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Miami Sex Offenders Sleep Under Bridge
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Miami Sex Offenders Sleep Under Bridge

U.S.

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Over the last two years, a national crackdown on sex offenders means more laws restricting where they can live after they get out of prison. Of course, no one wants them in their neighborhoods. In Miami, officials there have a rather unusual solution. They're requiring sex offenders to live under a bridge in the middle of the Biscayne Bay.

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: One thing you have to say about this bridge on the Julia Tuttle Causeway - it's got a great view. A few hundred yards across the bay, the Miami skyline rises in the distance. And for Kevin Morales(ph), it's home.

Mr. KEVIN MORALES: I'm going already on two months.

ALLEN: And who are the other guys that live here?

Mr. MORALES: Everyone here is on probation. You have sexual offenders and sexual predators all together, you know, in one.

ALLEN: Morales is classified as a sex offender. He's out on probation after serving 10 months in prison for assaulting three girls. Under the law, he has to be here every night between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM The rest of the time, he worries about recharging the GPS unit that monitors the ankle bracelet he's required to wear. There is no power here under the bridge, so most days he visits his parents, where he recharges his unit and does some odd jobs. The 40-year-old Morales says he used to have his own glass and mirror business. Now, with his unusual address and GPS unit, he can't find a job.

Mr. MORALES: It's a very difficult situation. People don't really care too much for sexual offenders and don't care for their needs and so on and so forth. It's not easy, you know, to get yourself out of the, you know, the road that you are in, you know, when nobody really cares.

ALLEN: Morales, at least, has a tent and a sleeping bag. Twenty-eight-year-old Michael Block(ph), another sex offender who's on probation for molesting a minor, has just sheet a plywood and some blankets. He's from the Orlando area and he was released from jail last month. He had no money, no ID, and a probation official told him, few options.

Mr. MICHAEL BLOCK: She told me that there are two places you can stay. There's a motel that fits the requirements and it's $232 a night, or we've got some guys that are staying under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLOCK: And you can go down there and stay with them. So now I've got - even my ID says Julia Tuttle Causeway under bridge for an address.

ALLEN: He pulls out his state-issued ID and, sure enough, there's his picture and his address: Julia Tuttle Causeway under bridge. Block's working to move back to central Florida. An uncle has been contacting potential landlords for him. He's looking in counties where the residency restrictions for sex offenders aren't quite as strict. But Block says he's already been rejected three times.

Mr. BLOCK: So I'm still stuck here under the bridge. You can't get out, you know. It's like being trapped.

Ms. GRETL PLESSINGER (Spokeswoman, Florida Department of Corrections): No one likes this. We certainly would agree that this is in no one's best interest.

ALLEN: Gretl Plessinger of Florida's Department of Corrections says officials with her office and in Miami-Dade agreed on the causeway bridge as the designated location for sex offenders who can't find otherwise acceptable place to live.

Ms. PLESSINGER: We do believe that public safety is being achieved here because the probation officer checks on these offenders daily between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, so we know where they are.

ALLEN: While state law requires sex offenders to live more than 1,000 feet from places where children gather, Miami-Dade and more than 90 other local governments in Florida have passed more stringent residency restrictions, making it all but impossible in some communities for a released sex offender to find a place to live.

State Representative Dave Aronberg, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, is sponsoring a bill that would standardize the residency restriction to 1,500 feet and require sex offenders to submit to GPS tracking. The problem with the current rules, Aronberg says, is that when sex offenders can't find an approved place to live, they sometimes disappear.

State Senator DAVE ARONBERG (Democrat, Palm Beach County, Florida): We in the state of Florida have lost between 1,000 and 2,000 sex offenders. They haven't left the state; they just went underground. We don't know where they are.

ALLEN: So far, nine sex offenders have at least temporarily called this spot under the causeway home, and those numbers are likely to grow.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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