PHOENIX — There is some good news for North Phoenix residents opposed to the location of a re-entry center for former inmates.
The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) announced Thursday it would no longer transfer sex offenders to the Maricopa Reentry Center (MRC).
The facility, near Interstate 17 and Happy Valley Road, is where ex-convicts can re-adjust to society after their release from prison. It is a temporary stop until they find permanent housing, but they are allowed to leave the center during the day to look for a job or for a medical appointment. Former felons leaving the center have concerned some nearby residents, who believe the center is too closely located to schools and homes.
“[Residents] do have issue with the fact that there are violent offenders that are walking around our neighborhood during the day,” said Julie Read, spokeswoman for BlockWatch Phoenix North, a group opposed to the center’s location.
Phoenix city councilwoman Thelda Williams, who represents District 1 that includes the area, said she is very upset about the center’s location.
“I think it’s totally inappropriate,” Williams said. “It’s too close to schools, neighborhoods [and] community centers.”
Both Williams and Read were concerned about the sex offenders being housed at the center. The ADC said they listened to community concerns in deciding not to transfer any more sex offenders to the center.
“We believe this will allow us to address community concerns and protect public safety,” an ADC spokesman said in a statement.
Williams said the center started taking in former felons last month. Before Thursday’s announcement, ADC said about 20-25 sex offenders could be housed at the re-entry center at any given time.
Read applauded the move to keep sex offenders from transferring to the center, but said the battle is not over yet.
“We’re going to continue to take steps to figure out if there’s a better location for this [center] to exist rather than being in a residential area surrounded by families and kids,” Read said.
ADC said the location was chosen because the nearest home or school is at least one mile away, but that has not stopped North Phoenix residents from voicing their concern. A petition to the governor to move the center has already obtained over 3,700 signatures.
Read met with ADC officials on Sept. 1, and said the meeting was positive, but it’s only the first step.
“By no means is that meeting to be taken that the community’s giving up,” Read said.
She said they have spread the word throughout the community, alerting nearby families about the center’s presence. They have also worked with nearby schools to make sure they are aware of the MRC.
“If nobody else is going to notify people, then we’re going to do it in our grassroots way, hit the streets and hand out fliers,” Read said.
Read has also left open the possibility of holding protests and rallies in the hopes of getting the ADC to move the re-entry center elsewhere. The ADC has posted a “Frequently Asked Questions” section about the center on its website to try and address community concerns.
“Our goal is to continue working in conjunction with the community and to keep an open dialogue,” said an ADC spokesman.