Friday, April 12, 2013

CA - Seeking smarter rules for sex offenders

Janice Bellucci
Original Article


By Gale Holland

Janice Bellucci of Reform Sex Offender Laws believes offenders should go to prison. But after they get out, she wants them to have a chance to lead stable lives.

Janice Bellucci is a mother of two, the wife of a pastor and a former Girl Scout leader active in volunteer work.

She lives in a gated community an hour's drive north of Santa Barbara, with needlepoint pillows on the sofa and a vegetable garden in the backyard. She is also the public face of an organization advocating for the closest thing to an untouchable caste in our society: California's 88,000 registered sex offenders.

A former aerospace lawyer, Bellucci is the president of the California chapter of Reform Sex Offender Laws, a national group of offenders, family members, psychologists and attorneys registered as a nonprofit.

The California branch holds meetings every other month, closed to the media, to discuss offenders' rights and legal actions she is taking. Bellucci believes sex offenders should go to prison for their crimes. Her target is the crazy quilt of state and local laws regulating their conduct after they get out.

These laws bar offenders from moving near parks and schools, leaving them with comparatively few places to live. Almost all of San Francisco, and most of San Diego, is off-limits, she says. Some ordinances forbid offenders to even visit county parks and beaches.

Bellucci also wants to give some sex offenders a way off the registry. California is one of four states where sex offenders register for life, regardless of the seriousness of their crimes.

Bellucci has brought a professional sheen to the sex offenders' fight, writing talking-point memos, testifying before agencies and taking cities to court. And she's had some success: After she sued, a court stopped Simi Valley from requiring sex offenders to post signs on their front doors warning trick-or-treaters away on Halloween.

She casts her cause as a civil rights movement. During a conversation at her home, Bellucci referred to those on the list as "registrants" rather than sex offenders, and she quoted Gandhi and the Constitution.

"People don't like to hear me say it, but it's like how the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany," she said. "First they were told they were different, then they ended up in concentration camps."

No doubt this preposterous characterization is objectionable. Sex offenders are shunned for their conduct, not their status. And their conduct is often unspeakable.

But even a state advisory board acknowledges that post-release restrictions on sex offenders have gone too far. In an August 2011 report, the California Sex Offender Management Board said that one-third of the state's registered sex offenders are homeless, partly because of the housing limits.

There is no evidence that residence limits make children safer, the report said. "To the contrary, the evidence strongly suggests that residence restrictions are likely to have the unintended effect of increasing the likelihood of sexual re-offense," the report went on.

A particularly boneheaded example of overkill is the pocket park in Harbor Gateway. The park is being built not to serve families but to drive registered sex offenders out of a nearby apartment building, my colleague Angel Jennings reported.

I have no doubt Harbor Gateway needs a park. But what kind of a society builds parks not for children, but to chase sex offenders away?

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza put the issue on hold in March by ordering officials to stop enforcing restrictions on how close sex offenders can live to parks or schools. Bellucci argues the limits are unconstitutional, and Espinoza, in an earlier ruling, agreed.

Bellucci, 61, doesn't have a sex offender in the family, although she currently represents some in civil challenges. She came to the cause by chance. The man who installed her water purifier wrote a book about his years on the registry. She read it and was aghast.

The man, [name withheld], had molested a child more than 30 years earlier, when he was a raging alcoholic, Bellucci said. [name withheld] went on to build a business and become a civic activist. He was physically attacked by a vigilante who found his name and address on the registry, she said.

His case helped convince her that lifetime registration was wrong. Bellucci has stories about Everymen who wind up on the registry: the "Romeo and Juliet" cases of two teens, one underage, in a sexual relationship; the guy who urinates behind a bar or moons a crowd. Nobody seems to know how many fit this category.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has proposed a three-tiered registry that would enable lower-level offenders with otherwise clean records to get off in 10 to 20 years. Bellucci is lobbying for its passage.

"Sex offenders come from all walks of life," she said. "Some grew up in the ghetto, some grew up in Beverly Hills. They're like everybody else."

Really? I don't think so. Some undoubtedly made mistakes, but others are hardened offenders whom law enforcement would do well to track and monitor.

