The California Supreme Court made the right call in 2015 when it struck down the most onerous provisions of Proposition 83, known as Jessica’s Law, which prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school — essentially banning them from finding housing in most cities and suburbs.
In so doing, the measure also kept them away from drug and alcohol treatment facilities, counseling, family and support groups as well as limited their ability to connect with parole officers. A study conducted not long after the measure was approved in 2006 found that more than 70 percent of registered sex offenders in San Diego County were already violating the provisions of the law and had to move. Many did and are still moving. Studies have found that since then, the number of homeless sex offenders in California have more than tripled.
The hope was that after the state Supreme Court lifted the restrictions, the numbers of homeless sex offenders would decline. But that has not been the case. A study found that as of last month, there were 6,329 homeless sex offenders on the California Justice Department’s sex offender registry. That is only about 100 fewer than there were in early 2015.
Our initial concern with Jessica’s Law was that while it placed harsher sentences on sex offenders, including requiring them to be registered for life, it would not necessarily increase safety. And the numbers are showing exactly that.
Homeless registered sex offenders are a far greater risk than those who have been able to transition back into community life, find stable homes and jobs near family connections. This was shown in a study last year by the California Justice Department that found that transient offenders were several times more likely to commit new sex crimes. Homeless sex offenders who are still on parole account for one-third of all new sex arrests although, for the time being, they only account for roughly 6 percent of registered California sex offenders.
But trying to reduce the number of homeless registered sex offenders won’t be easy, and it likely will require greater reforms to the state’s severe — and sometimes lifelong — restrictions on sex offenders.
Proposition 83 requires registered sex offenders who have been convicted of a felony sex offense to be monitored by GPS devices while on parole and for the remainder of their lives. Studies show such harsh restrictions make it very difficult for such offenders to adjust to life outside of prison.
Let’s keep in mind that Proposition 83 was named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford who was the victim of a convicted sex offender who had failed to report his whereabouts. When offenders lack permanent housing and stability, they are harder for law enforcement officers to track and more prone to violate the terms of their release.
Let’s also remember that while Jessica’s Law limited where registered sex offenders can live, it doesn’t restrict where they can spend their time during the day. Overall, California would be far better off knowing where sex offenders are than knowing they are out there somewhere — with no place to call home.