Supervising sex offenders: 'We can't afford to lock them away forever'

Supervising sex offenders: 'We can't afford to lock them away forever'

EUGENE, Ore. - About 23,000 registered sex offenders live in Oregon, a number that's more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner said it's part of a public safety issue that's been evolving in Lane County for the past 30 years.

"Some people would be sentenced to a year and serve a day, or sometimes less," Gardner said. "If I wanted to fix this, if I wanted to make sex offenders less dangerous, and they weren't being held in prison, I would have (parole officers) to supervise them," Gardner said.

It's a problem that's trickled down to parole and probation officers in the sex offender unit, like Dean Alft.

"It's not something I take lightly," Alft says. "Community safety is always on my mind."

He has to monitor the movements of dozens of offenders.

"Currently my case load is about 80," Alft said. "There are always going to be guys out there doing things that I don't know what they're doing and there's definitely been cases that have kept me up at night."

Supervisor Kim Menjou said things could improve with new state funding, aimed at reducing the overall risk of re-offenses.

"The funding will allow us to do things like cognitive treatment groups in the community. It may allow us subsidy funding for transportation, treatment, even potentially housing."

Doctor Steven Mussack has been treating sex offenders since the 1980s through his program "Choice."

"First off, simply economically, we can't afford to lock them away forever," Mussack said.

A big step back - he said - is the fact that many businesses won't hire sex offenders, and parents don't want one living next door. 

Caterina Rosenfeld and Sandra Altheide said kids stopped playing outside when sex offenders became their neighbors.

"We were terrified all the time. We were absolutely terrified," Rosenfeld said in 2011 when a convicted sex offender moved into her Corvallis neighborhood.

"We just went from just a wonderful neighborhood to people living in fear," Altheide said.

But Mussack said that kind of outcasting actually encourages repeat offenders.

"What that does is drive people further into secrecy, drive people to circumvent registration," he said.

He believes sex offenders can be treated.

"Sexual offending is a behavior and behaviors can't be cured," he said. "But they can be controlled and individuals can learn alternate behaviors."