Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony
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The Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony (also called "Bookville" by former residents) was an encampment of registered sex offenders who were living beneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway — a highway in Miami, Florida — from 2006 to April 2010. The colony was created by a lobbyist named Ron Book, who wrote a local ordinance to restrict convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet (760 m) of schools, parks, bus stops, or homeless shelters. In the city/county of Miami-Dade, this left almost no possibilities for inexpensive housing. Furthermore, Miami-Dade laws are significantly stricter than State of Florida laws on residency restrictions for sex offenders. If sex offenders who were released from prison during this time claimed Miami-Dade as their home, and their addresses were located within this boundary, they were required to report to the camp.
The encampment housed over 100 offenders during its time, many of them living in improvised shelters, with electricity provided by generators. The law received international attention for forcing prisoners who had served their time into homelessness. In 2010, Ron Book worked to transition the colony offenders into other housing, but has received resistance from residents of the neighborhoods where the sex offenders were placed. By late 2011, at least one in seven of the offenders had stopped reporting to authorities.
In the past, the State of Florida provided sex offenders a list of locations where they could live that did not violate the parameters set by the City of Miami, but the closest was in Broward County. Although the Florida Department of Corrections initially denied that they were forcing the offenders to live under the bridge, a local alternative newsweekly named the Miami New Times reported that internal communication in the Department of Corrections proved this to be false and that released offenders were told to live in the colony or face more jail time. Prisoners who were released were issued driver licenses by the State of Florida listing their addresses as the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
As many as 140 people lived in the colony in July 2009. They were required to be in the camp from 6 at night to 7 in the morning, when a representative from the Department of Corrections arrived to check that they were there. Most of the structures in the encampment, described by The Miami Herald as a "shantytown", were tents, improvised wood, or cardboard structures. Some had plumbing and cooking capacities, and residents of the colony shared generators for electricity to recharge cell phones and their tracking devices.
Conflicts over responsibility
As the number of residents grew, the City of Miami and the State of Florida disagreed over who was ultimately responsible for the sex offenders. Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, worried about how tourists perceive the colony, prompted an attorney from the Florida Department of Corrections to write a letter to the City of Miami absolving themselves of responsibility. The City of Miami responded by filing a lawsuit against the state, citing public health and safety concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had also filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami for imposing the 2,500-foot rule for sex offenders when the State of Florida's law restricts them to 1,000 feet (300 m) within where children congregate. The ACLU asserted that the 1,000-ft rule would allow many of the offenders to return home. The camp was under further scrutiny for being within the forbidden area; a city park on an island in Biscayne Bay caused questions about the Julia Tuttle Causeway colony itself being a violation of the sex offender laws.
Local clergyman Vincent Spann likened the camp to a Biblical leper colony, and offered to house the sex offenders in a manner similar to that which he employed to treat those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. He predicted it would cost more than a million dollars a year. In September 2009, a judge responding to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU ruled that the City of Miami is allowed to set its own ordinances. The ACLU promised to appeal the decision. Miami is facing other lawsuits about moving the sex offenders.
Throughout the camp's existence, The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, an organization tasked by the county to help end street homelessness in Miami-Dade County, had been working to find permanent housing for all of the sex offenders living under the bridge. The trust is chaired by Ron Book, the lobbyist who helped write and pass into law the 2,500-foot restriction, prompted by the abuse of his daughter at the hands of a hired caretaker. On April 15, 2010, the Trust transitioned the last of the sex offenders living under the bridge into other housing. However, further protest from nearby communities ensued. Several former residents of the encampment were evicted from a Miami hotel in late April 2010.
In November 2011, the Miami Herald reported on the fate of the former Julia Tuttle Causeway colony, which former residents nicknamed "Bookville". Analysts studying the colony unanimously agreed on two relevant issues: the inability to find a stable home for offenders increased the risk that they would re-offend, and the close proximity of offenders to schools or parks does not increase the possibility that past offenders will re-offend. Despite these findings, Book solicited for and applied federal stimulus money to buy short-term stays for offenders, eventually costing $1,000 a month, which as noted by the Herald, would have been unnecessary without the more stringent law that Book championed. This last sentence is incorrect according to David Raymond, former executive director of the Homeless Trust. Federal Stimulus funds were never utilized for this population in Miami-Dade County. The funds that were used were from the local Homeless Food & Beverage Tax. No Federal funds were utilized to place the residents of the Causeway. Rent subsidies. along with job placement services and case management were provided for up to six months. Residents of Miami's Shorecrest neighborhood protested 13 sex offenders who had relocated there. Book placed another 43 offenders in a trailer park also housing many children. Book forewarned that the stimulus funds for housing the sex offenders would run out. The Herald reported that out of 1,960 sex offenders who had registered to live in Miami-Dade, 256 stopped reporting their locations to authorities.
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- Valdemoro, Tania (April 25, 2010). "Shorecrest residents unhappy about relocation of sex offenders - Sex offenders? Not in my backyard, Miami residents tell their mayor and other city officials", The Miami Herald, Shorecrest.
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- Julia Tuttle Causeway (Sex Offender Issues)
- Julia Tuttle Causeway (YouTube)
- Julia Tuttle Miami Saga (YouTube)
- Once Fallen Julia Tuttle Causeway page (Once Fallen)
- Ira Glass (7 May 2010). "The Bridge Transcript, Act Three: Throw the Book at Them". This American Life. Retrieved 29 July 2010. Unknown parameter