by John E. Dannenberg
California's 2,000 "high-risk" sex offenders (HRSOs) currently on parole are increasingly being ostracized following relentless publicity as to their whereabouts, forcing parole officials to continuously find new housing for them after concerned citizens run them out of town.
An abrupt eviction of twelve HRSOs from a motel in Vallejo caused unprepared parole agents to temporarily house the "dirty dozen" on the grounds of nearby San Quentin State Prison in Marin County. The resulting NIMBY ("not in my backyard") brouhaha raised by conservative Marin County legislator Joe Nation led Governor Schwarzenegger to sacrificially fire Jim L?Etoile, director of the state's parole division, on May 10, 2006.
California has over 80,000 released sex offenders, 7,500 of whom are currently on parole. The whereabouts of all these ex-offenders (those required to register) are publicly available on the Internet. HRSOs get special publicity and monitoring, particularly if they were civilly committed as Sexually Violent Predators (SVPs) following the expiration of their prison sentences. SVPs are incarcerated by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) until they either "graduate" from a multi-year treatment program or simply wait for a court to release them. [See: PLN, Dec. 2006, p.20, How to Exit California's Sexual Predator Program: Refuse Treatment].
SVP "graduates" suffer the worst harassment of all, being relentlessly hounded by the media. The most recent "graduate," Timothy Boggs, was over-detained for a year by DMH because state parole authorities couldn't find any place in Sacramento County that would house him. In July 2006, frustrated Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald Tochterman ordered Boggs cut loose to find his own way in Sacramento. His cover at a local motel was blown the next day by the Sacramento Bee.
Housing for HRSOs has long proven problematic. In May 2006, 23 HRSOs who resided at hotels within 11 miles of Disneyland were evicted after state legislators said they were "displeased" with their otherwise legal location. In Solano County, displaced HRSOs were temporarily housed at a state parole office. Residential placement became much tougher on Jan. 1, 2006, when a new state law went into effect that prevented HRSOs from living within a half-mile of schools. Frustrated Solano County officials are contemplating buying a trailer and a plot of land on which to isolate HRSOs, drawing comparisons to the leper colonies of long ago.
To further complicate matters, Proposition 83, a ballot initiative for "Jessica's Law," was approved by California voters on November 7, 2006.
The law mandates lifetime Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking for certain sex offenders and further restricts where sex offenders can reside, prohibiting them from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks. The law was immediately challenged in federal court and has not yet been implemented. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, upon approving a temporary restraining order to block the law, stated it was "punitive by design and effect" and probably unconstitutional. See: Doe v. Schwarzenegger, USDC CD CA, Case No. 3:06-cv-06968-JSW (2006).
Regardless, politicians fell all over themselves in support of Proposition 83 in an attempt to garner votes, and even proposed their own version of the law before the ballot initiative passed. The issue was also raised in the gubernatorial race, with Gov. Schwarzenegger and challenger Phil Angelides engaging in get-tough-on-sex-offenders one-upmanship. Just as President Bush won the crucial state of Ohio in his 2004 re-election by appealing to radicals to put anti-gay measures on conservative rural county ballots to ensure a high turnout of conservative Republicans, California politicians stoked the fires of prejudice against convicted sex offenders to advance their personal political agendas and ambitions.
State parole administrator Jerome Marsh noted that the state ends up paying for sex offenders' housing to avoid the worse situation of them being homeless with no registered address. This has resulted in price gouging by opportunistic motels, which charge $200 one week, $300 the next and $350 the following week.
To make matters worse, as HRSOs are identified and "outed" when they move into a new town, local communities enact emergency restrictive regulations. Riverside County took such measures upon the arrival of repeat rapist David Dokich in 2005 -- the county passed a local ordinance barring HRSOs from living near schools, parks and recreation centers, and requiring them to wear GPS tracking devices. The Sacramento-area city of Elk Grove passed preemptive emergency regulations in anticipation of Timothy Boggs' arrival in their community.
Shirley Poe, a concerned state parole administrator for Solano County, observed "while I don't want to paint these guys as angels, they're still human beings." And University of California (Irvine) Professor Joan Petersilia, a nationally renowned parole expert, dismissed HRSO residency restrictions as giving the public "a false sense of security. ... We take this cookie-cutter approach to all sex offenders rather than focusing on those who are truly dangerous."
But when politics and public opinion are involved, the cookie-cutter approach often prevails. The future outlook is for continued vigilantism and more oppressive restrictions for HRSOs. Even federal lawmakers made political hay of this issue by enacting a national sex offender registry. [See: PLN, Oct. 2006, p.10].
Meanwhile, problems continue. On November 28, 2006 the Inspector General?s office for the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported it had uncovered a scheme by parole officials that involved shuffling sex offenders among different hotels every four days. This circumvented a requirement for sex offenders to register their address within five days of moving to a new residence. During this shuffling process at least seven sex offenders were housed close to schools in violation of state law. A cover-up by one of the four unnamed parole employees involved in the scheme was also alleged; three of the officials involved were reassigned, while one retired.
"These are sworn peace officers, deliberately moving these parolees around and then engaging in a conspiracy to cover it up," fumed Todd Spitzer, Chairman of the state's High-Risk Sex Offender Task Force. The hotel shuffling scheme was apparently to buy time to locate suitable housing for hard-to-place paroled sex offenders. "The housing issue is the giant void in this whole public policy area, and at this point nobody has good answers," admitted Spitzer. "The bottom line is: Nobody wants to live next door to a sex offender."
Sources: Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee
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