Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Punitive By Design and Effect"

It didn't take long for California's initiative to come under fire:

Calif. Judge Blocks Rule on Sex Offenders

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 8 -- A federal judge on Wednesday blocked enforcement of key provisions of a ballot measure designed to crack down on sex offenders, ruling the law was unconstitutional just a day after voters overwhelmingly approved it.

Jessica's Law, as it is known, prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, effectively banning parolees from many California communities. It also requires lifetime satellite tracking for some paroled sex criminals upon their release from prison.

More than 70 percent of voters approved the initiative Tuesday. Hours later, an unidentified sex offender filed the lawsuit, arguing that the measure should apply only to offenders who register after the law was approved.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled that the measure "is punitive by design and effect" and probably unconstitutional. She issued a temporary restraining order against the law's residency requirements, saying the plaintiff was likely to prevail. The judge also ordered a Nov. 27 hearing.

Supporters and critics of the measure had expected the residency rules to be challenged in court.

State law already limits where sex offenders can live, but the new rules would make it even harder to find homes for offenders released from prison. Most parolees currently are prohibited from living within a quarter-mile of a school, with a half-mile restriction imposed on high-risk sex offenders.

Ex post facto laws are pretty common in the world of sex offender legislation -- and every time they are upheld, everybody else's liberties are that much more diminished. I will note that in some countries (such as Switzerland), everybody is required to register their residence with the police. Imagine the outcry if some extreme-right government attempted such a law here... and yet... the groundwork is already laid and has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Just repeat to yourself, "It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here. ...")

It will be interesting to see where this case goes.


Anonymous Craig said...

One of the initiatives on this November’s ballot is Proposition 83. Sadly, very little public discussion has been focused on this initiative. Dubbed “Jessica’s Law,” this is another misguided attempt to try to make our children safer, but it plays on public hysteria to no real benefit. It is difficult to argue against something as positive as child safety, but this proposed law would spend billions of dollars to implement a Buck Rogers system of global positioning satellite ankle bracelets for all of California’s 90,000 plus registered sex offenders—for life, yet. The estimated costs for this hair brained scheme cannot possibly be accurately calculated or projected into the future, but it figures to be huge. As it is, the authors of this initiative think that about one billion dollars should probably cover the costs for the first year. Our long history with governmental cost estimates makes the fuzziness of this figure clear. Huge cost over-runs are almost guaranteed.
Some vague idea that the costs of this law might be paid by offenders themselves is the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. Blood out of a turnip, anyone?

As cogent as this idea may seem at gut level, the illogic of this plan can be seen in the following: First, this proposition makes no distinction at all between sexual offenders. It lumps them all into one big pile. Some sex offenders are forced to register for even misdemeanor crimes such as urinating in public. To pay the exorbitant cost to place lifetime GPS tracking devices on these people is plain ludicrous. The wording of this proposition is typically vague (as are most proposed laws written by amateurs). At one point the proposal says something about “Violent Sexual Predators”, but later it mentions “High Risk Sex Offenders” as somehow equivalent. The voters might read this and think, ”Yeah, let’s put this bracelet on the worst of the worst.” But in California there are only two classifications for sex offenders: SVP—or sexually violent predators, and HRSO--high risk sex offenders. Despite the suggestion to the contrary, there is no such thing as a “low risk sex offender” in California; the lowest one can be is “High-risk”. So, while perhaps suggesting that only the worst and most dangerous offenders will be targeted for this draconian and astronomically expensive treatment, it, in effect, makes this program mandatory for absolutely every registered offender in the state!

Another intelligent question would be, “How does knowing the exact location of 100,000 registrants twenty-four hours a day make children (or anybody else) any safer?” Will this device tell us which ones have a kid tucked under their arm? No, of course not. A kid goes missing after school. His parents aren’t sure anything is wrong until several hours later. So, we track the movements of all the several thousand offenders in a hundred mile radius, and come up with a solid red blotch on the computer screen, there’s so many. Plus, what if somebody not registered did it? Even a child could see that this supposed “solution” is of very little use at all.

Iowa is one of several states ahead of us in implementing this law. At first, their police, prosecutors, district attorneys, etc. were in favor of this legislation. But after having to wrestle with the awkward and impossible implementation of these provisions, they now favor the repeal of “Jessica’s Law.” Additionally, the mandated “offender free zones” created by this law (no offender can reside within one-half mile of a school, park, playground, daycare, etc.) have shown to have had absolutely no impact on the statistical incidence of child abduction or other crimes against children (or anyone else). It turns out that if you’re a sex offender determined to grab a kid, you can simply drive past a school or grab a kid as he walks past your house or anywhere else.

California prisons are overcrowded to an all-time record. The Federal Courts are poised to perhaps Federalize the operation of the California Dept of Corrections (as they already have done with CDC Medical operations). Recently, the CCPOA (the powerful prison guards’ union) lobbied Sacramento for 6 billion dollars for new prison construction. They were turned down, because this is simply not a responsible use of the limited tax dollars in our state. The state legislature is very favorably inclined to the prison industry in this state, but enough is sometimes enough.

Prop 83 mandates one half billion dollars in the first year alone for new prison construction, to house all the offenders who will be given greatly longer sentences under its provisions. This is potentially an end-run around the state legislature, who for once failed to give the CDC whatever it asks for.

Lastly, the offenders who are registered are those who are already complying with the restrictions placed upon them. We know where they are because they’ve followed the rules. There are many more offenders who fail to register. We don’t know where they are. Many states require registration for ten years. After that, the previous records of offenders are certainly available, should any repeat offense occur. California already requires lifetime registration for these people—even 90 and hundred year old geriatrics living in nursing homes. The cost of this extreme and shortsighted current law already costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to pay the salaries of law enforcement personnel to simply file paperwork all day long. To add the almost unfathomable cost of outer space technology and the thousands of additional employees to install, monitor and maintain such equipment is money very poorly spent.

One way to make children safer would be to require all kids to wear safety helmets when riding in automobiles. The incidence of child traffic injury and death would definitely be lowered by this. Where do I go to start a petition to put that into law? And where do we draw the line? Face it, everyone wants kids—and everybody else—to be safe. There’s just a big line between what’s reasonable and efficacious, and what is not. Prop 83 is a disaster waiting to gum up the works here in California. With a fraction of the money Prop 83 will spend, we could immunize every child in the state. That would help kids too. Really.

12:54 PM  

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