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Lincoln Park neighbors say: ‘We don’t want you here

8-24-2009 Minnesota:

A Lincoln Park house serves as a transitional shelter for sex offenders recently released from prison. Residents want them out of their neighborhood.

James Kwako and Isabelle Gortichan say kids often run around in their Lincoln Park neighborhood, playing tag or catch, and they walk to school a few blocks away. Their 3-year-old daughter often swims in a small pool in their front yard.

But they say they watch her extra closely and feel like they can never take their eyes off her.

That’s because a house a half-block away has been contracted out by the Minnesota Department of Corrections to use as a transitional shelter for, among other people, a steady stream of Level III sex offenders recently released from prison. Those in the Level III category are considered most likely to re-offend.

Two men categorized as Level III sex offenders were listed on the mailbox late last week as living at the home.

“Our daughter is never allowed outside without us,” Kwako said.

“It creeps me out,” Gortichan said. “When my daughter is in the swimming pool, I keep wondering: ‘Is somebody watching her?’ ”

The Lincoln Park house is the only one of its kind in Duluth and one of only seven in the state, according to the Department of Corrections. The homes typically house up to four male offenders at a time, and on average about one-fourth of the residents are sex offenders, said Gary Johnson, the re-entry services director and housing program manager for the Department of Corrections.

The rest usually are violent offenders convicted of person-related crimes such as assault and robbery, he said.

Because of the nature of their past crimes, the men are on what Johnson described as intensive supervised release, which includes curfews, no visitors allowed to the house, and at least four visits a week by a probation officer.

The men are there because they would have nowhere else to live after being released from prison, Johnson said. If they were homeless they would be much more difficult to monitor, he said.

“All of the people that leave our prisons are going somewhere,” Johnson said. “They either have nowhere to live and roam the community, or we have this resource for them.”

Home Endangers residents?

Though none of the neighbors interviewed for this story said they’ve ever had problems with men living at the house at 216 N. 22nd Ave. W., many said they don’t like having the home there.

“We don’t want it. We’ve had a family-oriented neighborhood for years,” said one resident who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation. “You just never know what they’ll do. Who knows?”

Residents at the house, owned by Katherine Hamilton of Duluth, declined to be interviewed, saying they were told by state officials not to talk to the media.

Hamilton said neighborhood residents shouldn’t be concerned.

“I’ve never had any problems with any of them,” said Hamilton, who lives in Duluth Heights. “I don’t think they’re a threat while they’re there.”

Offenders being released from prison have to live somewhere and learn to integrate back into society, she argued. And they’re being watched by police, probation officers and even people in the neighborhood.

Before she began renting the home to the Department of Corrections, Hamilton said, she had more problems with previous tenants trashing the house.

Duluth police said calls to the house have not been a problem. Of the eight calls for service at the home this year, three have been medical calls, four have been to assist on probation checks, and one was for a probation violation arrest.

“It does not show up on my radar screen as being a problem,” said Scott Drewlo, the Duluth police lieutenant of major crimes.

Residents not told

But what worries residents is the potential for problems.

“It’s an inappropriate use of the property and endangers residents nearby,” said Duluth City Councilor Gary Eckenberg, who lives seven blocks from the home.

The home also explains a growing belief that more Level III sex offenders move into Lincoln Park than any other neighborhood in the city, Eckenberg said.

Of the 34 sex offenders who have moved into Duluth since 1996, when the state began making the names public of released Level III sex offenders, 17 have moved into the Central Hillside or downtown and 11 have moved into Lincoln Park, according to News Tribune archives.

But of the 11 sex offenders currently registered as living in the city, seven live in Lincoln Park, including the two at the home.

“I think it’s an outrage,” said Micki Ziesmer, who lives with her 2-year-old son in the neighborhood and said she didn’t know about the house before being told by the News Tribune. “They live close to a school, close to a Boys and Girls club. … I think it should be public information. They should send out flyers.”

Eckenberg agrees, saying that there’s no direct supervision or monitoring inside the home; probation authorities have told him they rely on the community to monitor the house, he said.

Johnson of the corrections department said monitoring the house is not up to residents but to probation officers and police.

But neighbors will be watching anyway.

“There are kids walking around here all the time without parents,” said Lori Anderson, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years. “I think this is a big problem.” ..Source.. by Brandon Stahl, Duluth News Tribune

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