Should sex offenders be housed at Seaside?
The state Dept. of Corrections will hold a town meeting at Old St. Joe’s on Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. that will be open to the public to discuss the future of Seaside Center “halfway house.”
People who will attend are Commissioner Dean Williams, state Dept. of Corrections, GEO Group Seaside Facility Director Bob Weston, GEO Group Senior Manager Trey Watson, Adam Rutherford, Mental Health Clinician 4 and AMCC Superintendent Sandy Martinson.
The gist of the meeting will be whether sex offenders in a treatment program should be housed in Seaside Center and what this will mean to the community. What would happen to Seaside Center if this doesn’t happen?
“It’s going to be a big event,” Martinson said Monday. “There will be folks with a lot of knowledge to answer the community’s questions.”
Williams and staff want to see whether the Nome community will change its stance against housing sex offenders in the privately owned and operated GEO Seaside Center and provide information on a proposed sex offender treatment program. When owners of Seaside sought a permit from the City to operate within city limits on Front Street, the City responded to public sentiment by granting the permit on the condition that Corrections would not house sex offenders or arsonists at the downtown facility.
Citing budget cuts and bemoaning empty beds that could be used at Seaside to relieve pressure at AMCC, except for Nome’s “stringent” requirements on the type of prisoner to be housed, DOC wants to run a sex offender treatment program and house persons convicted of sex offenses in the “halfway house” on Front Street.
Commissioner Dean Williams flew into Nome in July for a drop-in meeting with Tom Moran, city manager, and Richard Beneville, mayor of Nome.
The meeting did not include the Nome City Council. However, the topic came up when Moran included mention of the meeting in his report to the Council at it’s Aug. 14 meeting.
Nome Code of Ordinances Section 3.30.050 under Chapter 30- Correctional Facilities (privately owned) specifically bars housing untreated sex offenders.
Sex offenders are named “for a damned good reason, because the public wanted it that way,” Councilman Stan Andersen said at the Aug. 14 meeting of the Nome Common Council.
The mood of the Council seemed to run with Andersen’s. They wanted to have more information and to meet with state level DOC officials and local correction officials, including Robert Weston, director of Seaside, and Sandy Martinson, superintendent of AMCC.
Martinson pointed out that the sex offenders would be coming voluntarily to Seaside after serving most of their sentence. If the City approves, a program will be set up for counseling and tools to help avoid repeat offenses.
“One way or another they are coming out [of custody]. They have served their sentences. For me, I would rather have them treated rather than untreated,” Martinson said.
Communications from the Dept. of Corrections state that the plan to implement a treatment program at Seaside will not be undertaken without approval of the community; however, if the community opposes the plan to load Seaside beds with AMCC residents, including sex offenders, community members need to accept that budget cuts will drive decisions concerning Seaside.
That DOC would close Seaside is an outcome for Council and City consideration. The facility paid $100,000 annually for utility service to Nome Joint Utility System in the past year, Moran told the Council during renewal consideration.
Records show that for tax year 2017, GeoCare Seaside Center owned $816,700 in taxable real property and $371,480 in taxable personal property—equipment and such. The facility employed 14 full-time employees and three part-time employees.
Seaside has a capacity of 62 beds. Should the facility not remain open, does AMCC have capacity for absorbing the loss of space in Seaside?
The current capacity of AMCC is 126, but the facility used to take up to around 150 people when Bethel offenders came to AMCC, according to Martinson. If Seaside Center would close, AMCC could absorb the Seaside numbers, Martinson thought.
However, “if Seaside were to close down, it would be a huge financial impact,” she said, and brought up the point that inmates on work release contribute to the work force.
The following questions could come up at the meeting for answers plus information on new programs that may be starting up at AMCC and Seaside:
• How many sex offenders will be living at Seaside? Will the requirements for release to the halfway house be the same or changed to allow sex offenders to participate in the treatment program?
• Will the program be mandatory? Will the sex offender treatment program take place at Seaside or will sex offenders be transported to AMCC to participate with sex offenders who do not qualify for release to the prerelease transitional program at Seaside?
• Will people from other places in Western Alaska and Kotzebue participate in work release, find a job in Nome and choose to stay in Nome? Seaside has a work release program that allows residents to check out and enter the community for work shifts. What is the recidivism rate for certain types of sex offenders?
• What are plans for mental health care? Alcohol counseling? What about the victims, if sex offenders come to town? DOC is very sensitive about victims and victim’s rights, Martinson said.