Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sex offender law is making them more dangerous

Jessica's law, the initiative voters approved as Proposition 83 in 2006, severely restricts where sex offenders can live and requires that they be monitored with global positioning devices for life. But the law is not working as intended. In fact, members of an expert panel assembled to monitor the law say it may be increasing the danger that sex offenders pose to the public.

California's Sex Offender Management Board reports that since the law took effect 15 months ago, the number of registered sex offenders who say they are homeless has increased from 2,000 to 2,879, a 44 percent jump.

"I see homelessness as increasing overall risk to public safety," Tom Tobin, the board's vice chairman, told the Los Angeles Times last month. Homelessness removes offenders from their families and support systems and increases the chance they will commit new crimes.

Tobin put it another way in an interview with National Public Radio: "I would rather know where a sex offender lives and be able to find him when I need to than having him homeless and transient and having no idea where he is."

No one should be surprised at what's occurring. The law, which bars offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school -- including home schools -- is so restrictive that it makes virtually any urban neighborhood, where ex-convicts are most likely to find affordable housing, off limits.

The measure also costs the cash-strapped state $20 million annually to enforce. About $8 million goes for global positioning devices to track ex-offenders, and more than $12 million is for parole agents to keep tabs on them. The law was so sloppily drafted that no one knows who is supposed to monitor the offenders once they finish parole and are released from state jurisdiction. Local governments can't afford it any more than the state.

Before California voters enacted this law, criminal prosecutors in other states where the same concept had been tried warned that it would make things worse, not better.

But the politicians who put Jessica's law on the ballot wouldn't listen, and now they are scrambling to find ways to amend it.

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