Of the area's 83 registered sex offenders, 33 are either at or approaching the senior age - leading many to ask what happens when they need long-term care.
Long-term care reform advocate Wes Bledsoe spoke last week to legislators concerning criminal offenders in long-term care facilities.
Bledsoe was invited to speak at an interim study at the capitol. The study was prompted by the placement of a suspected murderer, found incompetent to stand trial, who was ordered by the court to reside in a Jones nursing home.
“Thirty registered sex offenders currently reside in Oklahoma's long-term care facilities,” Bledsoe said. “Since 2004, over 2,000 criminal offenders have been reported residing in long-term care facilities across the nation.”
Bledsoe's research has also uncovered more than 50 criminal acts committed by offenders while residing in care facilities.
“These acts include murder, rape, sexual and physical assaults,” Bledsoe said. “Victims included male and female residents, staff and even a 3-year-old visitor.”
Even more troubling to Bledsoe is that some of the residents of long-term care facilities may have been charged with and even convicted of criminal offenses, but do not fall into the mandatory sex offender registration laws because of the date of the crime or conviction.
“I have located 57 registered sex offenders living as residents in Oklahoma's long-term care facilities since April of 2004,” Bledsoe said. “Currently, 30 reside in nursing homes and residential care facilities. Of the 27 offenders previously identified, seven are currently listed as ‘delinquent' for failing to register and 13 are no longer listed on the state's online sex offender registry.”
In addition to registered sex offenders, Bledsoe is very concerned that legislators and officials address inmates, parolees, sex offenders who are not required to register, violent offenders found incompetent to stand trial, convicted felons and residents who assault others and are not charged due to suspected incompetence.
Bledsoe said contrary to “myths used by federal, state and local officials” to justify placement of offenders with unsuspecting and vulnerable residents, sex offenders in long-term care facilities are not necessarily elderly. As a matter of fact, only 20-percent of the current offenders in Oklahoma facilities are over 65.
Unfortunately for the families whose loved one is placed in a long-term care facility, there is no legal way of knowing if violent offenders also reside in the facility due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
Several officials attending Tuesday's meeting voiced support for creating a separate facility that would exclusively serve elderly sex offenders or violent criminals.
State Rep. Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican who requested the study, said the current system may endanger many elderly Oklahomans.
“I believe government's primary responsibility is to protect its most vulnerable citizens, and that's why I requested this study - to determine how we can best protect our elderly citizens who need long-term care,” Steele said. “At the same time, we've also got to provide some form of care for individuals on the sex-offender and violent-offender registries who have served their debt to society and are no longer capable of independent living.”
Lawmakers are considering creation of a specialty facility for sex-offenders or violent criminals in need of long-term care. Steele said additional study is needed to determine what security efforts will be required to operate specialty facilities and ensure protection of the public.
“We've still got a lot of work ahead of us,” Steele said. “We are diving head-first into this issue and will continue researching it until the end of the year in preparation for proposed legislation.”