs over-reach in order to receive grants and funding to expand their programs with the intent of becoming success stories. The original program that was presented to elected leaders surely didn’t include pedophiles as likely occupants or, hopefully, the facilities would not have been approved for use.

I guess you could say that the original idea led to a “slippery slope” that evolved into an “unintended consequence” that is now being protested by neighbors of the various houses. The people, residents of the neighborhood, have every right to be concerned. The fact that City Council didn’t see this eventuality and approved the project speaks to an inability to foresee events that could and did occur.

It is one thing to allow facilities of this kind to be operated for the benefit of local non-violent felons to again be absorbed into the social fabric of our community. It is quite another to have these men, with no local ties, living and working in our midst to the detriment of law abiding citizens.

Thanks for letting me vent.