State makes changes to sex offender housing program

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is changing the way it houses sex offenders who are on supervised release from Sand Ridge Treatment Center. The effort, which is in response to a series of FOX 11 reports on the cost of the supervised released program, is designed to save taxpayer money.

DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades issued a response to cost saving recommendations by the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau made last August.

The audit was prompted by a FOX 11 Investigation back in February 2013 taking issue with the high rents being paid by state taxpayers to house more than 30 sex offenders on supervised release. In several instances rents being paid were found to be four to five times the going neighborhood rate.

Our story found the state rented one home in Green Bay for $2,500 a month just to house one sex offender.

Rhoades says the agency is still paying the same amount of rent but it has made changes to the program. The agency has started to double up more sex offenders on supervised release instead of placing one sex offender in a single family home.

“When and where possible, the DHS will continue to place two clients in one residence,” stated DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades in her written response to the committee.

Other savings have been achieved, according to Rhoades, by installing washers and dryers in rental units eliminating the need for paid escorts to go to the laundromat.

DHS is also requesting bids for those interested in renting homes to the program in an effort to lower costs through competition.

“Personally I’d like to thank you and your station for pushing for this. It will have value as time goes by,” said State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) co-chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

Cowles, who is planning to hold a hearing in Madison to go into more detail about the changes to the program, calls it a partial victory.

“The audit is leading to more activity from the agency to nibble away at some of the places we could save money,” Cowles said. “They’re mentioning several places they can save money and we’ll continue to push them to try and save as much as possible.”

Rhoades says DHS tried to re-negotiate its current contracts with property owners and the company that monitors and transports clients, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

For the latest watch for Mark Leland’s report on FOX 11 News at Five.

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