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Officials: Sex offenders to be moved out of Norwich

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published September 20. 2013 10:00AM   Updated September 20. 2013 10:26PM

Norwich — At least two of the three sex offenders placed in apartments in Occum and Greeneville will be moved out of the city because of public scrutiny, state officials confirmed Friday.

Norwich officials still plan to fight to prevent any more offenders from being placed in the city from the January Center, a sex offender treatment center on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom will ask Montville officials and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to co-sign a letter with Norwich officials asking for a state review of the January Center program and operations.

About two dozen Norwich and Montville officials, along with local legislators representing the two municipalities, met for 90 minutes Friday to raise numerous complaints about the operation of the January Center. Montville officials claimed the state lied about how the center would operate and violated provisions in a signed agreement between the host town and the state.

State Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, told officials that the state Department of Correction commissioner has informed them that the two offenders on parole from the DOC would be moved from the apartments in Occum and Greeneville.

Ryan said the offenders were placed in Norwich rather than their towns of origin to protect the victims. Osten reported that the two parolees were from Hartford and Enfield.

A third offender from the January Center was placed in Norwich on probation. Osten said after the meeting she did not know if that person, who is originally from Norwich, also would be moved from the apartments rented by The Connection Inc., which runs the January Center.

Both Norwich apartments are close to public parks with playgrounds.

A DOC representative did not attend Friday's meeting, but DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci said she has reached out to the mayor to schedule a meeting with DOC staff in hopes of having a "productive conversation."

Both Martucci and Mike Lawlor, the state's undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said offenders leaving the January Center are placed in appropriate locations across the state and that Norwich was never singled out.

The decision to move two of the offenders comes after their names, locations and details of their crimes were the focus of news reports throughout the week.

"The Department of Correction has a responsibility to ensure safety," Martucci said.

Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel said the town's written agreement with the state explicitly called for offenders to be released to their towns of origin. But Montville officials recalled that The Connection Inc. refused to sign the agreement when the state approved it.

The agreement signed in 2011 specifies that the state or service provider "shall transport each program resident to his home community or other appropriate location."

Earlier this week, a DOC spokeswoman said Norwich fit the definition of "other appropriate location" to protect the victims.

But Montville officials said Friday they understood the provision to mean the offenders would be returned to their towns of origin, not to towns in southeastern Connecticut.

Montville officials also were told "the worst of the worst" offenders — a quote from DOC officials at a public meeting, they said — would not qualify for the January Center. Yet one of the offenders released to Norwich had a record of 14 counts of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of kidnapping.

The January Center

Lawlor said the January Center was built to provide a tightly supervised transitional program for sexual offenders, many of them high-risk, who have served their sentences and are preparing to re-enter society.

The genesis of the center was to avoid former inmates from showing up at homeless shelters or sleeping in parks where there is no supervision and they are hard to track.

"That is absolutely what we don't want," Lawlor said. "The goal is to keep track of these guys so they don't reoffend."

Options for former inmates convicted of sexual offenses are limited, he said, because of the restrictive nature of the offenders' parole or probation.

But studies show there's almost zero recidivism, Lawlor said, among the sexual offenders who are properly supervised and housed in a location where there is access to jobs, a support network and mental health assistance where needed.

"The management of sex offenders on parole is one of the success stories," Lawlor said.

Lawlor also said the state is transparent about the placement of offenders, maintaining a public sexual offender registry and notifying law enforcement when an offender enters town.

Donna Jacobson, former Montville Town Council chairwoman and current council candidate, said she publicly called one DOC official "a bold-faced liar" at a public meeting when the town was fighting the treatment center. "And finding out that they're dumping these people in Norwich proves that I was right," she said Friday.

Nystrom also complained that neither the state DOC nor The Connection Inc. has notified the city officially that offenders were placed in Norwich.

Norwich officials are pursuing whether local zoning regulations can limit the placement of sex offenders in the city. Several years ago, the city worked to reduce the number of unregulated substance abuse "sober houses" by getting state officials funding their rental subsidies to agree to contact the city before approving rents to ensure the apartments met city regulations.

The two apartments used by the January Center are not approved as rooming houses and would need a special permit, with a public hearing, to be approved. Rooming houses are allowed only in multifamily zones in Norwich, and the Taftville-Occum Road house is located in a neighborhood commercial zone. It would need a zoning variance.

Norwich Alderwoman Sofee Noblick, also a local landlord, said The Connection Inc. had approached local landlords asking to rent apartments "for families in trouble and individuals on parole," with no mention that the tenants would be sex offenders released from the January Center.

Norwich Director of Planning Peter Davis said the city has requested specific information from the state on the funding source for the rent, the length of stay and the number of tenants in the apartments. He said the city cannot take enforcement action until receiving specific information.

A representative from The Connection Inc. could not be reached to comment Friday.

Re-entering the community

The offenders were being placed as part of The Connection Inc.'s Re-Entry Assisted Community Housing (REACH) program, which is a scattered-site supportive housing for individuals re-entering the community from the correctional system.

The apartments are subsidized based on the tenant's income, according to The Connection Inc.'s website. Participants have an estimated length of stay of four to six months and receive referrals to mental health and other treatment providers, vocational support, educational opportunities and transportation assistance, according to the website.

The program also had a Community Advisory Board that was to meet quarterly and advise The Connection Inc. Norwich Alderman Mark Bettencourt was a member of the board. Bettencourt said Friday that he has not been notified of any meetings since 2009, when he attended one meeting.

Friday, Osten presented statistics showing that January Center residents have been released to several cities and towns in Connecticut, and some were placed back into DOC custody.

In total, 24 offenders were released on parole and 24 others on probation from the January Center. Of the parolees, nine are living in Hartford, seven in New Haven, four were returned to custody, four are living at private homes and two were discharged and released.

Of the 24 offenders on probation, five were discharged to their towns of origin, according to the statistics Osten obtained.

c.bessette@theday.com

Day staff writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.

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