Cobb county Georgia just got a wake up call. This prosperous area North West of Atlanta has a problem. Sex-offenders just released from prison are setting up a communal camp in the woods. Nothing new right? Just some homeless guys living under a tarp. This is a feature in any city. Except these unfortunate men were directed there by their probation officers.
How can this be? What rules govern a situation where the government is telling sex-offenders to live in the woods like animals? Georgia’s tough laws regulating where they can live and work require offenders to be 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, parks, or other places that children can gather. This requirement also means that churches cannot house the men, or even offer them religious help in this troubling time in their lives. Many homeless shelters do not meet the distance requirement to house the sex-offenders. Those few that do have a ridiculously small capacity (2) or charge $60 a week for rent.
Even men who have family, a house, a support network waiting for them when they get out; are required to go camp in the woods. So what can be done?
Obviously the state needs to re-evaluate its release policy first of all. Maybe a distance requirement can be reduced or amended for those offenders just coming out of prison and needing temporary housing. Allowing them access to the services they need, will help them tremendously in becoming productive members of society again. I know this first hand.
In my work at the Syracuse Rescue Mission, a non-profit shelter that provides help to homeless individuals, ranging from clothes, job searching, recreation, recovery, and much more; I saw who was able to move on the fastest. The men who were referred to us by probation consistently established the contacts they needed to move on faster than the men who were just on the streets. Think about it. These men who were in prison have had time to think about what they need to do when they get out. Who they need to contact, which programs they need to sign up for. The men on the street are given the same information by their case manager, but they are also dealing with the daily hardships of life on the streets. Guys on probation come to the shelter, work with their case manager, do what they need to do, and are in and out in three weeks.
Georgia needs to work more closely with other private sector non-profits to set up a successful program for newly released sex-offenders. This would also provide the men with counseling, care, and the dignity they need to get back on their feet. Not forcing them to live like animals in the woods. Whatever they do, they need to do something to fix this inhumane treatment of this already mistreated section of society.
Please understand, as a father to a little boy, I do not condone what they have done that sent them to prison. But now that they are out, we need to treat them with basic human dignity, and give them a chance to redeem themselves.