HOXIE, AR (KAIT) – Law enforcement, parents and education officials told Region 8 News Tuesday they are concerned over a so-called loophole in Arkansas state law which permits registered sex offenders to live near schools and daycares. According to the Hoxie Police Department, convicted sex offenders who move from states like Illinois can virtually live wherever they want until they are given a classification by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. That's because convicts from Illinois are not given a classification, therefore the Arkansas law preventing level 3 and 4 offenders from living near schools and daycare is temporarily useless.
"We've got a sex offender who has moved into Hoxie. He's moved by a local daycare," said Glen Smith, Hoxie Police Chief. "He's got to go to Pine Bluff to get his stuff done down there that they do. We don't know what level he is right now."
Smith said Michael Cowart of Rockford, Illinois moved into a home on Lindsey Street in Hoxie Monday. The daycare is on the corner of Lindsey and Lawrence.
He was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse of a 14-year old girl and sentenced to 18 months in state prison. He was released and placed on probation after his sentence. Smith said Cowart violated his probation and served another six months in prison.
Cowart has not been given a classification by the state of Arkansas and until he is, Smith said he can live wherever he chooses.
"We just don't know what he is right now and these parents don't know what he is. The other problem is that he can live wherever until he goes down to see what level he's going to be," said Smith. "The daycare is concerned because they got a lot of children there and also that road there on Lindsey Street where it's at, there are a lot of school kids that use that coming back and forth to school and back to home. A lot of kids walk that street."
Smith said a change needs to be made in Arkansas law to close the gap in time.
"If they're coming out of another state and they don't have levels, I think that before they move here they should have to go through this same screening we have at Pine Bluff and we're not sitting here in limbo waiting to see what level he's going to be," said Smith.
When convicted sex offenders are released from the Arkansas Department of Corrections, they are already classified as one of four categories.
"They've already got what level they're going to be. They have testing to do in the penitentiary and they've got to make a certain class before they can get out," said Smith.
Parents and daycare officials also said a change needs to be made in state law.
"Anytime that there is a level of danger that has been brought to my attention that could possibly put my children in harm's way, we immediately go into double alert," said Beverly Wright, Director of the Memory Layne Daycare and Learning Center. "Whether he's a one, two, three or four, I need to know that sooner than two weeks just to ease my mind and my parents' minds."
Smith told Region 8 News police will patrol Lindsey more often to make sure children in the area are safe.
Wright said the daycare is licensed to care for 60 children from six weeks to six years old.
"I think the state needs to speed up. When somebody moves in, they have a record. Two weeks is a long time when they're in my back door and I have 55 children," said Wright. "I had to let my parents know. They were very understanding. They support me 100 percent. They know that I'm trying to keep their children safe."
"My parents who have trusted me for years and have no trust issues with me or my staff, they may drop their kids off with a little bit of concern," said Wright.
"This is not a joke. I'm not trying to cause a panic. I'm not trying to panic. I just want everybody to know that I have a concern. I'm serious. Just don't make it two weeks," said Wright.