Community Caters to Sex Offenders

Minister recruits sex offenders from jail

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Residents of Pahokee are concerned with a local development that is catering to sex offenders.

    At a time when sex offenders are getting squeezed out of almost every community in South Florida, it is a miracle that one community is welcoming them with open arms.

    Miracle Park, a cluster of one-story yellow buildings surrounding a small church in Palm Beach County, caters exclusively to sex offenders.

    In fact, Richard Witherow, the minister who runs it distributes brochures in Florida prisons in order to recruit sex offender inmates.
    "Leaving prison or jail soon? ... Do you have special requirements concerning where you can and cannot live? You may have just found the answer to your prayers," reads the pamphlet advertising the privately operated, 24-acre village.

    Naturally, residents of neighboring Pahokee, a poor farming community of 6,000 on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, are not too pleased.

    And some tenants of the former migrant camp have sued, claiming families with children were forced out to make way for the sex offenders.

    "There's just too many in one place," said Pahokee Mayor Wayne Whitaker. "It's very, very risky."

    Whitaker said he had no idea the offenders at the complex had actually been recruited to live there.

    "It's a little unnerving, but our hands are tied," he said.

    But Witherow says that Whitaker is overreacting.

    "People get hysterical when you mention sex offenders," Witherow said.

    He said Pahokee shouldn't fear his tenants, who pay about $500 a month in rent and work odd jobs around the site if they can't find work elsewhere. Witherow also offers church services and classes on relationships and anger management.

    "The ticking time bomb here does not exist," Witherow said.
     

    Sgt. Mark Jolly, of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Sexual Predator Offender Tracking Unit, said authorities have had no reports of Miracle Park residents committing new crimes. Still, he said, he'd be concerned if he lived nearby.

    Studies on sex offender recidivism rates have produced varied results, from as little as 5 percent re-offending to more than 30 percent, depending on the severity of the original offenses.