With the start of hurricane season just two weeks away, the Department of Social Services says the state is working hard with our neighboring states and with the federal government to prepare for another Katrina-like disaster. However, a designated sex offender shelter built in Baton Rouge has local law enforcement, neighbors, and legislators uneasy. The site is just off Highway 61, north of the parish landfill. The structures look like hay stacks, but they're actually air-conditioned tents, with portable toilets and showers. Terri Porche Ricks with the Department of Social Services says, "These are state-run facilities."
The Department of Social Services says we'll need 250,000 shelter beds if Louisiana faces another Katrina-like storm. Many would go to other states, but Louisiana would have to house the majority of evacuees. Porche Ricks says, "East Baton Rouge does an incredible job of sheltering people. They're sort of like Houston. There are a lot of people that pick up and go to Houston and they go to Baton Rouge." Law makers wanted to make sure state shelters are safe, so they passed a law last year requiring sex-offenders to sleep in a separate space from other evacuees, but there's a catch. Porche Ricks says, "The law, as it relates to this part of our population, requires them to self-identify."
A 300-bed shelter would house male and female sex offenders separately. It's on Louisiana State Police training property, but some neighbors are still concerned. Ray Gremillion says, "Yeah, that gives me a little bit of a scare there." Sex offenders who come here for shelter are not locked inside. They can come and go at will, but local police say they'll continue to keep the neighborhood safe. Chief Mike Knapps says, "We'll deal with them one at a time and hopefully, we'll be able to identify these people and who they are."
Some law makers this session are working to move these tents out of East Baton Rouge, but so far, they have not been able to convince enough representatives to get their bills out of committee. Unless laws change, these tents will not insulate our community from sex offenders, they'll just voluntarily isolate them. Sex criminals would have 24-hours to let the shelters know their status, and then they'd either be transported to the designated shelter facility owned by state police or they'd be housed in a separate part of another shelter.