Faced with an overall 2,640 percent increase of convicted sex offenders living in the county over the last 11 years, the Newton County Sheriff's Office opted to designate the Cornerstone Lodge an official living space for said convicts.
But with a growing number of families being forced to live long term at the lodge, some citizens are concerned about the possible interaction of offenders and children.
"That's like hiring a person on a diet at Dunkin' Donuts," said Thomas Hilton, a Social Circle educator.
Hilton said he personally knew a family with four young children that had to move into the Lodge because of financial difficulties.
Through some online research, Hilton found that eight registered sex offenders resided at the Lodge. He informed the family of the situation, but is afraid others living there do not know who their neighbors are.
NCSO Lt. Ezell Brown said anyone can find out where every sex offender lives in Newton County by visiting the NCSO's Web site. Those without Internet access can also view a hard copy list of the offenders and their location at the sheriff's office.
"It's unfortunate that someone would have to live in a way that is not traditional to society, but it is great that there is somewhere like that where they can stay," Brown said of the families living at the Lodge.
Hilton still does not think this system is good enough to protect visiting families.
"If you were just traveling into town, would you bother to
check the sex offender registry of everywhere you might be staying?" Hilton said. "I would think probably not."
Brown said the owners of the Lodge were under no legal obligation to report to tenants that registered sex offenders were staying in the hotel. Most people, Brown said, know that some sort of offender lives at the Lodge because he and other NCSO employees check in on the convicts periodically.
The management of the Cornerstone Lodge was unavailable for comment as of press time.
Of the eight sex offenders currently living at the Lodge, five have been convicted of aggravated child molestation. The other three have been convicted of lewd lascivious act in presence of a child, lewd lascivious on a child and statutory rape.
"These are not simple crimes," Hilton said. "It's not like they can heal you from that."
The Lodge was chosen for number of reasons, including its proximity to the sheriff's office, the abundance of surveillance cameras and because living there does not violate any housing restrictions placed on the convicts, Brown said.
Under Georgia law, convicted sex offenders cannot live or loiter within a 1,000 feet of any child care facility, church, school or area where minors congregate. These areas include all public and private parks and recreation facilities, playgrounds, skating rinks, neighborhood centers, gymnasiums, school bus stops and public and community swimming pools.
Hilton points out the Lodge is close to the City Pond Park and a bus stop on Alcovy Road, but both are more than 1,000 feet away.
For most of the sex offenders currently living at the Lodge, their stay will be brief, Brown said. The Lodge has traditionally been used by those just leaving jail and who are unable to locate a more permanent address.
Once a sex offender is release from incarceration, they must register with the NCSO within 72 hours. Brown said many of the offenders must also register with the probation and probate officers.
The three agencies work together to keep a close eye on the convicts.
"We have a great rapport with these offices," Brown said. "We were one of the first in the state to really try and work together with these other agencies."
The offenders must register with all agencies anytime they change their address or job and when they purchase a new car or phone.
"Generally anything that is going to change their status, we need to know about," Brown said.
This is where most of the problems concerning the offenders come from. Brown said they only infrequently relapse into sexually deviant behavior, but some have a difficult time following the reporting rules.
Currently there are nine offenders in Newton County who have not reported their locations to the NCSO. These include Rodney Feltman, Pito Frazier, Bernard Gibson, Bobby Kelly, Michael Leone, Charles Okelley, Henry Reeves, Arthur Stapp and Dexter Victor.
"We urge citizens to keep us abreast of any unusual activities around sex offenders," Brown said.
There are currently 132 registered sex offenders in Newton County, which is sharp increase over the 70 in 2005 and the five in 1995. Brown said the number grows every day and does not include the 50 or so Newton County residents who are currently incarcerated for sex crimes in other counties around Georgia.
Anyone with questions or concerns about registered sex offenders in the county should call Brown at (678) 625-1415 or visit the NCSO Web site at watchsystems.com/ga/Newton/.