Just this week, [name withheld], 58, a registered sex offender, was arrested on suspicion of the home-invasion killing of an elderly San Bernardino woman. [name withheld]'  previous conviction was for sodomizing a child under age 14.

I don't see the purpose of the public registry. For this story, I went on the Megan's Law website for the first time and found several sex offenders in my neighborhood. It made my skin crawl, but is it useful to know exactly where they are or what they did? I am well aware sex offenders are in our midst, and I don't need the details to protect myself and my children.

Bellucci is convinced sex offenders can be rehabilitated. She cited a study of 2008 data by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation showing than of those who returned to prison, about 2% had committed another sex offense. Banishing them from normal society makes them more likely to repeat their crimes, she believes.

"We all do so much better when we have stability," Bellucci said. "It's ridiculous all the challenges that get thrown in front of sex offenders."

But we've all heard of the priests, Boy Scout leaders and teachers who molested multiple children before finally getting caught. The state corrections department acknowledges it can say with only 75% accuracy who is likely to commit a sex offense again, although it hopes to increase the odds with better assessments.

Bellucci is undeterred.

"The people I'm focused on already paid their debt to society," she said. "All I want for them is peace."


Mark said...

To Janice Bellucci: Allow me please to offer you a thought. In my view the reason why sex offender laws everywhere flourish, is that all state legislators have made the decision that ALL sexual offenders are relativistic, and dangerous to the public welfare of the state. In other words the state legislators have "concluded" this as a matter of social policy. As such, since there is this ubiquitous "conclusive presumption" of sexual dangerousness, these laws flourish. I believe the heart of sex offender reform is to convince the state law makers that a conclusive presumption (as sweeping as it is), is not the true dynamic. A conclusive presumption is a rule of substantive law, and is impossible to overcome for the person having the burden of disproving the presumption no matter what evidence is put forth to rebut it. This is the mindset of the sex offender laws written implicitly into them Read their preambles, and the laws themselves. It is replete with the conclusive presumption. The tier level designation for many is only a tool for state to determine the amount of information disseminated to the public and nothing more. This presumption prevents many on life-time registration to not be able to be released from the "duty" to register because the languages of just about all state registries are MANDATORY. This is especially so if a crime was against a minor or a person designated as an "SVO" (sexually violent offense). And last, any sexual offense against a minor or an SVO is a mandatory and automatic registration requirement after conviction hus, I do feel that mandatory sex offender registration is a "direct" consequence of enumerated sexual offenses and not the old "collateral consequence" of a conviction song the courts sing to us all.

unforgiven said...

Two thumbs up for what you are doing for these human beings. Because everybody needs stability and a second chance in life and be able to live a productive life in society as a citizen!

SOIssues said...

We concur. :) said...

If all 88,000 ex-sex offenders put their money behind this attorney's attempt to help them, there would be light at the end of the tunnel.
I like her focus on people who have paid their debt to society. Because society, through their inane representatives, have passed such stupid laws which effectively disables former sex offenders, it is time that society pays its debt. One way would be for those who are unable to find employment because of the registry to file disability claims against both the state and federal government. This would put the problem in perspective and would offset some of the harm society has caused its previous offenders.

NJ45143112 said...

As demonstrated by probation and the courts in the form of "treatment" or "therapy" following incarceration, the confinement never ends, it simply changes form...
Anybody but a pure idiot should know that that "treatment" at the point of a gun is not treatment or therapy but simple control. The primary tool they use is periodic polygraph tests. Since these are not allowed in most courts (and even then as supportive evidence), it's interesting that 5th amendment protections are subverted by forcing SO's to take these tests and testify against themselves or risk being dropped from the program and then facing punitive measures for not abiding by terms of probation. What's more, the requirement for "treatment" is not always designated by the court but "forced" on the individual by the probation department. Forced by means of subversion and coercion and, as in my case and the need for business travel, they may well withhold assistance or reduce freedoms normally granted to other types of offenders.
When you add this to the mounting attempts by petty legislators to corral and impede SO's in the public and disseminating false information via the media, you find that, like energy, incarceration simply changes form but never ends.
It's a money-making enterprise and everybody, whether they know it or not, wants a piece. I don't have any pieces left, what about you?