Posted at: 02/10/2014 7:19 AM
Updated at: 02/11/2014 5:43 PM
By: Brett Davidsen
Convicted sex offenders who were living in secure institutions are being moved by the state into neighborhood group homes. People who live in some of those neighborhoods are shocked when News10NBC told them who has moved in nearby.
A dozen sex offenders had been staying at the Monroe Developmental Center in Brighton, but the state recently closed it down. News10NBC found out those sex offenders were quietly moved into residential areas. The Monroe Developmental Center was home to people with severe developmental disabilities and we discovered 12 of them are on the state sex offender registry. They are now living in group homes. They are in neighborhoods throughout western New York, from Scottsville and Medina to Palmyra and West Seneca. But News10NBC discovered the people who live in those communities were never notified by the state.
Sheila Meegan, West Seneca Town Supervisor, said, “I was stunned and disappointed. I was not aware of it.”
That’s how Sheila Meegan reacted when News10NBC told her the news that seven registered sex offenders, recently institutionalized in the Monroe Developmental Center in Brighton are now living in two adjoining group homes in her western New York town.
Meegan said, “It’s disturbing, extremely disturbing. That element does not belong in a neighborhood setting at all, under no circumstances.”
Meegan is town supervisor of West Seneca and says she was given no notification by the state. The homes are on a residential street, directly across the way is a family with a 13-year-old girl.
Meegan said, "I don't feel that that's a secure facility. It's on a road that's traveled and walked and biked and ran by so many families. It is a dead smack in the middle of a neighborhood."
The seven sex offenders, all men, were placed in these community homes after the state closed the Monroe Developmental Center at the end of December. The closing is part of a statewide effort to save money and to de-institutionalize those with severe developmental disabilities. Prior to its closing, MDC had about 90 residents, many with severe developmental disabilities, several of them with histories of violence. But critics of the plan forewarned that many of the residents at MDC could be a danger to the community and themselves if removed from a secure setting where they also receive intense treatment.
Flo Tripi, CSEA Region 6 President, said, “You're cutting the kinds of service they really need. And I don't know if you're doing them and the public any good by putting people that should be in a secure unit out into the community."
Our investigation found that 12 convicted sex offenders listed on the state registry, who previously lived at MDC, have all moved into community settings around western New York. Their crimes ranged from attempted rape to sexual abuse of children. Most spent some time in state prison before going to the developmental center. Two of them live in this group home in Scottsville, just up the street from the high school and the elementary school. Just like the town supervisor in West Seneca, neighbors here say they received no formal notification.
Beth Cade said, “I don't like it at all. I mean, it's kind of unsafe to be in your backyard because there's no security as far as we know there."
The state points out that most individuals who lived at the institution did so voluntarily and willingly accepted treatment and that their transition to group home settings is also voluntary, but only approved after a risk assessment by a team of trained clinicians.
No one from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities would speak with us on camera, but in an e-mailed statement, a spokesperson said, "the safety of those in OPDWW services, and the safety of the community are of utmost importance, and all measures possible are taken to ensure this safety."
Assemblyman Bill Nojay said, "If you're talking about releasing sexual offenders into neighborhoods, the neighbors need to know that and they have a right to know it."
Assemblyman Bill Nojay, who represents Scottsville residents, opposed the closing of MDC.
Nojay said, “Every place you turn, this governor, laudably, is trying to save money. But he's trying to do that in the wrong places and he's doing it in the places that he thinks will have very little public impact or at least very little public notice."
News10NBC has been tracking concerns about the closing and bringing those to Albany for almost a year now. In a statement last March, the governor's office said sex offenders would "never be placed in a setting where they could harm themselves or others."
News10NBC reached out again to Governor Cuomo’s office last week for this story and a spokesman says nothing has changed and those considered a threat can still be held involuntarily in other institutions. Meegan is not convinced.
Meegan said, "This type of predator does not belong in a residential setting. That predator belongs where we know we're safe from their bad behavior."
As for notifications, the governor's office says the state has no additional obligation to advise neighbors, town leaders, or even others living in these group homes about the placement of these sex offenders.
The state does have an alert system that will let you know when a sex offender on the registry moves into a community of interest to you.