Friday, September 22, 2006

Enlightened: "Cast a `no' vote on sex-offender proposition"

Cast a `no' vote on sex-offender proposition


Mercury News Editorial

Based on a Field Poll last month, Proposition 83, which would put additional restrictions and heavier penalties on sex felons, would appear to be a shoo-in Nov. 7. That would be unfortunate because it's grounded in fears, not on facts.

Proposition 83 has two main provisions. It would require anyone convicted of a felony sex offense to wear a satellite tracking device for life. And it would ban a sex felon from living within 2,000 feet -- about two-fifths of a mile -- from a school, park or other public place that a local government chooses to designate.

Before going with their gut -- after all, who wants any felon in their neighborhood? -- voters should give weight to Proposition 83's costs and listen seriously to second thoughts coming from Iowa.

Iowa was one of the first states to adopt Jessica's Law, which Proposition 83 models, after the death of Jessica Lunsford. She was the 9-year-old Florida girl who was murdered, allegedly by a convicted sex offender working as a laborer at her school.

Now, the prosecutors in Iowa who campaigned for the 2,000-foot protection zone acknowledge there's no correlation between children's safety and a felon-free zone (less than 10 percent of sexual abuse is done by strangers). But there have been unexpected consequences. Nearly all downtown areas in Des Moines are now off-limits to sex offenders because of where schools and parks are located; the same would be true in Los Angeles, San Francisco, downtown San Jose and most urban areas.

Pushing sex felons out of cities forces them into more suburban and rural areas. Doing so denies them low-cost housing, job opportunities and transportation. The result, according to the Iowa County Attorneys Association, is that more will go underground and fail to register; some have become homeless. Some sex offenders have married; the ban harms spouses and families.

The association concluded Jessica's Law created more problems than it solved, and favors repeal.

It makes sense to put Global Positioning System devices on high-risk sex offenders to track real-time movements or have a record of where they've been. It's used in California to monitor 1,000 of them, and more will be added with the signing into law this week of SB 1178, sponsored by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, which makes permanent a pilot sex-offender GPS program.

But equipping every sex felon with a GPS device is expensive and diverts attention from those who need the most monitoring. The state legislative analyst projects the cost at $100 million a year within a decade, possibly more, depending if Proposition 83 is interpreted to apply only to new felons or to all 90,000 who must now enroll in the state sex felon registry.

Proposition 83 also would extend parole, now three to five years, to as long as 10 years for some sex offenders. And it would also enable the state to commit especially dangerous and non-cooperative high-risk sex offenders to indefinite stays in a secure mental hospital after prison. These are worthwhile provisions, and the Legislature should pass them into law next year.

But voters should heed the warnings from Iowa and vote no on Proposition 83.

The question is: Will they?


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