Georgia Sex Offenders Directed Toward The Woods

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) -- A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up camp in a densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park, directed there by probation officers who say it's a place of last resort for those with nowhere else to go.

Nine sex offenders live in tents surrounding a makeshift fire pit in the trees behind a towering "no trespassing" sign, waiting out their probation sentences as they face numerous living restrictions under one of the nation's toughest sex offender policies.

"It's kind of like a mind-game, it's like 'Survivor,'" said William Hawkins, a 34-year-old who said he was directed to the campsite two weeks ago after being released from prison for violating probation by failing to register as a sex offender in Georgia.

The muddy camp on the outskirts of prosperous Cobb County is an unintended consequence of Georgia law, which bans the state's 16,000 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and other spots where children gather.

It's not the only place in Cobb County where offenders can live - there are hundreds of other sex offenders throughout the county living in compliance with the law. But Ahmed Holt, manager of the state's sex offender administration unit, calls the camp a "last resort" for homeless offenders who can't find another place to live that complies with the law.

He said probation officers direct them to the outpost if other options fail, such as transferring to another county or state or sending them to a relative's place that meets the requirements. Homeless shelters and halfway houses are often not an option, he said, because of the restrictions that bar them from being near children.

Critics say it's an example of how laws designed to keep Georgia's children out of harm's way create a hazard where penniless sex offenders live largely unsupervised at the government's urging.

"The state needs to find a responsible way to deal with this problem," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights who represents another man living in the camp. "Requiring people to live like animals in the woods is both inhumane and a terrible idea for public safety."

The outpost also illustrates the unique dilemma the law creates for homeless sex offenders, who unlike other homeless people, cannot take shelter in a church or curl up in a park because they are barred from both.

Geraghty said she has found only one homeless shelter in the state that meets the residency requirements for homeless sex offenders. The shelter, she said, is in the northwest Georgia city of Rome and has only two beds, which are often unavailable.

The tent city is similar to one in south Florida, where dozens of sex offenders moved under a remote bridge because it was among the few places that complied with local ordinances. Florida officials say the sex offenders found the bridge on their own, while some residents of the camp dispute that.

In Georgia, however, Holt said state probation officers have directed homeless offenders into the woods.

"While having an offender located in a camp area is not ideal, the greater threat lies in homeless offenders that are not a specified location and eventually absconding supervision with their whereabouts unknown," he said.

Several of the sex offenders in the camp said they did a double-take when their probation officers told them about the outpost.

"Even the probation officer, he looked at me and said there's nothing he can do," said Levertice Johnson, a 52-year-old who moved to the woods after he couldn't find a job and couldn't afford $60 a week for rent at an Atlanta shelter. "He knows it's wrong."

Holt said the sex offenders at the camp were monitored closely by their probation officials, adding public safety is a chief concern. He said sex offenders at the site are required to report once a week and the office sends a field agent to the camp at least twice a week.

He added two of the sex offenders at the camp have landed jobs and are now moving toward more permanent housing, which he said is the department's "goal for all the offenders residing at this location."

Some of the homeless sex offenders living in the woods say the rugged conditions make life seem hopeless.

"I'm living like an animal. It's just bad," said Johnson, who was convicted in 2002 of child molestation. "You can't clean up, you can't clean yourself, you can't do nothing. I'd rather be dead. I'm serious. I'd rather be dead."

For Hawkins, it feels like an extension of his prison time.

The former truck driver has been on the registry since he was convicted of attempted sexual battery of a 12-year-old in 1991 when he was 15. He said after he emerged from his latest stint behind bars without a place to live, he was directed to the forest despite pleas from his wife to allow him to live at the couple's home in Swords Creek, Va.

"I don't understand how the state gets away with it," Mindy Hawkins said from her home in Virginia. "This is ridiculous - especially when he has a family, a home, a support system here. It's inhumane."

Her husband has tried to make the meager outpost feel as much like home as possible as he waits for his probation to end early next year.

