New state laws aimed at keeping track of sex offenders after they leave prison appear to be having the opposite effect, encouraging homelessness in a population believed more likely to re-offend if cast into the streets without structure or family support, prosecutors, police, parole officials, and experts on managing sex offenders tell the Washington Post. The issue is starkest in California, where the number of sex crime parolees registering as transient has jumped more than 800 percent since Proposition 83 in 2006. The “Jessica’s Law” initiative imposed strict residency rules and called for offenders to wear Global Positioning System bracelets for the rest of their lives.
Named for a 9-year-old Florida girl raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender, the provision passed by a wide margin that reflected the powerful public emotion that experts and law enforcement officials say in this instance trumped sound policy. “The public definitely was sold a bill of goods on this one,” said Detective Diane Webb of the Los Angeles Police Department unit that tracks 5,000 offenders. “Unfortunately, it bodes well for politicians to support it because the public does have this false sense of security that this is somehow protecting them when it’s not.” Locating legal housing for offenders has become so difficult in urban California that when parole officers find an apartment building beyond the exclusion zones, they often pile in as many offenders as the landlord will accept. The California Sex Offender Management Board this month lamented unintended consequences of Jessica’s Law. “Common sense leads to the conclusion that a community cannot be safer when sex offenders are homeless,” the board said.