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Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
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.

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.

Shaw receives e-mails from the prison letting him know where soon-to-be released sex offenders intend to live. Parole officers talk with therapists and check out the location before giving it a thumbs up or down, depending on proximity to areas where children gather.

"We do have to deny a lot of addresses," Shaw said.

The worst of the worst among sex offenders might be calculating enough to choose a residence that places them near children. "I think it happens," Shaw said. "It doesn't happen a lot."

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One evening a few weeks ago, teams of parole officers went out to cold-call those they supervise. Cook and his partner called on nine offenders at home. The breadth of circumstances and histories they face is staggering.

Bird Young is a 33-year-old man who lives with his parents in an upscale east-side neighborhood. The man just completed therapy and has been on parole for two years for molesting an 8-year-old girl he met while working as a teacher's aide.

Cook said he's trying to get Bird to find a better job and get out on his own. He's been working at Subway. As his parents and family members eat dinner at the table upstairs, Bird is in his messy basement bedroom, watching "Make Me a Supermodel" on a wall-sized television screen.

He shows officers a letter from his girlfriend, who is on a mission for the LDS Church. He tells officers his girlfriend knows about his crime. His room is heavily decorated with posters, statues and other decorations with an LDS religious theme.

Officer Kody Floyd said he sees that a lot. "But whether or not they're really into it ... who knows?"

David Resendez has just left a halfway house and found an apartment. Cook is meeting him for the first time. "I understand that you are trying to get your life together," Cook tells Resendez, whose victim was his 11-year-old daughter and his daughter's friend, according to Cook.

"I will be straight with you if you are straight with me," Cook says.

Resendez has been out on parole six times for his 1997 crime and has returned to prison on parole violations each time.

Cook and Floyd stop at the home of James Hamelin, who was caught chatting online with an investigator from the Attorney General's Office posing as a 13-year-old boy. The two arranged a meeting and Hamelin was charged with enticing a minor over the Internet. "His story was that he was meeting the boy to tell him it wasn't safe to be online," Cook said.

Across town, parole agents Wenda Stoker and Billy Luke knock on the side door of an old downtown house that has been divided into several apartments.

Stoker, a tough-talking 24-year military veteran, naturally assumes the bad-cop role. The more soft-spoken and younger Luke, who's in his first year as a parole officer, plays the good cop. The routine soon becomes evident.

Bill Munro, barefoot and wearing black jeans, a black T-shirt and a black Pink Floyd cap, opens the door to a cramped kitchen. A cat wanders in while a dog sits under the table in a kennel.

Munro served 12 years in prison for sexually abusing a child in 1993. He's been on parole since being released in 2005. He knows the drill.

Stoker and Luke usher Munro, a cigarette hanging from his lips, to the couch in his narrow living room. Marilyn Monroe memorabilia cover one wall. Rows of DVDs fill a bookshelf and are stacked on tables alongside several packs of Camels. Three computer screens illuminate a cluttered desk.

Luke immediately spots a long knife in a decorated sheath on the Marilyn shelf.

"That's a third-degree felony, Bill," Stoker says, taking the 16-inch-long weapon from Luke and tucking it into the back of her pants.

Munro tells her there are two more knives, which he calls "religious items," in the house. His wife brings in a six-inch knife with a white sheath painted with the Virgin Mary. She can't find the other one.

Stoker, already agitated about the knives, asks Munro if there's any inappropriate images on his computer.

"There shouldn't be," he replies.

It's not the answer Stoker wants to hear. The Desert Storm veteran shifts into drill sergeant mode for a profanity-peppered dressing down.

Munro concedes there might be some pop-ups but insists he doesn't browse sexually explicit Web sites.

"Pop-ups don't come out of the sky and land on the earth," she tells him.

He again insists he doesn't go to porn sites.

"You're not giving me the warm fuzzies that I'm not going to find something," Stoker says, asking him the question again.

"There's shouldn't be," Munro replies for the third time.

Stoker, now beyond incredulous, tears into him.

"Why do you not know definitely? she asks. "Who's putting it on there if it's not you? One way or another if you're lying to me right now, it's going to bite you."

Stoker and Luke don't have a porn-scanning disk with them, so they warn Munro to wipe his computer clean before their next visit.

