Sex Offender Placement At Group Home Sparks Outrage
NORTHUMBERLAND, N.Y. — The families of four Saratoga County men who live in a state-run home for people with developmental disabilities say the state never informed them that their loved ones’ new roommate is a convicted sex offender.
Sharon Ashe, 75, of Kingsbury said she recently learned that a Level 2 sex offender is scheduled to be released from a maximum security prison in Dutchess County on this week and placed at her son’s group home, located on Route 50 in Gansevoort. The man, now 33, was convicted of third-degree rape in 2011 and again in 2014 after having sex with 14-year-old girls on at least two separate occasions.
The home where he will be placed currently houses four adult men with developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, and is overseen by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). It has room for five men, but a recent death created a vacancy, Ashe said.
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“I don’t know how I’m going to sleep at night knowing my son is at the house with a person like that,” said Ashe, whose son is 47. “My husband and I are aging. We have him for two days on the weekend, but that place is really his home. He’s been there 25 years. He needs those services.”
R.J. Morris, whose 57-year-old brother has lived at the home for 25 years as well, expressed similar concerns.
“I was very surprised to find out who my brother’s new roommate would be,” he said. “It’s totally unacceptable. Usually when there’s a change planned for the household, the family are advised, either by written correspondence, email or a phone call. This time, we weren’t advised of anything.”
As for how individuals are placed, the agency said it selects “the most appropriate environment based upon their needs” and added, “we do not deny needed services based on incidents that occurred in an individual’s past.”
“OPWDD supports and program plans are designed to reflect each person’s needs and include staffing, physical plant characteristics, and clinical resources that promote positive relationships and assure safe environments for the individual, other residents and the community,” the agency said. “Ensuring the safety and security of the people we support and the community is our top priority.”
It’s unclear just how widespread such placements are. OPWDD did not respond to a question on the topic.
According to the Associated Press, a similar situation occurred in suburban Buffalo in 2013 when the state’s placement of convicted sex offenders at group homes for people with disabilities upset neighbors so much that they marched in protest.
It also spurred a local state senator, Republican Michael Ranzenhofer, to sponsor legislation that would prohibit registered sex offenders from being placed in state-operated or licensed homes for people with disabilities. That legislation passed the state Senate, but did not make it out of the Assembly.
Ashe and Morris said they requested information from the program director about the placement in Saratoga County, as well as any plans that might be put into place to safeguard their loved ones, but were referred to OPWDD Acting Commissioner Kerry Delaney, who they say never responded.
Two local assemblywomen who were contacted by the families say they are researching state regulations to see what justification exists for allowing the placement, and are researching possible legislation to prevent such placements in the future.
“Obviously we’re very concerned and take this very seriously,” said Mark Luciano, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. “The family and the parents of the folks who have their children there are right to be concerned. If this is something we’ll need to change legislatively, we’ll be prepared to do that.”
Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, whose district does not include the group home, said she is also taking the complaint seriously, due to her role on the Assembly’s mental health committee.
“The concept of putting someone who arguably has a significant history of sex abuse or violence into a group home with our most vulnerable people is very concerning,” she said. “I can completely empathize with any parent who just wants to be assured that their child with a disability will be taken care of.”
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