- By J.D. Capelouto The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Two of the ZIP codes with the highest number of registered sex offenders per resident both fall in Fulton County — one in the heart of downtown Atlanta, and the other an industrial strip of businesses near I-20 and Six Flags, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
More than 21,000 offenders live in Georgia, according to the analysis, which pulled data from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s public sex offender registry. The public can use an interactive map tool created by the AJC to search their own ZIP code and learn how many registered sex offenders live there.
“It’s really important to have good information to give law enforcement, so we can try our best to have that information well-documented and accessible to any jurisdiction,” said Captain Hector Caballero of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, “and the public for viewing, as well.”
Almost 4,000 people on the registry had been released from prison but have since been taken back into custody in Georgia. They were not included in the analysis.
30336, on the west side of the county, had the highest rate of sex offenders in the state — 6.1 percent of its 522 residents are registered as sex offenders (32 total), according to the registry.
The other ZIP code, 30303, had a higher raw number of registered sex offenders (around 100), but a lower per-capita rate. About 17 out of every 1,000 residents there are registered sex offenders, the data showed.
When released from prison, sex offenders are legally required to register in person with the sheriff of the county where they reside, according to the GBI. They must provide the specific location for where they live – sometimes down to the room number.
The AJC’s analysis used GBI data for July, and the location of sex offenders in Georgia is subject to change at any time. Whenever they move, they are required to update their address with the sheriff’s office, according to the GBI.
A tale of two ZIPs
30336 is made up of a thin strip of mostly industrial land that begins at Fulton County Airport and goes southwest, spanning Fulton Industrial Boulevard and its surrounding streets for about eight miles. It has many businesses and large buildings, but not as many residential homes. It is adjacent to Six Flags Over Georgia.
30303, the core of downtown Atlanta, begins around Baker Street and goes south, along the downtown connector to Interstate 20. It includes Underground Atlanta, Philips Arena, Five Points and parts of Centennial Olympic Park.
Issues related to homelessness and access to affordable housing, as well as legal restrictions for offenders, could explain why more sex offenders are clustered in these areas.
Almost all registered sex offenders in 30336 live in so-called “budget motels,” inexpensive rooms for longer stays.
Many of the offenders in 30303 live in affordable transitional homes, or other centers that provide specialized support and services for residents, according to the registry.
Fulton County, specifically downtown Atlanta, has several of these centers, which is one of the possible reasons it has a relatively high number of offenders per capita, Caballero said.
“If other counties don’t have those types of programs, those types of facilities, they can’t live there,” he said.
Several sex offenders in 30303 live at the Welcome House, which provides affordable, often long-term housing and other services for people struggling with finding a place to live.
“We house the people here in Atlanta that are the hardest to serve,” said Synithia Smith, the operations manager of the company that oversees the Welcome House. “We are all for giving second chances, third chances, whatever we can do to make sure that individual has a chance at life.”
Sex offenders there are treated the same way as any other resident, Smith said. Several who are still living at the Welcome House have been there for more than eight years, she said.
While many offenders struggle with finding a place they can legally live after serving a sentence, the Welcome House does not discriminate against them because “everyone deserves housing,” Smith said. As long as the offender gets approval from the sheriff’s office, they can stay there, she said.
More than 20 offenders in 30303 listed their address as homeless.
Sex offenders who are homeless are still on the registry and required to provide the location for where they sleep.
But the factor that most impacts where offenders live, Caballero said, is the law. The date of the offender’s crime affects where the person can live and work in relation to where children may be, according to Georgia law.
The more recent the offense, the stricter the restrictions. The most stringent rules do not allow offenders to live within 1,000 feet of any child care facility, school, church, park, playground, gym, school bus stop and more, according to the GBI. 30336 and several portions of downtown Atlanta do not have many of these facilities.
Sometimes, Caballero said, offenders will come to the sheriff’s office to register their address, but it will be denied due to their restrictions.
“Most individuals, they fail to understand that based to the law, and based on when the sex offender commits the crime, whether they can and cannot live there,” he said.
Though not legally required, he said, Fulton County officers verify that every address is a legitimate location, and do “routine” checks that the offender is still living there.
“We actually go out there,” he said. “We speak with the individuals living there, we work with probation and parole.”