By Chris Hinyub
“Sex offender” is a blanket category in California's criminal code. When allocating resources to track them, there isn't much discrimination by corrections officials between first-time, non-violent offenders and high-risk sexual predators. Seeking to change this, chair of the Public Safety Committee, Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation that would create a tiered system for registering and monitoring sex offenders. Ammiano says the law will increase public safety while helping to streamline corrections spending.
The “Sex Offender Registration Act” (AB 625) would incorporate suggestions made by the California Sex Offender Management Board, a 17-member advisory group made up of law enforcement and mental health professionals.
“With the skyrocketing costs of corrections in California, we need to base our management and enforcement of sex offenders on the research and data available rather than emotion,” Ammiano said in a written statement. “This means focusing our efforts and resources on the most dangerous offenders to ensure that the registry achieves its primary goal – to keep our children and communities safe.”
California has always been tough on criminals convicted of sex crimes. The state doesn't allow sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of a school or a park, and its website, designed for use by the public to monitor the the residency of sex offenders, was one of the first in the nation. Also, California is one of only four states that requires all sex offenders, regardless of offense, to register with the state and be subject to monitoring for life.
Critics of the current system say these rules have made it difficult for law enforcement to track its large population of sex offenders. Some worry that officials are wasting resources on a blanket policy which shouldn't apply to those who pose little risk to public safety.
In January of last year, The Sex Offender Management Board concluded a report aimed at finding the best treatment for sex offenders after they are released from jail. The report suggests that:
“California should concentrate state resources on more closely monitoring high and moderate risk sex offenders... and identify a more efficient method of determining when a parole violation is related to re-offense risk.”
The report found that of the 88,000 sex offenders currently being monitored by the state, only about 1,700 are in the highest risk category termed sexually violent predators (SVPs). This classification is earned by those with multiple violent sexual offenses and a diagnosed psychiatric disorder that makes their chances of re-offending more likely than not. Other high risk violators include those who prey on children, violent sex criminals and repeat offenders.
There are approximately 200 crimes that lead to lifetime monitoring by the state. Many of these relate to clear cut cases of forced or coerced sexual behavior, while some inhabit more of a gray area, such as indecent exposure. Statutory offenses such as these, some critics argue, are unequally enforced amongst jurisdictions and don't always have to require lifetime tracking.
Ammiano's bill would supplement Chelsea's Law, a measure which was passed last year. Authored by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego), AB 1844 placed new penalties on several sex offenses and more restrictions on violent sex offenders after they are released from jail. The law was named for Chelsea King, a 17-yr-old San Diego girl who was raped and murdered a year ago by repeat sex offender John Albert Gardner III. Fletcher's office told Capitol Weekly that he's “keeping an eye” on Ammiano's bill, but has declined to comment until more details are forthcoming.