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Oct 7, 2008 5:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Lawmakers fight to relocate trailer for homeless sex offenders

Oct 7, 2008 5:19 PM

Two local lawmakers are demanding that Suffolk County officials tighten security at a trailer on the grounds of the county jail in Riverside that houses homeless sex offenders, while at the same time pushing for the permanent relocation of the facility.

In early September, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services replaced a 14-foot-by-50-foot trailer that houses the homeless sex offenders with a $50,000 trailer that is 20 feet longer and can accommodate more offenders. The original trailer could house about eight people, while the larger one can accommodate more than 20.

Local elected officials, including Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale, have opposed the decision to locate the trailer near the jail, and are now pushing that it be moved next to other county facilities in Yaphank. A second smaller trailer is now located in Westhampton.

Mr. Cardinale said he has been speaking with Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Chief Deputy County Executive Jim Morgo every day, explaining that the county is now working on an assessment that examines other possible locations that can accommodate the trailer. Mr. Cardinale said he expects to hear back from the county regarding the assessment within a couple of days.

“They’re looking into a more appropriate and more remote location,” he said, noting that the Yaphank Correctional Facility on Yaphank Avenue is a possibility because it is not located near a densely populated residential community.

He also noted that unlike the jail in Riverside, which is located near a school, a library and a downtown business district, the Yaphank correctional facility is located in a remote area.

Roland Hampson, a spokesman for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, said his department would not consider the Yaphank site until construction work at the facility is completed. Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Michael Sharkey said the $150 million renovation and expansion project now underway at the Yaphank facility would not be completed until 2011.

In the meantime, the Department of Social Services has taken extra security precautions to ensure the safety of community members who live near the Riverside trailer. Next week, the department will be installing a security camera, Mr. Hampson said. Additionally, officials will be locking a gate near the trailer that was previously left unlocked overnight.

“It provides an additional level of oversight in addition to the three men on duty already,” Mr. Hampson said of the changes. The county employs a private security firm to guard the trailer.

County officials also said that the gate near the trailer, previously left open by the Sheriff’s Office, will now be locked from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. each day. The gate leads to a perimeter road surrounding the facility. The county also is closing up a hole in the fence near the gate.

“There is no one sitting in the gate house from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m.,” Chief Sharkey said. “We’re doing it as an accommodation to all the parties involved.

“It’s a correctional facility—we monitor the facility all the time,” he continued. “The whole problem is that people think [the sex offenders] are in custody. They’re not. They’re homeless people. Social Services provides them with emergency housing.”

Ryan Horn, a spokesman for Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, said this week that town officials are letting Riverhead lead the fight against the trailer even though the facility is located in their municipality.

However, Mr. Horn said that the county’s overflow trailer, located on Old County Road in Westhampton, is also in a residential area.

“Linda Kabot wants to see it moved,” Mr. Horn said. “At the very least the county should hold to its original intentions, and the trailer should be moved to different locations throughout the county.”

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