He wakes up each morning to brew coffee on a donated gas grill tied to a tree near his tent, showers under a bag of water he fills up at the office park and then treks into the suburban sprawl to search for a job. At night, he prepares meals like "hobo stew" - rice, sausage and veggies - purchased with food stamps.

Hawkins and a few others have begun preparing for winter, with little hope that they will find an alternative place to live. They are gathering a supply of firewood to keep a blaze going for the coming cold and have requested warm clothes from their family.

"You just live for the day, you live for the moment," said Hawkins. "It's not living, though. It's surviving."

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  • by anonymous on Sep 28, 2009 at 05:51 PM
    They said it is like an extension of prison time, well I say good in my opinion sexuall offenses aren't punished with enough time, not when you consider the time its going to take the victim to mentally heal. And to some of the other comments, so it would be okay with you if they moved in next door? If so you obviously don't have children. There are reasons these laws exist, to keep these monsters away from children b/c at some point in their lives they've either raped someone or molested a child. I just think its sad some of you are okay with that. You must also not know the rehabilitation statistics for this sort of crime. The odds of them doing that sort of thing again are good. Yeah there are some false accusation but most aren't . Read the story better one of them was convicted of child molestation in 2002, 7/8 year do you think the child has forgotten. I think they should all stay there and when the erge stikes asault each other.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 28, 2009 at 04:50 PM
    Dear Kat. Wake up honey. They are not talking about stupid teenagers. They have mommy and daddy to go home to. They are talking ABOUT ADULTS. How dare you minimize what any girl goes thru when she is raped! Your as bad as the perverts! What is wrong with you? I bet you don't have a daughter. God help her if you do.
  • by Cactus Location: Strabane on Sep 28, 2009 at 04:06 PM
    Not one of those that were interviewed ever claimed "remorse". Several of you seem to think this is an outrageous way for people live, I think its outrageous that they committed crimes of sexual assault. If you think these people are mistreated may I suggest you take one into your home.
  • by Bob Location: Belhaven on Sep 28, 2009 at 02:33 PM
    Whine, whine, whine, they are lucky they are alive after committing forceable sexual offenses. They are playing the victim and no concern for their victims. Some on here sound like they or their significant other has been caught committing sexually assaultive crimes! Most of the ones who have to register have many many more of these types of crimes than they have been convicted of. It is easier to rehabilitate a person who commits murder than a sex offender-I know the statistics! 99% of the people on that registry are GUILTY of the current and past unsolved sexual assaults! Research the statistics before you make such bold statements! What you BELIEVE does not make it a fact!
  • by david Location: g-ville on Sep 28, 2009 at 02:17 PM
    Kat You are right on point.Look at all the people that are now being freed because of DNA.Think about if you were that person.
  • by Kat on Sep 28, 2009 at 01:35 PM
    Good grief! 99% of the people on that registry are in my opinion innocent. I do not consider a teenager with another teenager a sex offense unless it really is rape. And most the time it's not. It's the parents that found their teenager doing something they didn't want, or the person trying to get back at the other after a break up. Get real people! Yes there are bad ones, but most the people on that registry are not and their lives are ruined because of people like you that say burn! It's like a witch hunt! All someone has to do is point a finger and yell rape and they can ruin a person's life innocent or not! And yes it is the rest of their life!
  • by Anonymous on Sep 28, 2009 at 12:32 PM
    Hey WOWIE. Im sure they wouldn't mind going home with you? What do you say?
  • by Anonymous on Sep 28, 2009 at 12:26 PM
    I vote you direct them to sqwat in the Judge's back yard that let them out of prison! I will donate tents, sleeping bags, and pillows. The Judges need to donate a barbed wire fence around their homes to keep the sex offenders in their back yards and see how safe they feel.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 28, 2009 at 11:22 AM
    Well these guys may not have anywhere to live but if Obamas health care passes they be the first to get it.They will be living in the hospitals.A nice cozey place to lay thier heads.
  • by WOWIES! Location: Greenville on Sep 28, 2009 at 09:42 AM
    Yeah thats a pretty sad life indeed ; The states just wants these guys to commit suicide and be done with them altogether. You know it's bad when dogs and cats live better than a sex offender does ; Ridiculous
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