More than two dozen sex offenders living at a Queens men's shelter are continuing to violate state residency laws by living within 1,000 feet of a school despite the city's efforts to relocate them, officials confirm to the I-Team.
Skyway Men's Shelter in South Ozone Park is just a few blocks from the Osmond A. Church Elementary School and MS 124. That’s too close, according to state laws that prevent Level 2 and 3 sex offenders on probation or parole from living within 1,000 feet of a school.
Over the last year, the I-Team has exposed cases of several sex offenders living near schools -- and significant loopholes in the existing sex offender residency laws. But despite promises of change from local officials, problems persist.
With the start of the new school year approaching, some local lawmakers are renewing their efforts to tighten the laws that keep sex offenders from living near schools.
"People say there's vagueness in the law," said Queens Councilman Ruben Willis, a Democrat. "But our law is very clear. It is 1,000 feet from property line to property line, not from door to door, not from door to window ... It's from property line to property line."
Last month, Willis spent $250 of his own money to measure the distance between the Skyway shelter and the school after the city's Department of Homeless Services said the distance was more than 1,000 feet. Willis measured the distance at 916 feet.
Today, the State Department of Corrections is still in the process of moving sex offenders out of the Skyway Men's Shelter. A spokeswoman said they will move the last 25 residents before the beginning of the school year. In the meantime, they are being monitored using electronic equipment.
“We are working aggressively to secure appropriate shelter placements for these residents,” said a spokeswoman for the city Department of Homeless Services. “The facility continues to have increased security, including seven guards on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and security transports clients to and from the subway."
Some experts call the 1,000-foot rule arbitrary. They say rather than focusing on whether sex offenders are living 900 or 1,000 feet away from a school, local officials should offer better treatment to offenders and educate residents about keeping their children and themselves safe.
"There are better and more effective ways to prevent sexual violence,” said Larry Menzie, president of the New York State Alliance of Sex Offender Service Providers.
Menzie said there is no research that shows that keeping sex offenders at least 1,000 feet from a school keeps the school children safer. Instead, he said residency laws force sex offenders to move often, which increases the chances that the state will lose track of them or they will become homeless. Frequent moves also make it harder for sex offenders to keep jobs and stay in treatment, routines that have been shown to help stop them from committing new crimes.
“It denies them access to basic services that we know can assist them, such as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and job development and job training. So those are things that we know can lessen people’s risk," Menzie said.
Democratic state Sen. Jeff Klein disagrees. Last year, following an I-Team report that exposed many Universal Pre-K’s are not protected under current sex offender residency law, he proposed a state law change that would expand the definition of a school to include stand-alone Universal Pre-K and kindergarten programs.
“We have in NYC alone this year, 74,000 more 4-year-olds who are going to be a part of Universal Pre-K," Klein said. "They’re not always located near schools, sometimes they’re located near store fronts, in churches, in synagogues, so we have to make sure those people are protected as well.”
Klein says his office recently found that a sex offender just released from prison for raping a 14-year-old girl has moved into a Bronx neighborhood. He is renewing calls for his counterparts in the state Assembly to pass the bill, which has already cleared the senate.
“He is actually now living within 1,000 feet of a school. And within 1,000 feet of a University Pre-K program. So, he’s violating the existing law and he’s violating the law I’m hoping to pass in the Assembly," Klein said.