Groups Respond to Efforts to Remove Ex-Offender from Washington Park

Posted: Oct, 20, 2018

UPDATE 10/20/18: The ACLU has sent a letter to the Mayor of Providence specifically addressing the issue of the protests taking place in front Richard Gardner's house.

In light of the strong media interest in the views of organizations involved in criminal justice reform and the rights of the homeless on the topic, the following statement has been issued in response to the events surrounding convicted sex offender Richard Gardner’s move into Providence:

“While we understand the concerns that have been raised by Washington Park residents about the presence of Richard Gardner in their neighborhood, the law is clear that Mr. Gardner has a right to live there.

“The evidence is also clear: housing stability is one of the most effective ways to prevent recidivism. Moving ex-offenders around and putting up barriers to stable housing does nothing to protect public safety. To the contrary, such actions only make rehabilitation and oversight of offenders more difficult. Integrating ex-offenders into communities – rather than ostracizing them – is one of the best things neighbors and policymakers alike can do to promote prosocial behavior and thus public safety.

“State policies – and public reaction – to the presence of sex offenders are too often based on fear and not on actual evidence, and as a result, efforts to “address” the issue end up being counter-productive and making communities less, not more, safe.

“The State’s history of passing laws designed to target sex offenders demonstrates this negative cycle.  When the General Assembly passed a law barring some sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of any school, it left many of them homeless, which led them to seek shelter in Harrington Hall in Cranston.  When neighbors in that area became upset about the influx of offenders to Harrington Hall, the legislature then attempted to kick them out by limiting the number of sex offenders that could stay there.  If this law had been enforced, it would have placed offenders back again on the streets, where they cannot be properly monitored or provided with services to help with their rehabilitation.  The enactment of more punitive laws like these will only exacerbate the downward spiral making us all less safe.

“Again, we recognize the concerns that have animated some members of the community, but we call upon our elected leaders and public officials to respond constructively, rather than fan the flames of fear. We all care about the safety of our children, but trying to force Richard Gardner out of the Washington Park neighborhood is a misguided and ineffective way to serve this greater goal. Rather than descending into vigilantism and reactive legislation, we hope that this occurrence can be an opportunity to start a dialogue about how we can truly work together toward the shared goal of safe and inclusive communities.”

Signed,

Megan C. Smith, Homeless Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Barbara Freitas, R.I. Homeless Advocacy Project

Anne E. Voss-Altman, Public Defender for the City of Providence

Andrew Horwitz, Assistant Dean for Experiential Education, Roger Williams U. School of Law

Steven Brown, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island