Today a California law enforcement panel came out saying that portions of Jessica’s Law need to be repealed, specifically the strict residential restrictions. Jessica’s Law was passed as California Proposition 83 in 2006 in California by 70% of the voters. The law enforcement community expressed a concern at the time of the potential negative impacts this law would cause, but were widely ignored at the time by voters concerned for their children’s safety.
The requirement in question, the housing restrictions, state an offender can’t live within 2000 feet of a school or any place “children gather” is what is causing increased risk to communities. This has restricted housing near schools and parks of course, but also near any bus stop, any community center that may have children’s activities and more. While we many not feel a lot of sympathy for the offender who has targeted children, we need to understand that this has not made our children safer and that should be our ultimate priority here.
Many offenders are unable to find housing. This has driven them into the streets and the nooks and crannies of our society where they are more difficult to find and supervise and ensure they’re adhering to other portions of the law. This is added to the stress factors for offenders that experts indicate will increase the likelihood of reoffending. We could put more weight on our law enforcement to take care of these issues, but at a time when we’re cutting salaries, pensions and overall numbers of officers on the streets, that is not a reasonable or cost effective solution. It would take large task forces assigned to nothing but tracking down homeless offenders and then retracking them again for later checks and making them impossible to supervise on a regular basis. This is not only expensive but an ineffective way to conduct law enforcement activities in a society trying to become more fiscally efficient.
While researching this, the panel found that virtually every offender released into San Francisco is currently homeless. Vast swaths of populous counties have driven offenders into the streets due to lack of housing. A report obtained by the Associated Press cites 2,100 offenders reporting themselves as homeless transients. How many are failing to report that Law Enforcement as completely lost track of? There is no way to tell where they are, obeying the law or sleeping across the street from a school waiting for the moment where the opportunity to reoffend presents itself. Few cities have gone unscathed with this new threat to their children.
All this put our communities at a higher risk, not a decreased risk. This was pointed out as a potential result of this law in 2006 and voters did not listen. Now that we’ve spent money on this flawed system and we’ll have to spend money trying to fix it, will we choose a more reasoned sane way of doing it? Most agree that legislators aren’t going to step up to this plate by themselves and look soft on sex offenders, particularly in our heavily partisan world. So it’s up to the voters to step and and say this isn’t working to make our kids safer. Yes, it is scary to know that there is a waiting threat out there for your children and every one with a child in their life wants to do everything they can to ensure their safety, which is why it’s so important that we weight the decision with reasoned thought and not reaction to fear and anger. There is a better way to do this.