Friday, 12 July 2024

State contacts sex offenders living too close to parks, schools

LAKE COUNTY – Court challenges to a new law adding restrictions to where sex offenders can live are now resolved, allowing the state to move forward with notifying more than 2,700 offenders of their need to move.  {sidebar id=7}


Jessica's Law, passed last November by California voters as Proposition 83, makes it illegal for sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of schools or parks, according to Bill Sessa, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


California's version of Jessica's Law is based on a Florida law called the Jessica Lunsford Act, named for a girl raped and murdered by a previously convicted sex offender.


Sessa said prior to Jessica's Law, sex offenders were restricted from living 2,000 feet or a quarter mile from schools, but the new law adds the restriction with regard to parks.


Since the law passed, Sessa said between 5,500 and 6,000 sex offenders have been released from state prison and placed on parole, which normally lasts three years. Of those, more than 2,700 received notices that they would be required to move.


Sessa said the 2,700 in question were in parole supervision and were housed according to the old restrictions as the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation awaited the outcome of the court challenges to the law. And not all of them committed offenses involving children, he added.


Sessa emphasized that the parolees in question weren't without supervision and that they weren't knowingly breaking the law. He said they knew eventually they would have to move.


The courts decided that it was unconstitutional to apply the law retroactively, but that only parolees released from prison after the law passed would be affected.


Once the court hurdles were cleared, Sessa said parole officers went to each individual address and, using a handheld global positioning (GPS) unit, measured the distance in a straight line from the residence to the nearest school or park. If the parolee lived within 2,000 feet they were immediately handed a move notice.


"When we gave them the notice to move it was not a big surprise to any of them," he said.


Sessa said parole agents went back to another 2,000 sex offenders to double-check that their living conditions also were in compliance.


Good news for Lake County


Among those 2,700 paroled sex offenders monitored by the state, none live in Lake County, said Sessa.


In addition, on the local level, county Chief Probation Officer Steve Buchholz said his department hasn't had to send out any notices to sex offenders they monitor that a move is required.


He added, "We have a relatively low number of sex offenders on our case load."


Sessa explained that the state monitors only a fraction of convicted sex offenders living in California. "We only supervisor about one out of every 10 sex offenders in the state," he said.


That doesn't count people currently on probation from county jail, which is the responsibility of Buchholz's staff.


"We've had some people who have lived too close to schools but we've dealt with that,” he said.


There are a significant number of sex offenders required to register in Lake County, said Buchholz; the Megan's Law Web site reports there are currently 197 living locally.


Recidivism rate is low


Sessa said the rate of sex offenders who reoffend is "actually quite low."


He explained, "Generally speaking, sex offenders know their victim." When offenders are prosecuted, that relationship is uncovered and cut off, he said.


All sex offenders on parole have more stringent restrictions and intense supervision than other state parolees, said Sessa, plus the longest list of requirements to follow.


Corrections and Rehabilitation staff use a clinical screening tool designed to measure the propensity of violence in men in order to categorize offenders based on their likelihood to reoffend.


"Out of 10,000 sex offender parolees that we supervise at any given time, about 2,500 generally are in the high risk category," said Sessa.


That 25 percent of offenders get more intense supervision using "the containment model," said Sessa.


That involves hemming them in on two or three different sides using mandatory treatment, curfews and other special parole conditions connected to the crime, said Sessa.


Corrections and Rehabilitation also uses polygraph testing, said Sessa, and, in some cases, monitor offenders with GPS systems that set off an alarm if they go where they shouldn't.


A 146-page report titled “No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US,” released this month by Human Rights Watch, challenges the notion that measures like Jessica's Law do any good.


The report points to low recidivism rates and suggests that sex offender registration and residency laws do more harm than good. The limited research to date, the report suggests, shows that child molesters who reoffend are as likely to victimize children found far away as those living close by.


Report author Sarah Toffe stated, “Politicians didn't do their homework before enacting these sex offender laws. Instead they have perpetuated myths about sex offenders and failed to deal with the complex realities of sexual violence against children.”


For more information, visit www.meganslaw.ca.gov or www.83yes.com. For the Human Rights Watch report go to http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/09/06/usdom16819.htm.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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