Published September 17. 2013 4:00AM Updated September 17. 2013 3:13PM
Norwich - Stunned local officials are calling for answers from the state Department of Correction after learning that convicted sexual offenders from a treatment facility in Montville are being placed into two new group homes in Norwich.
The movement of the offenders into houses on Taftville-Occum Road and Central Avenue from the January Center, a 24-bed sexual offender treatment facility on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, runs contrary to what local officials say the state promised when the facility opened last year.
"I believe the Department of Correction had said they were returning all of their offenders back to their homes of origin - and not into southeastern Connecticut," said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.
"Suffice it to say I think they owe us an explanation of what they are doing," she said.
Even more concerning for some is the location of the Norwich group homes, which are both in the vicinity of public parks, according to city officials.
"These are neighborhoods. These should not be in neighborhoods with children and families," said Beverly Goulet, director of Norwich Human Services.
Norwich City Manager Alan Bergren said he has already met with members of several city departments, including police, to discuss the issue.
"It's disturbing to know that the state is acting without formally notifying the city," Bergren said. "Certainly we're not happy, and we're going to engage the state on this. No doubt this is not acceptable to us."
Karen Martucci, acting director of external affairs for the DOC, said three sexual offenders from the January Center in Uncasville moved into Norwich as part of the ReEntry Assisted Community Housing, or REACH, program.
The homes were opened as of July 1, she said. There is no on-site supervision, she said, but each of the offenders remains on a strict sexual offender parole, supervised by a special unit of the parole department. She said she was not sure how many people each of the homes could accommodate.
The placements are something that occur at sites across the state, she said, as part of the reintegration process and as a way of keeping the former inmates off the streets.
"Norwich is treated no differently than any other community from the January Center," she said. "There is no influx of sexual offenders into Norwich."
As far as having no ties to the area, Martucci said the majority of people in the January Center are essentially homeless because of their circumstances and restrictions of their parole. The January Center was established in part with the goal of helping keep offenders from entering shelters.
"We feel it's been a successful model supporting reintegration," she said.
The January Center is run by The Connection Inc. and funded by the state DOC and the Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division. It cost $1.7 million to build, according to the DOC, and the state spends $135,676 per month to run the facility. Clients are released from prison after serving their sentence and stay at the facility an average of three to six months.
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom has called a meeting with the DOC, local legislators and city department heads for Friday morning. He said he has had concerns for months about the increase in number of prisoners being released, not just in Norwich but into the region.
On Aug. 29, Nystrom said he met with Bergren, members of Norwich Human Services and Alderwoman Sofee Noblick, a local landlord, about a DOC program designed to drastically reduce the prison population.
Nystrom said it appears the DOC is working with The Connection and aggressively trying to reach contracts with local landlords with favorable rents for people getting out of prison. He said it reminded him of when Stonington Institute was setting up unlicensed sober houses for recovering substance abusers in Norwich.
"They're dumping people out of prisons and putting them out on the street," Nystrom said. "What happened to the notification to towns? With the (Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services) we got them to adopt a town of origin policy for releases, and that's what we want DOC to do."
During the City Council meeting Monday, Nystrom said he was informed by an official from the state Adult Probation office that a representative from adult probation would not be allowed to attend Friday's meeting. Nystrom called the alleged "gag order" imposed by one state agency onto another state office "a horrible choice for this department (DOC) to have taken."
Nystrom said any city with affordable rental housing should be concerned about the DOC actions to move convicts into community settings.
Norwich Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said he has sent a state Freedom of Information Request to the state Department of Correction asking for documents and information pertaining to the decision made to place the sex offenders in Norwich.
Martucci said the DOC would be willing to listen to concerns, but the need for homes such as the ones in Norwich are required to allow for a seamless transition of offenders back into the community.