State official tries to defuse tension over sex offender housing
Norwich - James Dzurenda did his best on Wednesday to reassure local officials concerned about the placement of released sex offenders in their communities. The interim commissioner for the Department of Correction said his department does everything possible to put offenders "on a path to succeed" after their release from treatment centers.
Dzurenda appeared before the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments after the group sent him a letter expressing concern about sex offenders being placed in Norwich rather than in their hometowns upon release from the January Center, a treatment facility in Montville run by The Connection Inc.
"We understand there are oftentimes sound reasons why a convicted sex offender cannot be returned to his hometown … (but) there appears to be an inordinately high frequency of placement of these released offenders in municipalities within our region," said the Oct. 23 letter, which called for improved communication between the DOC, The Connection and municipal officials prior to the placement of released sex offenders.
In 2010, Montville officials fought the placement of the January Center in their town, going so far as to sue the state over the issue. The Town Council voted to drop the lawsuit in August 2011, after state officials assured them at the time that only low-level sex offenders would be placed in the facility and that the offenders would not live in Montville after their release.
The news that sex offenders were being placed in Norwich renewed officials' fears.
Wednesday's presentation focused on how the DOC tracks released sex offenders and prevents them from reoffending. After the meeting, Norwich officials said they were thankful for the communication but remained concerned.
Outgoing Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, who had to leave the meeting before the councilors questioned Dzurenda, said he was "not at all" reassured by the interim commissioner's presentation.
Nystrom said The Connection has been ignoring phone calls about the issue and hasn't been held accountable for its actions. Nystrom said he is "very concerned" about the offenders being placed near parks and playgrounds without regard for local zoning laws.
Dzurenda said The Connection secures placement for released offenders and holds contracts with landlords, so it would be part of the nonprofit's responsibility to consider zoning issues.
He said sex offenders who were homeless before entering the treatment facility might not be placed in their original communities.
Finding affordable housing for a formerly homeless sex offender enables the state to keep tabs on him or her, Dzurenda said. The DOC uses a sex offender registry to track most released offenders, but they are unable to track people who don't have a permanent address.
He didn't speak about the particular sex offenders who were placed in Norwich but said "every individual is done almost like an individual treatment plan" because their cases are so different.
When the council's vice chairman, Salem First Selectman Kevin T. Lyden, asked directly whether a disproportionate number of sex offenders were being placed in the communities surrounding the January Center, Dzurenda said more offenders have been moved from Norwich than placed within it.
Four sex offenders from other towns were placed in the city, but 10 sex offenders originally from Norwich were placed elsewhere, Dzurenda said. He arranged to send statistics on the placement of sex offenders in other southeastern Connecticut towns to the council's chairman, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica.
Council members also expressed interest in holding follow-up conversations with the DOC and taking a tour of the January Center.
Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel said the presentation didn't focus directly on the issues he was hoping to address, but he appreciated how responsive the DOC has been to questions from local officials. He expressed concern that the "worst of the worst" were being placed in the January Center despite verbal assurances that only low-level sex offenders would be located there.
McDaniel also said he hoped informational meetings like Wednesday's will continue and that officials can devise a plan to prevent disproportionately high placement of sex offenders in their communities in the future.
"We need to be vigilant and stay on top of it," he said.