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8 Jul, 2010 23:15

The Untouchables: The difficult lives of sex offenders

In South Florida, redemption is hard to come by for sex offenders. Some have been forced to live under a bridge for the rest of their lives.

This is part one of an in-depth report on the lives of sex offenders after they have served their sentences.

The strict regulations on housing for sex offenders are the result of a confluence of what some consider as public paranoia, misguided laws and poor management, particularly in south Florida. Sun, surf, and sex appeal have drawn millions from the entire Western Hemisphere to this tropical wonderland.

But a few years ago, this tropical heaven was hell for children. No one knows why things worked out the way they did. For about 30 years, some of the highest-profile cases of sexual molestation of young children came from this area. Those cases had names: Jessica Lunsford, Jimmy Ryce, Adam Walsh. As a result, the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County and other nearby cities rushed to strengthen sex offender laws. At one point, sex offenders released from prison could not live within 1,000 feet of any school, church, playground, park, or mall—anywhere children could be. After another rash of violent sexual molestation cases involving children, city and county leaders strengthened those "residency restrictions" to 2,500 feet. 

But there was a problem.

A major metropolitan area like Miami is full of schools, churches, playgrounds, parks and malls. Once the heftier residency restrictions were in place, there were only three places in all of Miami sex offenders could live: at the airport, in the Everglades or under a major thoroughfare called the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

And this is where probation officers told the sex offenders to live. According to the law, there was nowhere else for them to go. 

By the summer of 2009, the population of “Sex Offender City” under the bridge had swelled to over 100. Tents were dwellings, patio table and chair sets were dining rooms, generators supplied electricity, and just about everyone living there sported a GPS unit around his ankle. Amenities and toiletries were luxury items and toilet paper became the de facto currency. It was hot, especially in the Miami sun, and these "monsters of Miami" had to live here forever.

A very strong argument can be made there was one man behind Sex Offender City, one man who caused the creation of this place. His name is Ron Book. Book has his reasons for creating the situation, and he disputes that he did, indeed, create it, but that story is for part two.

But there are others who are trying to help the sex offenders move on with their lives. One of them is Randy Young. He finds houses where sex offenders can live, leases them, then leases them back out to sex offenders. And finding rental property is not very difficult in south Florida, which has suffered dramatically in the ongoing economic crisis. By putting sex offenders back in society, he is changing the way people think about these men. 

To be continued…