Limited housing options for homeless sex offenders upon release

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CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) -- Wisconsin officials say keeping track of registered sex offenders can get difficult when the offender is homeless.

From the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 to Megan's Law of 1996, federal mandates have been created requiring authorities to notify the public regarding registered sex offenders, including where they will live when released from law enforcement custody. Wisconsin’s first sex offender registration law was enacted in December 1993.

Tuesday, Chippewa County officials notified the public of a homeless convicted sex offender set to be released from a Wisconsin prison this month.

24-year-old Austin Wooley is set to be released from the Jackson Correctional Institution on December 18th. Wooley was convicted of two counts of 3rd degree sexual assault in 2013. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections says when he's released, he will be considered homeless as officials have no permanent address for him on file.

Officials say sex offender notification can however get tricky when an offender is released with no home to go to. "The core committee which consists of law enforcement, Department of Corrections, and District Attorney’s office, have a meeting prior to the sex offender being released and we determine the notification to the public,” said Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk.

Public information is released about the offender such as details regarding their conviction, where they're expected to be employed upon release, and place of residence. Kowalcyzk says there's certain levels of notification based on the core meeting’s decision as to what is going to be disclosed.

Sheriff Kowalczyk says a big part of notifying the public is letting them know where the offender will reside but in some cases such as Austin Wooley, housing resources for convicted offenders can be difficult to find. "Normally a friend, a relative, a spouse, a girlfriend, a boyfriend is usually where these people end the case of Mr. Wooley, we have no place for him.” Kowalcyzk says the family will not take him into their residence.

While the Department of Corrections does attempt to find a permanent residence for the offender, sometimes it’s just not possible. "People turn the Department of Corrections down, it’s sad to say but nobody wants a sex offender living next door to them," said Kowalcyzk.

He adds that more often than not, sex offenders wind up being incarcerated again. "With no place to go, no employment, nobody to take him in, more often than not they re-offend and end up in the county jail," he said.

Despite not having permanent housing, Kowalcyk says homeless sex offenders including are still free to go on their release date.

Wooley will be supervised by the Department of Corrections via GPS monitor until December 2020.