New changes in California’s residence policy concerning sex offenders has completely altered the stringency of its laws—according to data assembled by The Associated Press, “three-quarters of California's paroled sex offenders previously banned from living near parks, schools and other places where children congregate now face no housing restrictions.”
This is both shocking and inexplicable—new policies should ostensibly increase restrictions on housing, not dismantle them.
The state believed about half of the 5,900 convicted sex offenders would be exempt from housing bans following this change in policy, but the number is higher than expected: about 76 percent of offenders are now free to live wherever they want, surpassing voter-approved restrictions.
As Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison disconcertingly puts it, “A parole agent cannot simply prevent a parolee from living near a school or park because the offender committed a crime against a child.”
The decision made by the Supreme Court of California in March overrules the blanket ban on housing restrictions for sex offenders. Apparently, “justices found that blanket restrictions violate offenders' constitutional rights by making it difficult for them to find housing and other services, without advancing the state's goal of protecting children.” This makes little to no sense.
Voters overwhelmingly supported the ban nine years ago—70 percent voted in favor of Jessica’s Law (Proposition 83), which mandated that convicted offenders could not live within 2,000 feet of a school or place where children gather (such as a park), among other impositions, such as increased penalties and fewer opportunities for probation.
The public clearly felt more comfortable with such laws in place; the fact that the majority of sex offenders now have the freedom to live in proximity of children demonstrates the terrible consequences of the justices’ ruling.
The reasoning behind the ruling is watery and faulty—according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, most child molesters and offenders are related to or acquaintances of their victims. Thus, they apparently pose minimal risk to other children.
The new policy “requires a direct connection between where a parolee lives and the offender's crime or potential to reoffend. Only rarely is the assailant a stranger to the victim, the type of offender whose behavior might be affected by where he lives.”
The department examined the criminal backgrounds of all current parolees, and determined a measly 1,400 of the 5,900 were still held to the housing ban.
Nina Salarno, executive director of Crime Victims United of California, succinctly summarizes the situation as, "a pretty dramatic reduction in numbers, so that's scary. That's scary for victims."
Officials are not content to let this potentially devastating new policy continue—Republican State Senator, Sharon Runner, is attempting to pass legislation that will allow individual counties to determine whether they want to impose the 2,000 foot ban.
Banner Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Bill Whittaker