Over the objection of town officials and our local county legislators, County Executive Steve Levy, for the past couple of years, has housed homeless convicted sex offenders in a trailer in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside. Many, if not most, of the men housed in this trailer are classified as the most dangerous sex offenders, Level 3 offenders, who are considered by the state to be the most likely to repeat their crimes -- "a high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists," in the words of the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services. Currently 13 of the 15 men who have the trailer listed as their address on the state's sex offender registry are Level 3 offenders. Nine of those men were convicted of sex offenses against children.
This quasi-jail "program" has been so "successful" -- characterized as such by Mr. Levy's social services department spokesman -- that the county is now expanding it. They've now brought a bigger trailer into the parking lot so they can house even more homeless sex offenders there.
"It's been an ideal solution to keeping homeless sex offenders out of neighborhoods," the spokesman said. Out of neighborhoods they care about, anyway.
The sex offender trailer is within easy walking distance of Riverhead Free Library, Suffolk County Historical Society (the site of hundreds of school field trips), two public elementary schools, an intermediate school, the middle school and the high school, and what's left of downtown Riverhead, which includes another popular attraction for children and school trips, Atlantis Marine World.
The Riverside jail parking lot may seem like a good location to Mr. Levy, but to me, it's all wrong. Unlike Mr. Levy, I have teenage daughters who attend Riverhead public schools, walk from school to the library and potentially share the sidewalks with the Level 3 sex offenders who've been dumped in downtown Riverhead by the County of Suffolk.
But not to worry. The dangerous sex offenders are bused during the day to their "home" social services office, and, when they are returned to the trailer in the evening, they are not allowed to leave. They are watched by a private security firm hired for that purpose. And the location is behind barbed wire.
Well, the barbed wire fence has a gaping hole in it. (See story, page 1) And I don't buy that the men are not allowed to leave the trailer. Remember these men are not in jail. They have served their time. They simply have no place to live.
The county's trailer has no cooking facilities. Where do they eat? What happens when county social services offices are closed on weekends and holidays? What happens when a resident refuses to go to the social services office? Where do the residents go after they've showered at the "industrial site" up-island on weekends? To Mr. Levy's home in Holbrook for tea and cookies?
Even if Mr. Levy doesn't care about Riverhead neighborhoods and Riverhead kids, we know he cares about the Almighty Dollar. And on that score, this "program" can't be too "successful." There's the cost of the trailer itself, the cost of the private security firm, the cost of transporting these men to the various social services offices throughout the county and back five days a week, the cost of transporting them to the unspecified "industrial" location for showers every weekend, and the cost of renting the shower facility.
Wouldn't it be cheaper to put this trailer over at the minimum security county jail in Yaphank -- which is truly not in a neighborhood -- and allow the men to shower and eat there? Those that work could take advantage of the county's marvelous public transportation system to get to their jobs. Those who have no jobs could be put to work on the county farm, to help pay their own freight. And if they roam off the county farm unescorted, they'll find themselves at county police headquarters -- instead of in a neighborhood with schools, libraries and museums, filled with your children and mine.