Secret shame: Keeping watch — Sex offenders face lots of supervision

Published: Wednesday, March 19 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Adult Probation and Parole agents Jerry Cook and Kody Floyd visit the apartment of convicted sex offender David Resendez to check on his progress. Resendez has been out on parole six times since his 1997 crime.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Last in a four-part series.

Convicted sex offenders might be the most closely watched people in the community.

Anyone can see who they are and where they live by going to Utah's online sex-offender registry, where photos and addresses pop up on the screen in seconds. Armed with that information, neighbors can watch their comings and goings.

An army of specially trained parole and probation officers also know, for the most part, where each sex offender is or should be at any given hour. Agents regularly visit their homes as well as have them report to their offices. Halfway houses keep sex offenders on a tight leash for the first few months after they're released from prison.

In addition, the men and women who provide sex-offender treatment are in charge of essentially graduating or flunking offenders from outpatient sex-offender treatment based on progress in their programs.

Public sentiment demands this type of supervision, government devotes extraordinary resources to these types of criminals — and experts say it also puts pressure on the sex offenders released into the community who are already severely limited about where they can work, live and go.

"Once sex offenders do their time and are released into the community, you don't want them to fail," said Mark Gaskill, a Salt Lake marriage and family therapist who has worked with sex offenders.

"I'm not saying you have to befriend the guy and bring him cookies," said Jeremy Shaw, who supervises a sex-offender unit for Salt Lake County's Adult Probation & Parole. "But blanket restrictions on sex offenders are not doing the community any favors because we are setting these guys up for failure," he said.

Eric Hammon, clinical director for a center that does sex-offender treatment, says he would have no problem with an offender living on his street. "If he's been through treatment, there's much more danger from someone who hasn't been caught than from someone who has."

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Still, the state spends millions watching and monitoring offenders as they make their way back to communities.

Adult Probation and Parole is charged with keeping tabs on prison parolees and court probationers. Sex offenders have the highest standards of supervision, and agents have the fewest number of parolees in their caseloads.

"We keep a very close eye on people," said parole officer Jerry Cook, who has been working with sex offenders for four of his 8 1/2 years with AP&P. Cook supervises 50 offenders. Two are women.

Under Utah Department of Corrections policy, all sex offenders are assigned a standard of risk based on their criminal history and an analysis of their risk of re-offending. That standard corresponds to an agent's level of involvement with an offender, for example, how many times a week or month an offender must check in with his officer and how many times an officer will visit their home unexpectedly.

This doesn't guarantee offenders will comply — in fact Shaw estimates 10 to 12 percent of sex offenders are not in compliance with the registration requirements. "But we are using our resources to watch sex offenders more closely than say, your standard theft or drug-abuse offender," Shaw said.

Parole officers like Cook have about 50 offenders in their caseloads. They make unannounced home visits once a month, usually in the evening and sometimes early in the morning.

The agents go to a dozen addresses a night. They leave calling cards for those not home and expect offenders to phone them before their shift ends around 10 p.m.

Shaw has a good handle on Salt Lake County's sex-offender population.

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