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Chelsea's Law and the Union Gospel Mission

California has not effectively prioritized when making policy decisions about the management of convicted sex offenders. Many decisions seem to have been made for political reasons or what feels good at the time. As a result, money and time have been wasted on policies and programs that are politically popular but do not make our communities safer.  — from the conclusion in the California Sex Offenders Management Board report, sent to the governor last April
It was the first of the month, yesterday, with a long string of nice-weather days forecast in the ten-day, but it wasn't the expected easy day for a homeless guy to secure a bunkbed for the night.

The reason beds were competative was because it was the day that Chelsea's Law went into effect.

I learned today that the bill creating the law was passed unanimously in both houses of the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger on September 9. It was prompted by the rape and  murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King last February and of 14-year-old Amber Dubois in 2009 by John Albert Gardner, 31, who had been convicted of child molestation ten years prior.

The Office of the Governor website describes the law, thus:
… Chelsea’s Law will enact a one-strike, life-without-parole sentencing option for the most dangerous sexual offenders; increase sentences for forcible sex crimes; increase parole terms for those who target children under the age of 14, including lifetime parole; restrict sex offenders from entering parks; require sex offenders’ risk assessment scores be made public through the Megan’s Law website; revise California’s mentally disordered offender laws to provide for continued detention of offenders where evaluation and assessment deem necessary and require the state to implement a first-in-the-nation containment model and dynamic risk assessment structure.
The "restrict sex offenders from entering parks" part means that homeless guys, on parole after a sex-offense conviction, who have camping equipment and were staying with SafeGround, or living out on their own, in American River Park or Discovery Park or any other park, needed to find somewhere else to sleep.

It also means that they have to stay completely out of all places designated as parks at all times, or they are subject to being re-incarcerated.

As if the coming winter wasn't going to be a mighty hassle for the Sacramento homeless population, already, this will add to the tension, competition and suffering for all homeless guys.

Understand, I am not excusing the conduct that led to the arrest and conviction of the guys in Homeless World who are required to wear ankle bracelets, to track their whereabouts in an effort to deter future crime. Pedophilia is horrific, but the tiniest minority of men with sex crimes on their record are murderous sociopaths like Gardner.  While Chelsea King and Amber Dubois have to have been terrorized beyond any conception we conger up in our minds, we must not discard sweet reason for emotion in dealing with problems in the always-curious world be live in.

I wonder if this new law makes sense and if it is much more harmful than helpful.

Our politicians these days are no longer statesmen and deep thinkers on matters relating to the public good.  They blow in the political winds, trying to quickly please the powerful, the hateful and the simpleminded.  I think that any legislation that targets men convicted of a pedophilia offence could be passed into law, just because it appeals to the mob mentality.

But, at some point, if we are to remain a civilized society, we have to limit the punishment to what fits the crime and properly, realistically protects society, including society's imperfect citizens. And we have to make distinctions such that a significant subgroup, who are overwhelmingly unlikely to re-offend, are not targeted in a blanketing law to suffer mightily to please the mob.

Chelsea's Law is a blanket, covering a wide variety of paroled sex offenders without making distinctions. Yes, a "dynamic risk assessment structure" is called for, down the line, but for now, at least, it is a ham-handed law that probably provides little in the way of protection of the public and metes out a lot in the way of misery.

Surely, allowing convicted sex-offenders who are not likely to re-offend to find their way to having a pleasant, productive, happy, law-abiding life, going forward, is in the interest of everybody. Let us have legislation that promotes this.

For further reading, see the op-ed "Chelsea's Law wasted opportunity" in Al Rodbell's blog. Rodbell, who lives near the scene of the two Gardner slayings in San Diego, looked into the legislation that was moving far-too-quickly to be fully responsible. It is from him that I kiped the conclusion in the California Sex Offenders Management Board [CSOMB] report which appears at the beginning of this blog post.

In a letter, albeit in support of the Chelsea's Law legislation [Assembly Bill 1884], addressed to Assemblyman Fletcher and copied to dozens of other California legislature members, the CSOMB wrote:
Not all sex offenders pose the same risk over their lifetimes.  In light of the state's fiscal situation, California needs to be smart about allocating our state's scarce resources.  Sex offenders should be tiered according to risk level and dangerousness, as is done in most states.
It's a strange kind of calculation to make, but if we truly want to save the lives of children, it would be most productive to crack down yet harder on teenage smoking and unsafe driving.  Smoking and dangerous driving kills people in the tens of thousands every year.  Almost certainly, dollar-for-dollar, many more young lives can be saved in this arena where so very very many are lost.


Al Rodbell said…
I just came across this essay that mentioned mine. We now have validation of what we both know, that it will not be murderous psychopaths who will be punished. The first person indicted was a mentally disabled man who masturbated in front of two children.

Not a nice thing to do, but they wanted to send him away for life, until the judge said, "are you kidding" and remanded him to mental health facility.

Al Rodbell
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