Wednesday, October 11, 2006

No, no, no, NO on Prop 83

California Proposition 83: Sex Offenders. Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring. (Initiative Statute)

Yet again, we are presented with a "tough on crime" measure that is ill-conceived, overly broad, and lacking in focus. I expect that Prop 83 will pass with a large majority, but that's a damned shame, because it's terrible legislation and a misguided public policy.

Read more...Prop 83 would ban all registered sex offenders (RSOs) from living within 2,000 feet (610m) of a school or park. In many of California's cities, there are no homes that are not within 2,000 feet of some school or park. NIMBYism aside, sex offenders have to live somewhere when they get out of jail. Current law keeps RSOs a minimum of ¼ mile (1,320 feet, or 402m) away from schools and parks, with "high-risk" RSOs a minimum of ½ mile (2,640 feet, or 804m) out. For RSOs who are not in the "high-risk" category, ¼ mile keeps them far enough away that they can't keep a watch on the school playground from their homes. More to the point, keeping these low-risk RSOs out of cities will concentrate them into rural areas, where they will be under even less supervision with even less police presence.

Prop 83 would also extend the parks/schools prohibition to thousands of misdemeanor offenders, for the rest of their lives. It would also require GPS monitoring of all felony RSOs. At first glance, that might sound like a good thing, but the reality is that our police resources are severely limited, and imposing a blanket requirement like this is not their most effective use. The state already monitors about 1,000 of the highest-risk offenders, plus additional RSOs monitored at the county level. Trying to monitor too many people only makes it more likely that the really dangerous ones will slip through the cracks.

The State of Iowa passed a law with many similar provisions to Prop 83. In February 2006, the Iowa County Attorneys Association — that's the prosecutors — issued a statement that said:

The Iowa County Attorneys Association believes that the 2,000 foot residency restriction for persons who have been convicted of sex offenses involving minors does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measures.
The truth is, most repeat child sex offenders do not go after strangers. They prey upon members of their own families in their own homes, and Jessica's Law does nothing to prevent such offenses. Another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences is that the residency restrictions in Iowa wound up causing additional harm to the victims of child sexual predators: "[T]here are more refusals by defendants charged with sex offenses to enter into plea agreements. Plea agreements are necessary in many cases involving child victims in order to protect the children from the trauma of the trial process."

The ICAA outlined its recommendations for changing Iowa's residency restrictions, including:
Most important, any restriction that carries the expectation that it can be effectively enforced must be applied to a more limited group of offenders than is covered by the current [Iowa] residency restriction. This group should be identified by a competent assessment performed by trained persons acting on behalf of the state. The assessment should be directed at applying the statutory restriction only to those offenders that present an actual risk in public areas to children with whom the offender has no prior relationship.
In other words, it's a dangerous waste of law enforcement resources to cast too wide a net. We need to focus on the most dangerous people, not treat everyone convicted of any sort of sex crime equally. We distinguish in law between murder and jaywalking; likewise, we must distinguish between true sexually violent predators and lesser sex offenders.

Another point from the Iowa report: we need to take measures to protect all children from all offenders, including relatives, teachers, coaches, clergy, and Congressmen.

Vote no on 83! It throws money and personnel at the problem, but won't make our kids any safer. The Iowa prosecutors said, "[Our] observations are not motivated by sympathy for those committing sex offenses against children, but by our concern that legislative proposals designed to protect children must be both effective and enforceable. Anything else lets our children down." Prop 83 fails on both counts.

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