offender” is a scary term. But in California, it can mean anyone
from a multiple-count
rapist of children to, at least in some cases according
to the way the laws are written, someone who exposed
once while drunk or even consensual sex.
Ammiano, D-San Francisco, wants to change that. The chair of the
Public Safety Committee has introduced legislation
that would create a tiered
system for registering and monitoring sex offenders.
So far, AB 625,
also known as the “Sex Offender Registration Act,” is just a placeholder that
announces the intention “to establish a tiered sex offender registration law.”
Ammiano argues that the bill will increase public safety
while saving the state
“With the skyrocketing costs of corrections in California,
we need to base our
management and enforcement of sex offenders on the
research and data available
rather than emotion,” Ammiano said in a written statement. “This means focusing
our efforts and resources on the most dangerous offenders
to ensure that the
registry achieves its primary goal – to keep our children and communities
Indeed, California has been a leader in tracking sex
offenders. It has one of
the first and most extensive websites showing where
sex offenders live, and
bars them from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.
But critics note
that when the residency restrictions are combined with
the large number of sex
offenders being tracked, the database shows clusters
of sex offenders living in
certain areas. Furthermore, they note there is a huge
burden on law enforcement
to track so many people, some of whom may pose little
risk to public safety.
Ammiano’s bill builds
on the results of a January 2010 report from the California Sex Offender
Management Board. This 17-member body includes both law enforcement and mental
health professionals, and makes recommendations on
how to handle these
offenders once they are released back into society.
The report states
that “California should concentrate state resources on more
high and moderate risk sex offenders” and “identify a more efficient method of
determining when a parole violation is related to re-offense risk.” Ammiano’s
office points out this report was approved by a board
staffed with former
district attorneys, detectives and parole agents.
It goes on to
indentify the most worrisome offenders: those with violent offenses, those who
preyed on children, multiple offenders, and those who
are classified as
sexually violent predators (SVPs). This last group consists of people with
multiple violent sexual offenses and a confirmed psychiatric
makes it disproportionately likely they will re-offend. Only about 1,700 of the
88,000 sex offenders currently being tracked by the state
hit the SVP level.
There are about
200 crimes that can land an offender on the state’s lifetime monitoring list.
Most of these are serious and relate to forced sexual
But there are
other crimes on the list that fall into a gray area
for some, including
indecent exposure. While no one is suggesting legalizing
these practices, many
question whether they warrant lifetime monitoring.
Of particular importance are
laws against having sex with someone under 18, which some say are enforce
unequally between different jurisdictions or between
straight and gay
While few people
question laws punishing 40-years-olds for having sex with minors, others point
out that 19 year-olds who have consensual sex with 17-year-old romantic
partners have also been pulled in.
California is also
one of only four states — Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are the others
that require lifetime registration and monitoring for
all sex offenders,
regardless of offense.
The office of
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, said they were “keeping an eye” on
the bill, but declined to comment until they see more
details. Fletcher was the
author of Chelsea’s Law, AB 1844, which passed easily last year. It puts new
penalties and post-release restrictions on numerous sex offenses. The
named for 17-year-old Chelsea King, a San Diego girl who was raped and
a year ago.
Her killer, John
Albert Gardiner III, was a convicted sex offender,
but was not classified as a
sexually violent predator. He was convicted of molesting
a 13-year-old girl
when he was 21. He also committed another widely-reported-on murder, the 2009
slaying of 14 year-old-Amber Dubois, (the "Amber Alert" was named after a different case).
In a letter to
Fletcher last year in reference to Chelsea’s law, the Sex Offender Management
Board asked for some amendments to his bill that essentially
would have created
similar legislation to what Ammiano is now asking for.
“Not all sex
offenders post the same risk over their lifetimes,” the letter stated. “In
light of the state’s fiscal situation, California needs to be smart about
allocating our state’s scarce resources.”