- For over a decade convicted sex offenders have found a safe haven at the Palace Mobile Home Park in St. Petersburg, Florida
- The mobile park initially was a mix of sex offenders and regular residents but slowly transitioned into sex offender housing
- Sex offenders at the Palace receive therapy and those running the mobile park believe they are given a second chance at life
While most people would hope sex offenders, pedophiles, and rapists stayed behind bars their entire lives the reality is more often than not they are released back into the public without any evidence of being truly reformed. Life as a convicted sex offender is not easy and commonly leads to homelessness around the country do requirements related to housing after serving their time. However, there is one mobile park in St. Petersburg, Florida that at any given time over 100 sex offenders call home.
The Palace Mobile Home Park
As of 2016, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found there were upwards of 800,000 sex offenders in the United States. The Palace Mobile Home Park houses over 100 convicted sex offenders at any given point of time. According to the Palace website, the mobile home park offers “A support structure that encourages the rapid reintroduction to be a productive member of society.” The residents range in age from 25 to 91-years-old and their crimes range from possession of child pornography to high-risk offenders convicted for sexually abusing children or rape. Despite their age or crime, the Palace offers sex offenders a safe haven from a world that could care less about their well-being.
Pervert Paradise Or A Place For Reform
The mobile home park was not initially intended to house only sex offenders but since the early 2000s it began heading in that direction. A pervert paradise, if you will, where offenders can live without fear of judgment from their immediate neighbors. In 2007, out of the park’s 200 residents, 95 were reported to be convicted sex offenders. Depending on who you ask, Nancy Morais—who’s son is a convicted sex offender—is either praised or condemned for turning the Palace into a community for convicted sex offenders. Morais started Florida Justice Transitions INC, a company that provided low-cost housing and other services for convicted sex offenders. It was when Morais was managing the park that she began offering services for sex offenders. Some residents were angered as they were given no notice the majority of their neighbors were becoming convicted sex offenders. Today the Palace exists solely for convicted sex offenders.
Some believe the park is beneficial for ensuring sex offenders do not re-offend. While the rate of residents at the Palace committing a new sexual crime is impressively low, the Palace still has its problems. The Palace is typically riddled with drug addiction and prostitution. Helping the offenders is therapist Don Sweeney, who has committed his life to rehabilitate sex offenders. Sweeney ran group therapy sessions at the Palace for years although it is not clear if he is currently. In 2008 Sweeney said he believed offenders “feel safe” at the Palace. “They don’t have to worry about vigilantism, people hating them, putting them down,” Sweeney told the Orlando Sentinel. In a 2016 interview Sweeney went into detail on why he does what he does and explained issues within the prison system of dismissing the idea of rehabilitating sex offenders.
How Often Do Sex Offenders Reoffend
While some may be mortified by the idea of giving convicted sex offenders a community to live in and treating them as you would any other former inmate, there is some backing to Morais and Sweeney’s logic. According to data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) sex offenders are less likely to be arrested than other released prisoners. On that same note, sex offenders who do return to prison are more likely to be guilty of another rape or sexually deviant crime. During a nine-year study, 67 percent of released sex offenders were less likely to be arrested for any crime compared to 84 percent of other released prisoners. A 2003 study from the BJS showed 43 percent of released sex offenders were arrested compared to 68 percent arrested of other released prisoners. However, the BJS also found that 7.7 percent of released sex offenders were re-arrested on sex crime charges compared to only 2.3 percent of other prisoners. While sex offenders only account for 5 percent of the population released from prison in 2005, they accounted for 16 percent of the arrests for sexual assault or rape in the following nine years.
Many argue the alternative to sexual offender communities such as the Palace is far worse, specifically in Florida. In Miami-Dade County it was found many sexual offenders end up homeless due to problems finding housing. The Lauren Book Child Safety Ordinance bans individuals convicted of certain sex crimes from living within 2,500 feet of a school. Lauren Book was sexually abused by a family nanny and later became an advocate for tougher penalties for individuals convicted of sex crimes involving a minor. The ordinance puts the most populated areas of Miami-Dade off-limits to live in for many sex offenders. Violating the ordinance can result in a $1,000 fine, up to 364 days in jail, or both.
Sex Offenders And Homelessness
In 2014, seven homeless sex offenders sued Miami-Dade County over the ordinance. The case was brought forward with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Florida. Legal Services of Greater Miami and attorney Valerie Jonas later joined in litigating the suit with the allegation that the ordinance resulted in hundreds of people being made homeless. The ACLU argued to the U.S. District Court in Miami in October 2018 the residency restrictions were punitive and a violation of the Constitution. The key argument being the punishment was enacted after their conviction and was not a reasonable civil remedy to a public safety concern. On December 18, 2018, U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck upheld the ordinance. Huck wrote in his order the ordinance was “rationally connected to the non-punitive purpose of protecting children from sex offenders.”
The Court concludes that the Ordinance’s residency restriction is rationally connected to the non-punitive purpose of protecting children from sex offenders.U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck
Without any surprise, the Palace has been at the center of a lot of controversy and multiple reports from media outlets and documentaries. In 2013 a short film called “The Palace” was made. The short documentary talks to several residents of the Palace, including the founder Morais. In the short film, Morais claims that by giving sex offenders a “little bit of dignity” comes “success.”
In 2016 a full-length documentary titled “Pervert Park” was released. The documentary won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award at Sundance. At the time a legal dispute between Jeff Shadowens, the landlord who owns Palace Mobile Home Park, and Florida Justice Transitions threatened the future of the park. Shadowens claimed the company owed over $16,000 for unpaid rent on several trailers. In an interview with WTSP Shadowens said regardless of Morais and the Florida Justice Transitions being forced out the tenants would not have anything to worry about.
Shadowens stayed true to his word. Florida Justice Transitions left the Palace years ago but the mobile park continues to provide convicted sex offenders with a place to live and therapy. At the top of the Palace website a disclaimer reads, “We are not affiliated with Florida Justice Transitions. At one time, they owned some units in the Park. That is no longer the case.” It is not clear if Florida Justice Transitions still operates as their website times out when loading and there appears to be no current contact information.