As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Continuing Story Of California's Worst Law

This is the impact of lawmaking by emotion instead of reason. Jessica's Law, the initiative passed by the voters in 2006, could increase the risk of crime. No one could have anticipated that, right? I mean, when you force ex-cons to sleep under bridges and give them no hope of rehabilitation, and you hobble police departments and sap their ability to actually track sex offenders, how could crime go up, right?

In the 15 months since voters approved Jessica's Law, which restricts where paroled offenders may live and requires electronic monitoring of their whereabouts, the state has recorded a 44% increase in those registered as transients, according to a report released by California's Sex Offender Management Board.

The law prohibits ex-offenders from living within 2,000 feet of places where children gather, but it lacks adequate definitions of such places, the report says. And in some counties and cities, the law's residency restrictions make large swaths of housing off-limits.

Unresolved questions about major parts of the law make it impossible to determine whether the state is safer now from sex offenders, panel member said. Some said the law could be making things worse.

Tom Tobin, the board's vice-chairman and a psychologist, said that homelessness removes offenders from their support systems, such as family members, which increases the chances they will commit new crimes.

"I see homelessness as increasing overall risk to public safety, and as a very, very undesirable consequence of probably a well-intended law," he said.

While I don't necessarily agree with the connection between homelessness and public safety, certainly THIS kind of homelessness, of former sex offenders, is not desirable. But it falls along the same stupid, shortsighted, Tough On Crime (tm) policies we've seen in California for 30 years. We extend sentences longer and longer and then try to build our way out of the inevitable overcrowding problem (by the way, that building plan was wildly optimistic; they're now talking about 6,900 less beds and a longer time to get them constructed); we punish sex offenders with an unrealistic law that actually endangers the state's citizens instead of protects them. This is the legacy of a failure of leadership.

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