The supplemental blogroll of nominees for the Annual Shiitake Awards, which spotlights the dumbest sex offender-related stories of the year. The Shiitake Awards is a project of Once Fallen Productions. For a full description of the Shiitake Awards and its mission, or to learn how to submit a nominee, click on the "About the Shiitake Awards" tab. If you are easily offended and need trigger warnings, you are in the wrong place.
The economy must be on an upswing, because there is apparently money to invest in new pork barrel projects. And nothing says pork more than a million dollar wall built out of fear that people going to the Des Moines Zoo might see a sex offender *gasp* in a minimum security facility next door. Wasn't this on an episode of South Park once?
Iowa Department of Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta talks with Carly Millsap, residential supervisor at the Fort Des Moines Correctional Complex, near the 10-foot chain-ink fence that separates the correctional facility and the Blank Park Zoo. The barrier also includes an earthen berm that blocks sight of offenders outside the complex. / justin hayworth/register photos
Construction is nearly finished on a barrier costing almost $900,000 that will separate sex offenders housed at Fort Des Moines from patrons at the Blank Park Zoo.
The barrier includes a landscaped earthen berm and a 10-foot fence topped with barbed wire that is being built in conjunction with a new zoo entrance on Des Moines’ south side.
The Iowa Legislature appropriated $1 million in state funding for the barrier two years ago after rescinding $18 million to construct a new community correctional facility northeast of Des Moines where sex offenders were scheduled to be transferred. The Fort Des Moines Correctional Complex currently houses 275 offenders, including 17 convicted of sex crimes and four serving time for murder or manslaughter.
Mark Vuckovich, the zoo’s chief executive officer, said he’s pleased the barrier is almost completed as early spring crowds begin arriving to enjoy the zoo. Last year the zoo had 411,000 admissions, and officials hope to see attendance dramatically increase in the coming years with the addition of new exhibits.
“If you drive out here, you will see this is a fairly substantial fence,” Vuckovich said, adding that the earthen berm will generally prevent zoo patrons from seeing offenders mingling outside the Fort Des Moines complex. “The more that we can portray the safety and separation between us and them, the easier it is for us to get people to come here.”
Other new security includes surveillance cameras at the Fort Des Moines facility that will monitor areas surrounding the correctional facility, including the newly installed fence, said Iowa prison spokesman Fred Scaletta. The cameras will provide a video record if an incident occurs, he said.
The Blank Park Zoo, which opened in 1966, and the Fort Des Moines Correctional Complex, which opened in 1970, have coexisted for decades with relatively few conflicts. Many offenders work at regular jobs and reside at the facility under correctional supervision.
But some Des Moines south-side residents were outraged in 2009 after Michael McGill, a sex offender with a notorious record, was slated to be sent to Fort Des Moines. McGill, now 53, was subsequently assigned to Fort Des Moines, but he was quickly returned to prison after threatening to commit new sex crimes.
McGill testified at a parole revocation hearing before returning to prison that he had made several specific threats, including plans to rob a Wells Fargo Bank on Army Post Road in Des Moines. He claimed he would take a male bank customer hostage, have him drive to a secluded place and sexually assault him. McGill is currently in custody at the Oakdale state prison near Iowa City.
State Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said he sees the barrier as a short-term, stopgap measure to protect public safety until all offenders at Fort Des Moines can be moved to a new facility elsewhere. Although state prison officials have said they have no plans to shut down the Fort Des Moines complex if a new community correctional facility is built elsewhere in Polk County, McCoy said he wants the offenders completely out of the south-side neighborhood.
For now, though, McCoy said he’s happy with the new zoo entrance. He believes the newly installed fence will prevent offenders at Fort Des Moines from crossing through the zoo property.
“I don’t anticipate that we will have any problems,” McCoy said.
Roger Jorgenson, vice president of the Fort Des Moines neighborhood association, echoes McCoy’s arguments. He said he’s still uncomfortable having sex offenders and other convicts housed in a residential area, despite construction of the barrier.
“As soon as the door opens up over there they are allowed to roam the streets of Des Moines, putting it mildly,” Jorgenson said. “I am aware that some of them have jobs and are looking for work, but it seems like there is just too much accessibility to the neighborhood.”
So far, $872,000 in state money has been disbursed on the barrier project by the Iowa Department of Corrections, but the spending could go higher after all the bills are received, said Scaletta. The work is being administered by the city of Des Moines under a contract awarded to Larson & Larson Construction of Urbandale.