Florida's Miracle Park offers safe haven for sex offenders

A minister in Florida has been reaching out via leaflets at prisons and inmate sermons to build a new post-incarceration community. For sex offenders.

It's an interesting idea, as sex offenders notoriously find it difficult to integrate with society after being released from prison. Former inmates convicted of sex crimes are barred from residing near schools and daycares, and find gainful employment difficult, making them more likely to re-offend. Richard Witherow, the minister behind the initiative, hopes to improve that statistic with his sex offender safe haven.

But not everyone is so hopeful about Miracle Park. Residents in nearby Pahokee are scared and angry about the huge number of sex offenders now living peacefully just a few miles from their town. Pahokee Mayor Wayne Whitaker calls the presence of the community "very, very risky" and fears the number of predators located in one concentrated place. The park has even come under fire for discriminatory housing practices, as families with children (somewhat understandably) have been driven out for safety reasons.

However, the men who are saved from living under a bridge in Miami are grateful for the opportunity to get their lives back on track:

"Society sees us as lepers, like rejects," said Louis Aponte, who moved into Miracle Park three months ago from the nearby Glades Correctional Institution after serving almost nine years for attempted sexual battery on a young female family member.

"I don't know where I'd be without it, probably living with my family, but that would be tough," he said.