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Released to Reoffend: News 11 investigates the sex offender next door

Editor’s Note: Story has been updated to correct statistics related to recidivism rates.

According to the Department of Justice, the recidivism rate for sex offenders hovers around five percent after three years and 24 percent after 15 years.  

According to SMART - The office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking, for pedophiles - it shows the highest rate for boy molesters after 15 years was 35 percent and for girls molesters, 16 percent.  A study conducted by Harvard Medical School shows recidivism rates between ten and 50 percent for pedophiles.

News 11 first reported that 99 percent of child sex offenders reoffend, after an interview with Diane Umphress, of Amberly's Place. Umphress clarified her comment by stating that  99 percent of pedophiles cannot be cured, meaning they will not lose their urge for children. Umphress says this number comes from a recent training done by National Children's Advocacy Center in Washington D.C.

Exact re-arrest rates are not known, because these sex crimes against children often go unreported. Amberly's Place reports only one in nine children ever report abuse. 

(KYMA)- News 11 investigates the sex offender next door:

We spoke to police, probation, victim advocates, lawmakers and even knocked on the doors, of those who have spent years in prison and now have to register as sex offenders for life.

Convicted sex offenders have to inform law enforcement of where they'll be living, even if homeless these predators have to tell the police something - even under the bridge off First Street is sufficient. Every time they move, police put it on social media, those who live nearby are alerted and we put it on the news.

The goal isn't to instill fear, rather keep you informed. 

"It doesn't mean something is going to happen, doesn't mean they're a violent person, we want you safe and to be alerted,"  Sgt. Lori Franklin said, of the Yuma Police Department. 

In Yuma County, sex offenders are living among us.  "I don't know if we have more, or we are just reporting more," Stephanie Pla said, from Adult Probation.

On average, 60 people are on probation at a time, in Yuma County.  "We see a lot of child pornography, putting cameras where they shouldn't be and there's been an upswing in revenge porn," Pla said. Over the years though, she's seen her share of success stories. 

"They get married, have kids, get a good job and get back into society - there's nothing more rewarding." But she has also seen the other side. "A lot of it has to do with control. They are very narcissistic, they don't care who they hurt, as long as they can please themselves," Pla said. 

We set out to ask them for themselves. After knocking on several doors, some convicted sex offenders told us to get off their property, others chose to tell their story. 

"It involved me and my stepdaughter. She told her mom I was molesting her friend, but I was just fixing her bra."  This man spent decades in prison. He was convicted in 1981 for sexual conduct with a minor then again in 2001, for the attempted molestation of a child. 

I asked, "Do you think you're a danger to children?  He replied, "I have grandkids. No!"

The Yuma County Sheriff's Department has listed him as level three, meaning he's been deemed the highest risk to re-offend - yet after serving his time, he is now a free man. "I don't really care what the public thinks, because I don't have to answer to the public."

He took part in sex offender rehabilitation programs while in prison - that he says did help - possibly even shed light on a motive,  sharing with me, he was molested by his father, starting at just four years old. He says he endured that torture another 12 years.  "I assumed the same mindset, my core beliefs got warped." 

Statistics show it is indeed often someone you know. "94% of the time, it's a family member,"  Dianne Umphress said, who started the family advocacy center, Amberly's Place in Yuma, 20 years ago. She said, "We have five sexual assault nurse examiners on call 24-7. The youngest victim we've had was just four months." And the oldest to date - 85 years old. 

In the first year, Amberly's Place saw 48 victims come forward - now, they help about 2,500 people each year.  And still sexual assault is the most under-reported crime; one in six women have a story to tell. "Seeing broken people come in here, and they leave not quite so broken, that's where my passion comes from," Umphress added. 

Her motivation also comes from a murder that remains a mystery today. "Amberly was a young girl, she was murdered in her own home and sexually assaulted in 1996," Umphress said.  

It was around the time, Dianne was building a safe haven for victims of abuse, to have a place to come forward and get help. She was given the blessing of Amberly Mendoza's mother. Since then, Amberly's name, story, and legacy have helped change the lives of thousands of now survivors. "Even when the worst thing happens, there's life after abuse. You can survive. You can still have a happy life," Umphress said.  

Through this story, I learned silence is the biggest factor for why abuse continues. 

Again, Amberly's place statistics have stayed the same for 20 years, showing 99% of child sex offenders cannot be cured and often re-offend.

Police catch the predators, probation keeps an eye on them, so the change would really have to come in the form of a new law. I reached out to several lawmakers. Congressman Paul Gosar, (R) Arizona said, "It defies common sense that these offenders receive light sentences, and are often released into society when the data shows high risks of recidivism." He says he is looking for legislative solutions to 'hold these horrendous offenders accountable, and keep America's children safe.'

Representative Walter Blackman (R) Arizona, said in part, "There are some who believe we should include sex offenders as part of the criminal justice reform debate," but he says he can't support that.

And, Representative Tim Dunn (R) Arizona says "Longer prison sentences for violent, high-risk sex offenders are only a partial solution – there also needs to be cooperation at the state and local levels to ensure that resources exist to both reduce recidivism and keep our communities safe."

Those convicted of child sex abuse serve between five years to life in prison, then those released are on probation for ten years to life. "Sex offenders are not allowed to be released early. They have to serve their entire sentence," Pla said.  

Probation often includes drug and alcohol tests and random - surprise check-ins. We just happened to be there for one. Officers showed up, as we were door knocking.  Registered sex offenders are also required to hand over the passwords to every electronic. The internet opens up your child, to a world of sexual predators. 

Megan's Law:  - if you're in California and Lexis Nexis:  - if you're in Arizona are websites, that show you just how many sex offenders may be living in your area. It's as simple as typing in your address - you'll be able to see pictures and read about each case. 

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Jenny Day

You can catch Jenny Day anchoring KYMA News 11 at 5, 6, and 10 p.m. weekdays.


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