“The problem is that you’re talking about a project that’s uniquely difficult when it comes to structural needs and safety,” says Amy McCoy, a public-information officer with the Iowa Department of Human Services. “You’re talking about things like hallways without corners. You’re also talking about building a place that isn’t a prison. It’s something entirely different from a traditional care facility. You want people in the least restrictive setting, but you also want to be able to respond if something does happen.”
Local lawmakers have been sounding alarms for at least a decade whenever sex offenders strike. With no federal regulations dictating how long-term care centers should handle offenders, solutions vary state to state. In 2012, Iowa’s Governor pushed a bill requiring nursing homes to notify residents if an offender moved in, but it died in the legislature. California’s Department of Corrections notifies nursing homes if anyone on the sex-offender registry applies for residency, and the nursing homes are required to notify residents and employees. Illinois facilities forbid offenders from having roommates and tests them for any special care needs before sending the results to local police and the Department of Public Health. (Requests to interview multiple nursing homes in Iowa, Ohio, and Illinois for this story went unanswered.)
Just as Iowa’s now considering, Oklahoma passed law in 2008 to create a specialized nursing home for offenders. But not a single bid to construct the property was submitted.
A contractor’s reluctance to be involved with such a property could be due to its specialized requirements, but in the view of the sex-offender advocate Derek Logue, it’s just as likely another case of people not wanting any connection to the registry. Logue is the founder of Once Fallen, which calls itself the “leading reference & resource site for Registered Citizens.” A Cincinnati resident, Logue himself is registered in Ohio for a 2001 conviction of First Degree Sexual Abuse against an underage girl. At age 40, he calls himself “one of the younger guys”; most offenders who call for help finding a place to live or a job are in their 50s or 60s.
“If you look at the nursing homes that do take registered citizens, they tend to have below-average grades,” Logue says. “It’s the same issue [offenders] face when they’re trying to find a place to live. You’ll never be anywhere decent, you always end up with some landlord who doesn’t care about the property. We don’t exactly get quality service.”
Logue knows you won’t cry over his failure to score a luxury penthouse, but he counters that he’s served his time. And it’s his tribe’s pariah statues, he says, that makes registered offenders likely to need extra medical attention in their declining years. Beyond the Gordian knot that is the ongoing argument over the sex-offender registry’s effectiveness, constitutionality, and methods of inclusion, offenders are less likely to be employed, more likely to live in poverty if they do have full-time work, and subsequently less likely to have access to preventive care.