Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Iowa, residential facilities for disabled adults say judges are dumping inmates on them

From the Des Moines Register in Iowa:

Christopher Barnes has lived at the Keokuk Area Group Home, a residential care facility that caters to the mentally retarded, for more than two years.

Barnes, 18, was convicted of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse after he raped a 17-year-old girl who refused his request for sex in 2009. Police records indicate he told detectives the girl kept repeating, "No."

Court records show that shortly after his arrest, Barnes was ordered by a judge to stay at the group home. After his conviction, he was given a two-year suspended prison sentence, fined $625 and placed on probation. Six months later, he was jailed for violating the terms of his probation.

The home's administrator, Cevin Coffield, says Barnes has been a good resident and has not caused problems at the facility. "His parole officer wants him to stay with us," Coffield said. "But it isn't unusual for the state or the courts to try to dump people on us."

Jeffrey Lipman, the president of the Iowa Magistrate Judges Association, says care facilities are obligated to take anyone who is ordered to live there by a judge. "For the most part we try to give people to a facility that can manage their care," he said.

Lipman acknowledged that violent criminals and sex offenders could wind up living with vulnerable adults in a care center.

"That is a problem in the system," he said.

The Mediapolis Care Facility is home to two registered sex offenders: Dale Burns, who has convictions for assault, second-offense domestic abuse, violation of a no-contact order and third-degree sexual abuse; and James Keck Jr., who was convicted of assault with bodily injury in 2003 after being charged with third-degree sexual abuse.

In 2008, a sex offender with a history of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy was living at the Mediapolis facility, home to about 30 disabled individuals.

The offender - unidentified in state records - was arrested after the staff discovered he was having sex with a mentally retarded resident. State inspectors imposed no fines, but alleged the facility had no sex-offender programming in place to minimize the risk faced by other residents of the home.

The Cedar Valley Ranch home in Vinton is home to six sex offenders - the largest concentration in any Iowa care facility.

One, Timothy Mask, has lived in at least two other licensed care facilities over the past 10 years and has convictions for sexual abuse, lascivious acts with a child and theft.

Another resident of the home, Wesley Youmans, has been convicted of five counts of lascivious acts with a child, once count of indecent exposure and one count of admitting minors to a place where obscene material is exhibited. One of his convictions resulted in a sentence of "one year in a residential facility."

The home's administrator, Lorene Spencer, says none of the six sex offenders poses a threat to the other 39 residents.

"We've had no trouble at all," Spencer said. "We wouldn't have anybody here who is predatory."

The Des Moines Register ran the addresses of Iowa's 188 residential care facilities through the state's sex offender registry to identify which offenders live in those homes. But the database search doesn't identify all potential threats in Iowa care facilities. The state doesn't track the whereabouts of violent, nonsexual offenders, and some sex offenders aren't on the public registry.

For example, Harlan Friederich, 62, is not on the registry, but he was convicted in 1995 of two counts of indecent contact with a child, an aggravated misdemeanor. Court records show Friederich was sentenced to live in a residential care facility. At some point he was placed at the Scenic Acres home in St. Olaf, where he lives today.

Officials at the Iowa Department of Public Safety won't say why Friederich isn't on the registry, but they point out that under Iowa law, some offenders face a lifetime requirement to register, while others need to register for only 10 years.

Advocates say people with a history of dangerous behavior, sexual or otherwise, pose less of a risk when closely supervised and in treatment.

In 2001, convicted sex offender Kevin Musel, 48, was living in a Marshalltown care facility when he sexually assaulted a mentally retarded, 21-year-old resident. Convicted of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, Muse now lives at the state's Woodward Resource Center for the disabled where he's enrolled in a program designed for sex offenders.

Unlike the residential care facility where Musel sexually abused the woman, Woodward is equipped to meet Musel's needs. It spends an average of more than $600 per day for each resident's care, compared to the $75 per day the Marshalltown home received.