OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) – Some Oshkosh residents think they’re being forced to shoulder an unfair burden by having 63 percent of the city’s sex offenders living in a single ZIP code.
Of the 201 registered sex offenders in Oshkosh, 126 live in ZIP code 54901, Oshkosh Northwestern Media reported.
The state Department of Corrections, which authorizes placement of sex offenders, said the decision often comes down to economic factors, such as affordable rent and access to public transportation.
Local residents say they understand that offenders need a place to live, but they say they don’t understand why offenders can’t be dispersed more widely.
“Our neighborhood is not suggesting extreme residency restrictions,” resident Lori Palmeri said. “We’re looking at a solution that would be a guided placement based more on dispersion and density to prevent clustering.”
Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab said offenders often are required to live in the county where they were convicted, and that the agency tries to make sure the population density of serious sex offenders is proportionate to the number of cases in the county.
Managing sex offenders requires a balance between keeping the community safe and respecting the constitutional rights of the offenders.
Some community leaders tend to focus on the danger presented by sexually violent offenders, but those make up only 3 percent to 5 percent of the sex offender population, said Stan Stojkovic, the dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s school of social welfare. He said most of the people on the state registry committed offenses against a family member or friend, and that not every offender represents a threat to the entire community.
Stojkovic recommended that community leaders avoid fear mongering and instead focus on figuring out how to manage offenders who are in their community.
Oshkosh Councilor Steve Cummings said the city is exploring ways to limit the number of offenders who cluster in the low-rent areas. He said options could include zoning rules and ways to increase rental prices by turning rental units into single-family homes.