The agents tell Munro to put his shoes on and join them outside while they write up a receipt for the confiscated knives. They decided not to run him in for the weapons violation.

Sitting on the dark front porch, Munro says he really didn't think his answers to Stoker and Luke were vague.

"I am a parolee and it's expected I would be treated a little differently," he said. "I don't always agree."

During the brief interview, it comes up that Munro doesn't have a job. Stoker overhears the admission and tears into him again. She tells him to have 15 job contacts when he reports to the AP&P office three days later.

"We've been having trouble with Bill," Stoker says as she and Luke move on to the next house.

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Before offenders get assigned to parole officers, most go to a halfway house — or community correctional center — like a nondescript former warehouse in an industrial area on Salt Lake City's west side. Here, sex offenders are trying to make the transition from prison to the community.

The Bonneville Community Corrections Center is one of four halfway houses the Utah Department of Corrections runs. Bonneville houses 68 parolees, currently 32 of whom are sex offenders.

One is John Casack, 26, who had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18. Although he violated parole once and landed back behind bars, he's got a good job now and a sponsor to help with his drug and alcohol concerns.

He wants to make sure he's ready to be released from the center when it's time. "If I don't have that confidence, if that's not in place, then I'm going to ask the treatment team (to stay in the halfway house) for another 30 days."

The men live two to a room and for the first 30 days live on lockdown. The restrictions are eased with time, and privileges are earned with good behavior. They pay $180 a month for room and board. Sex offenders pay an additional $100 a month for treatment.

"We're never going to get these guys not to be sex offenders," said Craig Greenberg, an AP&P supervisor.

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Utah has other de facto supervisors of sex offenders, like lawmaker Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who says the state must do a better job monitoring sex offenders.

"We're trusting them a lot," he said.

Ray is one lawmaker who closely watches sex offenders and even believes those convicted of aggravated sexual abuse of a child or rape of a child should get the death penalty.

He's considering legislation to that end pending the outcome of a Louisiana case that was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Louisiana law allows capital punishment for the rape of a child under 13.

In that case, a 44-year-old man was sentenced to die for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. He is one of the only death-row inmates in the nation who was not convicted of committing or participating in a murder. A few months ago, a Louisiana jury recommended death for a second man convicted of repeatedly raping a 5-year-old.

Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas have adopted capital punishment for child rape in the past two years. Montana has had the law since 1997.

Other states have developed strict strategies for monitoring offenders, but some evidence shows the strategy is backfiring.

In California, for example, a recent Los Angeles Times article outlined worries that the danger of sex offenders would rise as stricter laws lead to more homelessness.

California's version of Jessica's Law restricts where paroled offenders can live and requires electronic monitoring of their whereabouts. The law prohibits ex-offenders from living within 2,000 feet of places where children gather, but it lacks adequate definitions of such places. In some counties and cities, the law's residency restrictions make large swaths of housing off-limits, according the Times.

A report by that state's Sex Offender Management Board said the state has recorded a 44 percent increase in those registered as transients.

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Several experts interviewed for this story urged caution about placing so many limits on sex offenders that they can't operate or function in society. In the past seven months, there have been two serious incidents involving sex offenders.

"We seem to be seeing a bit more desperation out of sex offenders," Shaw said.

In February, sex-offender parole agents went to a Salt Lake apartment complex to talk to Mark Nielson, 45, who had been convicted of three counts of rape of a child. He had apparently failed his treatment and didn't want to go back to jail. He wouldn't let officers in, and he later killed himself after telephone negotiations with Salt Lake police.

Last summer, a parolee fugitive sex offender took a hostage after a botched hijacking. At one point, Mark Sickler, 45, had his arm around a woman's neck and a gun to his head. "He said he wanted to die. He wasn't going back to prison," Salt Lake police detectives said at the time.

Officers tried to negotiate with the man but eventually shot and killed him during the confrontation.

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The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole also has an important role in this picture.

The board actually has a separate matrix it follows, which generally keeps sex offenders in prison longer than inmates convicted of an equivalent felony drug crime, for example. But board member Jesse Gallegos knows that if something goes wrong, if a sex offender re-offends or retreats to prior behavior, the board's actions are continually second-guessed.

"We're tasked with an impossible job," said Gallegos. "Which is to predict human behavior."

E-mail: lucy@desnews.com; romboy@desnews.com