Greg Winkler isn’t sure where to start.
He’s part of a Rock County committee assigned to find a home for a sex offender soon to be released from a treatment facility.
It can’t be within 1,500 feet of schools, churches, child-care centers, parks, places of worship and youth centers. Additionally, it cannot be adjacent to a home with children.
“How am I going to connect with a potential landlord? There’s not an obvious, efficient way to approach that,” Winkler said.
Winkler said some landlords likely are willing to house Mark Taber and other convicted offenders. But the county has not developed a housing network, which makes kick-starting the process challenging, he said.
The committee has until March 27.
After a change in state law, people convicted of sexually violent crimes must be released under supervision in their counties of residence. Before the law, offenders could be released anywhere in the state.
Now, each county is required to form a committee and locate landlords willing to house people found by courts under Wisconsin Statute 980 to be sexually violent offenders, meaning they suffer from a mental disorder and are highly likely to reoffend.
Rock County’s committee—called the 980 Temporary Committee—held its first meeting Wednesday in anticipation of Taber‘s release. Taber is a Rock County resident who was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child in 1991, which is why he cannot live adjacent to a home with children.
Taber is the first sexually violent offender Rock County is responsible for housing since the law changed last year. He is a patient at Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, and it’s unknown when he will be released, Winkler said.
Winkler is a committee member and behavioral health division manager with Rock County Department of Human Services.
The county was notified of Taber’s release Dec. 10, Winkler said. The committee must file its report to the state by March 27. County staff have assembled a map showing where convicted violent sex offenders cannot live.
Scott Timm, a state Department of Health Services representative and member of Rock County’s committee, said Wednesday the state department ideally would sign a lease with a landlord and pay the security deposit by March 27. Local law enforcement will determine if children live adjacent to potential properties, Timm said.
Since the statute’s roll-out last year, some Wisconsin counties have expressed frustration with the law. In December, officials in Winnebago County housed a released offender in a county-owned trailer plopped next to a landfill to avoid a state fine of $1,000 a day for not identifying housing options, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
An attorney helping Winnebago County told the Journal Sentinel “there will come a time when a county will be unable to find a suitable housing option and when that occurs, any effort to sanction a county should be met with an aggressive challenge to the constitutionality of this law.”
In November, the Walworth County board appointed members to a housing committee. Michael Cotter, the corporation counsel designee on the committee, said the county would undoubtedly face some hurdles.
Among them could be housing offenders outside the 1,500-foot exclusion zones. Some Walworth County municipalities have extended the exclusion zones to 2,000 feet, Cotter said, but state statutes supersede local ordinances.
“That’s going to be frustrating for folks,” Cotter told The Gazette in October. “These are always difficult issues when people like this are released. It’s always fine until it’s my neighbor or the guy that’s 2 miles down the county road.”
There have been no releases in Walworth County since the law debuted, Cotter said, and there aren’t any upcoming releases to Cotter’s knowledge.
Rock County committee members agreed Wednesday to meet again in a month.