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Norwich officials are taking the right tack in seeking regional support to keep the pressure on the state Department of Corrections. Local leaders share a common interest in making sure the DOC does not target the region when relocating convicted sex offenders after their release from prison.
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom demanded a meeting last week after learning that a contractor working for the DOC located at least three sex offenders in apartments in his city after their release from the January Center in Montville. The tactic violated the spirit, if not the letter, of an agreement signed by the DOC when it opened the January Center a couple of years back.
Located on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correction Center prison in Montville, the January Center is a 24-bed step-down facility, providing a transition from incarceration to release into the community and intended to reduce the chances of these individuals committing future assaults.
While that is a sound approach, Montville officials initially opposed the facility and expressed concerns about the center discharging these ex-offenders into the local community. The DOC allayed these fears by agreeing the ex-cons would be returned to their "home community or other appropriate location." But The Connection Inc., which runs the January Center, moved at least two offenders from elsewhere in the state into Norwich after their release. The DOC announced the pair will move again due to security concerns raised by the attention they are receiving as a result of the controversy.
According to information provided to state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, only five of the 24 offenders released on probation from January Center ended up back in their towns of origins. Sixteen live in Hartford or New Haven. There is a reason most do not get sent back to their home communities, said DOC spokesperson - that is often where the victims live.
Unfortunately, no one from the DOC attended the meeting Mayor Nystrom hosted last Friday. The factors the DOC and Connection Inc. consider in deciding where to locate these ex-sexual offenders remain unclear. As seemingly always in Connecticut, cities get an unfair share of the burden because that is where the cheaper apartments are and where the human services agencies contracted by the state operate.
Mayor Nystrom and Norwich City Manager Alan Bergen are asking the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities for support in pressing for answers and in demanding that program policies protect the region from becoming a dumping ground. Legislative action may also be necessary.
It is clear that Norwich and the region cannot rely on the assurance of "trust us."