Sunday, January 11, 2009

Epidemic of nomadic sex offenders worsens

New laws not exactly a blueprint for public safety

It's happening all around the country, from Georgia to Florida to Washington. But nowhere is the problem more acute than in California, which has seen an 800 percent increase in the past two years. As Karl Vick of the Washington Post reports:
LOS ANGELES -- Upon release from state custody, Ross Wollschlager began an intensive search for a home, one that abided by the restrictions imposed on convicted sex offenders in California -- and, in various versions, by about 30 other states. Obliged by law to return to Ventura County, the convicted rapist was forbidden to sleep within 2,000 feet of a school or a park.

He ended up in a tent on the dry bed of the Ventura River.

Strict new laws aimed at keeping track of sex offenders after they leave prison appear to be having the opposite effect, encouraging homelessness in a population believed more likely to re-offend if cast into the streets without structure or family support, say prosecutors, police, parole officials and experts on managing sex offenders.

The issue is starkest in California, where the number of sex crime parolees registering as transient has jumped more than 800 percent since Proposition 83 was passed in November 2006. The "Jessica's Law" initiative imposed strict residency rules and called for all offenders to wear Global Positioning System bracelets for the rest of their lives.

Named for a 9-year-old Florida girl raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender, the provision passed by a wide margin that reflected the powerful public emotion that experts and law enforcement officials say in this instance trumped sound policy.

"The public definitely was sold a bill of goods on this one," said Detective Diane Webb, supervisor of the Los Angeles Police Department unit that tracks 5,000 sex offenders in Los Angeles County. "Unfortunately, it bodes well for politicians to support it because the public does have this false sense of security that this is somehow protecting them when it's not."

Locating legal housing for offenders has become so difficult in urban California that when parole officers find an apartment building beyond the exclusion zones, they often pile in as many offenders as the landlord will accept. When neighbors notice, the cluster spurs protests that prompt lawmakers to pass even tighter exclusion zones as Proposition 83 allows.

The informative Post story continues here.

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