A violent sex offender will be moved into a home in the Town of Rutland “on or before” Aug. 15, the state Department of Health Services confirmed Monday.
Neighbors of the home where the patient will be housed, 3482 Hwy. 138, notified the Town Board of the placement last month. The neighbors told the board at its June 4 meeting they were notified by local law enforcement officials when an officer knocked on their door and told them about the move.
The move is through a supervised release program facilitated by DHS and Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, which is one of two secure treatment centers operated by the Division of Care and Treatment Services in Wisconsin. A 2016 state law prohibits local units of government from barring such placements, which are by default in the same counties where the offenders lived prior to being committed for treatment.
In general, patients on supervised release face much stricter limitations than other released sex offenders, according to the Sand Ridge website. Chaperones are required whenever they leave the house for at least a year, satellites monitor their movements, and they get frequent in-home visits and polygraph tests.
Shawn Tessmann, director of Dane County Human Services, helped answer questions from town trustees and community members who attended the July 9 meeting. Those concerns included how the town is notified, what information is shared regarding the crime committed and the person involved, and how the community is protected, as well as the patient.
“It’s not a fun situation, and the community concern is absolutely understandable,” Tessmann said at the meeting. “You have to put your faith in the treatment that has been provided at Sand Ridge and faith in the judge making a good decision about the appropriate protocols for the person being released.”
Sand Ridge houses an average of 330 adult men who have been committed to treatment after completing a sentence for their sex crimes within the Department of Corrections. It is required that the patients have a mental disorder that predisposes them to commit future acts of sexual violence, the DHS website states.
Because the sex offender is a patient, his identity is protected by patient privacy laws and cannot be disclosed, a communications specialist with DHS said.
No local recourse
State law governs most terms of the release, how such patients are placed and how communities are notified of the impending release.
Town chair Peter Loughrin told the Town Board at its July board meeting municipal officials explored preventing the move but found they aren’t able to do much to avoid a sex offender being placed in their community.
“(We) tried to put forth an argument that made sense about the use of the home and if it fits in the land use of the town… we found a state statute was passed (a few) years ago stating categorically no municipalities can put any ordinance or zoning law or fight preventing this from happening,” Loughrin said. “It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Act 156, passed in 2016, prevents municipalities from restricting a sex offender from residing at any specific location, as long as the individual is participating in the supervised release program and is compliant with the court orders.
Act 156 is an update to a law that goes back to at least 1993, Wis. Stats. 980.08. One of that statute’s provisions requires a committee made up of trained professionals notify neighbors of residences used to house patients on supervised release. Neighbors aren’t allowed to be notified before a judge approves the terms of the release, and the community is notified through either flyers, door-to-door contact, a press release or a community meeting.
A patient is released to his or her original county of residence, as long as they aren’t near any of the victims of the sex crimes with which they were convicted. DHS officials could not confirm whether the patient previously lived in Dane County.
Loughrin acknowledged neighbors’ concerns for their safety but said the move is up to the courts.
“(The program) releases violent sex offenders back into the community as long as the judge who hears the cases approves the plan and the house being put up for use meets its requirements,” Loughrin said. “They’ve done their time, so they’re allowed to live.”
As of June 28, 60 individuals are participating in supervised release out of more than 25,000 convicted sex offenders living in the Wisconsin, the DHS website states.
Patients who participate in the supervised release program have been previously deemed likely to reoffend but have been court ordered for release for making “significant progress” in treatment.
After the inmate’s criminal sentence is finished, the state Department of Justice or a county district attorney files a petition for commitment at Sand Ridge. Once admitted, patients are assessed to determine the level of their mental disorder, the results of which determine their treatment track.
Once a year, these patients are able to petition their committing court, and if the court determines the patient has reached a point in his treatment where he is no longer likely to reoffend, the court orders either supervised or unsupervised release.
In order to participate, patients must show the treatment can be sustained while on supervised release and it must be “substantially probable” the individual will not engage in an act of sexual violence while on supervised release.
Patients are tracked by GPS by the Department of Corrections, and monitors from the Supervised Release Program visit the individual’s resident at scheduled and unscheduled times.
These checks include both their wellbeing and whether they are complying with the more than 70 program rules.
Among the program rules is that patients are prevented from leaving their house unsupervised for the first year, even for such reasons as grocery shopping or yard maintenance.