Is refusing registered former sexual offenders shelter and support our best choice?

Originally published at the Exponent Telegram. Except for a limited local area, it is behind a paywall.

By Sandy . . . Gary Keith, city councilman and real estate agent of Clarksburg, West Virginia, has propelled himself into the spotlight by protesting against the policy of the Clarksburg Mission to extend their services to those in need indiscriminately, specifically to those who have a conviction for any one of a vast multitude of behaviors that causes one to be listed on a sexual offense registry.

He begins his op-ed, intended to amplify on his 30-minute video piece, with saying that he wants to educate the public. It is a shame that his attempts at education do not include what decades of studies show about those who commit sexual crime. Once punished and living in the community, their rate of reoffense is remarkably low, in the low single digits according to virtually every valid study. The factors most associated with rehabilitation and remaining offense free, this furthering the interests of public safety, are those things that the mission provides: a decent place to live, stability, support, acceptance, encouragement, and, in some cases, employment.

Rather than laud the mission for serving a much-needed role in the recovery and stability of these men, Mr. Keith chooses to criticize them for doing so and seeks to seriously damage their future operations by appealing to the public to cease their donations to the mission, donations on which the mission depends.

His primary point of contention is that the registrants staying at the mission are not from the immediate area. He says he is unable to find evidence that any of the shelter’s registered residents have ever had a Harrison County address. He also obviously could find no evidence that any of those residents have reoffended or engaged in any violence while at the mission, or he would surely have pointed that out.

Mr. Keith is raising the specter of the “other,” the “outsider,” to create unease and even fear in Clarksburg residents. He maintains that those on the registry in need of assistance are attracted to Clarksburg because similar organizations in other areas will not take them.

This is possibly the only factual point raised by Mr. Keith in his op-ed. Many such places refuse admittance to registrants. But rather than use his bully pulpit to try to shut down the one place in the area that does help them, why does Keith not rather encourage other missions and shelters to do what will best serve public safety and amend their policies to include acceptance of those on sexual offense registries?

It is not, however, what Mr. Keith does not do but what he does that quite possibly pushes the boundaries of decency and honesty.

As an example of the criminal outsider coming in and infiltrating the Clarksburg community, Keith finds a report of a man wanted by the police for assaulting his mother (Exponent Telegram, Nov. 21). Although the report does not say so, Keith maintains that the man was living at the mission and arrested there, and this may be true. What is not is any connection between this man and the targets of Mr. Keith’s venom, persons on sexual offense registries. There is nothing to indicate that the wanted felon had a conviction for a sexual crime, but this appears to be what Keith would have the reading public believe.

What is interesting is that the Telegram identifies the man as a “Clarksburg man,” but Keith maintains that he was from Weirton and makes a point of this being nowhere near Harrison County. Far down from the report of the arrest of the wanted man is a report of another person, a registrant, who moved from Weirton and was living in the mission; he was charged with failure to report his change of address to the state police within the mandated ten-day period.

Somehow, deliberately or through carelessness, Mr. Keith has conflated these two men.

And this begs the question of why; what is Keith’s motive? Only two seem logical.

Mr. Keith failed to do any research whatsoever on the topic and the issue, believes that the rehabilitation of former sexual offenders is aided by their being homeless and lacking support, believes that the two different men with totally different names discussed in the Telegram are the same person, and is doing what he actually feels to be in the best interest of his community.

Or Mr. Keith has some ulterior motive, possibly personal. He is, after all, a real estate agent. Does he represent properties close to the mission, and, if so, has he had difficulties perceived by him to be due to the presence of persons on the registry living at Clarksburg Mission?

I have no idea, but it does seem like a question that needs to be asked.

ADDENDUM: Mr. Keith has posted comments on our FB page that are nasty and totally unbecoming to a public servant. In my humble opinion, this man has no business being a representative of the people when he feels the way he feels about some of his constituents, those who live in his jurisdiction and are on the sexual offense registry. Even though we do not normally support petitions, we support this one.

Sandy Rozek

Written by 

Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.