Valerie Blount wasn't too happy when the North Carolina Division of Child Development descended upon her daycare on Beatties Ford Road demanding answers about the registered sex offender who lived on the property.
When Arthur Francis Graham, 47, registered as a sex offender he gave the same address Blount uses for B&B Daycare, which she owns. As it turns out, Graham, who was convicted of second-degree rape and charged within the last year with assault on a child under 12, has his official residence in a house on the daycare property. In fact, Graham's house is right next to the one Blount rents to house the daycare, about 20 feet from the backyard area where children play. And, as Blount later found out, there is nothing the NC Division of Child Development or she can do about it, with the exception of packing her bags and moving her daycare -- which is why Blount was also glad to learn that Graham, who was recently charged with assault with a deadly weapon, is back in jail for now. She hopes he stays there a long time, but with the vagaries of the NC judicial system, how long he'll be away from her daycare center is unpredictable.
Amazingly, Blount is not alone. A survey by Creative Loafing of the Mecklenburg County sex offender registry published in this issue (see cover story) showed that at least 30 registered sex offenders live within 1,050 feet of a school or daycare, and about half of those lived less than 500 feet away. At least 19 have convictions for sex offenses involving children.
Ten more sex offenders list the Uptown Men's Shelter for the homeless at 1210 North Tryon St. as their home. The shelter is located less than 2,000 feet from a daycare.
In 14 other states including California, Ohio, Oregon and Kentucky, sex offenders would be barred from living this close to childcare facilities. All 14 states have laws banning them from residing within 1,000 to 2,000 feet of a school or daycare. At least a dozen other cities or counties are known to be considering similar laws or have already passed them. So far, though, no local governments in North Carolina are among them.
June Locklear, chief for the regulatory services section of the Division of Child Development, says the state bars sex offenders, or anyone else convicted of a crime, from living in daycare centers that are part of a home by refusing to issue a license if someone fails a background check. But in cases like Blount's, where a sex offender lives just feet away, the state is powerless.
"Because he is not actually living in the same building as the childcare program, there is nothing we can do," said Locklear.
Experts have different reactions to the idea of sex offenders living so close to facilities that care for large numbers of children. A few years ago, a local news organization did a profile of a low-cost boarding facility where several sex offenders were living. The facility wasn't near a school or other place where children congregate, but the men were nonetheless kicked out after the news report, with steep financial consequences for some of them.
How concerned should people be?
"It is hard to know," said Dr. William Tyson, who has counseled recovering sex offenders for 20 years. "You have everything from mom runs a daycare center and sonny boy comes home from prison and moves in to you can't see the daycare center from where the person lives and they're not aware there's a daycare center there. If there is a school that is across a creek and through the woods or has a chain link fence, I think it needs to be looked at differently."
Tyson agrees that any patient of his who has a history of abusing children and is genuinely trying to turn his life around probably wouldn't choose to live near where a lot of kids gather on a daily basis. It would be similar to a recovering alcoholic choosing to live near a liquor store.
"If one of my clients said, 'Oh, I found this wonderful apartment three doors down from a daycare or school or across the street from a daycare or school,' my first question would be, 'What are you thinking?'" said Tyson. "I'd tell them [they] better rethink this."
Eric Janus, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota and a national expert on sex-offender public policy, isn't sure that blanket zoning laws banning all sex offenders from living near childcare facilities are a good idea.
Most people think of sex offenders as shadowy figures lurking behind the bushes who jump out and grab random children they don't know. In reality, most sex offenders know their victims, he said. So barring these people from living near schools may not help at all.
So far, Janus said, there is no evidence that proves these kinds of restrictions help decrease the sex offense rates in communities that have them. Rather than pass blanket laws, Janus would give judges the discretion to place limits on where offenders live so they can be applied in cases where they really are necessary. Otherwise, he said, all you accomplish is to push the problem to a community that doesn't have restrictive rules.
And it is easy to get carried away. For example, the law being considered by the Issaquah, WA, City Council would effectively limit the areas where sex offenders could live to 15 percent of the developable land in the city, most of which is commercial or industrial.
Despite this, it appears that the idea of restricting where sex offenders can live is gaining steam around the country.
So far, sex offenders who have gone to court to defend their right to live near schools or childcare facilities have repeatedly lost their legal battles at the US appellate court level, the highest any of these cases have reached so far.
We will keep readers updated on this story as Graham's case progresses.
Intern Christina Rumbaugh assisted in the reporting of this story.