Sex offenders living in tents in woods on Westside

Published On: Apr 04 2014 05:36:36 PM EDT
Updated On: Apr 04 2014 06:40:00 PM EDT

VIDEO: A sex offender lives in this tent city on the Westside.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Joevetie Franklin was just released from prison Tuesday for violating his probation. He was originally arrested in 1991 for rape.

Now he's wearing an ankle monitor and his arms are covered in bug bites because he's been living in the dirt, not even in a tent.

"My back is killing me. I don't sleep because I sit up," Franklin said. "I don't want anyone to walk up on me."

He said his probation officer directed him to the area in the 5400 block of West Beaver Street on the Westside.

"I said, 'Well, I see a little place across the street from the village with some tents outside. You're not talking about that?'" Franklin said. "And she said, 'Yes.' And I said, 'You can't be serious.'"

The village across the street is called The Courts, which houses sex offenders, charging them $110 a week. The owners have been there 50 years and used to just rent the houses out to families. In the last three years, they started renting them out to sex offenders to give them a place to live away from schools and day cares. But it's full, and many of the sex offenders don't have jobs, so they live in tents in the woods.

Angelia Harden, Franklin's god-sister, visited him, and when she saw the living situation, she flipped out.

"People put their dogs in the bed, and those are not dogs, they're human beings," Harden said.

"It's put me in the same situation I was in before, and the triggers are coming back and it's kind of hard," Franklin said.

ONLINE DATATBASE:  Search for sexual offenders/predators by ZIP code

The Courts property owner said the sex offenders are legally allowed to live in tents in the woods because "it's at an address that fits a criteria. They have to be so many feet away from schools, bus stops, everything."

Sex offenders have to be 1,000 feet away and predators 2,500 feet away from schools, bus stops and day cares, which is why many of them live there.

The manager, who didn't want to be identified, said many wear monitoring devices and are constantly checked on.

"They keep on them and make sure they are where their address is registered at," the manager said. "Even if it's a tent. They will check on them religiously."

"The people are not dogs, and I don't think that's fair to the people," Harden said.

She said Franklin was better off in prison.

"At least he was getting a warm meal, a decent place to stay," Harden said. "He had to come home to take a bath and then came back, and he was so dirty when he came there."

"You subject yourself to so much stuff in there, and then you come out here and it's worse," Franklin said. "It's worse out here."

The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed 11 released inmates live at the address, though it appears more do.

Those in the area, mostly business owners, say they don't seem to mind it too much. They said it brings more security to the area because police are constantly patrolling it. One business owner left a sleeping bag out there in the winter.

Channel 4 asked more questions about the sex offender camp Friday night after learning that at least 13 sex offenders, who are monitored, are living in tents off West Beaver Street.

Former prosecutor Richard Kuritz told Channel 4 he’s not surprised by the story.

“It is basically an address. The Sheriff’s Office can drive by and check it. Your probation officer can go by and find a place you call home, it could be a tent, it could be a hammock,” said Kuritz.

Kuritz told Channel 4 that the area is likely zoned to allow sex offenders because there isn’t a church or daycare nearby. If, by chance, one was ever built, the sex offenders living on the land would be grandfathered in and allowed to stay.

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