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California's other housing problem -- where to put sex offenders?

January 16, 2009 |  3:39 pm

Just because we passed it doesn't mean that a law can work -- or that it makes sense.

There's Jessica's Law. It's the one that 70% of voters approved, and it sets such stringent restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can live -- not within 2,000 feet of schools or parks or other areas where children may be -- that many offenders are finding they have to live ''off the grid,'' under bridges, alongside freeways, or on the street. Perversely, law enforcement experts worry that the law will make it harder, not easier, to keep track of sex offenders.

This is not to say your heart should bleed for sex offenders; it is about the fact that it's almost impossible, especially in cities, to find anyplace that doesn't fall within 2,000 feet of off-limits places. And that has, as I said, driven some sex offenders underground. And the number of paroled sex offenders will just keep getting bigger every year -- again because of laws voters enthusiastically pass.

Whatever else Jessica's Law is costing to enforce, it's also costing the state nearly $25 million a year to play landlord to these people, who have to live somewhere, and who have to be in contact with law enforcement -- again, to abide by the law. So the state has had to find housing and sometimes pay rent for some of them.

As one example of how complicated that is, in Monterey County, a company with a state contract to find appropriate housing for a convicted child molester had to review more than 1,500 different places before it finally found one that met the Jessica's Law criteria. Multiply that process by thousands of sex offenders, and you get a glimmer of the problem.

The emotional impact of child molesting has created an equally emotional impact evident from the slew of laws voters pass to deal with the crime.

A former state corrections secretary in the Schwarzenegger administration, Jeanne Woodford, says, "This is what really happens when we allow our emotions to get the best of us, as opposed to dealing with the facts.''

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