State prison officials said Thursday that they are loosening some restrictions on where thousands of California sex offenders may live in response to a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this month.
The new policy essentially means that state officials will review the cases of all 6,000 sex-offender parolees to determine whether their criminal histories involved children or other sex crimes. Those with offenses involving children will remain under current restrictions created by the Jessica’s Law measure passed by voters in 2006 that prevent them from living within about a half mile of schools, parks and other places where children may be present.
But others – such as offenders convicted of rape of an adult or statutory rape – who have shown no propensity for crimes against children may be allowed to live without such restrictions, a move officials hope will reduce the number of homeless sex offenders in California.
The policy change stems from a court decision three weeks ago that found a San Diego ordinance went too far in limiting all registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other public places where children gather.
“The court’s ruling is specific to San Diego County; its rationale isn’t,” corrections spokesman Luis Patino said. “The state attorney general’s office has advised us that applying the blanket mandatory residency restrictions would be found to be unconstitutional in every county.”
Patino said that when Jessica’s Law passed there were believed to be 88 homeless sex offenders in the state, but that the current number is about 1,400.
“We believe the changes will reduce the alarming number of homeless sex-offender parolees, reduce their risk of reoffending and increase community safety,” he said. “Evidence shows that a lack of stability increases the risk of reoffending.”
Patino added that all current offenders will have their files reviewed by parole officers, a move that likely will take 60 days to complete, and that offenders in prison will be reviewed when they are about to be released.
As of last month, California had about 50,000 parolees, with about 6,000 sex offenders among that total and another 2,000 sex offenders in prison. Of the total of 8,000 sex offenders on parole and in prison, he said, about 4,000 are estimated to have been involved in crimes against children.
Sex offenders on parole will still be monitored by GPS tracking devices, he added.
The policy change comes amid continuing legal battles over such residency restrictions, with some offenders and lawyers complaining that the 2,000-foot limit leaves parolees with no viable place to live in some cases.
Since passage of Jessica’s Law, municipalities have passed dozens of ordinances statewide that sought to enact even tougher restrictions.
In South Lake Tahoe, for instance, officials enacted an ordinance that restricted sex offenders from being within 300 feet of schools, parks, swimming pools or other areas, but the city stopped enforcing the measure last year after a sex offender sued and said it could prevent him from visiting hospitals, businesses or other locations simply because they were adjacent to banned locations.
Other lawsuits led to such measures being rescinded in El Dorado County and elsewhere. Sacramento County enacted a similar measure and was sued, and officials said last year that a 2014 appellate court ruling largely invalidated such restrictions, leaving Jessica’s Law as the main law governing where offenders may reside.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.