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California Sex Offenders Uprooted by New Restrictive Residency Law

California?s pernicious ?Jessica?s Law,? overwhelmingly approved by voters on November 7, 2006 as a result of Proposition 83, restricts certain paroled sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school, park or other areas where children are present. As of December 2007, the law was being enforced against 5,669 parolees; it is not being applied retroactively following a February 9, 2007 federal district court ruling. See: Doe v. Schwarzenegger, 476 F.Supp.2d 1178 (E.D. Cal. 2007) [PLN, July 2007, p.27].

On September 11, 2007, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), through its parole agents, gave sex offenders in violation of the law 45 days notice to move or face arrest and re-imprisonment. Four affected parolees who objected took the matter to the California Supreme Court, and in December 2007 were granted stays pending that court?s review of the issue. However, the Court refused to defer enforcement for other parolees, suggesting instead that their remedy (if any) was, in the first instance, at the Superior Court level. See: E.J. on Habeas Corpus, California Supreme Court, Case No. S156933, and related cases.

A two-month delay in implementing the residency ?sweep? was due to the CDCR having to reach an agreement with its 2,800 parole agents relative to increased workload and overtime for notifying and monitoring affected sex offenders. The agents use Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to track the offenders to ensure enforcement. According to the Los Angeles Times the GPS tracking initiative faces a variety of challenges, including problems with monitoring sex offenders who are no longer on parole or probation; a lack of penalties for offenders who refuse to comply; and the practicality of lifetime monitoring for so many offenders.

Then there is the cost ? an estimated $90 million annual price tag for tracking 9,000 sex offenders. The GPS devices cost $2,500 each, but rather than buying them the state is renting them for $8.50 a day, or more than $3,102 a year, which is hardly cost effective.

Beyond issues related to GPS monitoring, the residency restrictions have been devastating. Many parolees were living in housing arranged by their parole agents before the law went into effect. Charles Butler, 61, was one of 15 sex offenders comfortably ensconced at Pete?s Place, a halfway house in Sacramento. But under Jessica?s Law all 15 suddenly had to move because there was a senior center two blocks away that had a playground for children. ?It didn?t occur to me, when you?re living where they put you and where they?re paying your rent,? that it was not a legal residence, said the surprised Butler when he was ?discovered? to be in violation of the law after the CDCR conducted location reviews.

The solution ranges from difficult to near-impossible. For example, if sex offenders are paroled to the compact City and County of San Francisco, they may only live in a narrow area near AT&T Park (the baseball field), which is a high-rent area inconsistent with most parolees? budgets.

Ross Wollschlager, 44, a repeat sexually violent predator, was paroled from Atascadero State Hospital, a mental health facility, in August 2007 after a court ordered him released. But he was bounced out of one Ventura County hotel after another as his identity was discovered. He was forced by the 2,000-foot residency restriction to make a campsite in a riverbed and shuttle to a friend?s house each day. A state-paid security guard sits in a vehicle nearby and monitors him. Wollschlager wears both GPS and alcohol-abuse ankle devices. After seventeen months, Department of Mental Health personnel are still trying to find a place for him to live that complies with Jessica?s Law. His public defender states that Wollschlager is committed to turning his life around despite being treated like a leper.

In San Luis Obispo County, parolee Frederick Hoffman has arranged to live in a trailer near a military training camp upon his release. A sex offender identified only as R.L. who resided near Disneyland said he asked his parole agent where he should live and was told, ?You have a car, don?t you?? Last year, sexual predator Timothy Boggs was chased from motel to motel in Sacramento County until a bail bondsman gave him shelter in his office.

An increasing number of sex offenders have declared themselves homeless in an attempt to avoid onerous monitoring requirements, though they still must comply with the restrictions of Jessica?s Law. There has been a 27 percent rise in homelessness among registered sex offenders since the law took effect, with the number of homeless offenders increasing to 2,622 by October 2007.

Charles Butler has more options if he moves to Sacramento County, but most require him to live in outlying areas that have fewer job opportunities and lack public transportation. In short, his ability to reintegrate into the community ? the ostensible objective to ensure public safety ? is in tension with the public?s endless raving hatred for sex offenders even after they have served their time. Indeed, the pressure that Jessica?s Law puts on paroled sex offenders is likely to result in their costly re-incarceration or drive them to abscond ? neither of which is in the public?s best interest.

?We could potentially be making the world more dangerous rather than less dangerous,? stated Gerry Blasingame, the former chairman of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending.

Sources: Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, USA Today, Contra Costa Times

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Related legal case

E.J. on Habeas Corpus