Now that they are up for re-election, RI House Democratic Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello and his close ally Sen. Hanna Gallo, also a Democrat, are posturing as forceful advocates for neighborhood safety in Cranston. But according to local advocates, they are spreading misinformation about sex offenders at the expense of sound public policy.
This was the central message of a press conference Carolyn Medeiros, executive director of the Alliance for Safe Communities, held yesterday in front of the Cranston City Hall building. She was joined by Jean Johnson, executive director of House of Hope, and the Republican candidates running to unseat Mattiello and Gallo in the General Assembly.
At issue, are some of the remarks Rep. Mattiello made during a Sept. 19 meeting of the Glen Woods Crime Prevention and Improvement organization. Instead of advancing meaningful reforms that would provide necessary services to the homeless and safeguard community interests, Rep. Mattiello fell back on incendiary and irresponsible rhetoric, Medeiros told listeners.
“This was a disgusting and obvious attempt to appeal to voters by preying upon the fears in our neighborhoods,” she said. “We are now faced with a lose-lose situation. Any discussion of moving sex offenders to a non-residential area has now ceased. Re-entry is coming, re-entry is happening, but it needs to be done in the right way.”
The Sept. 19 meeting included a “dual presentation” about crime in Cranston and the conditions within Harrington Hall, a homeless shelter for men located at the ACI prison facility, according to a press release from the Alliance.
“It is in the opinion of the Alliance that addressing crime rates in conjunction with sex offender issues and Harrington Hall were not synonymous but separate issues and should have been addressed accordingly,” the release said. “The obvious impact to the audience was heightened anxiety, worry, and stress. The separate issues blended together, causing only more animosity toward Harrington Hall’s current status.”
The Coalition for the Homeless attempted to make their case over “an angry and outspoken audience,” Medieros explained, but Rep. Mattiello “ran the meeting” and told residents that he was working with Sen. Gallo to prevent sex offenders, and other homeless individuals in Harrington, from being moved to the Gloria McDonald building, a nearby empty women’s prison.
House of Hope, which is based in Massachusetts, provides case management for hundreds of men each year at Harrington Hall. With 88 beds, it is the largest overflow shelter in Rhode Island, but the number beds are often not sufficient for the number of individuals who stay each night. The population within Harrington includes former inmates charged with sex offenses.
Jean Johnson, executive director of House of Hope, was sharply critical of Rep. Mattiello’s comments and ardently supports the idea of moving current residents of Harrington into the Gloria McDonald building. Harrington recently failed a state inspection and can no longer accommodate homeless individuals in need of service, she said.
“Harrington is an old gymnasium,” she explained. “We have no private space for the people who are part of our caseload, the Gloria McDonald building is much more suitable. But because of what Rep. Mattiello said at the meeting, we cannot expect to have any movement on this right now.”
Robert Lancia, a former Navy chaplain, is running as a Republican for the state Senate seat now occupied by Sen. Gallo in District 27. He recently did a tour of Harrington and agrees that it is in a “terrible condition” and views the Gloria McDonald House as a viable alternative.
Harrington failed inspection in part because of a leaky roof. The state has offered up $150,000 for repairs to the facility, but Lancia doubts that those funds will be sufficient to cover the necessary expenses.
Unfortunately, Harrington will continue to exist “inclusive of the vilified sex offender population placed there” Medeiros wrote in her press release. What is often overlooked, is that sex offenders are placed in the facility not by House of Hope, but by the State of Rhode Island, she added.
“If Mattiello is so concerned about sex offenders, why did he never introduce any legislation during the entire time he has been in office?” Medeiros asked during the press conference. “Where has he been all this time? And where is the news media on this? Why are they not here? Is Mattiello really that powerful?”
Medeiros also accused Rep. Mattiello and Sen. Gallo of “spreading misinformation” about sex offenders and the living conditions in Harrington Hall.
“Our political leaders are suppose to look out for our safety, but instead they are misinforming the community,” she said. “There should be accountability for this kind of miscommunication about Harrington Hall’s future. The accountability lies within those who were entrusted to represent their constituents with honesty and integrity. Rep. Mattiello and Sen. Gallo fell short of meeting this obligation and instead have used these issues as a platform for re-election.”
Other Republican candidates in attendance included Donald Gendron who is running for House seat in District 18. If elected, Gendron said he would be willing to favor legislation modeled after the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.