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Laws Force More Sex Offenders to Live on Streets

January 13, 2010

mercurynews.com: Steep rise in sex offender parolees living on the street.

California -Less than a year after state corrections officials tightened a $22 million spigot of free apartments and motel rooms for paroled sex offenders, the number of parolees who say they are homeless has nearly doubled, adding fuel for critics who say the tight living restrictions under Jessica’s Law threaten public safety more than bolster it.

More than 2,200 paroled sex offenders were registered as transient in November, state figures show, up from 1,257 a year ago and 88 in September 2007. That was just before parole officials began enforcing a ban on sex offenders living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children “regularly gather.”

Many paroled sex offenders said the 2,000-foot ban left them unable to move in with relatives or to find affordable housing, particularly in the Bay Area and other urban centers where only sparse pockets sit outside the prohibited zones.

A Bay Area News Group report early last year highlighted the dilemma, as well as the state’s makeshift solution: funding housing for
several hundred sex offenders, paying more than $2,000 a month for some and putting up others in spots within the banned zones. Some parolee sex offenders had lived off state-paid rent for a few years, and the scarcity of available housing meant clusters of sex offenders — dozens in some cases — living in certain motels.

“We were spending a significant amount. That’s been reduced, and the outcome has been a 100 percent increase” in transient sex offenders, state corrections Undersecretary Scott Kernan said. “That is not a good thing for public safety.”

“We’re finally at a point where we just have to acknowledge this is actually a problem, and it’s not one for lack of trying. It’s actually a public safety issue,” said Robert Coombs of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a victim-advocacy group that opposed Jessica’s Law. “I don’t care if these guys have a nice lifestyle. But if you look at the research, it actually says if you reduce their stability you increase the risk of re-offense,” he said. “I think we’ll start to see there really is that link. The way we find that out is through more victims.”

Backed by 70 percent of voters in 2006, Proposition 83 stiffened penalties for some sex crimes, required lifetime GPS monitoring of newly released sex criminals and set the 2,000-foot “predator-free zones.” Including parolees, the number of sex offenders registered as transient has grown to nearly 4,500, up from 2,300 before the state began enforcing the law.

Last year, State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, sponsored legislation that would have granted cities and counties flexibility in determining the size of the zones. “We’ll be the first to admit there’s not a magic number,” he said. But the bill went nowhere when a Senate committee balked. Critics and supporters alike say there is little political will in Sacramento to make changes that might appear more lenient on sex offenders.

Corrections officials are applying the 2,000-foot rule to all registered sex offenders released on parole after the law passed, regardless of when they committed their sex crimes. The number of homeless may decline significantly if the state Supreme Court rules next month that the rule applies only to those who committed their sex crimes after the law passed.

That would be only a temporary relief, Coombs said.”I think it’s unquestionable that it only gets worse from here,” he said.

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