Agency Helps Place Sex Offenders After Prison Release
Mayor Unaware Of Groups Contract With State
Monday, May 15, 2006
The Boston Channel The Boston Channel
BOSTON -- Some of the state's most dangerous sex offenders are being sent out shelters' doors, perhaps straight into your neighborhood.

NewsCenter 5's Janet Wu on Sunday investigated why so many sex offenders are being sent to live in just a handful of homeless shelters and why some accuse the agency putting them there of deception.

Every morning as the sun pops above the horizon, dozens of people are pushed out the doors of shelters on Worcester's Main Street and in downtown Framingham.

"Every child in the city of Worcester, every child in the city of Framingham, is in jeopardy because these folks are left to roam the streets of both of these communities without anyone monitoring them," Rep. Robert Spellane said.

What makes these shelters more dangerous than any others in the state?

"This agency, SMOC, is warehousing Level 3 sex offenders in our community and denying it all the way," Spellane said.

The South Middlesex Opportunity Council, or SMOC, manages both shelters.  But under a separate agreement with the Department of Corrections, SMOC is also being paid to find housing for inmates recently released from prison.  Worcester's mayor said he was in the dark until recently.

"We were not aware of SMOC's contract with the Department of Corrections," Worcester Mayor Tim Murray said.  "We don't want to be the place that's housing the region's sex offenders."

"This nonprofit organization has lost sight of its mission.  They are driven by money and they operate on deception and elusiveness," Spellane said.

"SMOC has a mission of dealing with society's most disadvantaged people -- people who have almost nothing," SMOC Executive Director James Cuddy said.

SMOC's contract states it can not place ex-convicts in homeless shelters, yet Cuddy does not deny released inmates -- including sex offenders -- are being brought to Worcester and Framingham from other parts of the state and that they are staying at these shelters for months at a time.  City officials, however, are more concerned with SMOC's long-term plans.

"We frankly want to get out of the shelter business, also.  We don't think it's any way for people to live.  We think it is disrespectful for folks to just sit and stay in shelter," Cuddy said.

"They have plans to put them in our community with what, I think, sounds and looks like deception," Framingham Selectwoman Ginger Esty said.

In fact, SMOC's contract with the Department of Corrections states specifically that "their housing specialists will be trained to seek out individual landlords who focus more on references and rental history than on administering criminal history checks."

In other words, SMOC finds landlords who will not do CORI checks.

"That's really the whole key here -- helping an individual maintain their housing so they can become economically self-sufficient," Cuddy said.

"If it means preventing the landlord from knowing that they are criminals or ex-convicts, so be it?" Wu said.

"I do not believe that we do that," Cuddy said.

"We're placing ex offenders.  We're placing people who automatically have a CORI check.  If the presence of a criminal record is going to bar them from housing, then there is no point in even going to those landlords," Department of Corrections Associate Commissioner Veronica Madden said.

What Spellane finds particularly outrageous is the contract the Department of Corrections has with SMOC.

The agency has been paid a flat rate of $827,000 over three years to find housing for inmates.  They say they placed 428 ex convicts -- but the state has no proof.

"They give us statistics about how many are in what kind of placement and the length of time it takes to get permanent housing," Madden said.

"So you just trust them to tell you if they are doing a good job or not?" Wu said.

"Well, yes," Madden said.

"It seems like what we've created here is just another branch of state government that's inefficient, but under the auspices of a nonprofit organization," Spellane said.

SMOC's contract with the Department of Corrections expires in June, but the lucrative deal is expected to be renewed.  Sources said SMOC was the only agency to submit a bid.

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